The Nature Of Reality: [05] The Sevenfold Application of Syadvada (Conditional Assertion)

Published: 12.07.2005
Updated: 02.07.2015

The endeavor to be precise in making statements that do not violate the anekantavada has led to a system known as sapta-bhangi-naya, the sevenfold application of syat.

The Jaina maintains that every assertion, whether positive or negative, is made within the framework of a certain situation defended by four factors:

  1. the specific being (svadravya),
  2. the specific location (sva-ksetra),
  3. the specific time (svakala) and
  4. the specific state (sva-bhava) of the referent.

When one says, for example, "the book exists," it is understood that existence is not being asserted for all books in all places, times, and states, but only for a particular book (at a particular place, and so on).

The term syat indicates this complex set of conditions, which must be referred to if the predication "exists" is to be valid. At the same time, eva precludes other conditions in terms of which the book may be called nonexisting: the being, location, time, or state of other objects (para-dravya/ -ksetra/ -kala/ -bhava).

Thus, we may have the two statements "on some respect the book in fact exists" (syad asti eva) and "in some respect the book in fact does not exist" (syad nasti eva).

A third statement, combining the two but expressed in a sequential order (Karma), is also possible:
"In some respect the book in fact exists, and in some further respect in fact does not exist" (syad asti-nasti eva).

If the speaker wants to express both aspects simultaneously (yugapat), he encounters the difficulty imposed by the law of contradiction; thus, rather than saying "in some respect the book in fact both exists and does not exist," one can assert only that "in some respect the (ontological situation of the) book is in fact inexpressible" (syad avaktavya eva).

A further combination of the fourth statement with each of the first three yields the fifth, sixth, and seventh nayas, thereby completing all possible ways in which an object can be described on the "existence" dimension.

For illustrations of these combinations, see H. Bhattacharya 1953. On the concept of avaktavya, see Tripathi, 1968.

The sapta-bhangi is admittedly a rather cumbersome method of characterizing the existent, and is employed by the Jaina only in philosophical discourse. The spirit of this approach, however, guards him at all times from extreme viewpoints, especially illusionism (mayavada. the basis of many Hindu sects), determinism (niyativada, in which the Jaina includes all forms of theism), and annihilationism (ucchedavada, best represented by modem notions of materialism). Jainas are encouraged to read extensively in the treatises of other schools - a practice that probably accounts for the richly varied libraries of Jaina monasteries - in order to identify extreme views and to apply the proper corrections.

This practice probably does not really increase tolerance of others' views'; nevertheless it has generated a very well-informed (if not always valid) sort of criticism. It also seems likely that the failure of any significant doctrinal heresy to appear during nearly 3,000 years of Jaina tradition can be largely attributed to its highly developed tendency towards critical analysis and partial accommodation of extremes.

In terms of conduct, any doctrine which preaches the unreality of either bondage, the universe, or the self cannot consistently attach importance to worldly behavior; it must make salvation contingent solely upon insight (jnana) into this unreality.

At the other extreme, we may find total reliance upon the efficacy of action (karma), taking such forms as the Mimamsa performance of Vedic sacrifices or the great faith and devotion shown by theists hoping for divine grace.

The Jaina with his teaching of anekanta and its corollaries, nayavada and syadvada, escapes the doctrinal necessity of having to follow a single restricted path.
All paths can be seen as valid in some respect; thus a Jaina is able to coordinate (samuccaya) various methods into his path of purification (moksa-marga), which is defined as a combination of insight (darsana) into the nature of reality (along with faith in this view), critical knowledge (jnana) as outlined in the scripture, and pure conduct (caritra). This, for the Jaina, is the comprehensively valid path of salvation:

samyag-darsana- jnana-caritrani moksa-margah


Chapter 3: The Jaina Path of Purification, 1979
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekanta
  2. Anekantavada
  3. Avaktavya
  4. Caritra
  5. Darsana
  6. JAINA
  7. Jaina
  8. Jnana
  9. Karma
  10. Mimamsa
  11. Nayas
  12. Nayavada
  13. Syad
  14. Syadvada
  15. Syat
  16. Tolerance
  17. Vedic
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