First Steps To Jainism


The Central Philosophy of Jainism - Anekantavad,
The Doctrine of Non-one-sidedness

We take up this subject with some hesitation- it may be admitted in advance. The subject of Anekantavada or the Doctrine of Non-onesideness is very difficult (to explain) and yet not so difficult. It is very complicated as well as very simple. It is a matter of common, everyday experience and yet so remote that it defies easy understanding.

At the same time the subject is so important that it has been rightly called the central philosophy of Jainism. It is one of the most significant contributions of Jain thinkers to the realm of intellectual and philosophical deliberations; just as the Jain concept of non-violence and Karamvada are pacesetters in the field of human progress in ethical and metaphysical fields. An attempt is, therefore, being made to deal with the subject in simple language so that the student of Jainism may take first steps on this road and if his interest is aroused, this attempt shall be considered successful. For those so interested there is no dearth of literature on this subject, as for the last 2500 years, since Lord Mahaveer, a great many savants have examined this subject exhaustively and enriched its knowledge with their contributions.

What is Anekantavad - It is difficult to find a complete and exactly equivalent term. As such this can be treated as a terminus techniques. However, it has been variously called as the Philosophy of Non-absolutism (Satkari Mookerjee), the Theory of the many sided nature of reality, the Philosophy of harmonizing-together (Hari Bhadra) and Theory of manifoldness. These nomenclatures throw considerable light on the various aspects of the theory of Anekantavada. However, one term which encompasses the meaning almost completely and can be called an equivalent is "Theory of Non-one-sidedness" used by Dr. B.K. Matilal (from whose lectures published by L.D. Institute Ahmedabad considerable help has been taken in this article) which is used in the title of this article.

For understanding the full meaning of "non-one-sidedness" or anekantavada, one has to understand what is meant by "one sidedness" or Ekant which is denied by this Theory. To a layman the ordinary meaning would appear as holding one side or one view steadfastly. It is well known that with the philosophical development a number of schools of thought developed in India-as anywhere else - like Samkhya, Bauddha, Vedanta, Nyaya and Mimansa. Even before the ideas crystallized in such established schools, thoughts of different types were aired by different thinkers like those seen in the Vedas, Upnishadas and other scriptures. These concerned the various metaphysical propositions like different aspects of reality, soul, universe and others. When such different view points emerged during development of thought, and one school asserted its metaphysical thesis, it was rejected by another school which put forward its own contradictory proposition, Each school mustered arguments in favour of its own thesis and those rejecting the opposite propositions. This verged on dogmatism. So much so that one school refused to entertain the point of view of the other side holding it as false and considering only its own point of view as the gospel - absolute - truth. This led to intolerance. Such dogmatist and intolerant approach is considered "ekant" or one-sided philosophical approach in Jain view and such one-sidedness is considered as equivalent to falsehood or false knowledge and false perception - Mithya Gyan and Mithya Darshan.

Anekantavada or the Doctrine of non-one-sidedness is negation of or is opposed to the above mentioned Ekant or one-sided approach-as the prefix "an" or "non" would suggest. According to the non-onesided approach while presenting one's point of view on any subject due consideration is also shown to the opposite point of view. This approach is based on the acceptance of the manifoldness of reality or in other words, acceptance of the fact that every proposition or thesis has many aspects - all of which have some element of truth from different standpoints. As such a philosophical proposition or metaphysical thesis can be true if it is viewed from a particular stand-point. Therefore, the doctrine of non-one-sidedness not only tolerates the view point of the opposite side, but also tries to understand the basis or standpoints of the divergent propositions with a view to reconcile the apparent contradictions. The position will be clear if illustrated with the too well known story of the elephant and the six blind men.

It is said that six blind men approached an elephant and each of them caught hold of a different part of the body of the elephant. Each one of the blind men, therefore, formed his own image of the huge animal. The man who caught the tail of the elephant thought it to be like a long rope. The one holding the leg of the animal thought it was like a piller. The third one who got the ear in his hands thought the elephant was like a huge fan. the fourth man who held the trunk of the elephant considered that it was like a python. Another holding the stomach thought it was like a drum. The one who got on the back of the elephant considered that it was like a platform.

