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Anekanta: It’s Relevance to the Modern Times

Published: 23.12.2007
Updated: 30.07.2015


Religion & philosophy have been with us (mankind) since times immemorial. This world has had different religion & philosophies, during the course of development. Religion gives ethics, morality, and philosophy together with logic and reasoning. In India, we have seen the rise and development of Vedic, Jain & Buddhist religions and their allied philosophies, in a complementary co-existing state of simultaneous existence. Indian schools of philosophy are broadly divided into two schools of thoughts: (i) Vedic & (ii) Non-Vedic.

Vedic Philosophy is further divided into six schools viz. (a) Samkhya (b) Yoga (c) Nyaya (d) Vaisheshika (e) Mimamansa & (f) Vedanta, and three non-vedic philosophies are Jain, Boddha and Carvaka. All have their own characteristics. Similarly Jain philosophy has its own specialty i.e. Anekanta.

Historical Background

Prior to Bhagavan Mahavira, it was a period of philosophic disputes. Sometimes it would touch illogical limits. Jain scriptures 1 & Buddhists scriptures 2 put the number of religions schools prevalent at that stage of time at 363 & 63 respectively.
Jain traditions have divided these 363 schools of Philosophy into four broad classes, i.e.

  1. (Kriyavadi) - Action-oriented - who considered the soul to be the doer of actions and enjoyed its good and/or bad results.
  2. (Akriyavadi) - Non-Action-oriented - who considered the soul as non-doer of action.
  3. (Ajanavadi) - Ignorance-oriented - who believed that knowledge brings in disputes in its wake - so not to go in for theoretical/philosophical discussions & considered ignorance to be bliss.
  4. (Vinayavadi) - who would pay more attention to good moral behaviour. 3

In this period of theoretical confusion, two great persons came on the scene - Bhagavan Mahavira & Mahatma Buddha. Gautam Buddha was in favour of foregoing debates & discussions as a solution to rise above fanatic & fundamentalist perceptions. But this way the human curiosity would not be satisfied, whereas the man of the period was in search of an acceptable explanation of the mystery of life & death, the universe & all else. In fact the man wanted to know the truth- the enlightenment, as it may be called, amongst all the existing “isms”, because all the schools at that time were busy in trying to cut down each other & judged each other''s wisdom accordingly.

Bhagwan Mahavira put forward a broad vision and an all embracing philosophy. He said that any fundamentalism and fanaticism, or considering one school as the only and final truth cannot be true. 4 It is laid down in Sutrakratanga that to praise ones belief and degrading the other's faith leads that absolutistic person (Ekantavadi) to the continuous and unending circle of life and death. Bhagvan Mahavira has said that insisting on a single faith and belief as the only true faith and belief is the biggest hindrance in the path of the search for truth.5 A fixation of belief is attachment and where there is attachment, the whole truth cannot be seen. Only a detached person can see whole truth - A person with attachment even if he is able to see the truth, contaminates the truth, because of his attached vision. The defect of believing in singleness of his own faith makes the vision untrue, and if that fixation be absent, the same truth will be visible to him as truth. One cannot arrive at truth, by disowning others truth, simply because they are other people's truth. Truth cannot be approached through disputes.6

Philosphic Background

Anekantavada is basic to structure of Jain metaphysics. It seeks to reorient our logical attitude and asks us to accept the unification of contradictions as the true measure of reality. It is easy to unlock the mystery of the paradoxical reality. The law of Anekanta affirms that there is no opposition between the unity of being and plurality of aspects. The identity of a real is not contradicted by the possession of varying attributes. No one can deny that light, for instance, produces multiple effects, viz., the expulsion of darkness, the illumination of the field of perception, radiation of heat and energy and so on. If a plurality of the energies can be possessed by a self-identical entity without offence to logic, why should the spectre of logical incompatibility be raised in the case of a permanent course possessing diverse powers? The law of Anekanta affirms the possibility of diverse and even contradictory attributes in a unitary entity. A thing is neither an absolute unity nor a split-up into irreconcilable plurality. A thing is one and many at the time a unity and plurality rolled into one. 7 Anekantavada also asserts that there is no contradiction between identity and otherness, as they are not absolute characteristics. The contradiction would be insurmountable if the two opposites were affirmed to be identical in an absolute reference. But the identity and otherness asserted by the law of Anekanta are only partial and limited, and not complete and unqualified.

