A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the doctrine of relative pluralism (anekantavada): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventh part in the series called the “the jaina philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 7 - The Doctrine of Relative Pluralism (anekāntavāda)

This conception of being as the union of the permanent and change brings us naturally to the doctrine of Anekāntavāda or what we may call relative pluralism as against the extreme abso- -lutism of the Upaniṣads and the pluralism of the Buddhists. The Jains regarded all things as anekānta (na-ekānta), or in other words they held that nothing could be affirmed absolutely, as all affirmations were true only under certain conditions and limitations. Thus speaking of a gold jug, we see that its existence as a substance (dravya) is of the nature of a collocation of_atoms and not as any other substance such as space (ākāśa), i.e. a gold jug is a dravya only in one sense of the term and not in every sense; sojt is a dravya in the sense that it is a collocation of atoms and not a dravya in the sense of space or time (kāla). It is thus both a dravya and not a dravya at one and the same time. Again it is atomic in the sense that it is a composite of earth-atoms and not atomic in the sense that it is not a composite of water-atoms. Again it is a composite of earth-atoms only in the sense that gold is a metallic modification of earth, and not any other modification of earth as clay or stone.

Its being constituted of metal-atoms is again true in the sense that it is made up of gold-atoms and not of iron-atoms. It is made up again of gold-atoms in the sense of melted and unsullied gold and not as gold in the natural condition. It is again made up of such unsullied and melted gold as has been hammered and shaped by the goldsmith Devadatta and not by Yajñadatta. Its being made up of atoms conditioned as above is again only true in the sense that the collocation has been shaped as a jug and not as a pot and so on. Thus proceeding in a similar manner the Jains say that all affirmations are true of a thing only in a certain limited sense.

All things (vastu) thus possess an infinite number of qualities (anantadharmātmakam vastu), each of which can only be affirmed in a particular sense. Such an ordinary thing as a jug will be found to be the object of an infinite number of affirmations and the possessor of an infinite number of qualities from infinite points of view, which are all true in certain restricted senses and not absolutely[1]. Thus in the positive relation riches cannot be affirmed of poverty but in the negative relation such an affirmation is possible as when we say “the poor man has no riches.” The poor man possesses riches not in a positive but in a negative way. Thus in some relation or other anything may be affirmed of any other thing, and again in other relations the very same thing cannot be affirmed of it. The different standpoints from which things (though possessed of infinite determinations) can be spoken of as possessing this or that quality or as appearing in relation to this or that, are technically called naya[2].

Footnotes and references:


See Guṇaratna on Jainaniata in Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya , pp. 211, etc., and also Tattvārthādhigamasūtra .


See Tattvārthādhigamasūtra, and Viśeṣāvaśyaka bhāṣya, pp. 895-923.