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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Part 2

Published: 14.11.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

These thoughts led advocates of Anekāntavāda to realize, in the light of their, non-absolutist standpoint, that all cognition—be it cognition of identity or that of diversity—is after all valid (vāstavika). A cognition is valid in relation to its own object, but when it arrogates to itself the right to demonstrate the unreality of the object another cognition seemingly contradictory of itself it turns invalid. The cognition of identity and the cognition of diversity seem to be contradictory of each other simply because one of them is mistaken to be the whole truth (pūrṇa-pramāṇa). As a matter of fact, both these cognitions are valid so far as they go, but neither is the whole truth though each is a part (aṃśa) thereof. The total nature of reality ought to be such that these seemingly contradictory cognitions might reveal it in their respective ways but without contradicting one another and might both be treated as valid insofar as both go to reveal the total nature of reality. This synthesis, that is, the idea that the two cognitions in question have two different spheres to operate in (vyavasthā-garbhita vicāra), enabled the advocates of Anekāntavāda as to see that there is no real conflict between monism (sad-advaita) and pluralism (sad-dvaita), for the total nature of reality comprises identity as well as diversity, generality as well as particularity. For example, when we think of that huge mass of water and disregard its place, time, colour, taste, dimension, etc. it appears before us in the form of one single entity called ocean. On the other hand, when we take into account the place, time, etc. of this very mass of water we begin to see a number of oceans—small and big—instead of one gradually, we do not even perceive even a single drop of water but certain impartite elements like colour, taste, etc., and, eventually, they too appear as nought (śūnya). Cognition of the mass of water as one single ocean is valid, and so also is its cognition as (a conglommeration of) ultimate elements.

The cognition of one (single ocean) is valid because it views diversities (bheda) not as standing out separately from one another but as together exhibiting one common form; likewise, the cognition of diversities-as-to-spatio-temporal-location-etc.—diversities which totally demarcate (vyāvṛtta) the elements concerned from one another—is valid because these diversities are actually there. Inasmuch as the mass of water is in fact one as well as a multiplicity, our cognition of it as one single ocean is as much valid as our cognition of it as a multiplicity of ultimate elements; but since neither of these cognitions grasps the total nature of reality, neither of them is the whole truth, though the two together do constitute the whole truth. Analogously, when we view the entire universe as one single real, in other words, when we take note of "existence" (sattā) which is common (anugamaka) to all diverse existents, we say that all reality is one and single; for while taking note of the all-comprehensive (sarvavyāpaka) "'existence" we are aware of no diversities demarcated from one another, and that, in turn, is because all diversities are here revealed as exhibiting one collective and common form. viz. "existence". Hence the epithet "Monism" or "Doctrine of Non-dual Reality" (sad-advaita) attributed to this viewpoint. When we confine our attention to what is common to all existents and call the universe '(one single) real' (sat) the denotation of the word "real" becomes so wide as to exclude nothing (i.e. no existing entity) whatsoever. However, when we view the universe as possessed of the mutually demarcated diversities of qualities and attributes, it no more appears in the form of one real (sat) but becomes a multiplicity of reals. In that case, the denotation of the word "real" undergoes corresponding limitation (for now we do not at all speak of real in general but only of this or that type of real). Thus we say that some reals are physical while some conscious; going further in the direction of noticing diversities we say that there are a number of physical reals and a number of conscious reals. Thus when we view the one all-comprehensive real as divided into mutually demarcated diversities, it appears before us as a multiplicity of reals. This is the viewpoint of "Pluralism" or the "Doctrine of Diverse Reals" (sad-dvaita). Thus the monistic and pluralistic viewpoints are valid in their respective spheres, but they will go to constitute the whole truth when they are combined together as complementary to each other (sāpekṣa-bhāvena). This then is the synthesis, arrived at from the non-absolutist standpoint, of monism and pluralism which are generally supposed to be mutually antagonistic.

