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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Part 2

Published: 17.11.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

So apparently a complete knowledge of things and their qualities is an impossible feat for an ordinary enquirer. According to the Jaina, complete knowledge is possible only by a Jina or Kevalin who has attained perfection in knowledge, faith and character by long and arduous self-culture. The Jaina thinks that different philosophers claiming complete knowledge with the help of their different nayas have given us a semblance of naya and not a valid naya. They have however dispelled the despair of an ordinary intellect as against that of the Sarvajña or All-knower by insisting that if we have recourse to the following seven-fold Judgment or saptabhangī by following each naya, then even we may hope to attain valid knowledge. But at the same time the Jainas point out that since no one judgment at best can give complete truth but only a partial one allowing for other partial truths, therefore they are in favour not of categorical but always of hypothetical judgments. And this they have provided for by adding syāt or 'may be' before every judgment. Following each naya, there will always be seven judgments and each of them will be prefixed with the term syāt. This is known as saptabharigl-naya or Syādvāda. It appears that Syadvāda is the epistemic counterpart of the Jaina metaphysical standpoint of Anekāntavāda. This to my mind is the real picture of Syādvāda and Anekāntavāda. They are distinguishable but not separable. They go together but may not be indentical. But many jaina authorities identified the two.

Now the sevenfold judgment runs thus:

  1. may be it is existent
  2. may be it is non-existent
  3. may be it is existent and non-existent
  4. may be it is indefinable
  5. may be it is existent and indefinable
  6. may be it is non-existent and indefinable
  7. may be it is existent, non-existent and indefinable.

In this sevenfold judgment of Syādvāda what we must specially note is the significance of existent, non-existent and indefinable. The Jainas maintain as we have already stated, that every real is an existent in its own nature and a non-existent when considered not in its own nature but in a nature other than its own. So when we predicate the existence of a real, it includes the possibility of its non-existence being predicated of it. Its position and negation become thus necessary alternative predications. Then again, position and negation may be predicated of a real either in succession or with simultaneity. It is easy to understand that in the first two judgments there is no question of succession or of simultaneity. The third judgment becomes possible when we predicate position and negation in succession because we can very well understand how a thing can be considered as existent in its own nature and then we can predicate negation of it afterwards when considered in its nature other than its own. But the more important question arises when we predicate position and negation not in succession but in simultaneity. If a real is both existent and non-existent at the same time, then we fail to determine its nature i.e. the real then becomes indeterminable or indefinable. So in the fourth form of the judgment where position and negation are simultaneous i.e. the real becomes both existent and non-existent at the same time, our positive and negative determinations cancel each other and the real becomes indefinable. But in the fifth form of judgment we find that the Jaina makes further determination of the indeterminate because it predicates existence of the indeterminate. It is interesting to note that in the Vedānta as well as in the Buddhist systems of thought we come across the indefinable form when the Vedānta speaks of anirvacanīya and the Buddhist speaks of catuṣkoṭivinirmukta. The anirvacanīya of the Vedantist is māyā and the catuṣkoṭivinirmukta of the Buddhist is Nirvāṇa. The indefinable of the Jainas as it occurs in the fourth form of judgment explains the nature of a real because in the explanation of a real the Jaina contends that it is a form in which every real appears to us under certain circumstances. From this analysis of the term indefinable in the fourth form of predication, it has been regarded by the Jaina as a distinct character of a real. The indefinable is not the result of juxtaposition of existence and non-existence but it stands for a character of the real which is inclusive of existence and non-existence but at the same time transcending them.

From this it is further clear that the indefinable as a distinct character of a real must have existence. So the fifth judgment becomes a necessary form of predication. In other words when it is predicated of an object that it is indefinable in the sense of a distinct character, then it must have an existence. In this way the Jaina claims to silence those who may contend that when a thing is indefinable, no further predication is possible. And as we know that position and negation are applicable both in succession as well as in simultaneity, the sixth and the seventh judgments are perfectly justified. This gives us how the sevenfold predication or Saptabhaṅgī-naya of the Jainas has a sufficient reason for its formation and how it has opened a new line of epistemological approach to Reality.

But we should not forget to mention the further question as to why the judgments should be seven and seven only and neither more nor less. Vimaladāsa, the author of "Saptabhaṅgī-taraṅgīṇī", in his refutation of this objection has begun his polemic by reference to a very ingenious example. He asks us to consider the taste of a drink prepared from curd, sugar, chilly, pepper, etc mixed together. Now the taste of the drink is really indefinable in the sense that its taste and flavour are different form those of each of the ingredients, but that indefinable taste is quite a matter of our feeling and enjoyment. That this indefnibale taste exists is clear from the fact that in it we feel in some from the taste and flavour of the ingredients like curd etc. Similarly in each fact of the indefinble are present the feelings of somewhat existence, somewhat nonexistence, the successive feelings of existence and non-existence and the feeling of simultaneity of existence and non-existence. Then Vimaladāsa takes up the question as to why the number of judgments must be seven. The answer which he gives is that any enquiry into the nature of things arises out of doubt about it. Doubt begets enquiry. But doubt arises when generally there are two contradictory ideas. But in the case of doubt as conceived by the Jaina, there are really no rigid contradictories, the apparent contradiction being due to our neglect to see the fourfold conditions of substance, place, time and state, as the case may be. Anyway since there is apparent contradiction, that must be the source of doubt. Now taking existence and non-existence as such, there may be real contradiction between them, but the Jaina always warns us against this absolute contradiction and qualifies the statement of each of the contradictories by prefixing the term "somehow" and the traditional theory of contradiction as the source of doubt cannot arise between "somehow existent" and "somehow non-existent" but always between somehow existent and absolutely existent. The Jaina has elaborately shown that any real exists in its own nature and is non-existent in consideration of a nature other than its own and this 'somehow' character has been indicated by them by the prefixed syāt. But a doubt does arise due to confusion between "somehow existence" and "absolute existence" and in order to remove this doubt the Jainas have formulated the sevenfold judgment. As the doubt of this kind are ultimately seven in number and not more nor less, the judgments also will be seven, no more nor less. So the contention of the Jainas that Syādvāda consists of seven judgments only.

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. Anekāntavāda
  2. JAINA
  3. Jaina
  4. Jina
  5. Kevalin
  6. Naya
  7. Nayas
  8. Nirvāṇa
  9. Syādvāda
  10. Syāt
  11. Vimaladāsa
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