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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Part 1

Published: 10.01.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

Anekāntavāda is the heart of Jaina metaphysics and Nayavāda and Syādvāda (or Saptabhaṅgī) are its main arteries. Or, to use a happier mataphor, the bird of anekāntavāda flies on its two wings of nayavāda and syādvāda. It is beyond the scope of the present work of give a full exposition, not to mention an ample critical assessment, to even some of the most essential aspects of these three topics. The traditional viewpoints are, of course, presented in the old Prākṛta and Sanskrit works. But no sizeable literature, which is commensurate with the magnitude and importance of these problems, and which represents any significant effort for achieving a reorientation of these problems to the trends of modern thought, has yet come into existence although the need of such effort cannot be exaggerated. However, consistently with the aim of the present study that it should confine itself to certain important problems which have received inadequate or little attention, we may discuss, in the present chapter, how anekāntavāda—the theory of manifoldness or indetermination—manifests itself as the most consistent form of realism in Indian philosophy. A glimpse into some significant implications of nayavāda and syādvāda will also follow the inquiry into anekāntavāda.

As already shown, while repudiating the,idealistic notion of the concrete universal, the theory of identity-in-difference, the metaphysical presupposition of anekāntavāda, animating all the spheres of Jaina philosophical thinking, recognises the objectivity of the material universe. The objectivity of the universe signifies the fact that the universe is independent of the mind of consciousness. This independence, or the duality of consciousness and the material universe, necessarily presupposes the principle of distinction, which exerts a compulsive force until the logical goal of this principle is reached in the form of the development of the Jaina concepts of reality and knowledge into the comprehensive scheme of anekānta realism. In other words, once the initial step is taken, namely the recognition of the principle of distinction as being at the root of the duality of the mind and the world, there is no stopping short of working out, to their logical conclusion, the consequences of the operation of the principle of distinction. The claim that anekāntavāda is the most consistent form of realism lies in the fact that Jainism Has allowed the principle of distinction to run its full course until it reaches its logical terminus, the theory of manifoldness of reality and knowledge.

The first significant step to be taken, once the operative principle of distinction is accepted, is the postulation of a multiplicity of ultimate reals constituting the cosmos. The material or the objective world is constituted, according to Jaina ontology, by five ultimate reals: viz., matter (pudgala) space (ākāśa), time (kāla), the medium of motion (dharma) and the medium of rest (adharma); and the mental or the subjective world consists of an infinity of independent minds, or spirits, in their conditioned or free existence. An analysis, on the physical as well as on the mental side, reveals, therefore, a multiple or pluralistic universe.

The other step, which along with the corollary to be referred to a little later in this chapter, fulfils the purpose of the ubiquitously operative principle of distinction, and which imparts the name of 'anekāntavāda', after which the entire Jaina metaphysics is often known, is the postulation of manifoldness, or inherent complexity, within each of the reals in the universe. In other words, reality, according to Jainism, is not merely multiple but each real, in its turn, is manifold or complex to its core. Reality is thus a complex web of manyness (aneka) and manifoldness (anekānta). The central thesis of the Jaina is, according to a modern critic, "that there is not only diversity but each real is equally diversified".[1]

The 'diversification' or manifoldness—also described as indeterminateness' or 'indefiniteness'—may be illustrated by the two instances of matter and space in the physical universe. Dealing with the atomic theory of matter and space in Jainism Hiriyanna observes: "The atoms, according to it (Jainism) are all of the same kind, but they can yet give rise to the infinite variety of things so that matter as considered here is of quite an indefinite nature. Pudgala has, as we know, certain inalienable features, but within the limits imposed by them it can become anything through qualitative differentiations. The transmutation of elements is quite possible in this view and is not a mere dream of the alchemist."[2] The material world evolves from the diversification of these homogeneous atoms into aggregates of earth, water, fire and air. It is pointed out that "Jainism also, like Upanisads, does not stop in the analysis of the physical universe at the elements of pṛthvī, etc. It pushes it further back where qualitative differentiation has not yet taken place. But while in the latter the ultimate stage is represented by the monistic principle of Brahman, here it is taken by an infinity of atoms." [3] Indicating that the character of indefiniteness or indeterminateness is extended to the sphere of quality also the same writer further observes: "It is not qualitatively only that matter is indefinite. Quantitatively also it is regarded as undetermined. It may increase or decrease in volume without addition or loss."[4] A further treatment of the notion of manifoldness of matter has been offered in the chapter on Relations, in connection with the problem whether an atom has, and if so in what sense it has, an infinite part (aṁśa), despite the fact it is impartite (niravayava) in its nature. In the course of the treatment of the problem we have met with an occasion to discuss the light which is shed on it by three thinkers, viz., Prabhācandra and McTaggart on the one hand and Abhayadeva on the other. Again, in the present instance of matter[5], the brief hints hitherto given of the Jaina atomic theory sufficiently indicate the nature of indeterminateness or manifoldness in reality.

Space or ākāśa is another example of a manifold real.[6] Its manifoldness is connoted, as in the case of matter, by its possession of parts[7] According to Abhayadeva as well as Prabhācandra even an incorporeal or formless real may contain parts or divisions, as evidenced by the obvious instance of ātman,[8] which contains cognitive and other powers. Abhayadeva points out further that to be divisible does not necesssarily mean that the parts[9] should be put together at some point of time prior to division. In other words the divisibility of space is a spontaneous feature.

The entire argument on the manifoldness of space, as well as of other reals, is developed by Abhayadeva in his polemic against the Naiyāyika view of ākāśa. According to the Naiyāyika ākāśa or 'ether'[10] is one (eka)[11] or partless (na nānā or niravqyavi) and, consequently, it is all-pervading (vibhu)[12] and eternal (nitya)[13]—the distinctions, therefore, like ghaṭākāśa and maṭhākāśa are, like the concepts 'here' and 'there', a superimposition (upādhi)[14] upon that eternally unchanging medium.


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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. Adharma
  2. Aneka
  3. Anekānta
  4. Anekāntavāda
  5. Brahman
  6. Consciousness
  7. Dharma
  8. JAINA
  9. Jaina
  10. Jainism
  11. Kāla
  12. London
  13. Nayavāda
  14. Nitya
  15. Objectivity
  16. Pradeśas
  17. Pudgala
  18. Sanskrit
  19. Saptabhaṅgī
  20. Space
  21. Syādvāda
  22. Vibhu
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