Beyond Sustainable Economy: Ancient and Modern Materialism versus Aparigraha

Published: 11.07.2017


Charvaka (Carvaka) was an Indian philosopher who was probably a contemporary of Lord Mahavir. His followers are called C(h)ārvakas, and exist until our times. Charvaka was the teacher of systematic atheistic materialism. He put the doctrine of pleasure very well into practice in his life. His view was that one should enjoy one's life fully. He suggested his followers to incur debt and 'drink ghee' – which symbolizes to live life happily. Happiness is supreme. A man should not worry about the next day. Nobody is beyond the range of death. There is nothing after death. Death itself is liberation. He did not believe in the rebirth theory. There is nothing like a soul. Consciousness is the result of the fragmentation of the four eternal material elements earth, water, fire and air. The body is the only visible object and the cause of its existence are these four elements, which are eternal. Whatever is beyond the experience of the senses is false and is non-existent. Whatever perceived by the senses is real. Happiness is momentary.[1].

According to us, this cannot be the goal of life. One cannot say that pain from one's life can be eliminated permanently on basis of this theory. The utilitarian believes in increase of pleasure. They do take conduct into account. Conduct is a part of life. They say that the objective feeling of sensuous pleasure is not a standard of morality. Jonathan Glover[2], an Oxford philosopher, argues in his recent and enormously interesting work Humanity: Moral History of the Twentieth Century that: "We must not only reflect on what has happened in the last century, but also 'need to look hard and clearly at some monsters inside us' and to consider ways and means of 'caging and taming them.'"[3]

Aparigraha or non-possessiveness

Parigraha or attachment is the philosophy of the western mind. The industrialization and consumerism, urbanization are the fruits of it. These things have become the golden route to accumulation of wealth, which is the mother of parigraha. By definition, possessiveness is taking interest in worldly things and physical comfort. The opposite of this is non-possessiveness.

One can have that much possessions which is necessary to provide for his basic needs as an individual. Possession of material things will bring unlimited anxiety, surrender to immoral activities, inspire to injustice and to take shelter in falsehood. The loss of material thing will result in pain, bad thoughts, and not to peace. The Jain Preceptor known as Lord Mahavira has shown us the way to a welfare economy. He suggested limits for each and every thing. A limit to money gives you peace and happiness. Here, a human remains in the centre and money turns around him.

Lord Mahavira thought of a vow society. He gave many practical rules for behavior in different degrees according to one's position and psychological courage. One can vow himself to some or all of these rules. These rules were given from a philosophical point of view for the welfare of humanity, not only for the short term, but, because of his spiritual insights in the actual meaning and purpose of life, in the ultimate benefit of his soul. In this world one has to combine the fact of material existence with facts with spirituality.

To do certain things, one does not require wealth.[4] Āchārya Mahāpragya in his Mahavir ka Arthsastra enumerates the following:

  1. Accumulation of wealth is not necessary for the fulfillment of some human choices. In fact, individual and society make many choices that require no wealth at all.
  2. A society does not have to be rich to be able to afford democracy.
  3. A family does not have to be wealthy to respect the right of each member.
  4. A nation does not have to be affluent to treat women and men equally.
  5. Valuable social and cultural traditions can be – and are – maintained at all levels of income. The richness of a culture can be largely independent of the people's wealth.
  6. Human may want wealth, but at the same time his quest for knowledge, for a long and healthy life, his free participation in his community, a clean environment and his peace of mind derive from his job, home and society.
  7. Wealth maximization and human development have a definite co-relation. This will result in the breakdown of many societies.
  8. Many countries have a high G.N.P. per capita, but low human development indicators and vice versa.
  9. Countries at a similar level of G.N.P. per capita may have vastly different human development indicators depending on the use they have made of their national income.

The Uttarādhyayana Sūtra states that "the root of all mental and physical suffering is the desire for worldly enjoyments". [5]

Economists say you should and will increase your desire. This will give development and progress. Lord Mahavira put forward the opposite of this: less desire.[6]

Capital should not be concentrated at one place. Gandhi was in favor of decentralization. When decentralized people will act from the trusteeship idea.[7]

Waste is not acceptable in the name of economic growth. Waste or exhaust is the result of consumption. Here individual self-interest is of prime importance and social welfare becomes secondary. One can say that economic progress comes at the cost of the social welfare progress.

As human life is precious, likewise animal and plant life are also valuable. They should be preserved and protected. All outrageous usage is prohibitive, such as limitless exploitation of natural resources of life, ruthless destruction of the biosphere, and militarization of space. We are responsible to future generations for the misuse of the earth, the cosmos, water, environment and air. The population is dependent on preservation of all these things. We must create harmony with nature.

Religion thinks in term of internal development and economics thinks in terms of external development. Therefore one has to apply a conscious limit of wish and requirement.

Man lives in a social condition, therefore he cannot totally leave the things, but definitely he can apply the limit in his needs and demands. Economics is now expressed in the sense of consumption. Consumption may be useful or may not be useful. But economics should rather think in philosophical terms for human welfare. Non-possessiveness is a useful tool at every movement in life.


Glover, Jonathan, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, Jonathan Cape London, 1999 (also published by Yale University Press, 2001)

Little, I.M.D, A critique of welfare economics, Oxford University Press. New Delhi1956 2nd Edition.

Sen, Amartya  The Argumentative Indian, Penguin Books, London 2005.

                    -Collective choice and Social welfare, Holden-Day Inc., 1970.

Piti, Joseph C., Philosophy in Economics, Essay by Steven Straatwick, D. Reidel Publishing Co. Dordrecht, Netherlands 1981.

Haribhadra:. Sad-darsana samuccaya, translated by K.Satchidananda Murty. Jain Sahitya Vikas Mandal, Mumbai 1st edition 1976.

Acarya Mahapragya, Mahavir ka Arthsastra, Adarsh Sahitya Sangh Prakashana 1994.

Dhiraj Muni (Ed.) Uttradhyayana Sutra (in Gujarati). Vitrag Prakashan, Mumbai 2003.


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Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acarya
  2. Acarya Mahapragya
  3. Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Body
  6. Consciousness
  7. Consumerism
  8. Environment
  9. Gandhi
  10. Haribhadra
  11. London
  12. Mahapragya
  13. Mahavir
  14. Mahavira
  15. Mandal
  16. Mumbai
  17. Muni
  18. Parigraha
  19. Sangh
  20. Soul
  21. Space
  22. Sutra
  23. Sūtra
  24. Uttarādhyayana
  25. Uttarādhyayana Sūtra
  26. Violence
  27. Vitrag
  28. Āchārya
  29. Āchārya Mahāpragya
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