Thus Anekantavada - non-absolutism is the law of the multiple nature of reality. It corrects the partiality of philosophers of supplementing the other side of reality, which escaped them. Non-absolutism pleads for soberness and insists that the nature of reality is to be determined in conformity with the evidence of experience undeterred by the considerations of abstract logic. Loyalty to experience and to fundamental concept of philosophy alike make the conclusion inevitable that absolutism is to be surrendered. A thing is neither eternal nor non-eternal, neither permanent nor perishable in the absolute sense but partakes of both the characteristics, and this does not mean any offence to the canons of logic. 8  Complete knowledge has always been a complicated problem for man, with his limitation of capacities. Trying to know “complete” with incomplete tools, can never proceed beyond the incomplete truth. And, when this incomplete truth is given the place and credence of the whole truth that gives rise to disputes and struggles. Truth is not only what we know as truth. It is one whole indivisible all-prevailing knowledge. The instruments of logic, thinking, wisdom or language cannot measure it. 9  Devagama Krika, elucidates that truth of false-hood, permanency or temporaries, are the different facets of the same truth, and so the truth it self having many facets is called Anekanta. The doctrine of Anekantavada or the manifoldness of truth is a form of realism which not only assert a plurality of determinate truths but also takes each truth to be an indetermination of alternative truths.

The differences in the views regarding the nature of reality presented by different schools of thought are based on their basic outlook of and their approaches of looking at reality. Some take the synthetic point of view and present the picture of reality in a synthetic sense. They seek unity and diversity, and posit that the reality is one. It includes the consciousness and the unconsciousness as aspects of reality. Some other schools of thought look at reality from the empirical point of view. They seek to emphasize diversity as presented in the universe. Reality, for them, is neither one nor a unity, but it is many and diverse. Some other schools of thought have said that reality is incomprehensible. In this way, there is intellectual chaos in the study of the metaphysical problems.

Anekantavada seeks to find out a solution out of this intellectual chaos. It seeks to find meaning in the diversity of opinions and tries to establish that these diverse views are neither completely false nor completely true. They present partial truths from different points of view. The Anekanta seeks to determine the extent of reality, present different schools of thought and gives a synoptic picture of reality. The eminent acaryas(spritual teachers), like Samantabhadra, Siddhasena, Akalanka and Haribhadra have presented the subtle logical distinctions and the metaphysical thought involving unity and diversity, the oneness and duality and other forms of philosophy on the basis of Anekanta.10  A comprehensive picture of reality is sought to be presented by the theory of Anekanta.

The theory of Anekanta has become foundational for Jaina thought. In fact, the Anekanta outlook is the basis for other schools of Indian thoughts as well. The Jaina acaryas have presented a synoptic outlook in understanding the problems of philosophy on the basis of Anekanta. They say that Ekanta or dogmatism or one-sided approach to the problems of reality is not inherent in reality (vastugatadharma), but it is due to working of the intellect. It is the product of intellectual discrimination. If the intellect is pure in its essence then Ekanta will disappear. The pure exercise of intellect will give rise to a synoptic viewpoint expressed in the Anekanta and the different partial view-points get merged in the Anekanta, just as the different rivers get merged in the sea. Upadhyaya Yasovijaya says that one who has developed the Anekanta outlook does not dislike other viewpoints. He looks at other viewpoints with understanding and sympathy just as a father looks at the activities of his son. One, who believes in the Anekanta outlook, looks at the conflicting and diverse theories of realities with equal respect. He does not look at the diverse theories of realities as one superior to the other. He has the spirit of equanimity in approaching for the understanding of the problems of other theories. In the absence of the spirit of equanimity, all knowledge would be fruitless, and any amount of reading the sacred texts would not lead to any fruitful results.11  Haribhadra Suri says, that one who develops the Ekanta attitude and insists on his point of view is one-sided in his approach. But the one who develops the synoptic outlook based on the Anekanta attitude is always guided by objective and rational considerations in evaluating the theories of reality. Anekanta states that the nature of reality should be considered and studies purely from the rational point of view while Ekanta attitude is compelling and it drives us to accept its point of view and discourages us to accept the others point of view.12  A milk-maid churns the butter milk, and while churning the buttermilk, she pulls the string on one side and loosens the string on the other. The consequence is the butter extracted from the buttermilk. Similarly, if we look at the different points of view of knowing reality in their proper perspective, considering the primary points of view as important and the secondary points of view with their due consideration, truth can be understood in the true perspective and in a comprehensive way. The intellectual confusion is created by Ekanta while the welter of confusion is cleared by Anekanta. The synoptic outlook of Anekanta gives a comprehensive and true picture of reality.