The same idea can be elucidated with the help of the illustration of trees and the forest. When the several, mutually different, particular trees are viewed not in the form of this or that particular tree but in a collective, general form designated "forest" the particular features of these different trees do not cease to exist but they are so much absorbed (lῑna) in the general feature—observed for the time being—of these trees as to appear to be non-existent. In this case we see the forest and it alone and our outlook may be characterised as monistic. Again, sometimes we take note of these trees one by one, that is, in the form of particular entities. Here we see the particular entities and them alone, and the general feature of these entities is so much absorbed in their particular features—observed for the time being—as to appear to be non-existent. Now an analysis of these two cognitions (anubhava) will suggest that neither can be regarded as solely true, i.e. true at the cost of the other. Both are true within their respective spheres but neither represents the whole truth; for the whole truth lies in a proper synthesis of these two cognitions. Only such a synthesis can do justice to the two cognitions, viz. cognition of the forest in general and cognition of each, single, particular tree, both of which are uncontradicted (abādhita). The same holds good of the monistic and pluralistic world-views (that is to say, they do represent the whole truth only when properly synthesized).

The above was an account of the monism versus pluralism controversy in regard to features that might be spatial (daiśika), temporal (kālika), or non-spatio-temporal (deśa-kālātῑta): there is a special controversy between the doctrine of temporal generality (kālika sāmānya) or eternalism (nityatvavāda).and the doctrine of temporal particularity (kālika viśeṣa) or momentarism (kṣaṇikatva-vāda). These two doctrines too seem to be mutually antagonistic, but the non-absolutist standpoint suggests that there is no real conflict between the two. Thus when an element (tattva) is viewed as being continuous (akhaṇḍa) throughtout the three periods of time, that is, as beginningless and endless, it is certainly eternal (nitya), for in that case it is of the form of a continuous flow (akhanda pravāha) that has no beginning and no end. But when the same element—undergoing that continuous flow—is viewed as divided in terms of relatively large or small temporal units (kāla-bheda) it appears as having assumed a limited (sīmita) form which lasts for this or that interval and which therefore has a beginning as well as an end. And in case the interval in question is too brief to admit of further dissection by means of intellectual weapons (buddhi-śāstra), that portion of the element-in-continous-flow which occupies this interval is called momentary (kṣaṇika) because it is the smallest possible. The words eternal and momentary are considered to be each other's antonyms (viruddhārthaka), for the connotation of one includes lack of a beginning and of an end (anādianantatā). However, viewing from the non-absolutist stand-point, we can see that the same element which is called 'eternal' insofar as it is of the form of continuous flow may also be called 'momentary' insofar as it undergoes a change (parivartana) or a new modification (paryāya) every moment. The basis of one viewpoint is the observation of beginninglessness and endlessness, that of the other the observation of beginnings and ends. But the total nature of a real entity comprises the lack of beginning and of an end as also the possession of a beginning and of an end. Hence the viewpoints in question, though true within their respective spheres, will yield the whole truth only when properly synthesized.

This synthesis, too, can be elucidated with the help of an illustration. The total life-activity of a tree—right from the beginning uptil the time of fructification—completes its course only by flowing through the successive stages represented by the seed, the root, the sprout, the trunk, the branches and twigs, the leaves, the flowers, the fruits, etc. So when we view an entity as a 'true' we have in mind the total life-activity continuously flowing through these various stages. On the other hand, when we grasp, one by one, the successively emerging elements—like root, sprout, trunk, etc.—of this life-activity we have in mind but these various elements, each possessing a limited duration. Thus our mind takes note of the life-activity in question sometimes in one continuous form and sometimes in a discontinuous form, that is, element by element. On closer investigation it becomes evident that neither is the continuous life-activity either the whole truth or but a product of imagination, nor are the discontinuous elements either the whole truth or but a product of imagination.[3] Even granting that the continuous life-activity absorbs within itself the totality of discontinuous elements or that the discontinuous elements absorb within themselves the total continuous life-activity, the fact remains that a real entity, viewed in its total nature, is continuous as well as discontinuous, and that therefore it is grasped only when both these aspects of its nature are (separately) taken note of. These two aspects are both real so far as each of them goes, but they become totally real only when synthesized. To view the tree as a beginningless and endless flow in time is to indicate it as an eternal entity, to view the tree as made up of (the successively emerging) elements is to indicate it as a transient or momentary entity. The transient constituent elements (ghaṭaka) are inconceivable without a substratum in the form of an eternal flow, and this eternal flow is inconceivable without those transient constituent elements. Thus the view that eternity is real while transience unreal and the view that transience is real while eternity unreal give rise to the eternalism versus momentarism controversy which, however, is eliminable from the non absolutist standpoint.

