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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Syādvāda Conception In Pali Literature

Published: 23.04.2012
Updated: 02.07.2015

The rudiments of the Syādvāda conception are found in Vedic and Buddhist literature. It appears to have originally belonged to the Jainas, if we accept Jainism as pre-Vedic religion, and all the subsequent thinkers adopted it as a common approach to the nature of reality. That is the reason why various forms of Syādvāda are found in the different philosophical schools.

Vedic literature records negative and positive attitudes towards problems. The Ṛgveda which is supposed to be of the earliest period, preserves the rudiments of this doctrine in the Nāsadīya Sūkta. It manifests the spiritual experience, of great sage, who describes the nature of the Universe as:

Nāsadāsinno sadāsīt tadānīm nāsīdrajo na vyomā paro yat.
Kimvāvarīvaḥ kuha kasya śarmnanambhaḥ kimāsīdgahanaṃ gabhīram.

Na mṛtyurāsīdamṛtaṃ na tarhi na rātryā ahna asīt praketaḥ.
Ānīdavātam svadhayātadekam tasmādhanyatna paraḥ kimcanāsa.

"There was not the non-existent nor the existent: there was not the air nor the heaven which is beyond, What did it contain: Where? In whose protection? Was there water, unfathomable, profound? There was not the beacon of night, nor of day. That one breathed, windless by its own power. Other than that there was not anything beyond."[1] This indicates inexpressibility (anirvacanīyatva) about the nature of the universe.

The Upaniṣadic period presents this speculation in a more concrete form by taking a positive step. The Chāndogyopaniṣad represents the idea that being (sat) is the ultimate source of existence, while some Upaniṣads uphold the view that Non-being is the source of Being (asad vā idaṃ agra āsīt tato vai sat ajāyata[2]). On the other hand, some Upaniṣads assert that it is both, being and non-being (sadasadavareṇyam[3]), and some later Upaniṣads maintain that Non-being cannot be expressed by using a particular name and form (asad avyākṛta nāmarūpam[4]).

Thus the concept of Syādvāda found in Vedic literature commences from polytheism and goes on the monotheism and is later replaced by monism. This indicates that the theory was not rigid. The later developed Vedic philosophical systems were also influenced by this idea and they conceived the problems from different standpoints with the exception of that of complete relativism.

The Naiyāyikas,[5] though they used the word "anekānta"[6] could not support the Anekāntavāda entirely and they accepted the atoms, soul, etc., as having absolute unchangeable characters. The Vedānta philosophical attitude also runs on the same lines. Even considering a thing through empirical (vyāvahārika) and real (pāramārthika) standpoints, it asserts that all standpoints are inferior to the standpoint of Brahman[7].

The Syādvāda conception is found in a more developed form in Buddhist literature. The Brahmajālasutta refers to sixty-two Wrong-views (micchādiṭṭhis) of which four belong to the Sceptics. They are known as "Amarāvikkhepikā" (who being questioned resort to verbal jugglery and ell-wriggling) on four grounds[8]. The commentary of Dīghanikāya presents its two explanations. According to first, Amarāvikkhepikā are those who are confused by their endless beliefs and words. The second explanation gives the meaning that like a fish named Amara, the theory of Amarāvikkhepikā runs hither and thither without arriving at a definite conclusion[9].

The first of the four schools is defined thus: Herein a certain recluse brāhmin does not understand, as it really is, that this is good (kusalaṃ) or this is evil (akusalaṃ). It occurs to him: I do not understand what is good or evil, as it really is. Not understanding what is good or evil, as it really is, if I were to assert that this is good and this is evil, that will be due to my likes, desires, aversions or resentments. If it were due to my likes, desires, aversions, or resentments, it would be wrong. And if I were wrong, it would cause me worry (vighāto) and worry would be a moral danger to me (antarāyo). Thus, through fear of lying (musāvādabhayā) and the abhorrence of being lying, he does not assert anything to be good or evil and on questions being put to him on this or that matter he resorts to verbal jugglery and ell-wriggling, saying: I do not say so, I do not say this, I do not say otherwise, I do not say no, I deny the denials (I do not say "no no").

Idha... ekacco samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā idaṃ ti yathābhūtaṃ ti nappajjānāti, idaṃ akusalaṃ ti yathābhūtaṃ nappajjānāti. Tassa evaṃ hoti. Ahaṃ kho idaṃ kusalaṃ ti yathābhūtaṃ nappājānāmi idaṃ akusalaṃ ti yathābhūtaṃ nappājānāmi. Ahan c'eva kho pana idaṃ kusalaṃ ti yathābhūtaṃ appajānanto, idaṃ kusalaṃ ti yathābhūtaṃ appajānanto idaṃ kusalaṃ ti vā vyākareyyaṃ idaṃ kusalaṃ ti vā vyākareyyaṃ tatthā me assa chando vā rāgo vā doso vā paṭigho vā tam mam' assa musā. Yam mam' assa musā so mam' assa vighāto. Yo mam' assa/vighāto so man' assa antarāyo ti. Iti so musāvādabhayā musāvādaparijegucchā n'ev'idaṃ kusalaṃ ti vyākaroti na pana idaṃ akusalaṃ ti vyākorati, tatthā tatthā pañham puttho samaṇo vacāvikhepam apajjāti amaravikkhepam: Evaṃ ti pi me no. Tathā ti pi no. Aññathā ti pi me no. No ti pi me no. No no ti pi me no ti[10].