The Philosophic Impact of Anekanta

Some of the systems of Indian thought have expressed their opposition to Anekanta. Yet their theories do not disregard the Anekanta theory, as it is rational and objective in its outlook. Atman has been described as a substance, which moves and does not move, which is near and far, which is inside and outside. This is the expression of the Anekanta point of view.13  Sankaracarya and Ramanujacaraya have argued against the validity of Anekantavada on the ground that contradictory attributes cannot co-exist at the same time. But in trying to refute the validity of Anekantavada they seem to have adopted the Anekanta outlook only. The description of the Brahman as "para and apara' and the analysis of the degrees of reality as expressed in the paramarthika, vyavaharika and pratibhasika satya, does express the spirit of Anekanta. Sankara mentions that there is nothing in the world, which is purely without faults, and without attributes.14  This would mean that everything has its good qualities and also its faults. Nothing is purely perfect and purely attribute-less. This is the expression of the Anekanta. The Samkhya conception of prakriti as having the three attributes of sattva, rajas and tamas in the state of equilibrium in the original state of prakriti and as expressed in varied degrees in the process of evolution expresses the spirit of Anekanta. The Buddhist conception of the Vibhajyavada and Madhyama marga express the Anekanta spirit.

When we turn to Western philosophy, instances of the ideas similar to the doctrine of Anekantavada can be multiplied. In Greek Philosophy, first of all, in trying to solve the riddle of permanence and change, Empedocles, the Atomists and Ana agoras declared that absolute change is impossible. So far the Eclectics are right. But, at the same time we see things growing and changing. Thus, stating that “the original bits of reality cannot be created or destroyed or change their nature, but they can change their relation in respect to each other” they concluded in favour of relative change. When we read the Dialogues of Plato, we find that every thing which we originally suppose to be one is described as many and under many names and when we speak of something, we speak not of something opposed to being, but only different. 15

The first modern philosopher, Hegel expounded that contradiction is the root of all life and movement, that everything is contradiction, that the principle of contradiction rules the world. To do a thing justice, we must tell the whole truth about it, predicate all the contradictions of it, and show how they are reconciled and preserved.16  Bradley has also described similar ideas. According to him everything is essential and everything worthless in comparison with others. Nowhere is there even a single fact so fragmentary and so poor that there is truth in every idea however false, there is reality in every existence however slight.17  Joachim expresses the same idea when he says that no judgement is true in itself and by itself. Every judgement as a piece of concrete thinking is informed, conditioned to some extent, constituted by the apperception character of the mind.18  Such and similar ideas are expressed by Prof. Perry,19  William James,20  John Caird,21  Joseph,22  Edmond Holms23  and many others.

Modern Science and Anekanta

Anekanta means, accepting all possibilities. Modern scientists have given it to mean-possibility and have confirmed it through their researches. Science has proved that matter, which apparently looks in a solid and stable state, is in effect composed of ever in movement particles. In fact, not only in movement, but ever changing also. Even the scientist of today does not claim to have unraveled all the mysteries of universe and matter. Albert Einstein24 has said that we can only know the relative truth - the absolute truth can be seen and known to only complete visionary. So we find that under both disciplines, scientific or philosophic, an average man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth. That is what Anekanta teaches us that, even the apparently opposing facts can be the parts of the same truth.

What Mahavira25 found by the process of intuition and reasoning, Einstein proved in his physical theory of "space and time'' in the year 1905 A.D. Development of optics and Electrodynamics led to the rejection of the concept of absolute time, absolute simultaneity and absolute space. If time and space are relative to other factors, everything that happens in time and space would naturally be relative to other factors. Therefore, Einstein was convinced that there is causal interdependence of all processes in nature. As a result, the revelations made by him and other theories of Quantum Mechanics, the field of relativity was enlarged, so as to take into consideration the fact that Reality is much dependent upon the subjective reaction of the individual who observes the event.

Jaina theory of relativity in the field of thoughts and metaphysics thus gets sufficient support from these scientific revelations in the field of physics. Theocrats World over has tried to emphasize that the truth revealed to them is absolute, eternal and immutable. Theory of relativity as embodied in Syadvada or Anekantavada is happily an exception to this. Lenin25 unknowingly endorsed this theory when he said: “Human though by its nature is capable of giving, and does give, absolute truth, which is compounded of sum total of relative truths. Each step in the development of science adds new grains of absolute truth, but the limits of the truth of each scientific proposition are relative, now expanding, now shrinking with the growth of knowledge.” If only Lenin knew how to apply this principle in the evolution of social and economic theories propounded by Marx, the fate of socialism would have been quite different today.

