Jain Science and Spirituality

by Medhavi Jain | 2020 | 61,419 words

This essay studies the elements of Jainism and investigates how Jain science and philosophy can give the world answers to through science and spirituality. Instead of interpreting it as a confined, strict philosophy, it is shown that Jainism represents a path towards self-awakening through self-improvement....

5.1. Non-absolutism (Introduction—Anekantavada)

The doctrine of Nayavada is indescribably beautiful! It expresses the limitations of language to represent human experience and human inability to understand the complete truth. What one understands through a statement can be entirely different from what the other sees in that, and everybody’s understanding can be partially correct. Therefore we must respect every opinion, because every opinion has an element of truth and there is no (one) absolute truth. Hence there is no need to have disputes and arguments, this doctrine is powerful enough to resolve all disagreements and establish peace amongst communities, nations and eventually the world.

Anekantavada, the Jain doctrine portraying the genuine nature of all objects (dravya) in the Universe, expresses that everything, living and non-living, has a limitless number of modes (paryaya) which exist together however are showed under various conditions at various occasions. In this manner the nature is multifaceted and multi-layered.’[1]

It is said that the truth is one and absolute, but this statement is not true. The truth is present in many layers, modes, perspectives and attributes, also to understand the complete truth one needs to climb the innumerable ladders of existence. Anekantavada helps one in approaching the truth through multiple points of view.

Just like a woman is a mother at the time of pampering her children, a wife when she is looking after her husband, a businesswoman at the time of carrying on her business responsibilities and a home maker as a whole and on top of that the same normal woman.

‘Each object has numerous properties which exist together, without meddling with one another, and just a couple of them show eventually and others stay idle till the correct conditions emerge. It is in this way unrealistic to know all aspects of its reality. This hypothesis of assortment of nature of an object has been called anekantavada, and it has been differently portrayed as multifacetedness, multidimensionality, relativism, non-ambiguity, pluralism, logic, non-one sidedness, non-absolutism and so on.’[2]

Be it an object or a living being, consciousness or matter, anekantavada covers all by different names and understandings.

Acarya Amritachandra (~ tenth century CE) portrayed Anekantavada in the subsequent manner:

"any genuine object on the planet is existent (sat) just as non-existent (asat), one and many, everlasting (nitya) and non-interminable (anitya), describable (abhilapya) and indefinable (anabhilapya), neither this nor that, however both, for example this as well as that, as far as its tendency, time, space, material and mode (svabhava, kala, ksetra, dravya, and bhava).”[3]

For example: a man exists from a physical perspective but from a philosophical point of view only his soul exists and his body is visible due to his karma. He is one as a man but as he performs many duties as a father, employer, husband, driver, son, brother etc. he is many. He is eternal from the soul point of view and noneternal from a physical point of view. His attributes are describable but as he still has some hidden attributes they are indescribable as well. He is neither only a husband nor only a son, but both; in terms of his nature, time, space and so on.

‘The standards of Anekantavada and Syadavada have discovered reasonable applications in practically all circles of life, for example, individual, family, social and political (national and universal) relations and prompted the ideas of shared regard, bargain, resilience and pardoning for one another's perspectives and is fundamental for conjunction and agreeable living.’[4]

Without a doubt Anekantavada and Syadavada seem to be there to have a better understanding of matter and consciousness along with fostering mutual understanding amongst families, states, nations and eventually the world, but one may think that when one says, ‘I respect your opinion as you, too, are right. But at the same time one of us is more right.’ This statement is equally true too. As one cannot respect a terrorist’s point of view to kill anybody who does not listen to him.

Mahavira was the biggest philosopher of all times. He introduced Anekantavada to his pupils so that they can understand the truth in a better way.

‘Several other concepts, e.g. Syadavada “contextual perspective”, Nayavada “specific viewpoints”, Saptabhangi (seven modes of existence) etc. arose from Anekantavada as a result of the teachings of Mahavira (599-527 BCE), the 24th Jain Fordmaker.’[5]

‘Mahavira educates his ascetics that, since they have taken the pledge of truthfulness, they ought not clarify anything without qualifying it with " syat" (to some specific circumstance), else the statement will turn out to be false.’[6]

What if all seekers of the world, instead of pushing themselves on others, stop invalid expectations and start using the word ‘syat’ that, ‘brother in some context I am right and in some you. Hence lets live peacefully together and lets work towards making this world a better place.’ Wouldn’t it be awesome!

Any beautiful philosophy or thought remains undiscovered until it becomes known to those who value it and understand it.

