Jain World
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  Glossary of Jaina terms






Term syadvada

The doctrine of nayavada provides the framework for the doctrine of Syadvada, since it clearly points out that reality can be looked at from many different standpoints, and that no standpoint can be claimed as the only valid one. The term Syadvada is derived from the term syat meaning `in some respect'. If the aim of philosophical inquiry is to comprehend reality, the Jaina philosophers point out that it cannot be achieved by merely formulating certain simple, categorical propositions. Reality being complex any one simple proposition cannot express the nature of reality fully. That is the reason why the term syat, i.e., 'in some respect', is appended to the various propositions concerning reality by the Jaina philosophers without any absolute affirmation whatsoever in regard to any one of them. That is why each affirmation is preceded by the phrase `syat', i.e., `in some respect'. This indicates that the affirmation is only relative, made somehow, from some point of view and under some reservations and is not in any sense absolute.

Meaning of Syadvada

It is not enough if various problems about reality are merely understood from different points of view. What one knows one must be able to state truly and correctly. This need is met by the doctrine of Syadvada or Anekantavada, i.e., many-sided view-point.

It is a fact that the object of knowledge is a vast complexity covering infinite modes, that human mind is of limited understanding, and that human speech has its imperfections in expressing the whole range of experience. Under these circumstances all our statements are conditionally or relatively true. Hence every statement must be qualified with the term syat, i.e., `in some respect', or `somehow', or `in a way', with a view to emphasize its conditional or relative character.

Statements of Syadvada

In this way, on the basis of Anekantavada or Syadvada, while describing a thing seven possible statements or propositions or assertions, seemingly contradictory but perfectly true can be made in the following manner :

  1. Syad-asti, i.e., in some respects, it is;

  2. Syad-nasti, i.e., in some respect, it is not;

  3. Syad-asti-nasti, i.e., in some respect, it is and it is not;

  4. Syad-avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is indescribable;

  5. Syad-asti, avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is not and is indescribable;

  6. Syad-nasti, avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is not and is indescribable, and

  7. Syad-asti-nasti, avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is and is not and is indescribable.

These seven propositions are formulated by the three expressions, viz., asti, nasti and avaktavya, the word syat being common to all of them, and their combinations.

These propositions will be clear with the help of an illustration. For example, a man is the father and is not the father and is both -are perfectly intelligible statements, if one understands the point of view from which they are made. In relation to a particular boy he is the father; in relation to another boy he is not the father; in relation to both the boys taken together he is the father and is not the father. Since both the ideas cannot be conveyed in words at the same time, he may be called indescribable: still he is father and is indescribable; and so on.

Further, it may be noted that the seven propositions can be formulated in regard to the eternality, identity and difference, etc., of any object. The Jaina philosophers believe that these seven modes of predication together give us an adequate description of reality.

Moreover, it is obvious that the combinations of points of view cannot be more than seven as reality is open to seven statements and not to more. The reason why the number of modes is neither more nor less than seven is because it is believed that any complex situation is amenable to treatment by this seven-fold technique if one is adept in using it. Any attempt to add or subtract a mode will be found to be impossible since addition finds the mode already there among the existing seven modes, and subtraction will mutilate the essential limit from the scheme.

Thus the doctrine of Anekantavada, comprising these seven propositions, is neither self-contradictory nor vague or indefinite; on the contrary, it represents a very sensible view of things in a systematized form.

Further, this doctrine of anekantavada is also called the doctrine of saptabhangi, i.e., the doctrine of seven-fold predication, because these seven possible modes of expression can be used while describing a thing.

Syadvada and Nayavada

From the above propositions it is obvious that Syadvada complements the Nayavada. Whereas the emphasis in Nayavada is on an analytical approach to reality, on pointing out that different standpoints can be taken, the stress in Syadvada is on the synthetic approach to reality, on reiterating that the different view-points together help us in comprehending the reality. As analysis and synthesis are not unrelated to each other we find elements of analysis even in a synthetic view of reality.

In more concrete terms : in nayavada there is the recognition that over-emphasizing any one view would lead to a fallacy that different views have their value, that each one of them reflects reality and, therefore, that they together alone can give a sweep into reality. Similarly, in Syadvada the systematic character of the modes of predictions, is highlighted with a clear understanding that various propositions have, each one of them, something to convey about reality itself.

Significance of Syadvada

From the discussion of Syadvada it is clear that Syadvada aims to unify, coordinate, harmonize and synthesize the individual view points into a predictable whole. In other words, the Syadvada, like music, blends discordant notes so as to make a perfect harmony.

Further, Syadvada is not a doctrine of mere speculative interest, one intended to solve not only ontological problems, but has a bearing upon man's psychological and spiritual life.

Moreover, the doctrine of Syadvada has supplied the philosopher with cosmopolitanism of thought convincing him that truth is not anybody's monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religions and it has again supplied the religious aspirant with 'intellectual toleration' which is quite on par with ahimsa for which Jainism has eminently stood for the last two thousand years and more.

The essence of this doctrine of Syadvada, keeping off scholastic terminology, seems just that as to matters of experience it is impossible to formulate the whole and complete truth, and as to matters which transcend experience, language is inadequate.

Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that apart from the pains the Jaina philosophers have taken to describe reality, their doctrine of Syadvada brings out the comprehensiveness of approach of the Jaina Philosophers to these problems.