Relevance of Anekanta

Anekanta purifies the thinking. It invites to do away evil thoughts and to cultivate good thoughts. It says that matter has no limitation. Because of matter differential, it has various contra qualities and all those characteristics are relative to each other and are contained in the same matter without any contraindications. The importance of this comprehensive synthesis of Anekanta in day to day life is immense in as much as these doctrines supply a rational unification and synthesis of the manifold and rejects these assertions of bare absolutes.

Mr. Stephen Hay,26 an American Scholar-historian, refers to Mahatma Gandhi's view about the Jaina theory of Anekanta as "It has been my experience, wrote Gandhi in 1926. “that, I am always true (correct) from my point of view, and often wrong from the point of view of my critics. I know that we are both (myself and my critics) right from our respective points of view'.  He further quotes Gandhijis saying as under:

"I very much like this doctrine of the many ness of reality. It is this doctrine that has taught me to judge a Mussulman from his standpoint and a Christian from his.... From the platform of the Jainas, I prove the non-creative aspect of God, and from that of Ramanuja the creative aspect. As a matter of fact we are all thinking of the unthinkable, describing the indescribable, seeking to know the unknown, and that is why our speech falters, is inadequate and been often contradictory.'

History of all conflicts and confrontations in the world is the history of intolerance born out of ignorance. Difficulty with the man is his egocentric existence. Anekanta tries to make the man conscious of his limitation by pointing to his narrow vision and limited knowledge of the manifold aspects of things, and asks him not to be hasty in forming absolute judgements before examining various other aspects both positive and negative. Obviously, much of the bloodshed, and much of tribulations of mankind would have been saved if the man had shown the wisdom of understanding the

Anekanta and Nonviolence

More important aspects of Anekantavada is, however, the subtlety with which it introduce the practice of Ahimsa (non-violence) even in the realm of thought. The moment one begins to consider the angle from which a contrary viewpoint is put forward, one begins to develop tolerance, which is the basic requirement of the practice of "Ahimsa''. Origin of all bloody war fought on the surface of this earth can be traced to the war of ideas and beliefs. Anekantvada puts a healing touch at the root of human psyche and tries to stop the war of bloodshed. It makes all absolutes in the field of the thought quite irrelevant and naive imparts maturity to the thought process and supplies flexibility and originality to human mind. If the mankind will properly understand and adopt this doctrine of Anekantvada, it will realize that real revolution was not the French or the Russian; the real revolution was the one which taught the man to develop his power of understanding from all possible aspects and can successfully apply this technique in various fields of life, viz., family, politics and religion for peaceful resolution of the conflicts.

Application of Anekanta in Family Life

Family is an important unit in social set up. Anekanta can be useful in sorting out family feuds. Its utility is in creating peaceful atmosphere between family to family and between the various members of same family. Usually there are two centers of family dispute. Between father and son and between mother and daughter in-law. The underlying cause of dispute is the difference in view point. The father wants to mould his sons life in the value system he has been brought in, because he thinks that he has experience, where as the son has logic on his side. Similar is the condition between mother and daughter in-law. In addition the daughter in-law has the drag of the value system of her parental home excluded in her psyche. She also wants to live a life as free and without restraints, as she had in her parental home, against which her in law home expects certain restraints from her. All this leads to conflict unless there is a feeling of tolerance and understanding on both sides.

Tolerance means control on ones emotions. He or she who has that control will be powerful of to have an effective control, in exercise of tolerance is essential. To tolerate other viewpoint and not to insist on the acceptance of one's own viewpoint only is the basic requirement needed such as:

  1. Controlling our excessive emotions,
  2. Understanding viewpoint of others.
  3. Not to dwell too much on self-ego only.

An important factor of non-violence in family life is adjustment. It is possible to reconcile different ideas and interests. For this, training in the philosophy of Anekanta can prove very useful. Anekanta recognises freedom, but not freedom divorced from the all relationship and interdependence. Co-existence is recognised, but not co-existence, which excludes the power to forestall injustice. Equality is recognised, but not equality, which takes no account of differing capabilities of various individuals. The foundation pillar of peace should not be so weak as to tumble down at the first whiff of variety in talent. In the philosophy of Anekanta, difference (of capacity) are not inadmissible, provided one also acknowledges the common identity of mankind. The consciousness of identity and that of dissimilarity together marks a new step towards the creation of a non-violent society.27

