Justice T.U.Mehta


Why relativity ? (Ksetra : place, Kala : time Akara : shape and Bhava : concept, Contribute to our judgement, Hence all knowledge is relative) , Importance of a negative (The word ‘Syat' not used to express doubt but is used to indicate many-fold aspects, Sankara's comments and reply of scholars) , Is the ‘Self' permanent or transitory (Paryaya, the changing mode and Dravya, the unchanging substance, All things are within their own limitations, but ‘are not' beyond their limitations) , The doctrine of duality , Importance of Anekanta , How the doctrine clarifies ‘Self' and ‘Ahimsa' , Aneknata and Animsa (Real revolution is enlargement of man's power of understanding), Einstein's Theory (What Einstein did on the plane of physics, Mahavira did in the field of thoughts and metaphysics) , Theory of Seven predications .


"Of ten things that annoy us, nine would not be able to do so, if we understood them thoroughly in their own causes, and therefore know their necessity and true nature."

"... ... to see things purely as objects of understanding is to rise to freedom."


Indeed, proper understanding of conflicting factors in individual or social life is more than a mere oiling of universal mechanism. How to get such an understanding ? Nayavada reveals a technique to arrive at such an understanding. It teaches us that truth reveals to us only partially if viewed from a particular aspect. Even if one finds that a proposition is quite contrary to the conviction he had for whole life, hence the cause of great irritation to him, once he applies the principles of Nayavada his irritation begins to subside. The simple reason being that he begins to realize the real cause for that contrary proposition.


Why Relativity

When we judge an object, we take into account not only its intrinsic-substance, i.e., Dravya, but also the place (Ksetra) where it is found, the time (Kala) when it is found, and the shape (Akara) as well as the concept (Bhava) in which it is found.

Moreover, subjective attitude and past recollections towards the same of similar objects play a decisive role in judgement. At the same time prejudices and predilections, social upbringing, environmental necessities and politico-social taboos also play a very decisive role, in a judgement about an idea.

In fact every object and every idea has infinite characteristics and is required to be judged from varieties of standpoints. What should be our reaction towards a thing if we are convinced that everything in this universe has infinite characteristics and that limited knowledge a human being is not capable of apprehending all these characteristics. Certainly, if our approach is objective and unbiased, we would not rush to take an absolute view of that thing or though, keeping in mind the limitations of our knowledge. Our judgement based on limited data is likely to be wrong. We would, however, not be actual perception. So in our prudence, we would say that the judgement, formed about actually perceived things is ‘likely' to be true. While saying so we would not rule out the possibility that it may turn out to be untrue if looked at from any other perspective. This is the approach of Syadvada which implies that each and every knowledge is relative. What we know by the analytical process of Nayavada, we express by the synthesis of Syadvada. As already noticed, the etymological meaning of the word ‘Syad' is ‘Perhaps'. But it is used to suggest a relative truth. The theory of Syadvada is based on the premise that every proposition is only relatively true. It all depends upon the particular aspect from which we appreciate that proposition. Since all propositions are related to many circumstances, our assertions about them depend entirely upon the particular circumstances through which we are viewing them. Since our view has a limited aperture, we cannot see everything, and hence it is appropriate to avoid our absolute assertion.

For instance, when we say that a particular thing weighs 5 lbs, our statement about the weight is related to the magnetic force exerted on that thing by our planet, the earth. The same thing may not weigh anything if removed out of this magnetic field or may weigh differently in a different planet. The same can be said about our statements relating to time and space and about every human experience. It is the matter of our daily experience that the same object which gives pleasure to us under certain circumstances, becomes boring under different circumstances. Scientific truths, are, therefore, relative in the sense that they do not give complete and exhaustive knowledge of the objects under study and contain elements that may be changed with further advance in knowledge. Nonetheless, relative truth is undoubtedly useful as it is a stepping stone to the ultimate truth.


Importance of a Negative

Again, it is important to bear in mind that when we make a positive assertion about a thing, there is an implied negative which, if not taken properly into account, may create confusion in understanding that thing. For instance, a man is a father to his sons but not to his own father, or to many other persons. He has different relations with different persons in the society. So when his parent hood is referred to, it is true only in relation to his children but untrue in his relations with his wife or friends. Both these positive and negative aspects are necessary for the correct identification of the relationship with other persons. Syadvada states the positive aspect by saying ‘Syad Asti', i.e., ‘it is true from a particular aspect'; it states the negative aspect by saying ‘Syad Nasti', i.e., ‘it is not true, if viewed from some other aspect.' In order to identify an object correctly both positive and negative aspects are necessary to show what that object is and what it is not. The Jaina logic also admits a third kind of judgement, that of indescribability called ‘Avaktavya'. It is at this stage important to note that the word ‘Syad' is not used to express ‘doubt' but is used to avoid a absolute assertion in view of the fact that our knowledge about the manifold aspects of a thing is limited. Acarya Hemacandra equates Syadvada with Anekantavada (non-absolutism). "The word ‘Syat' is an adverb, it conveys the relativity of a statement, which is based on the manifold nature of reality, i.e., Anekanta." The expression ‘Anekanta' is made of two words, ‘Aneka' means manifold and ‘Anta' means Aspect. For everything has many aspects, so any absolute judgement about it is not the correct approach. Syadvada is nothing but the relative linguistic expression. As Dasgupta explains :

