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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Part 6

Published: 20.02.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

It is not possible to see how syādvāda could be called sceptical or agnostic while it firmly repudiates any such association and has its genesis, at least partially, in an attempt to fight, as will be presently shown, the agnosticism (ajñānavāda) of Sañjaya. According to syādvāda each modal truth is valid so far as it goes, and, instead of being annulled, it is supplemented and transfigured, by the other six modal truths, all the seven truths 'together giving us a full range of the complex truth concerning a particular problem of a fact in reality. Each truth is as it were a single note in the full scale of seven notes which are severally distinctive, in respect of place and function, and, in their totality, interdependent and exhaustive. The aim of syādvāda being to achieve such a comprehensive synthesis which includes the specific cognitive manifestations it is not correct to describe the doctrine - either as a theory or as a method - as sceptical or agnostic. Often it is true that a doctrine leads to results contrary to those it intends to achieve. But syādvāda seems to be such a one to a superficial observer. Speaking of anekāntavāda in general, a writer makes the following statement which is fully applicable to syādvāda which is an essential method of anekāntavāda. "Unfortunately", he observes, "it has been a neglected branch of study; it is often misunderstood or half-understood; that is why it is often adversely criticised".[1] It is of paramount importance that a philosophical theory or method must be first understood in terms of its own canons or motives before it is subjected to any critical examination by alien criteria. From the exposition of syādvāda in the present chapter, as well as from the few remarks specifically made here, in answer to the present charge, one will find, at least in some measure, that the charge of scepticism is not well-founded. Because no where do we come across, in the accounts of syādvāda, the expression of the attitude of "know-nothingness" or of "the opinion that real knowledge of any-kind is unattainable".

In the light of these few observations on the non-sceptical attitude of syādvāda we find that Belvalkar gives a rather misleading twist to the nature of the method as a whole by stating the doctrine in such form as he has done.[2] As has already been remarked, even historically syādvāda arose in an appreciable degree, 'as a happy way leading out of the maze of the ajñānavāda' (agnosticism). This is expressed by Jacobi in the following passage: "Would any philosopher have enunciated such truisms, unless they served to silence some dangerous opponents? The subtle discussion of the agnostics had probably bewildered and misled many of their contemporaries. Consequently the syādvāda must have appeared to them as a happy way leading out of the maze of the ajñānavāda. It was the weapon with which the agnostics assailed the enemy, turned against themselves. Who knows how many of their followers went over to Mahāvīra's creed convinced by the truth of saptabhangīnaya?"[3]

As regards the third charge, directed by Belvalkar, that syādvāda cannot spring from "one and the same philosophical background", and the supplementary charge, directed by Rao, that syādvāda itself suffers from "self-contradiction", we may allow the charge to be answered by three of their fellow critics themselves. Answering Rao and Belvalkar in order, of course unwittingly, Radhakrishnan observes: "Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja criticise the Saptabhaṅgī view on the ground of the impossibility of contradictory attributes co-existing in the same thing". After quoting the relevant passage from Rāmānuja he proceeds to say: "The Jains admit that a thing cannot have self-contradictory attributes at the same time and in the same sense. All that they say is that everything is of a complex nature, and identity in difference. The real comprehends and reconciles difference in itself. Attributes which are contradictory in the abstract co-exist in life and experience. The tree is moving in that its branches are moving and it is not moving since it is fixed to its place in the ground".[4] Then incidentally dismissing another point of criticism that "the Saptabhaṅgī doctrine is of no practical utility" or "an expression of personal opinion over which we need not linger", the same critic proceeds to answer the specific charge by Belvalkar: "Nor can it be contended" he observes, "that the Saptabhaṅgī doctrine is inconsistent with the other views of the Jaina philosophy. It is a logical corollary of the anekāntavāda, the doctrine of the manyness of reality. Since reality is 'multiform' and ever changing, nothing can be considered to be existing everywhere and at all times and in all ways and places, and it is impossible to pledge ourselves to an inflexible creed".[5] Confirming Radhakrishnan on the second point of criticism, which is the main charge of Belvalkar, Hiriyanna briefly observes: "The thought underlying it (saptabhaṅgī) is inherent in the doctrine, although its clear enunciation seems to belong to the present period. The same opinion is suggestively expressed by R.G. Bhandarkar also.