Since they were certain that they were right in their conjectures each of the six blind men held fast to his view about the elephant holding it sacrosant, at the same time calling the views held by the others as absolutely false. This led to acrimony and would have resulted in a fight, but for the intervention of a wise man who explained the correct position to the six blind men, by making them feel the other parts of the elephant. They, then, realized that though each of them was partly correct in his imagination of the elephant, but the others were equally correct in their conjectures of the animal from their stand-points and that the true and total picture of the elephant could be appreciated by understanding the views held by each one of them with the reasons therefor.

In the above illustrative story the six blind men, when they held fast to their individual picture of the elephant as a rope or a pillar, were adopting an ekantvadi or one-sided approach, which was obviously false. When they appreciated the view points of the others in addition to their own, and the reasons therefor - thus knowing the true nature of the elephant they were on the right road of Anekantavad or non-one-sidedness.

From a superficial view the doctrine may appear too simple and obvious and thus insignificant. It may not be considered justified that so much importance has been attached to it in the philosophical sphere that it is considered a major contribution of Jainism. However, if it is remembered that much violence has resulted from intellectual differences, then any attempt towards harmony is a major step in the right direction.

It will be more clear if we take the example from philosophical deliberation of the nature of Reality (Satt) which is fundamental to all philosophies. The Vedanta philosophy led by Sankaracharya held that Reality (Satt) is permanent and unchanging. The Buddhist philosophy on the contrary held that there is nothing permanent and the Reality or Satt is always changing being in a state of flux, because there is instantaneous and automatic origination and destruction. History is witness to the fierce controversies resulting from these extreme ekantvadi or one-sided positions which ultimately led to almost complete banishment of Buddhism from India, the country of its origin. Jainism reconciling both these extreme-ekanta-positions, holds that reality is characterized by a simultaneous operation of origination (Utpad) and destruction (Vyaya) as well as permanence (Dhrauvya) a truly non-one-sided (Anekantavada) approach.

This is the famous proposition of the Jain Text - Tattvarth Sutra (5.29) "UTPAD VYAYA DHRAUVYA YUKTAM SAT" i.e. Reality is characterised by origination, destruction as well as permanence. It implies that reality is not "Permanent" but also permanent, it is not only in a flux but also in a flux. Accordingly an object of knowledge must have three inseparable aspects. (i) a permanent substance - the inherent qualities (ii) destruction or abandonment of old shape and (iii) origination or acquisition of a new shape. Applying this concept to a substance like the "Soul", it is permanent when viewed from its essential quality of "consciousness' which it never gives up, it is destroyed when it given up a particular body and it again originates when it is reborn, as another being. This can be applied to all cases uniformly e.g. when a bangle is broken, it is its destruction, but the continuing gold content remain permanent, and when rings are made of that gold it amounts to origination (though only its shape has been changed).

The above discussion shows that Anekantvada is an attempt to reconcile so called different and opposite points of view by understanding them and as such it is rightly called a doctrine of synthesis and assimilation as well as toleration and understanding. This takes us to the philosophic source or origin of this doctrine which lies in the concept of non-violence of Jainism and which was responsible to a great extent for the development of non-one-sided approach- anekant attitude in Jain philosophy.

Sources of Anekantavada : The concept of Non-violence with its special and significant features is an unique contribution of Jainism to the progress of human civilization. This has been discussed in Pt. - I. To recapitulate in brief, since all beings want to live and live comfortably-want to have full and free experience of all their vitalities (pranas)-any attempt to infringe upon such freedom is apparent or gross form of violence. In its fine form any reckless activity-Pramad-also amounts to violence though it may or may not result in injury to living beings. The aforesaid attempts or recklessness can be in thought, word, and deed and abjuring all these is non-violence. There is also the positive side of non-violence which includes kindness and compassion, peace and pity etc. Extension of such non-violent attitude to the intellectual and verbal planes was natural as one cannot be truly non-violent unless one abjures violence in thought also as much as in words and deed. Non-violence is indivisible in as much as one cannot be physically non-violent and intellectually violent, specially when it is the intellect that guides all physical activity. Therefore, the Jain concept of respect for the life of others led to the principle of respect for the views of others, which formed the basis of "anekanta" or non-one-sided doctrine. This involved not only toleration of the opposite doctrines or different views but also investigation of the reasons for the difference and further attempts at reconciliation of the same.`

Historically speaking, since non-one-sidedness or anekantavada was an offshoot or corollary of non-violence it can be presumed to exist in Jain thought and belief abinitio-along with non-violence which is the core or fundamental principle of Jainism. However, its methodology, refinement and accompaniments like Naya-Vada or doctrine of standpoints and Syadvada " or "doctrine of may be" might have evolved later.

