An important compendium of the ancient Indian philosophical schools - called Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha - was written in India in 14th century CE by Madhvacharya (a non-Buddhist Indian Philosopher) who gives an intriguing account of the debate between ancient Indian materialists (the Charvaka) and the extent Buddhist schools of thought in India at that time. He describes the Charvaka thus:
Chárváka, the crest-gem of the atheistical school, the follower of the doctrine of Bṛihaspati. The efforts of Chárváka are indeed hard to be eradicated, for the majority of living beings hold by the current refrain—
While life is yours, live joyously; None can escape Death's searching eye: When once this frame of ours they burn, How shall it e'er again return?
The mass of men, in accordance with the Śástras of policy and enjoyment, considering wealth and desire the only ends of man, and denying the existence of any object belonging to a future world, are found to follow only the doctrine of Chárváka. Hence another name for that school is Lokáyata,—a name well accordant with the thing signified.
This characterization would appear quite in accordance with descriptions in sutta of the Charvaka school and its tenets:
"When this was said, Ajita Kesakambalin said to me, 'Great king, there is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly and practicing rightly, proclaim this world and the next after having directly known and realized it for themselves. A person is a composite of four primary elements. At death, the earth (in the body) returns to and merges with the (external) earth-substance. The fire returns to and merges with the external fire-substance. The liquid returns to and merges with the external liquid-substance. The wind returns to and merges with the external wind-substance. The sense-faculties scatter into space. Four men, with the bier as the fifth, carry the corpse. Its eulogies are sounded only as far as the charnel ground. The bones turn pigeon-colored. The offerings end in ashes. Generosity is taught by idiots. The words of those who speak of existence after death are false, empty chatter. With the break-up of the body, the wise and the foolish alike are annihilated, destroyed. They do not exist after death.'
This compendium describes the Buddhist response to the Charvaka school as a direct attack on their understanding of causation vs correlation. Succinctly put, it would appear the Charvaka did not believe in causation, but rather only believed in correlation:
"Be it so," says the opponent; "your wish would be gained if inference, &c., had no force of proof; but then they have this force; else, if they had not, then how, on perceiving smoke, should the thoughts of the intelligent immediately proceed to fire; or why, on hearing another say, 'There are fruits on the bank of the river,' do those who desire fruit proceed at once to the shore?"
All this, however, is only the inflation of the world of fancy. ... Hence by the impossibility of knowing the universality of a proposition it becomes impossible to establish inference, &c.
The step which the mind takes from the knowledge of smoke, &c., to the knowledge of fire, &c., can be accounted for by its being based on a former perception or by its being an error; and that in some cases this step is justified by the result, is accidental just like the coincidence of effects observed in the employment of gems, charms, drugs, &c.
From this it follows that fate, &c., do not exist, since these can only be proved by inference. But an opponent will say, if you thus do not allow adṛishṭa, the various phenomena of the world become destitute of any cause.
But we cannot accept this objection as valid, since these phenomena can all be produced spontaneously from the inherent nature of things. Thus it has been said—
The fire is hot, the water cold, refreshing cool the breeze of morn; By whom came this variety? from their own nature was it born.
The author of the work then gives the known Buddhist reply at the time in ancient India. This can be succinctly summarized as denial of causation leads to practical absurdities. NOTE: invariable concomitance is a term of art in ancient Indian debate that is described here.
At this point the Buddhists remark: As for what you (Chárvákas) laid down as to the difficulty of ascertaining invariable concomitance, your position is unacceptable, inasmuch as invariable concomitance is easily cognisable by means of identity and causality. It has accordingly been said—
"From the relation of cause and effect, or from identity as a determinant, results a law of invariable concomitance—not through the mere observation of the desired result in similar cases, nor through the non-observation of it in dissimilar cases."
On the hypothesis (of the Naiyáyikas) that it is concomitance and non-concomitance (e.g., A is where B is, A is not where B is not) that determine an invariable connection, the unconditional attendance of the major or the middle term would be unascertainable, it being impossible to exclude all doubt with regard to instances past and future, and present but unperceived. If one (a Naiyáyika) rejoin that uncertainty in regard to such instances is equally inevitable on our system, we reply: Say not so, for such a supposition as that an effect may be produced without any cause would destroy itself by putting a stop to activity of any kind; for such doubts alone are to be entertained, the entertainment of which does not implicate us in practical absurdity and the like, as it has been said, "Doubt terminates where there is a practical absurdity."
Which seems in accordance with the ancient Indian Nagarjuna's opening verse of his famous treatise:
Based on this my questions are:
- Does the non-Buddhist author of this work accurately describe Charvaka views and tenets at the time?
- Does the non-Buddhist author of this work accurately describe Buddhist replies at the time?
- Why was it deemed important to the ancient Indian schools (Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike) this debate over causation vs correlation?
- If you accept the Buddhist view in this debate as superior, then how does it undermine the views and tenets of the Charvaka?
- Is it true that the Charvaka school was the most popular in ancient India at the time this compendium was written?
- What do we know of how prevalent was the Charvaka school in the time of the Buddha?
- If the Charvaka school was very prevalent in the time of the Buddha and granting the supposition that some hold - that the Buddha only taught rebirth as a fictional contrivance to appeal to the people of his time and age - then why did the Buddha also teach rebirth to the people who steadfastly rejected it? (please only answer this if you actually believe this supposition as that's all I'm interested in...)