Matter, Essence, Anti-Essence: Svabhāva vs Nisvabhāva

  • Narmada P


Although much work has been carried out on ‘Materialism’ as a philosophical tradition and movement in Western thought and history, there is hardly any such similar effort made in the Indian context, except for a few so-called Marxist thinkers and some anti-caste writers. The influence of ‘materialism’ as a philosophy on Indian thought and subsequent socio-religious movements in India have been enormous. Despite the claims made by Western Indologists, writers of texts on Indian philosophy characterizing Indian thought as essentially ‘spiritual’ ‘religious’, ‘idealistic’; philosophy as originating from the Śramaṇas is irreligious, rooted in materialism and naturalistic. In this paper, I attempt to revisit the materialistic traditions of Indian thought with a special focus on Buddhist materialism. The notion of svabhāva also translated as “own-nature”, “self-nature”, “essence” is central to both Brahmanical and Buddhist thought, it is that which also distinguishes one from the other at a fundamental metaphysical level. The Buddhist ontology, epistemology and ethics center around disproving the existence of a svabhāva or fixed nature of things, entities, persons and phenomena through their anti-essentialist (nisvabhāva) position closely connected to the doctrine of no-self (anātma). The purpose here is to locate this concept within the larger context of Buddhist materialism and to bring out the differences with the other essentialist traditions.

Author Biography

Narmada P

Narmada holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Dept of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, India. She taught Philosophy as a Guest Faculty in the Dept of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, India. Her areas of research include Indian Intellectual History, and Early Buddhist Ethics, and Metaphysics, Social and Political Philosophy.

How to Cite
P, Narmada. Matter, Essence, Anti-Essence: Svabhāva vs Nisvabhāva. Prabuddha: Journal of Social Equality, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 55-65, nov. 2021. ISSN 2576-2079. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 26 mar. 2023.