Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: The Concomitance Of Existence And Non-Existence

Published: 27.10.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

The third axiom of non-absolutism is the concomitance of existence and non-existence. It is sometimes argued that because the surface of a wooden chair is hard, it bears weight and because it is soft, an axe can cut through it. And because hardness and softness contradict each other, they cannot co-exist. But as they appear to co-exist, both of them are only appearance and not reality. And along with their unreality the wooden chair is also unreal. This is not the way of non-absolutism, which regards an infinite number of mutually opposed attributes as an inalienable part of a real. A real is an integrated whole of infinite number of attributes. It is exactly because those attributes are mutually opposed that a real is a real in the true sense of the term. Opposition in fact is the richness of the real and in the absence of such opposition a real would be denuded of its reality. It is indeed the intrinsic nature of a real to be possessed of such opposed attributes and if so why should an attempt be made to deny its reality, by getting ourselves entangled in the labyrinth of imaginary contradictions. As Dharmakrtti puts it, who are we to deny what commends itself to the objects themselves? What should exercise our mind is the search for the source of those oppositions and the conditions of their synthesis. The philosophy of non-absolutism made such search and found that existence and non-existence go together. Affirmation without negation and negation without affirmation is never possible. Affirmation is as much an attribute of a real as the negation. Existence is affirmation and non-existence is negation. The intrinsic nature of a substance is the source of existence while the extrinsic nature of a substance is the source of non- existence. The substance of earth of which a pot is made is its own substance. Similarly the pot has its own space, time, colour and shape. A pot exists with reference to its own substance, space, time and modes. But it is non-existent as alien substance, space, time and modes. This relative estimation is a principle of synthesis. A pot does not both exist and not-exist with reference to identical factors of reference. Existence and non-existence as mutually opposed attributes do certainly exist simultaneously in the same object, but the basic conditions of the two (viz. existence and non-existence) are not identical. The principle of relativity points to the way of synthesis and testifies the reality of co-existence.

Acārya Akalaṅka has mentioned a number of reasons for the admission of existence and non-existence. A pot exists with reference to its own nature, it does not exist with reference to an alien nature. This argument leads us to investigate the meaning of 'own nature' and 'alien nature'. Akalaṅka's reply is—the own nature refers to the things that is responsible for the application of the 'pot concept' and the 'pot word', and what is net amenable to such usage is the alien nature. The affirmation of the own nature and the denial of the alien nature establish the reality of a thing. If the alien nature, viz. a piece of cloth, is not excluded from the own nature, viz. the pot, the word 'pot' would be applicable as designation to all things. And in spite of such exclusion, if the own nature of the pot is not cognised, the latter would be a non-entity like a hare's horn.

The specifically intended pot again passes through a number of phases. Any one among these phases is the own nature while the preceding and succeeding phases are its alien natures.

An intermediate phase of the independent pot again is constantly subject to growth and decay. Therefore the state of the present moment is the own nature while the past and future states are the alien natures. If the existence of the pot is determinable by the past and future moments, exactly in the fashion of the present moment, then all pots—past, present and future—should together be existent at any one moment. The same logic will apply to the nature of non-existence. In other words, if a particular non-existence were determinable by all the past and future non-existences in the same fashion as the present non-existence is determined by its own nature, the upshot will be that any particular moment of non-existence is a totality of all non-existences—past, present and future. Existence and non-existence must each have its own nature, in tie absence of which they would lose their identity.

Again, the momentary pot has a goad many qualities and modes like colour, taste, smell, form etc. We know its existence by seeing its colour with our eye's, and in this context the colour is the own nature, while taste etc. of which we are not aware at the moment, are the alien nature. Had taste etc. been the own nature like the celour of the pot, visible at the moment, then the former would be of the nature of colour, on account of its being cognised along with the colour by the eye. And as a result the conception of senses, other than the eye, will be a futile imagination.

Epistemologically viewed, the idea of pol consequent upon the usage of the word 'pot' is the own nature (of pot), while the shape of the pot outside is the alien nature.

Consciousness has two aspects—

  1. The aspect of being a cognition, just like an imageless mirror.
  2. The aspect of being possessed of a cognitum, just like a mirror with an ima'ge

Of these two, the aspect of being possessed of a cognitum i.s the own nature (of a pot). In other words, in the epistemological situation, the pot qua the cognitum is the own nature while the cognition Itself is the alien nature. The criterion is that the point of focus is the own nature while the other auxiliary conditions are the alien nature. The own nature in its essence is the object on which our cognition is fixed. Otherwise all things would be indeterminable. Thus if a pot is considered as nothing other than the cognition itself, then all other things, like a piece of cloth etc., as cognita would be identical with the pot. Exactly similar consequences will follow if non-existence of a pot is identified with the cognition itself because in that case, non-existence being something indeterminable, the entity called pot would not be amenable to any kind of treatment, ontological or practical.[1]


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Published by:
Jain Vishwa Bharati Institute
Ladnun - 341 306 (Rajasthan) General Editor:
Sreechand Rampuria
Edited by:
Rai Ashwini Kumar
T.M. Dak
Anil Dutta Mishra

First Edition:1996
© by the Authors

Printed by:
Pawan Printers
J-9, Naveen Shahdara, Delhi-110032

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Akalaṅka
  2. Consciousness
  3. Non-absolutism
  4. Space
  5. Syāt
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