Incidentally Belvalkar's misleading interpretation of 'anekāntavāda' as an 'indefinite' doctrine - which in turn means a shifting or evasive doctrine - is corrected by Hiriyanna's correct description of it: Interpreting 'anekānta' as meaning 'indeterminate in nature' Hiriyanna remarks: "This does not, however, mean that it is altogether indefinite but only that it cannot be defined absolutely. It is this idea that is conveyed by the sevenfold statement as a whole and it expresses the nature of reality in several steps, because no single mode of doing so is adequate to it."

We gather from a consideration of the present charge, as well as of the other two charges, that the critics advance contrary criticisms even on the same point, as well as from the same viewpoint, viz., monistic absolutism. The irony of the situation is particularly evident in the fact that contradictory arguments are presented on the very issue of alleged contradiction and self-contradiction in syādvāda. Among others there seem to be two important reasons underlying the misconceived criticisms of the critics on syādvāda: The first is that they do not note an explicit reference in the very definition of syādvāda to the important condition that the modal judgments should not be 'incompatible' (avirodha) not merely with the other modal judgments within the sphere of syādvāda, but also with 'valid knowledge, perceptual, or otherwise', in the entire sphere of experience. Had this been fully recognised Rao's criticism on 'self-contradiction' would perhaps be not as strong as it is now. Then, 'the Saviour of all systems' would be found not 'committing suicide' but performing its benevolent mission of saving the absolutisms from their excessive dogmatism.

The second reason is their failure to realise the true significance, place and function of negation in Jaina philosophy, in general, and in syādvāda in particular. Since this subject has been dealt with, at several places, it is needless to enlarge upon it any further.

In concluding this chapter it would not be out of place to quote a passage by R.B. Perry which bears a striking resemblance to syādvāda in suggesting a procedure which, as in syādvāda, is at once a critique on 'vicious intellectualism' (which brings in its train errors like 'exclusive particularity') and a positive programme of dealing with reality. Perry observes "...'vicious intellectualism'[6] proceeds as though a conceptual truth about a thing were the exclusive truth about the thing; whereas it is true only so far as it goes. Thus the world may be truly conceived as permanent and unified, since it is such in a certain respect. But this should not lead us, as it has led certain intellectualists, to suppose that the world is therefore not changing and plural. We must not identify our world with one conception of it. In its concrete richness it lends itself to many conceptions. And the same is true of the least thing in the world. It has many aspects, none of which is exhaustive of it. It may be taken in many relations or orders, and be given different names accordingly. As it is immediately presented it contains all these aspects as potentialities for the discriminating and abstracting operations of thought. 'Vicious intellectualism' thus rests on the errors that I have already referred to as 'exclusive particularity' and 'definition by initial predication': the false supposition that because a thing has one definable character, it cannot also have others and that because it has been named first for one of its aspects, the others must be reduced to it or deduced from it."

Continuing further, he writes: "Now the fault of 'vicious intellectualism' evidently lies in the misuse of concepts, and not in the nature of the concepts themselves. There is nothing to prevent our supposing that the abstractness of single concepts can be compensated for by the addition of further concepts, or by some conceptual system in which the presence and interrelation of many concepts is specially provided for. In this case the remedy for the shortcomings of concepts would be more concepts...."

Syādvāda gives, in its own way, such a "conceptual system in which the presence and interrelation of many concepts is specially provided for". Or rather, the "concepts", or to put the matter in terms of syādvāda, "the modes of truth" are "not merely many truths, but alternative truths" under the "conceptual system" of syādvāda.


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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. Anekāntavāda
  2. Berkeley
  3. Bombay
  4. Descartes
  5. Hume
  6. JAINA
  7. Jacobi
  8. Jaina
  9. Kant
  10. Leibniz
  11. Saptabhaṅgī
  12. Syādvāda
  13. Trivandrum
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