Anekant: Reflections And Clarifications: Notion Of Possibility

Published: 24.12.2009
Updated: 02.07.2015

That the substance is anekāntika has two meanings: The first meaning is—it is of triplicate nature of origination, cessation and permanence. Therefore, it can be said to be anekāntika. The second meaning is that the substance has many—innumerable or infinite modifications; therefore it has infinite attributes.

Modifications have two varieties: the intrinsic modifications (arthaparyāya) and the visible modifications (vyañjana paryāya). The intrinsic modifications are subtle; they change with the minutest unit of time (samaya, the smallest unit of time, which is further indivisible). This change has twelve stages.[7]

The subtle modifications cannot be known through the senses. They are the object of super-sensuous consciousness. The visible modifications are gross. They are manifest and, therefore, can be known through the senses also. It is in the case of these gross modi-fications that we can think of both, the possible and the probable. Every modification has the possibility of changing into any other mode. A colour can change into another colour, a smell into another smell, a taste into another taste, and a touch into another touch. Yati Bhoja has described two types of potentialities—the potentiality which can be actualized at a distant time (oghaśaktī) and potentiality which can be immediately actualized (samucitāśaktī); the former is the mediate cause, while the latter is the immediate cause of change. Grass has the potentiality of becoming ghee at a distant future. Curd can change into ghee immediately. The potentialities are too many to be enumerated. Theoretically, it could be said that potentialities of an object are innumerable as far as the mediate form of potentiality is concerned. A scientist through his research can know a few of these. A person, with the power of super-sensuous knowledge can know them through super-sensuous knowledge. An ordinary man can, however, know only the immediate cause or the visible modifications. We, therefore, cannot put any limitation on the possibilities or probabilities.[8]

The reality has five varieties viz. dharmāstikāya (medium of motion), adharmāstikāya (medium of rest), ākāśāstikāya (space), pudgalāstikāya (matter) and jīvāstikāya (soul).

They never change into one another. The soul does not change into matter and vice-versa. The reality or the ultimate substances are absolute truth. Non-absolute truths are only the modifications. Man is not an ultimate substance, it is only a modification. All visible objects are modifications of the ultimate substances, they are not the ultimate substances. Things emanating from modifications can change into each other; they are, therefore, not absolutely different. The doctrine of identity-cum-difference propunded by anekānt is useful for under­standing the identity as well as difference of the object. These visible objects are possessed of their own shape, qualities and characteristics and, therefore, they are different. Thus, gold is not mercury, mercury is not gold. But at the same time both of them are modifications of the same ultimate substance, viz. pudgala (i.e. matter). Therefore, gold can be transformed into mercury and vice-versa. They are non-different or identical from this point of view. Thus, they are neither absolutely different nor absolutely identical, but they are identical-cum-different.

The phenomenon of radioactivity accepted by the modern science is a good illustration to make this point clear—The element uranium which has the atomic number 92 gets transformed into the element Lead which has the atomic number 82, in a specific time-period, on account of its radioactive nature. The atomic numbers of gold and mercury are 79 and 80 respectively. When, through proper external means, the atom of mercury is made to lose one electron and one proton and two neutrons, it will change into the atom of gold.

Anekānta has its limitations; it is applicable only in the field of ontology—only to comprehend the relativity of substance and modification. The science of existence or reality is absolute; non-absolutism is not applicable to the ultimate existence or reality. Therefore, it is not desirable to apply non-absolutism everywhere. For example, in the field of mathematics, anekānta could be applied once in a while, but it is not possible to apply it everywhere.

Eminent statistician. Prof. P.C. Mahalnobis has observed that 'Syādvada' has the genesis or basic foundation of modern science of statistics:[9] 'I should now like to make some brief observations of my own on the connection between Indian - Jains' views and the foundations of statistical theory. I have already pointed out that the fourth category of syādvāda, namely, a vaktavya or the 'indeterminate' is a synthesis of three earlier categories of (1) assertion ('it is') 2. negation (it is not), and (3) assertion and negation in succession. The fourth category of syādvāda, therefore, seems to me to be in essence the qualitative but not quantitative aspect of the modern concept of probability...

At the same time it is of interest to note that 1500 or 2500 years ago, syādvāda seems to have given the logical background of statistical theory in a qualitative form.

"Secondly, I should like to draw attention to the Jain view that 'a real is a particular which possesses a generic attribute.' This is very close to the concept of an individual in relation to the population to which it belongs. The Jain veiw in fact denies the possibility of making any predication abouta single and unique individual, which would be also true in modern statistical theory.

"The third point to be mooted is the emphasis given in Jain philosophy on the relatedness of things and on the multiform aspects of reals which appear to be similar (again in a purely qualitative sense) to the basic ideas underlying the concepts of association, correlation and concomitant variation in modern statistics.

"The Jain view of 'existence, persistence and cessation' as the fundamental characteristics of all that is real necessarily leads to a view of reality as something relatively permanent and relatively changing which has a fervor of statistical reasoning A real changes every moment and at the same time continues' is a view which is somewhat sympathetic to the underlying idea of stochastic processes.

'Finally, I sould draw attention to the realist and pluralist view of Jain philosophy and the continuing emphasis on the multiform and intently diversified aspects of reality which amounts to the acceptance of an 'open' view of the universe with scope for unending change and discovery. For reasons explained above, it seems to me that the ancient Indian Jain philosophy has certain interesting resemblances to the probabilistic and statistical view of reality in modern times.'


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Jain Vishva Bharati Institute (Deemed University)
Ladnun-341 306 (Rajasthan)

© J.V.B.I., LADNUN-341 306 (RAJASTHAN)

First Published-2001

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Adharmāstikāya
  2. Anekānta
  3. Arthaparyāya
  4. Consciousness
  5. Dharmāstikāya
  6. Ghee
  7. Jain Philosophy
  8. Jīvāstikāya
  9. Non-absolutism
  10. Paryāya
  11. Pudgala
  12. Pudgalāstikāya
  13. Samaya
  14. Science
  15. Soul
  16. Space
  17. Syādvāda
  18. Yati
  19. ākāśāstikāya
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