"This (Syad asti) will indicate that the affirmation is only relative, made somehow, from point of view and under some reservations and not in any sense absolute. There is no judgement which is absolutely true, and no judgement which is absolutely false. All judgements are true in some sense and false in another."

We observe that the process of creation, maintenance and destruction is constantly going on around us in this universe. On the study of this process the Jaina seers concluded by applying the doctrine of Syadvada that every object is permanent as well as transitory. To a layman, such a statement would at once appear to be contradictory as a thing cannot be permanent and at the same time transitory. In fact such a criticism is levelled against Jainism by great Vedantists like Sankara and Ramanuja. The criticism is, however, based on the incorrect presumption that these apparently contradictory statements are made with reference to the same aspect and in the same sense and time. Since reality is one and permanent as well as multi-fold and ever changing, when the Jainas refer to the attribute of permanence, they are aspecting the substratum which remains constant, and when they refer to the attribute of transitoriness, they are aspecting the changing modes of the substratum. They contend that if you want to have a proper judgement about a thing, you have to bear in mind the nature of substratum as well as of its changing modes. In other words you have to bear in mind that the object which you perceive has the quality of permanence so far as its substratum is concerned and that of transitoriness so far as its changing modes are concerned. If one understands in this sense there is no contradiction. As Dr.S.Radhakrishnan puts it :

"Attributes which are contradictory, in the abstract co-exist in life and experience. The tree is moving in (the sense) that its branches are moving, and it is not moving since it is fixed to a place in the ground. It is necessary for us to know a thing clearly and distinctly, in its self-existence as well as in its relations to other objects."

Prof. Ananda Sankara Dhruva, a venerated Gujarati Scholar and a top literary critic has also criticised Sankara's comments on Syadvada as under :

"The doctrine on Syadvada seeks to achieve the synthesis of different theories (of philosophy). Sankaracarya's criticism of Syadvada has no relevance to its central theme. It is certain that a thing cannot be properly understood so long as it is not examined from various aspects. The doctrine of Syadvada is useful for this reason. Some people call this doctrine of Mahavira as the doctrine of ‘doubt'. But I do not agree with them. Syadvada is not a doctrine of doubt because it teaches us the comprehensive art to judge a thing properly."

Prof. A.N.Upadhye says :"This doctrine of seven-fold predication is often misunderstood and misrepresented by idealists who have not been able to appreciate the metaphysical basis and intellectual approach. It reminds one, of the realist-relativists of the west, such as Whitehead and others. The Jaina logician is neither a sceptic nor a agnostic; but he is a realist working with sound common sense. He does not want to ignore the relative or conditional character of the judgement arising out of the very nature of the object of knowledge."


Is Self Permanent or Transitory ?

In the field of metaphysics, there has been serious controversy about the real nature of ‘Self'. While Vedantists believe that everything which is found in this universe is ‘Brahma', the super self, which is permanent, and the material things which are found have no reality as they are transitory in nature, the Buddhists would say that everything in this universe including the super-self is transitory and constantly changing. These are the two extreme views as they concentrate only on particular aspects to the exclusion of other aspects. The Jainas say that both are relatively correct from the view point through which they see the thing, but both are incorrect in as much as they fail to take the comprehensive view of all the aspects involved. The Jainas would call to aid their doctrine of Syadvada, i.e., Anekantavada and would say that from the point of view of substance, self is permanent, but from the point of view of modifications, it is transitory. Since substance and its modes should be taken as an integrated whole in order to comprehend it properly, both the attributes of permanence and transitoriness should be taken into account. Both to the Vedantists as well as to the Buddhists the Jaina seer would say ‘Syad asti', i.e., "From one aspect you are right" and applying his ‘Anekanta-naya', i.e., looking at the problem from different angles, would come to the above conclusion. Thus the doctrine of relativity, which is the practical application of the theory of multifold aspects (Naya-vada), is nothing but the doctrine of metaphysical synthesis. This doctrine has a great value in our day to day individual and social life. But before we touch that aspect, let us take an usual illustration which clarifies the doctrine fully.

