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Essence Of Jainism: 15 Syadvad

Published: 10.05.2011
Updated: 11.05.2011

Syadvad is the most significant contribution of Jainism to the human society. The term Syat means relatively probable and Vad means Ism or method of presentation. Thus Syadvad literally means the method of examining different probabilities. Everyone knows that lot of disputes arise on account of difference of opinions. People generally believe that whatever they think is right. They therefore tend to oppose any view that does not agree with theirs. Even a slight analysis of such disputes would indicate that there might be partial truth in the apparently opposing views and the parties to the dispute might be merely stressing their views from different angles.

Everything in the world is multi-propertied. For instance, sugar is white, sweet, granular etc. Now if a person simply states that sugar is sweet, he is not wrong. He has however mentioned only one property of sugar. His statement is therefore a partial truth, not the whole truth. If another person states that sugar is white, he also states partial truth. The properties of sugar are universally known and there is hardly any possibility for a person to pick up dispute about its properties. But to a person, who has simply seen sugar but has never tasted it and has not otherwise known about its sweetness, the statement of sugar being sweet makes no sense. For him, sugar is white and granular. There arises therefore a hypothetical probability of his disputing the sweetness of sugar until someone brings sugar and asks him to taste it.

Real disputes arise in the case of substances having variable properties. For instance, grapes may be green, red or black. Any one of these colors signifies the simultaneous nonexistence of other colors. Therefore anyone who has seen only green grapes, would dispute the existence of red or black grapes. We can also visualize disputes about grapes being seeded or seedless. People normally do not pick up disputes on such scores, because they do not happen to hold strong views about them. They usually tend to ignore such differences. On ideological issues like capitalism vs. communism or ephemeral vs. everlasting nature of soul, however, people generally hold very strong views. Since such views happen to be diametrically opposite, such people cannot tolerate the differing views. Let us take the case of soul. Vedant believes in eternal, immutable, indestructible soul; while Buddhism believes it to be ephemeral, ever-changing and destructible. Each of them would insist that it is right and anything to the contrary is wrong and irreligious. Now, science states that no substance is entirely destructible. Since soul is also a substance, obviously it is eternal and indestructible. On the other hand, every substance undergoes changes in its states. States of the soul also undergo changes. The state of a person, when overcome with defilements, is totally different from the one when he is equanimous. Every change means destruction of earlier state and emergence of the new one. Thus in terms of changing states, soul is ephemeral and destructible. Syadvad would therefore state that the views of Vedanta as well as Buddhism express partial truth and not the whole truth. It would exhort both of them to admit the partial truth of the other. The dispute over such issues can thus be easily averted by resorting to Syadvad.

Much criticism has been leveled against Syadvad by other schools of thought. It has been labeled as the ism of uncertainty and as the theory of avoiding the issues. All such accusations are however ill based. Syadvad does not give rise to any uncertainty. It rightly states that every view, every aspect can have some truth and therefore partial justification. One may state that Mahavir was son of Siddhartha; another may state that he was the son of Trishala, the third may state that he was the nephew of Suparshwa, the fourth may state that he was the brother of Nandivardhan and so on. None of these statements is incorrect. All of them have been made, keeping in view some particular relation of the Lord with a specific person. It would therefore be futile for anyone to deny any of those statements. None of them however singly presents the complete truth about the relations of the Lord. Real truth is the sum total of all such statements. The Syadvad states that every statement can have some truth. We have simply to examine it from some specific standpoint. It endeavors to find the relative truth of seemingly opposite views and would like to give justice to the respective view to the extent concerned. It is the Jain theory of relativity propounded at least 2500 years back. This justification of different views from the respective perspective is also known as Anekantvad.

Making any statement from one single view point is known in Jain traditions as Naya. The term literally means to lead. Naya therefore means leading to a truth from a particular view point. There could be as many Nayas as there are viewpoints. Broadly, however, they can be classified in two categories. Those relating to substantial aspect are known as substantial or Dravyarthic Naya and those relating to changing aspects are known as Subjective or Paryayarthic Naya. The statement of the soul being eternal has been made from Dravyarthic Naya; and that of its being ephemeral has been made from Paryayarthic Naya. These two main categories are subdivided into seven sub-categories. Each of these seven Nayas is supposed to present partial truth of any phenomenon expressed from a particular angle. Significance of this method lies in the fact that it leads to tolerance of differing views. Students of history are aware of the havoc perpetrated on account of intolerance. How much blood has been spilled all over the world, simply because people in power could not appreciate the differing views of others? Paradoxically enough, this was mostly done in the name of religion. It was conveniently forgotten that tolerance is the essence of religion. If they had learnt Syadvad, they could have accepted at least the partial truth of the differing views and avoided the bloodshed.

Jainism does not stop with the admittance of different views. Its objective is to arrive at the complete truth, the absolute truth. This cannot be done without considering each and every view point. If one fails to consider the truth of any single view, he cannot hit upon the complete truth. By Syadvad Jainism tries to give appropriate justice to all the views of any phenomenon and eventually to derive unequivocal, indisputable truth. This can also be termed as arriving at final truth on the basis of all partial truths. For instance, after examining the different views about the soul, Jainism would state that the soul, as a substance, is eternal but its states undergo changes from time to time. Thus, instead of leading to uncertainty or doubts, Syadvad helps in leading us to the ultimate certainty, where there is absolutely no scope for any doubt. It is the process of arriving at Ekant truth through Anekant truths.



Indira Mansukhlal Doshi Memorial Trust Edition: 1992 HereNow4U online edition: 2011

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekant
  2. Anekantvad
  3. Buddhism
  4. Dravyarthic Naya
  5. Ekant
  6. Jainism
  7. Mahavir
  8. Naya
  9. Nayas
  10. Paryayarthic Naya
  11. Science
  12. Soul
  13. Syadvad
  14. Syat
  15. Tolerance
  16. Trishala
  17. Vedant
  18. Vedanta
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