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The Quest for the Royal Road: Non-Absolutism and Multi-Dimensional Approach

Published: 31.01.2016

In the field of philosophy, knowledge and the knowable have been discussed all through the ages. The Idealists and the Subjectivists do not accept the independent existence of the knowable. They recognise only the existence of knowledge. The main basis of non-absolutism is that like knowledge, the knowable too has an independent existence. Matter can be known through knowledge and that is why it is the knowable. The knowable and the knowledge are not mutually dependent. If it can be proved that because of the knowable there is knowledge and because of knowledge there is the knowable, it is not possible to prove the independent existence of the two. The existence of the matter does not depend on existence of knowledge and the existence of knowledge does not depend on the existence of matter. That is why the matter and knowledge exist independently. Since the matter can be known through knowledge, they are related as the knowable and knowledge.

The knowable is infinite and knowledge too is infinite. Infinite can be known with infinite. The next step after knowing is stating. It cannot be said for certain if the infinite can be known. Our capacity to state with certainty is very limited. The person whose knowledge is undisguised can only state as much as anyone else. The capacity of language is such that through it only one word can be used at a time. The same is the case about our knowledge, so that we cannot know the matter with its infinite properties. We know only one of the infinite properties of matter and refer only to that particular property. Knowing only one property and referring  only to one property is nay a.[1] We know the matter with infinite properties only by one property. This involves two subsidiary viewpoints. One of the innumerable properties of the matter becomes the main property and the rest becomes secondary properties. Naya is that system of knowledge we have adopted whereby we know only one property and do not know all other properties. Pramana is that system of knowledge whereby through one property, we know all other properties.

We are seated in darkness. Someone comes with a rose flower. We cannot see what that man is holding in his hand. But by the fragrance we realise that he is having a rose. But fragrance is not all there is to the rose. It has a colour. It can be touched. It has many other properties too. With the light we,would have known it by seeing it with our own eyes. From among the innumerable properties of the matter, whichever property stands out prominently, becomes the property by which it comes to be known. In this system of knowledge, one is always conscious about the matter and its properties being inseparable. This is non-abolutism based on evidence. The matter and its property (or any equivalent form) are not inseparable altogether. Their being inseparable is proved by a particular need or view-point. That system of knowledge which accepts the fact of the religious person and religion as inseparable bearing in mind his formula relating to the need is non-absolutism. We cannot accept the fact of their being inseparable by one-sided knowledge. The religious person is like the matter and religion is like its several interpretations and the two cannot be inseparable. Establishing the form of matter with innumerable properties, though one of its properties, is syadvada or an authoritative version.

The system of knowledge is non-absolutist and the system of exposition syadvada. There are two versions of anekanta non-absolutism, pramana (valid cognition) and naya. There are two systems of exposition. Establishing the whole substance is syadvada and establishing of one property is naya. There are to be as many ways of exposition as there can be nayas. But only that much is stated which is appropriate under the circumstances. The first result of non- absolutism is lack of insistence and the consciousness of one's incapacity to enunciate Truth. All people do not have the capacity to know Truth (matter) in its totality. We may as well ignore this fact. Let us proceed on the assumption that everyone is entitled to know the Truth and can know it. Nonetheless, we cannot dispute the fact that no one has the capacity to reveal Truth in its totality. That is why the whole definition of Truth is based on Naya. We know the whole only as its part and expound it only in the form of the part of the whole. Bhagwan Mahavira gave the formula of relativism so that one should not become insistent about the part. Gold is yellow, and that is the property of gold. But it has many other properties. The yellow colour is visible and therefore gold appears yellow to us. Who knows about all the properties of gold that are not visible. Without going into its subtle form, on the basis of its physical form alone, how can we say that gold is only yellow? Would it not be as good as violating the general practice? When gold actually appears yellow and not green or black. Why should we not say that gold is only yellow? We can say that as the manifest property of gold is only yellow, but keeping in mind its unrevealed properties relating to all the three times, we cannot say that gold is only yellow. Hence, the statement that gold is only yellow can be made in relative, not in absolute terms. Keeping in view the innumerable properties of gold, can we say that gold is only yellow? The use of this word indicates that gold being yellow is not a matter of doubt. Some people are of the opinion that syaduada is scepticism. But that is not the case. Doubts arise in the state of ignorance. We know that gold is yellow. At the same time, we also know that it is not just yellow, it is also something else. From the relativist point of view we can say that gold is yellow. Saying that gold is yellow is not an ambiguous statement. From the point of view of the visible property, it is beyond doubt. Hence in terms of syadvada, we say that gold is only yellow.

In non-absolutism, naya has an important place. In the agama literature, we find the method of naya employed more than that of pramana. The discussion about pramana begins with the development of logic. We find five kinds of knowledge in ancient literature. Among these, knowledge in the form of mati,[2] avadhijnana[3], manah-paryava[4], and the omniscience are meant for the self. Shruta[5] form of knowledge is for the self as well as for others. Naya is the alternative to Shruta- shrita[6] knowledge. Other philosophers accepted the praman, but the principle of naya has not been dealt with in any school of philosophy. When the discussion on praman gained prominence, the question arose whether naya had praman or it did not have praman. If it provided no praman, then it could prove nothing. If it proved praman, then naya and praman become one and they were no longer two distinct concepts. The Jain logicians solved this problem by keeping in mind the forms of praman and naya. They said knowledge- oriented naya is neither without praman nor with praman. It is part ofpraman. Knowledge dealing with several religions is praman, Similarly, knowledge dealing with one religion (a synpnym) is naya. The logicians who believe only in praman are given to one-sided attitude since they do not accept naya. The very basis of non-absolutism is naya. Without considering relatively the innumerable properties of matter or their synonyms, it is not possible to free oneself from one-sided insistence. If there is no connecting relativism in the innumerable properties of the matter, then they stand against each other. Permanence stands against impermanence and impermanence against permanence. This fighting mentality can be avoided only with the help of naya.

The substance matter-oriented naya narrates only its permanent aspect. Therefore, according to it, the matter is permanent. The synonym oriented naya narrates the mutable aspect of the matter. Therefore, according to it, the synonym is impermanent. If matter is permanent and the synonym is impermanent, then the two can stand opposite each other. But the matter oriented naya does not forget the need that without the synonyms the matter does not exist. And the synonym-oriented naya does not forget the fact that without the matter, the synonym does not exist. At that point, permanence and impermanence become relative terms. Matter and the synonyms are not wholly inseparable. They are mutually related.

The basic formulae of relativism are:

  1. The matter has innumerable properties.
  2. The matter has both the permanent and mutable properties. They can never be separated.
  3. The permanent and mutable properties, though manifest, retain their natural characters and hence, there is no contradiction between permanence and impermanence of the matter.
  4. Existence and non-existence too are relative terms. There is no contradiction among them.
  5. We know matter through one of the properties. We cannot know matter in its totality.
  6. At one particular moment, we can establish only one property of matter.
  7. When we think that the properties are unrelated to each other, we feel that there is contradiction. With the acceptance of relativism the contradiction is avoided.

We can conclude on the basis of these formulae that non- absolutism and multi-dimensional approach are as important from the spiritual and non-violent point of view as they are important from the philosophical point of view.


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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agama
  2. Anekanta
  3. Bhagwan Mahavira
  4. Clairvoyance
  5. Consciousness
  6. Mahavira
  7. Naya
  8. Nayas
  9. Non-absolutism
  10. Pramana
  11. Syadvada
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