Suppose there is a pot made of earth. The earth by which it is made, could be used even for making other types of earthen vessels. Now if the pot which is before us is broken and some vessel is made out of the earth of the broken pot, the new vessel so made would not be known as a pot because for all practical purposes the pot is destroyed and no more exists. This proves that the pot was merely a shape given to earth and, independently of earth, it had no existence. This also proves that pot's existence consisted of earth coupled with a particular shape. Now let us consider which of the two-earth and shape-can claim to have an attribute of permanence ? The obvious answer is ‘earth' because shape is transitory and ‘earth' was there before the pot came into existence and continues to be there even after the pot is destroyed. In fact what was destroyed was the shape. The Jaina philosophers call the changing modes as ‘Paryaya' and the unchanging substance as ‘Dravya'. Therefore, it can be said that from the ‘Dravya' aspect, i.e. from the aspect of ‘earth' the pot is permanent but from the aspect of shape, it is transitory. So long as it continues in the shape of a pot both the aspects have to be kept in mind, if its proper cognizance is to be taken.

Whatever is said above about a pot applies on all the fours, i.e. time, space, etc. to living being.


Doctrine of Duality

The Jaina doctrine of duality of self and matter (Pudgala) also arises out of the application of ‘Anekanta' and ‘Syadvada' because the self which is unchanging and permanent cannot be the same as Pudgala which is ever changing and transitory. Advaita Vedantists such as the great Sankara look only from one aspect of permanence and ignore the aspect of change by dubbing it as Maya, i.e. illusion. It should not be forgotten that every object in this universe has its own limitations as to form, size, shape, taste, smell and other qualities. These limitations determine their identities. These objects ‘are' there in the limitations which they possess but ‘are not' there beyond limitations. Thus they both ‘are' and ‘are not'. They are thus both ‘Sat' and ‘Asat' and not merely ‘Sat' as claimed by the Vedantists nor they are merely ‘Asat' as claimed by Buddhists and ‘Sunyavadins'.


Importance of Anekanta

The importance of this comprehensive synthesis of ‘Syadvada' and ‘Anekanta-naya' in day to day life is immense in as much as these doctrines supply a rational unification and synthesis of the manifold and rejects the assertions of bare absolutes.

Mr.Stephen Hay, an American Scholar-historian, in his article, "Jaina influences on Gandhi's Early Thought" refers to Mahatma Gandhi's views about the Jaina theory of Anekanta as under :

It has been my experience, wrote Gandhi in 1926, "that I am always true (correct) from my point of view, and often wrong from the point of view of my critics. I know that we are both (myself and my critics) right from our respective points of view."

He further quotes Gandhiji's saying as under :

"I very much like this doctrine of the manyness of reality. It is this doctrine that has taught me to judge a Mussulman from his stand point and a Christian from his...From the platform of the Jainas, I prove the non-creative aspect of God, and from that of Ramanuja the creative aspect. As a matter of fact we are all thinking of the unthinkable describing the Indescribable, seeking to know the unknown, and that is why our speech falters, is inadequate and been often contradictory."

History of all conflicts and confrontations in the world is the history of intolerance born out of ignorance. Difficulty with the man is his egocentric existence. If only the man becomes conscious of his own limitations, Anekanta or Syadvada tries to make the man conscious of his limitation by pointing to his narrow vision and limited knowledge of the manifold aspects of things, and asks him not be hasty in forming absolute judgements before examining various other aspects-both positive and negative. Obviously, much of the bloodshed, and much of tribulations of mankind would have been saved if the man had shown the wisdom of understanding the contrary view points.


How the Doctrine Clarifies ‘Self'

The doctrine of Syadvada also clarifies the metaphysical doctrine of ‘Self' and the envisaged by the Jainas. The proposition ‘Syad asti' is positive in character and points out to the positive attributes of the thing in question. These are individual attributes which belong to and inhere in the thing in question. Therefore, when the proposition ‘Syad asti' is applied to ‘Self', it conveys that ‘Self' is justified in its existence only from the point of view of its own individual attributes, modes, space and time. But when the other proposition of the doctrine namely ‘Syad-nasti' is applied to it, it means the ‘Self' does not possess the attributes, modes, etc. Which do not belong to it. It is just like a pot which can be identified as a ‘pot' only if it carries the attributes of a ‘pot' but it cannot be identified as a pot if it carries the attributes which are foreign to it. So the negative identification of ‘Syat nasti' when applied to ‘Self' would mean that if the self tries to adopt the attributes of Pudgala which are foreign to it, it is not the ‘self'. In other words, Syadvada teaches us that ‘Self' can be identified positively as ‘Syad asti' only if it is viewed from its own attributes, and negatively as ‘Syad nasti' to show that it is not Pudgala, etc., if it is viewed from the attributes, foreign to it.