Anekanta in Religious Field

Anekanta can be utilized beneficially in the field of religious tolerance also, to create communal Harmony, which is the real secularism. Different teachers of different religions developed different methods all around the world, during different periods of time. But due to previous mental build up and psyche, towards their teachers and their own egos compelled the followers of new “ism”, to consider their new faith, and belief as the last and final and complete truth, which resulted in the unneeded communal enmity between different sects. History is the witness that this religious intolerance has been the cause of unlimited cruelty and bloodsheds. Below mentioned are some reasons creating and developing communal outlook, religious intolerance and narrow mindedness: (1) jealousy (2) desire of fame (3) so called ideological differences (4) difference in perception of behaviour pattern (5) humiliation or degradation inflicted by some previous sect or person.28

Anekanta does not advocate unification of all sects by destroying or amalgamating them all, because in view of different levels of human perceptions and mental development the existence of different thinking and different religions is unavoidable. Anekanta is an efforts to organise all in complete fairness and total unison, with each other, without encroaching on any one. But to achieve it, religious tolerance and a feeling of Sarvadharma Samabhava(communal harmony) is a basic requirement.

Anekanta in Political Field

Today's political world also is full of narrow mindedness in thinking. There being so many social & political systems existing simultaneously, such as capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism etc. - as well as monarchy, democracy, Autocracy, dictatorship etc. Not only are they existing side by side; they are also trying to destroy each other. Nations of the world are divided into various camps and every camp has its own leader, nation, which tries to spread its own sphere of influence.

In present day political world, there are two qualities of Anekanta, which can be useful viz., tolerance and co-operation, in theory and in practice. Mankind has traveled a long way in politics from monarchy to democracy and its savings is in owing the Anekanta and to know one's shortcoming, by being tolerant to the criticism of your opponents and learning thereby. And to remove those shortcomings, is the need of the hour. This is practicing Anekanta. There can be elements of truth in what your opponent says and the best place to find your shortcomings is, in the sayings of your opponent. Acknowledging it is in the best interest of democracy. Parliamentary democracy is practically Anekant in politics. India is not only father of Anekanta in politics but is also a sympathizer in parliamentary democracy - so that responsibility of using Anekanta practically rests fully on Indian political leaders.


The theoretical side of Anekanta coupled with the derivatives from scientific experimentation, makes us accept the principle of co-existence, as also does it accept this (Anekanta) as the vary basis of life. This realization can establish the principles of co-operation, co-existence, tolerance, communal non-differentiation etc. etc. To win over the thinking of die hard the utility of Anekanta is self apparent, so that it can end the attitude of all knowingness and develop the attitude of learning from any source, with equal open-mindedness.


  1. Sutrakratang,Chap-1/2
  2. Dharamanand Kaushambhi, Gautam Budh, p.67
  3. Saubhagyamal Sagarmal Jain, Anekant ka jeevan darsan, p.6
  4. Saubhagymal Sagarmal Jain, Anek¢nt ka jeevan darshan, p.9
  5. S¦trakratang,Chap., 1/2/2/23
  6. Saubhagymal Sagarmal Jain, Anek¢nt ki jeevan darshan, p. 8
  7. Jethalal S. Zaveri, Microcosmology: Atom in the Jain philosophy and Modern Science.
  8. Jethalal S. Zaveri, Microcosmology: Atom in the Jain Philosophy and Modern Science
  9. Saubhagymal Sagarmal Jain, Anek¢nt ka jeevan darshan, p. 9
  10. Devendra Muni Shastri, A source Book in Jaina Philosophy, p. 242
  11. Yasovijaya
  12. Devendra Muni Shastri, a source book in Jaina Philosophy, p. 243
  13. Rajendra gyan kosh
  14. Dialogues of Plato, vol. IV pp 361, 386
  15. Thilly, History of Philosophy. p. 465
  16. Bradley, Appearance and reality, p. 487
  17. Joachim, Nature of Truth, Ch III, pp 92-93
  18. Perry, Present philosophical Tendencies, Chapter on realism
  19. William James, The principles of Psychology, Vol. I Ch. xxi, p. 291
  20. John Caird, An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, p. 219
  21. Joseph, Introduction to logic, pp 172-173
  22. Edmond Holms, In the Quest of Ideal, p. 21
  23. Jaina influences on Gandhis Early Thought, an article published in the path of Arhat by T.U. Mehta, p. 140
  24. D.P. Gribanov. Einsteins Philosophical Worldview, quoted in Einstein and the philosophical problems of 20th century physics, p. 30
  25. Collected works of Lenin, Vol. 14, P 135
  26. T.U. Mehta, The Path of Arhat: A Religious Democracy p. 142
  27. Acharya Mahaprajna, Democracy: Social Revolution through Individual Transformation, p. 87
  28. Saubhagymal Sagarmal Jain, Anekant ka jeevan darshan

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