Materialism is the name given to the metaphysical doctrine which holds that matter is the only reality. This doctrine tries to explain mind and consciousness as the products of matter.
In general outlook, materialism represents the tendency that seeks to reduce the higher to the lower or explain the higher phenomena in the light of the lower ones. In this respect, it is opposed to spiritual interpretations of the universe.
Though materialism in some of the references are found in the Vedas, the Buddhist literature, the Epics, as well as in the later philosophical works, we do not find any systematic work on materialism, nor any organised school of followers as the other philosophical schools possess.
But almost every work of the other schools states, for reputation, the materialistic views. Our knowledge of Indian materialism is chiefly based on these.
‘Carvaka’ is the word that generally stands for ‘materialist’. But the original meaning of this word is shrouded in mystery. According to one view; ‘Carvaka’ was originally the name of a sage who propounded materialism.
The common name ‘Carvaka derived from this proper name and means the follower of that i e a materialist.
According to another view, ‘Carvaka’ was sage, even originally a common descriptive name given to a materialist, either because he preached the doctrine of ‘eat, drink and be merry’ (Carv eat, chew), or because his words are pleasant and nice (caru-nice, vak word).
Some writers again regard Brhaspati as the founder of materialism. This view is based on the facts (a) that some Vedic hymns ascribed by tradition to Brhaspati, son of Loka, are marked by a spirit of revolt and free thinking, (b) that in the Mahabharata and elsewhere materialistic views are put in the mouth of Brhaspati and (c) that about a dozen sutras and verses are found quoted or referred to by different authors as the materialistic teachings of Brhaspati.
Some even go a little further and say that Brhaspati, the teacher of the gods, propagated the materialistic views among the giants (the enemies of the gods) so that by following these attractive teachings they might come to ruin!
But whoever be the founder of Indian materialism, ‘Carvaka’ has become synonymous with ‘materialist’. The word used for materialism is also lokayatamata, i.e., the view of common people. A materialist is accordingly called also lokayatika.
Though the materialistic ideas are scattered here and there, they may be systematised and conveniently presented fewer than three chief heads, namely, Epistemology, Metaphysics and Ethics.