Thus the doctrine of Syadvada gives clarity to the real character of the ‘Self' and by the same process of reasoning, the real character of ‘Pudgala', i.e., non-sentient things.


Anekanta and Ahimsa

More important aspect of Syadvada is, however, the subtlety with which it introduces the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence) even in the realm of thought. The moment one begins to consider the angle from which a contrary view-point is put forward, one begins to develop tolerance, which is the basic requirement of the practice of ‘Ahimsa'. Origin of all bloody war fought on the surface of this earth can be traced to the war of ideas and beliefs. Syadvada puts a healing touch at the root of human psyche and tries to stop the war of beliefs which lead to the war of nerves and then to the war of bloodshed. It makes all absolutes in the field of thought quite irrelevant and naive, imparts maturity to the thought process and supplies flexibility and originality to human mind. If the man-kind will properly understand and adopt this doctrine of Syadvada it will realize that real revolution was not the French or the Russian; the real revolution was the one which taught the man to develop his power of understanding from all possible aspects.


Einstein's Theory

What Mahavira found by the process of intuition and reasoning. Einstein proved in his physical theory of Space and Time in the year 1905 A.D. Development of Optics and Electrodynamics led to the rejection of the concept of absolute time, absolute simultaneity and absolute space. If time and space are relative to other factors, everything that happens in time and space would naturally be relative to other factors. Therefore Einstein was convinced that there is causal interdependence of all processes in nature. As a result, the revelations made by him and other theories of Quantum Mechanics, the field of relativity was enlarged so as to take into consideration the fact that Reality is much dependent upon the subjective reaction of the individual who observes the event.

Jaina theory of relativity in the field of thoughts and metaphysics thus gets sufficient support from these scientific revelations in the field of physics. Theocrates world over have tried to emphasize that the truth revealed to them is absolute, eternal and immutable. Theory of relativity as embodied in Syadvada or Anekantvada is happily an exception to this. Lenin unknowingly endorsed this theory when he said :"Human thoughts by its nature is capable of giving, and does give, absolute truth, which is compounded of sum total of relative truths. Each step in the development of science adds new grains of absolute truth, but the limits of the truth of each scientific proposition are relative, now expanding, now shrinking with the growth of knowledge." If only Lenin knew how to apply this principle in the evolution of social and economic theories propounded by Marx, the fate of socialism would have been quite different today.


Theory of Seven Predications (Sapta-bhanga)

To clarify the above approach of ascertaining the truth by the process of Syadvada (Anekanta) the Jaina philosophers have evolved a formula of seven predications which are known as Saptabhanga. ‘Sapta' means ‘seven' and ‘Bhanga' means ‘mode'. These seven modes of ascertaining the truth are able to be exact in exploring all possiblities and aspects. For any proposition, there are three main modes of assessment, namely, (1) A positive assertion, (2) A negative assertion, (3) Not describable. The first is called ‘Avaktavya'. However, for greater clarity four more permutations of these three are added as under : ‘Asti-nasti', ‘Asti-avaktavya', ‘Nasti-avaktavya' and ‘Asti-nasti-avaktavya'. The word ‘Syat' is prefixed to each of these seven predications to prevent the proposition from being absolute.

All these seven predications are explained with reference to an earthen pot; But we may try to understand with reference to an ethical proposition that ‘It is sin to commit violence'. With regard to this proposition, the seven predications noted above can be made as under :

(i) It is sin to commit violence with an intention to commit the same (Asti).

(ii) It is not a sin to commit violence on an aggressor who molests an innocent and helpless woman (Nasti).

(iii) It is sin to commit violence in breach of moral and social laws, but it is not sin if violence is required to be committed in performance of moral or social duties (Asti-nasti).

(iv) It is not possible to say whether violence is sin or virtue without knowing the circumstances under which it is required to be committed (Avaktavya).

(v) Violence is indeed sinful under certain circumstances, but no positive statement of this type can be made for all times and under all circumstances (Nasti-avaktavya).

(vii) Violence is sinful, but there are circumstances where it is not so. In fact no statement in affirmation or negation can be made for all time and all circumstances (Asti-nasti-avaktavya).

All these seven modes can be expressed with regard to every proposition. The Jaina philosophers have applied them with reference to self, its eternality, non-eternality, identity and character. In fact this approach of Anekanta permeates almost every doctrine which is basic to Jaina philosophy. S.Gopalan quotes Eliot in this connection, as saying :

"The essence of the doctrine (of Syadvada), so far as one can disentangle it from scholastic terminology, seems just, for it amounts to this, that as to matters of experience it is impossible to formulate the whole and the complete truth, and as to matters which transcend experience, language is inadequate."

At no time in the history of mankind, this principle of Syadvada (Anekanta) was more necessary than in the present.