It has also been stated that the theory of non-one-sidedness developed from Lord Mahaveer's handling of the process of Vibhajyavad or analytical system. No doubt the ancient scripture like Sutra Kritanga describe Lord Mahaveer as "Vibhajyavadi" but Lord Buddha has also been described as such as he also followed the analytical method. But Vibhajyavad can also, in its broader spectrum, imply a non-dogmatic and exploratory approach to philosophical and a metaphysical subjects. In this sense it not only includes a system of analysis but also that of synthesis-differentiation as well as integration. Lord Mahaveer not only analysed the subject but also developed a philosophy of synthesis, toleration and understanding of different standpoints or pre-suppositions to reconcile and resolve the disputes. This system developed into and came to be designated as "Anekantavada" or the "Theory" of non-one-sidedness.

Some examples may clarify the position. Suppose a question is asked "whether A is not B" ? The answer from one group can be "Yes, A is B", while another group may say "No, A is B". However, Anekantvadi approach will be "A is B from one point of view", and "A is not B from another point of view". Just as a man is a husband from the point of view of his wife, brother from the point of view of his sister and so on. Similarly in Anekantvad a thing is correct from one point of view and wrong from another point of view.

To take exact quotation from Jain Shastra Bhagwati, to the question whether the universe was finite or infinite Lord Mahaveer has replied that from the standpoint of area/measurement the Universe was finite, but from the standpoint of time the universe was infinite. This brings us to the subject of Theory of standpoints or Nayavad, and the Theory of Maybe or "Syadvad" which are considered two wings of the Theory of Non-one-sidedness or Anekantvada. Before taking up these two theories a couple of observations are considered necessary. Firstly, the assimilative aspect of Anekatvada pre-suppose the existence of well developed philosophical schools amongst whom serious controversies came to the fore, which justified synthesis and assimilation. Some such schools were Sankhaya, Baudha, Nyaya, Mimansa etc. Another factor was introduction of use of Sanskrit language in Jain literature, which was earlier confined to Prakrit or Ardhmagadhi. Thus though the seed of Anekant existed in Jain thought earlier, it grew, flowered and bore fruits later along with other schools and then only discussion of Anekant gathered strength and its details multiplied.

Secondly, though Anekantavad implies acceptance of manifoldness of reality, it should be clearly understood that a simple joint assertion of contrary predicates about a subject will not amount to indication of Anekantavad. Further though anekanta approach permits acceptance of contrary or contradictory propositions from different stand points the ideas challenging the fundamental truth or basis principles can in no way be entertained under the garb of Anekantavad. For example consciousness is considered a hall-mark of the soul or jeeva in Jainism, as such it cannot be held to be without consciousness from any standpoint.

To conclude this general-preliminary-survey of Anekantvad, we may refer to Dr. Y.J. PADMARAJIAH, who mentions the following five types of philosophy considered from the point of view of the nature of reality in his famous book "The Jaina Theory of Reality and Knowledge" :

  1. Philosophy of Being or Identity e.g. Vedanta
  2. Philosophy of Difference or Change e.g. Buddhism
  3. Philosophy subordinating Difference to identity e.g. The Samkhya.
  4. Philosophy subordinating Identity to Difference e.g. The Vaisesika.
  5. Philosophy co-ordinating both Identity and Difference e.g. The Jaina view of reality.

Thus Jainism meets the extremes and presents a view of reality which comprehends the various sides of reality to give a synthetic picture of the whole. It recognises the principle of distinction and develops the comprehensive scheme of Anekanta realism. Anekanta is the "most consistent form of realism; as it allows the principle of distinction to run its full course until it reaches its logical terminus on the theory of manifold reality".

Nayavad or Doctrine of standpoints

We now take up the subject of Naya, which, as hinted above, enables proper view and appreciation of true nature of things through intelligent assessment of their different aspects from different standpoints. There are two means for acquiring knowledge of any object-Paramana (proof) and Naya (stand-point) (Tatvarthsutra 1-6). Since an object has a manifold character or many aspects, these can be comprehended entirely by the omniscient only. However to understand one aspect of an object or to view it from one stand-point is Naya, and to understand many aspects of an object is Praman. For example to understand the soul from one stand-point that it has consciousness is Nayavad, but to appreciate the soul from its many features like non-material nature, eternal existence, conscious quality etc. is Praman. In other words Naya is a part of Praman and Praman is a collection of Naya. Thus Praman is compared to an ocean while Naya are like ocean water in different pitchers (Raj Vartik-Akalanka).

