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Philosophical Foundations Of Jainism (An Introduction): [08] Pratyayavāda & Vastuvāda (Idealism & Realism)

Published: 16.08.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

As per Jain philosophy, we have two kinds of existence—one is Parama Astitva (Transcendental Existence) and the other is Apara Astitva (Empirical Existence). The idealist school of philosophers, particularly the Vedāntins and the Buddhists do not accept Apara Astitva as real. They regard that there is nothing else in existence other than the consciousness itself. The Western philosophers like Kant, Fichte, Shelling, Hegel, Green, James Ward etc. also hold the same view.

On the other hand Vastuvādis (Realists) regard physical existence as real. According to them, the empirical reality exists independently of the consciousness. Other Indian philosophies like Sāṅkhya and Vaiśeṣika hold the same view. The Western philosophers viz., Reed, Hamilton and Bertrand Russell and others also hold similar views.

On this issue, the Jain philosophers have followed a distinct line. They regard that there is only partial truth in both i.e. Vastuvāda and Pratyayavāda and both of them are true only relatively. The Jain philosophers suggest an amendment to the aphorisms formed by Pratyayavādis, by putting them in a slightly different way. Instead of saying that there is nothing outside consciousness, one can say that nothing exists beyond existence. The 'existence' is a unit combining both the living and non-living, which is not the case with consciousness. Both Jīva and Ajīva can be parts of the existence, but the latter could not be a part of the former. By accommodating the both as parts of existence, the divergence between Idealism and Realism is automatically resolved. It would complicate matters if we say that the non-living is merely a reflection of the living. But if they are regarded as parts of existence, then there is no problem. Consciousness is the dividing line between Jīva and Ajīva, while existence is a compact formation and there is no duality left. This way, we can justify the views of Idealists (Pratyayavādis) too.

When put simply—"It (sat) exists", it denotes 'Parama Astitva', whereas when we say—"a particular thing exists"—it is 'Apara Astitva' (empitical existence). In the case of Param Astitva, there is no division between dravya (substance) and paryāya (its various modes). In case of Apara Astitva, there would always be divisions on account of various modes and their infinite numbers. In dravya (substance), there are two basic qualities—'sāmānya' (general) and viśeṣa (particular). One without the other cannot exists. The former maintains the existence of the substance, whereas the latter invests it with independent properties.

How certain things appear to our eyes is conditioned by our approach? If we adopt 'sāmānya darśana' or generic view-point, and accept its general qualities, we see 'Param Astitva'. But when we look at particular qualities through a particular view-point—Viśiṣṭa Darśana, it is Apara-Astitva. Such divisions are always there due to diversity in our approaches. There is partial truth in both the Pratyayavāda and Vastuvāda, but they are not contradictory to each other. The former is trying to prove that it is only the caitanya (consciousness), which is everlasting, whereas the latter is trying to say that caitanya (consciousness) and vastu (matter) are independent of each other.

According to the realists, the 'object of knowledge' (jñeya) Kid and the 'knower' (jñātā) are two distinct entities and that is why there is a relationship between them. Although the existence of jñeya depends upon the knowledge, yet we cannot say that it has come into existence only when the jñātā knows it; neither it is created when known, nor it ceases to exist when not known.

'Pratyayavādis' argue that if jñeya (the object to be known) is independent of the knower then it should look same to everybody. But that does not happen. Different people conceive or perceive the same thing in diverse ways and forms. This diversity is due to subjectivity of the knower.

 This argument holds little water. Our knowledge is always relative, since it is conditioned by place, time, view, motion, subjectivity etc.. This explains the logic that has been used by Vastuvādi thinkers, who hold that the existence is not the product of our thought; it is there, of its own. Bertrand Russell has put this very succinctly—"If we conceive a tree in our mind, it is only a thought; its real existence is only in the external world."

Our mind represents the 'knower'. The object to be known is different from the knower and it is because of that only, that there can be relationship between the two i.e.,—'knower' and 'known'. F.C.S. Shiller concedes this view, although he is a Pratyayavādi—an Idealist. The Anekānta doctrine of Jainism has conceived the theory of 'Jatyantara', which regards that identity or difference are not independent attributes of the substance. In fact, they are inter-related and therefore, inter-dependent. The basic source is existence. It is not dependent on knower's capacity. It is inter-relationship, through which we realize the existence of a thing. Any substance exists on its own, whether we know about it or not. The discovery of the Atom was achieved when the knowledge about it was developed, but its existence was there by itself and it was not dependent on our knowledge about it. The basic source is the same i.e. the existence. So far as both the knower and the thing to be known are concerned, any relationship between them is possible only if there is existence, and not otherwise.

In our world, we have not only pudgala (matter) but also the cetana dravya (the conscious substance). Since each soul (Ātmā), is independent of the other souls, it is both—the 'knower' and 'to be known'. The soul is capable of having both the attributes - 'jñātā' and 'jñeya'. The renowned philosopher Kant has very aptly described this phenomena. "A thought should not be treated as a thing." The same thing can be said about its opposite formulation. So by subscribing to 'Anekānta', we can analyse 'vicāra' (thought) and 'vastu' (thing) together in a relative perspective.

Shelling, even though he is a Pratyayavādi (Idealist), accepts that Ātmā, the soul, and Anātmā, (the physical matter), are complementary to each other. 'Anekānta' supports this view. The Sat (the real) must have an antithesis. The external and the perishable both are integral parts of the ultimate truth i.e. existence. Both Idealism and Realism in their absolute form are thus mere illusions. When they complement each other, they become the expression of Truth. If we adopt a relative approach, both Vastuvāda and Pratyayavāda seem to be speaking about the same truth. On one hand, there is the Param Astitva and on the other, there are 'Vastu' (things), which have diverse forms. Although both are interspersed, yet in order to analyse them we have to accept their independence. This is the theory of relativity in perceiving things, which is the comer stone of Anekānta Darśana.

If there is no antithesis, the thesis itself could not exist. In such condition, Vastuvāda is also a partial truth. Both Pratyayavāda and Vastuvāda would become parts of non-truth, if they are absolutist, and become parts of truth, if they are mutually relative. If we do not accept the Parama Astitva, we cannot explain the matter or Vastu and the fundamental root of its mutual relations. On the other hand, if we deny independence of Vastu, it would not be possible for us to explain its special attributes. Only by accepting the relativity of the independence of the Parama Astitva and Vastu, we can explain both of them consistently.


This is an edited version of the author's work:
Jain I Darshan ke Mool Sutra
Translated by Prof. M. P. Lele under the guidance of Muni Mahendra Kumar ji and Muni Dulahraj ji, Senior disciples of Acharya Mahprajna.

© Adarsh Sahitya Sangh. New Delhi Published by:
Kamlesh Chaturvedi
Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
210, Deendayal Upadhyay Marg
New Delhi - 110002 (India) Printed at:
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Ajīva
  2. Anekānta
  3. Astitva
  4. Bertrand Russell
  5. Caitanya
  6. Consciousness
  7. Darśana
  8. Dravya
  9. Jain Philosophy
  10. Jainism
  11. Jīva
  12. Kant
  13. Paryāya
  14. Pudgala
  15. Russell
  16. Soul
  17. Sāṅkhya
  18. Vaiśeṣika
  19. Vastuvāda
  20. Ātmā
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