Anekānta - Syat - Saptabhangi

Posted: 28.10.2008
Updated on: 30.07.2015

Dr. Kusum Jain

Anekānta - Syat - Saptabhangi 

The very foundation of the Jaina system of philosophy is the conception of reality, which is manifold, nay infinite fold, hence highly complex and pluralistic in character. It is why the Jaina system is so called the philosophy of Anekāntavāda, the term being made up of three words aneka (many), anta (aspects or attributes) and vāda (theory). It has been described by modern scholars variously as the philosophy of non-absolutism since it is opposed to unrelenting absolutism or monism (ekānta- vāda), as the theory of relative, pluralism or of relativity, the theory of co-existence, and the philosophy of realism.

Closely associated with anekāntavāda is the syadavada, which is the theory of conditional predication and is based on the sapta-bhangi. In fact anekāntavāda is concerned with the thought process and syādvāda indicates the manner in which that thought process is given expression to.

Syādavāda is on of the aspect of the Jaina philosophy, which has been much misunderstood, and often misconstrued, by many non-Jaina philosophers, ancient and modern, who looked upon this approach to reality as indicative of uncertainty and indefiniteness of knowledge. This is, however, far from being the truth. One reason of the misunderstanding seems to have been that they did not grasp the true significance of the term syāt, and interpreted it to mean ‘perhaps’. But, it is not so. Jainism says, that the term syāt used by them in this context means ‘in a way’, from ‘one point of view’, or viewed at from a particular angle or stand. Instead creating doubt or uncertainty, syādvāda helps a correct, precise and through comprehension of the reality. Based as it is on anekāntavāda and the related nayavāda, this theory manifests the realistic, rational and highly tolerant spirit of Jainism.

Connected with nayas is the seven-combinational mode of predication (sapta-bhangi), which is also a peculiarity of Jaina logic. When we speak of a thing as exists on its own substance (dravya), space (ksetra), time (kāla) and essence (bhāva). Thus from point of view of its own quadruplet the thing in question exists, that is, its ‘is-ness’ is established. At the same time, from the point of view of the quadruplets of all things other than this one, its “is-not-ness” is implied. Thus a thing “is” (asti) and also “is - not” (Nāsti) and since it cannot be said to be “is” and “is-not” at one and the same time, it is also inexplicable (avaktavya). These three conditions produce seven permutations: asti, nāsti, asti-nāsti, avaktavya, asti-avaktavya, nāsti-avaktavya, and asti- nāsti-avaktavya. And in order to avoid the pitfall of being misunderstood, the speaker uses the adverb syāt before every one of these modes of predication. This term syāt in this context is the most significant; it means ‘in a way’, from a certain point of view’, ‘also’, or ‘not absolutely’. So when we say, ‘syāt’ ‘A’ is a son; we mean that he is also a son and not only a son; that in relation to his father ‘B’, ‘A’ is a son and not only a son; that in relation to his son ‘C’ he is a father, similarly, he may be a brother, a friend, a husband, an enemy and so on, in his relationships with different persons. If we do not use the prefix syāt the statement we make, it is likely to be a categorical affirmation, a dogmatic assertion, precluding the possibility of the existence of other relationships or other aspects of the person ‘A’ in question. The use of term syāt limits the sense of the seven permutational, and for the matter of that, any other relevant vocal statement. In making an assertion, the institution of syādvāda thus curbs down, limits, qualifies, and modifies and harmonies the absolutist view conveyed by the individual nayas.

In fact, in order to give shape and expression to our comprehension of an idea or object, we start analytically, resolving, separating and differentiating its parts; aspects or facets. But while considering one of the many aspects, the rest must not be denied. Synthesis follows analysis, putting together the various aspects in thought so as to realize that the truth consists in the irresolvable combination of all the seven modes of predication detailed above, have to be accepted. This theory implies the non-isolation of parts, ingredients, properties, aspects, etc., of a thing and the method to comprehend and speak of it synthetically. It is impossible to predicate the various and numerous aspects of a thing in a single statement, but the statement, which predicates any one of them, must imply them. In this way there is no likelihood of the person spoken to being misled. Recognizing the complexity of existence, the Jaina philosopher says since a thing has several aspects and relations, there will be as many determinations, and the apparently conflicting attributes inheriting in the thing can be expressed only through this process of predication.

 

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