While other schools acquired knowledge of objects through "Praman", Jainism used the method of Nayavad in addition, as the former may not illuminate all the aspects fully and individually. At the same time it is always necessary to keep in mind that according to Nayavad one aspect is being revealed from amongst innumerable aspects which are equally important, and the knowledge so revealed is coloured or conditioned by the particular point of view or stand point-failure to so remember will lead to confusion and ekantvad. Therefore the whole truth or complete nature of reality will be revealed by pooling together the knowledge revealed by the stand-point or Naya, which though contradicting each other separately when combind lead to truth. Here an interesting example may be quoted from Naya Karnika of Vinay Vijay who says that "just as different smaller feudal lords, who may be opposed to each other, when commanded by the Emperor-Chakarvati-combine together to render him proper service, the different Naya or standpoints when combined reveal the complete and whole truth".

Thus nayavad and naya properly utilised become the tools or instruments for application of Anekantavada or doctrine of non-one-sidedness in practice enabling a complete and proper grasp of knowledge on the one hand, and understanding and reconciliation of different points of view on the other.

Since a substance has innumerable aspects, it can be viewed from innumerable stand-points and therefore there can be as many (innumerable) Naya. That would make the comprehension of all the Naya and the object impossible. As such the acharyas have grouped or classified the naya-standpoint-into certain categories-which though varying have largely common features. The first and major classification of Naya is in two groups (i) Dravyarthik Naya or substance related standpoint and (ii) Paryarthik Naya or modification related standpoint. The first group of Naya deals with stand-points that relate to the substance or the general characteristic like viewing the sea from the point of view of water only. The second group of Naya relate to the special features of the object which may be subject to modification, or which are special e.g. viewing the sea from the stand-point of sour taste of its water.

The classifications or groupings of Naya-

There are many classifications but according to Tatvarth Sutra there are five classes with further subdivisions of some of them. These are:

Naigam (the common or non-distinguished)

Sangrah (the general)

Vyavahar (the practical)

Rjusutra (the straight thread)

Shabda (the verbal)

which are described below in brief :

Naigam Naya or the common standpoint :

In this group are included those naya or stand points which relate to and are expressed in commonly used terms according to local tradition without any particular distinguishing features of the object. They are divided into two sub-categories viz. Desh Paripekshi (General) and Sarva Paripekshi (Specific). Thus while going to cut wood, one may say he is going to make a table or while calling `taxi' `taxi' one may actually be calling the taxi driver. Such statements or ideas are included in Naigam category of Naya. Such statements are considered true according to Naigam Naya as these are acceptable by local tradition and common usage though strictly speaking they may not be quite correct. For obvious reasons this naya has widest scope and application.

Sangrah or general -

These stand-points or Naya encompass those statements or ideas that have between them some common or general features of the object, ignoring the other specific and differing claims or marks. The word Sangrah means collection. As such under this Naya is implied a method by which separate entities are brought under one class or notion. Thus when it is claimed that everything is Sat (being), it is perfectly understandable from Sangrah Naya or stand-point, though it leaves out the element of Asat (Non-being).

As such it lays emphasis on the Universal ignoring diverse features. Absolute monism or Vedanta philosophy are notable examples. Jainism, however, holds it to be a partial point of view and one of the Nayas only. Its scope is more limited than Naigam Naya.

Vyavhar or Practical -

This group of naya though complementary to item (ii) above Sangarh Naya-further classifies the object into groups keeping their specific characters in view and looks at them from the special standpoints. On the basis of Sangrah Naya and after describing the things in a collective form it is necessary to find out their special characteristics. That special character is called Vyavhar Naya. For example when we utter the word "medicine" it includes all kinds of medicines but when we say allopathic, ayurvedic or homeopathic medicine, then we can understand its speciality. This can further be divided by its name, patent, quality use etc. These divisions are examples of Vyavahar Naya and have a tendency towards greater exactitude. (This Vyavahar Naya is different from the other Vyavahar Naya dealt with in para below).

Raju Sutra or Straight Thread

This naya requires consideration of the ideas like reality etc. as the direct grasp of here and now-ignoring the past and future but in the present Paryay or mode of a thing. Raju means simple and sutra means knowledge. Supposing a man was a Minister and now he is not on the post. Thus his past is of no use. Similarly a person is nominated Minister, his future is meaningless in terms of Raju Sutra. Only present is recognised by Raju Sutra Naya making the identification more easy and scope more narrow. The Buddhist Philosophy of Kshanikvada is an example of this Naya.