According to this school, it is impossible to achieve knowledge which is a hindrance to heaven or salvation (Saggassa c'eva maggassa ca antarāyo).[11] The second and the third school of sceptics do not assert anything to be good or evil through fear of involvement (upādānabhayā) and a fear of interrogation in debate (anuvyogabhayā).

The fourth school of sceptics followed the philosophy of Sañjaya Belaṭṭhiputta who fails to give a definite answer to any metaphysical question put to him. His fourfold scheme or the fivefold formula of denial is based on the negative aspects which are as follows[12].

(i) evaṃ pi me no (I do not say so).

(ii) tathāpi me no (I do not say thus).

(iii) aññathāpi me no (I do not say otherwise).

(iv) no ti pi me no (I do not say no).

(v) no no ti pi me no (I do not deny it).

This formula is applied with regard to the answering of several questions as[13]:

(i) atthi paro loko (there is another world).

(ii) natthi paro loko (there is not another world).

(iii) atthi ca natthi ca paro loko (there is and is not another world).

(iv) natthi na natthi paro loko (there neither is nor is not another world).

The commentary presents two explanations of the meaning of this formula. According to the first explanation, proposition (1) is an indefinite rejection or denial (aniyamitavikkhepo). Proposition (2) is the denial of specific proposition, e.g. the denial of the eternalism (asassatavāda) when asked whether the world and the soul are eternal. Proposition (3) is the denial of a variant of (2) e.g. the rejection of the semi-eternal theory (ekaccasassataṃ), which is said to be somewhat different from (annathā) Proposition (4) is the denial of the contrary of (2) e.g. the denial of the nihilist theory (ucchedavādam) when asked whether a being (tathāgato) does not exist after death. Proposition (5) is the rejection of the dialectician's view (takkivādam) of a double denial, e.g. denying the position if asked whether a being neither exists nor does not exist after death.

According to the second explanation, proposition (1) is the denial of an assertion e.g. if asked whether this is not good, he denies it. Proposition (2) is the denial of simple negation, e.g. if asked whether this is not good, he denies it. Proposition (3) is a denial that what you are stating is different from both (1) and (2) e.g. if asked whether his position is different from both (1) and (2) (ubhaya annathā) he denies it. Proposition (4) is a denial that you are staying a point of view different from the above e.g. if asked whether his thesis (laddhi) is different from the three earlier points of view (tividhena pi na hoti), he denies, it. Proposition (5) is a denial of the denials, e.g. if asked whether his thesis is to deny everything (no no te laddhi ti), he denies it. Thus he does not take his stand (na tiṭṭhati) on any of the logical alternatives (ekasmim pi pakkhe).

Both these explanations show that the fifth proposition of Sañjaya's philosophy is the rejection of denial. Therefore only four propositions of the theory remain. They can be compared with the first four predications of the Syādvāda theory of Jainas[14]:

(i) Syādasti (relatively it is).

(ii) Syānnāsti (relatively it is not).

(iii) Syādasti nāsti (relatively it is and is not).

(iv) Syādavaktavyam (relatively it is inexpressible).

Observing this similarity several scholars like Keith[15] are ready to give the credit to Sañjaya for initiating this four-fold predication to solve the logical problems. On the other hand some savants like Jacobi think that in opposition to the Agnosticism of Sañjaya, Mahāvīra has established the Syādvāda (Jain Sutras, Pt. 11. Uttarādhyana and Sūtrakṛtāṅga, SBE., Vol. 45, p. intro p. xxvii). Miyamoto asserts in his article "The Logic of Reality as the Common Ground for the development of the Middle Way" that Sañjaya's system is quite close to the Buddhist standpoint of the indescribable or inexpressible"[16].

These views are not quite correct. As a matter of fact, the credit should not go only to Sañjaya for the adoption of the four-fold scheme, since there were other schools of sceptics who also accepted a similar scheme. Sīlaṅka referred to four groups of such schools Kriyāvādins, Akriyāvādins, Ajñānavādins and Vainayikas. These are further sub-divided into 363 schools based on purely the nine categories (nava padārthaṣ) of Jainism[17]. These schools were mainly concerned with four questions. They are as follows:

(i) Who knows whether there is an arising of psychological states (sati bhāvotpattiḥ ko vetti?);

(ii) Who knows whether there is and there is no arising of psychological states (asati bhāvotpattiḥ ko vetti?);

(iii) Who knows whether there is and there is no arising of psychological states (sadasati bhāvotpattiḥ ko vetti?);

(iv) Who knows whether the arising of psychological states is inexpressible (avaktavyo bhāvotpattiḥ ko vetti?).

These questions are similar to first four Syādvāda predications. The main difference between the predications of sceptics and Jainas was that the former doubt or deny the logical problems altogether whereas the latter assert that they are true to a certain extent.


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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. Agra
  2. Anekānta
  3. Anekāntavāda
  4. Avyākṛta
  5. Buddhism
  6. Fear
  7. Jacobi
  8. Jainism
  9. Mahāvīra
  10. Monism
  11. Monotheism
  12. Samaṇa
  13. Soul
  14. Syādvāda
  15. Sūtrakṛtāṅga
  16. Upaniṣads
  17. Vedic
  18. Yam
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