The non-absolutist standpoint also eliminates the controversy between the doctrine of definability and the doctrine of indefinability. For according to it, only that aspect of an entity's nature is amenable to description (pratipādya) which can be made an object of convention (i.e. conventional attribution of words: saṅketa). Now even though a convention is established by buddhi (i.e. intellect) which is subtle in the extreme (sūkṣmatama), aspect of the nature of an entity; for there are innumerable (subtle) aspects of an entity's nature which are inherently incapable of description through words. It is in this sense that the one continuous real (akhaṇḍa sat) as well as the impartite moment (i.e ultimate element) (niraṃśa kṣaṇa) are indefinable, while the gross entities of medium duration (and extension) are capable of definition. Thus the doctrine of definability and the doctrine of indefinability—applied to the entire universe or to an element thereof—are true within their respective spheres and wholly true when taken together.

Nor is it self-contradictory to view a thing as a positive entity and also as an 'absence'. For a thing is never cognized either solely through its positive traits (mātra-vidhimukhena) or solely through its negative traits (mātra niṣedhamukhena). E.g. the milk is cognized as milk and also as not-curd, i.e. something different from curd. This means that the milk is of a positive-cum-negative nature (bhāva-abhāva-ubhaya-rūpa). Thus it is not self-contradictory to maintain that a thing is a positive entity and also an 'absence', for two different cognitions take note of these two aspects of the thing's nature. Similarly, the non-absolutist standpoint resolves the controversy as to whether the members of other similar pairs (dvandva)—e.g. 'attribute and the possessor of the attribute' (dharma-dharmin), 'quality and the possessor of the quality' (guṇa-guṇin), 'cause and effect' (kārya-kāraṇa), 'substratum and superstratum' (ādhāra-ādheya)—are identical with one another or different from one another.

When the authoritativeness (āptatva) and the validity-source (mūla-prāmāṇya) (of a verbal testimony) are in doubt, it is always well to decide an issue after examining (parῑkṣā) the matter ratiocinatively (hetuvāda-dvārā); but in case the authoritativeness (of the testimony in question) is beyond doubt, resort to ratiocination only leads to an infinite regress and is to be discarded. In this latter case reliance on the Scripture (āgamavāda) has to be our sole guide. Thus both ratiocination and reliance-on-the-Scripture have a scope, but they apply to different subject-matters (viṣaya) or to different sorts of exposition (pratipādana) of the same subjectmatter. In one word, there is no conflict between the two. The same is the case with the doctrine of Fate (daivavāda) and the doctrine of Human Endeavour (pauruṣavāda), for there is no conflict between them either. In those cases where endeavour based on rational calculation (buddhi-pūrvaka pauruṣa) is an impossibility, problems can be solved only by the doctrine of Fate, but where endeavour of this type is possible, the doctrine of Human Endeavour succeeds. Thus the doctrine of Fate and the doctrine of Endeavour can be reconciled harmoniously, provided one keeps in view that the two cover different aspects of life.


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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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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekāntavāda
  2. Bheda
  3. Buddhi
  4. Monism
  5. Nitya
  6. Paryāya
  7. Sarvavyāpaka
  8. Sattā
  9. Sāmānya
  10. Tattva
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