Shabda or the Verbal

This naya relies on the meaning of the words for viewing the objects in question. Some schools of thought rely on words and the meaning thereof to explain the nature of things. According to Jain thinking, such understanding may be true and may throw light on the subject-though partially. This will be true from Shabda Naya or Verbal point of view. There are further subdivisions of this Naya to make the understanding more easy and exact.

Of the five nayas mentioned Naigam (the common or non-distinguished), Sangrah (the general), Vyavahar (the practical) these three are Dravyarthic Naya, or substance related and Rjusutra (the straight thread) and Shabda (the verbal) are Paryarthic Naya or modification related standpoints.

Another major divisions of Naya is (i) Nishchaya or intrinsic or determination stand-point and (ii) Vyavhar or common usage or worldly behaviour stand point which is applied quite frequently in day to day parlance. The first implies the real or the ultimate meaning or interpretation of an object while the latter involves the apparent or the general superficial view. Thus for example from Nishchya Naya or stand point a soul is independent, self-existed and uncontaminated by matter, from Vyavahar stand point it can be called as involved in Karma as well as the cycle of birth and death. Such classification of naya or standpoints enables identification or distinction of objects or theories according to particular class of naya. Thus it can be said that from Naigam Naya a particular object or statement is true while from Sangrah Naya another statement is so true. Thus it resolves controversies that may otherwise arise.

The Four Nikshepa

A brief mention may be made of the term Nikshepa which is used by some scholars in addition to the Naya as a means to analyse and correctly understand the interpretation or meaning of any particular term by referring to the context. These Nikshepa (or Nyas as mentioned in Tatvarth Sutra) are four in the least and may be many more. These are (i) Nam Nikshep (Name) (ii) Sthapna Nikshep (Attributory) (iii) Dravya Nikshep (Proximate) and (iv) Bhav Nikshep (Intrinsic or Real). To illustrate the four Nikshepa it is stated that if a person is named King, even without any real qualities of a King, the term will be so understood according to Naam Nikshepa, The picture or statue of a king will also convey the idea of king according to Sthapana Nikshep and if a person was a ruler in the past he may be termed king for all times according to Dravya Nikshep. Though in all these cases the nomenclature king will not be justified by facts. Only the person with all qualities of a king and ruling presently should be called king which will be correct according to Bhav Nikshep.

The Nikshepa of word helps to arrive at the correct meaning, at the same time explaining how the particular word is used at a particular place. Of course the real sense is conveyed by Bhav Nikshepa. As stated earlier these are aids to the application of Naya and sometimes considered as part and parcel of the same. Some scholars even consider that they (Nikshep) are superfluous and a duplication as the first three Nikshepas are covered by Dravyarthik naya and the last one is covered by Paryarthik Naya.

Before concluding this brief discussion of Naya (standpoints) or Nayavad, it may be added that purpose is not only to acquire knowledge from different points of view, but also to ascertain the basis for commonality in contradictory propositions with a view to reconcile the same. Another example of such as approach can be the two views about the soul i.e. some hold there is only one soul and others hold there are innumerable souls. Nayavad reconciles the apparent contradiction by holding that from the standpoint of separate individual beings there are innumerable souls, but from the standpoint of pure omniscient quality all souls are alike and, therefore, one. Since standpoints are also known as "Apeksha", Nayaved is called Apekshavad, yet another name for Anekantvada which can be loosely translated as Relativism.

We close this discussion of Nayavad with the following shloka of Acharya Yashovijaya which gives succinctly the purpose and scope of Naya to embrace different schools of thought :

Rajusutra Naya includes the Buddhist point of view. Vedanta and Sankhya are covered by Sangrah Naya, the Yoga Vaisheshika are embraced by Naigam Naya and Shabda Naya covers the Shabda Brahmvadi. Thus the Jain approach is apparent that Nayavad embraces all philosophies.

In any case, the divisions are subdivisions of Nayas in not sacrosanct as difference is apparent in the approach of different thinkers and at different times-with development of thought, which cannot be static. As stated earlier there can be unlimited Naya as the aspects from which a thing can be viewed are unlimited. Further, all the Naya are dissolved and disappear with the appearance of omniscience or Keval Gyan, as the stars disappear with the appearance of the sun.