‘For over a millenium, the Jain rationale based on Anekantavada, Syadavada and Saptabhangi equipped the base of Indian logic, though endured in solitude, till academicians like J.B.S. Haldane (1957) and P.C. Mahalanobis (1954, 1957) comprehended their value in terms of theory of statistics and probability and D.S. Kothari (1985) discovered its prognosis in context of wave-particle duality akin to the explanations given by quantum theory. G.N. Ramachandran (1980, 1982, 1983), in an array of papers used Syad Nyaya System (SNS) for establishing computer logic and accomplished a new system of Sentimental Logic and its isomorphism with Boolean Algebra.’[7]

This way anekantavada became popular in the intellectual community of scholars and scientists and it not only helped them in discovering new things but also made them believe in the Jain logic.

‘Everything does not reveal all its aspects (modes) at any particular moment, however they are revealed as and when conditions become convenient, depending upon situation, cause, connection with the surroundings, time and place etc.’[8]

The best example to support this statement is: someone has the abilities of becoming a writer but this quality keeps lying dormant in her until she comes in touch with some events or situations that help her bring out the writer in her. In our daily lives also we can observe examples of the same where a dumb student becomes a genius after coming under the guidance of an efficient teacher or when in a traumatic event, someone known to be a coward steps ahead and takes charge to take everyone out of it.

Normally in our daily lives whenever some contradiction happens with any of our relation, we instantly tend to be aggressive.

However with age we learn to be calm and analyse the possibilities of why that contradiction occurred.

‘A specific choice assumed on the premise of a momentary impulse considering just the present state may not be a right choice. A right choice should mull over all conceivable outcomes including those, by and by covered up and unbelievable, which may show in future. Such a fair choice will be additionally enduring and productive.’[9]

Therefore the habit, of not reacting instantly, results into our own peace of mind and we become a better and more understanding person.

When we meet someone, as part of the human nature we start to build some judgment about that person. However we do not know about his/her past, his way of dealing with situations, his familial background etc. but still we build some imaginary castle around his persona.

Some of our judgment may turn out to be right, on the other hand some may be proven completely opposite as,

‘There can be different ways, perspectives and ways to understand reality. Each view is deficient in itself yet various perspectives supplement one another and, together, they give a progressively healthy comprehension of the real world. Be that as it may, it is beyond the realm of imagination to expect to portray anything totally, in light of the fact that number of modes wherein a given "thing" can exist are many, huge or even can be interminable.’[10]

Then one fine day we become best friends with the same person and we tell him what we used to think about him earlier, then only we get to know the reality about him/her. Which can be mesmerising, hurting, cheerful or envious.

One may wonder how anekantavada is needed to understand even anekantavada itself. As,

anekantavada has been variously interpreted as the theory of manifolded-ness, multifaceted-ness, multi-layered, multi-sidedness, multi-perspective view, contextuality, pluralism, co-existentialism, nonabsolutism, non-equivocality and relativism. S. Mookerji (1994) calls it the theory of non-one-sidedness, suggesting the versatile idea of reality.’[11]

It is the theory of manifolded-ness as any given attribute of a person or matter may have countable as well as uncountable ways to be seen and analysed; it means each of them are diversified. It is the theory of multifaceted-ness as it has many aspects or sides.

For example:

‘Jewels are typically sliced to be multifaceted for example with many calculated, level surfaces since this expands their capacity to reflect light.’[12]

Similarly a being or an object too, though naturally. Anekantavada is multi-layered as it takes one to peel off the several layers of truth. It is the theory of multi-sidedness as it has multiple dimensions, for example: a man is a businessman when he is in the middle of a deal, suddenly he gets a call from his daughter regarding some matter, he instantly enters into the dimension of being a father and as soon as he puts the phone down he comes back into the character of the businessman. It is the theory of multiperspective views as to understand any given situation one needs to adopt many perspectives as one point of view cannot give the whole idea of the same. It is contextual as we need to see seriously in which context we are talking about. It may also be called pluralism as in the quest of understanding the real nature of matter two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority etc. coexist in a condition or system. Which eventually gives birth to the theory of coexistentialism and so on.

Footnotes and references:


Bhandari Narendra & Pokharna Surendra Singh. Syadavada & Anekantavada in the Modern Scientific Context. Scientific Perspectives of Jainism (SPJ). BMIRC Monograph Series. JVBI. Ladnun. 2017. pp. 18


SPJ. pp. 19


SPJ. pp. 19,20


SPJ. pp. 20


SPJ. pp. 20


SPJ. pp. 20


SPJ. pp. 21


SPJ. pp. 21


SPJ. pp. 25


SPJ. pp. 25


SPJ. pp. 26


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