Jain metaphysics, the reality is constituted by innumerable material and
spiritual substances, each of which is the locus of innumerable qualities.
Not only are there innumerable substances, each with innumerable quality,
but each quality is susceptible to an infinite number of modifications.
Clearly ordinary knowledge (non-omniscient) cannot comprehend this complex
reality, for ordinary knowledge is limited not only by the limited power of
the senses and reason, but also by the perspectives adopted by the knower as
well as by the conditions of the space, time, light, and so on.
the incredibly rich and complex nature of reality, Jains developed the
concept of notion of the "Many-sidedness" (anekant) of existence in
opposition to their opponentís claims that Brahman alone, because it is
permanent and unchanging, is ultimately and absolutely real or that, as the
Buddhist claimed, nothing is permanent, and the changing process are the
only reality. This concept of the many-sidedness of existence enabled Jain
thinkers to affirm both permanence and change. What things are in the
substance are in themselves, as substance, is permanent. But the forms or
modes of these substances are continuously changing.
the limits of ordinary knowledge, Jainism developed the theory that truth is
relative to the perspective (naya) from which it is known. Furthermore,
because of reality is many sided and knowledge true only from a limited
perspective, all knowledge claims are only tentative (syat) having the form,
"X may be Y," rather than "X is Y."
limitations of knowledge are illustrated with a popular Jain story,
involving five blind man and elephant. A king once brought five blind men
into his courtyard where he had fastened a large elephant and asked them to
tell him what it was. Each man touched the elephant, and on the basis of
their perspective, told the king that he knew this thing to be. The fist
felt the trunk and declared that it was a huge snake. The second touched the
tail and said it was a rope. The third felt the leg and called it a tree
trunk. The fourth took hold of and ear and called it a winnowing fan, while
the fifth felt the side of elephant and declared it to be a wall. Because
each insisted that his claim was correct and truly described the object in
question, the five men were soon in the middle of heated argument, unable to
resolve the dispute because they failed to recognize that each of their
claims was true only from limited perspective.
blind men, each person perceives things only from their own perspective.
These perspectives are determined by many factors, including sociocultural
conditioning, particular place, time, light, hopes, fears and, of course,
subject to the limitation of our sensory receptors and reasoning power. A
person seeking profit sees everything in terms of gains and losses; and
insecure person sees threats everywhere and person devoted to God sees
everything as Godís blessed creation.
When it is
understood that knowledge is limited by the particular perspectives from
which id is achieved, it becomes easy to see that knowledge claims are
conditioned by the limitation of the perspective that is assumes and should
always be expressed as only tentatively true. Just as the blind men should
have been more circumspect, saying for example, "Standing here, feeling the
object with my hands, it feels like a winnowing fan. It may be a winnowing
fan," so should everyone understand that their knowledge claims should be
asserted only conditionally.
the logic of conditional assertion, the Jains came up with a sevenfold
schema for making a truth claim about any particular object. For example,
the following assertions are possible with respect to, say, the temperature
of a glass of water:
It may be
warm (to someone coming from the cold)
It may not
be warm (to someone coming from a very warm room it felt cold)
It may be
both warm and not warm, depending upon certain conditions.
of all conditions, the water is indescribable (all knowledge rest on
Indescribable in itself, the water may be said to be warm subject to
certain (a combination of 1 and 4)
Indescribable in itself, the water may be said not to be warm, subject to
certain conditions (a combination of 2 and 4).
Indescribable in itself, the water may be said to be warm and not warm
depending upon certain conditions (a combination of 3 and 4).
why the last three assertions all begin with the claim "Indescribable in
itself" is that every substance known and described possesses an infinite
number of qualities -- each of which also possesses an infinite number of
modifications. Although ordinary knowledge reveals some of these qualities
and modifications, it cannot reveal them all. Thus, all descriptions of
reality are only partial. The substance itself, with its infinite qualities
and modifications, can be fully known only when all the limitations to
knowledge are overcome.
scheme of conditional assertion forces us to recognize the partial and
incomplete nature of ordinary human knowledge. This is very important
initial step in overcoming the passions, because desire, hatred, pride,
anger and greed stem from partial one-sided understanding of things
dogmatically presumed to be the whole truth. How many times have we
embarrassingly realized the inappropriateness of our anger, jealousy, pride,
or greed when we came to see the "full picture"? Greed for money vanishes
when it is understood that money canít buy health, friends or happiness.
Excessive pride gives way to humility when we come to appreciate the
wonderful qualities and accomplishments of others. Anger and hatred
disappear when we realize that other objects, situations, or persons are no
threat to us. To the extent that we appreciate that the knowledge from which
the destructive passions arise is partial, we are encouraged to restrain
ourselves until our understanding increases.
the partial nature of ordinary knowledge makes Jains more appreciative of
the knowledge of the Ford-makers (Tirthankars). It encourages faith in their
teachings and motivates efforts to emulate their lives in the hope of
achieving similar omniscience, purity, and bliss. This in turn awakens a
deep longing for true insight and knowledge which may serve as a catalyst to
activate the soulís natural inclination to freedom and direct its energies
toward recovery of its omniscience.