Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Syādvāda

Published: 10.05.2012


The theory of Syādvāda requires to be carefully studied in view of the impact of relativistic theories in science and philosophy (particularly epistemology).

Philosophy has been defined as an unusual attempt to think persistently. It is the thinking consideration of things. It has withstood the attacks of all atheistic, positivistic and sceptical philosophies. Philosophical problems have the unusual knack of rearing their heads again and again. To put it in Prof. Wisdom's words, "One goes on chasing philosophical hares all the time".

The Jaina view of philosophy is usually broadminded. It is neither exclusive identity nor exclusive difference. They have attempted a bold compromise risking the charge of contradictions from their opponents. It is a philosophy of even-mindedness.

The Jainas have a beautiful story to tell of the blind men and the elephant. The blind men put their hands on the different parts of the elephant and each tried to describe the whole animal from the part touched by him. Thus the man who caught the ear said the elephant was like a country-made fan, the person who caught the leg said the elephant was like a pillar, the holder of the trunk said it was like a python, the feeler of the tail said that it was like a rope: the person who touched the side said the animal was like a wall, and the man who touched the forehead said the elephant was like the breast. All the six quarrelled, each one asserting that his description alone was correct. Only he who can see the whole elephant can say what the elephant was like. So each standpoint according to Jaina is relative only.

The theory of Nayavāda (the theory of standpoints) and the theory of Syādvāda are complementary to each other. Nayavāda is analytic in character, syādvāda is synthetic. (At least it functions as a synthetic method though it looks analytic). That is, Nayavāda analyses one of the standpoints under the aspect of identity or of difference and Syādvāda further investigates the various strands of the truth delivered by a naya, and integrates them into a consistent and comprehensive synthesis. Each such, strand is called a bhaṅga (a mode, or a predication). It might also be called a possible truth. Describing the relation between the two methods Dasgupta observes, "There is no universal or absolute position or negation, and all judgements are valid only conditionally. The relation of the naya doctrine with the Syādvāda doctrines is therefore this that for any judgement according to any and every naya there are as many alternatives as are indicated by Syādvāda". The indeterminate or Anekānta reality is thus analysed into various standpoints and each stand­point in turn is examined with respect to its various strands of truth and finally all the strands are woven together into the synthesis of the conditional dialectic owing to their function of analysis and synthesis. The methods of Nayavāda and Syādvāda may also be described as the disjunctive dialectic and the conjunctive dialectic respectively.

The next question is: Is Syādvāda synonymous with saptabhaṅgīnaya. Some say it is synonymous because the number of possible or alternative truths under the conditional method of syādvāda are seven only.

Kapadia is of the opinion that Syādvāda is wider in scope than the term Saptabhaṅgī and is synonymous with the term Anekāntavāda. But many philosophers take me two as synonymous.

The doctrine of Syādvāda is so crucial to Jaina philosophy that syādvāda is often treated as standing for the whole of Jaina philosophy.

The late Dr. Y.T. Padmarajiah in his book "A comparative study of the Jaina theories of Reality and Knowledge" defines Syādvāda as follows "Syādvāda or Saptabhaṅgī is that conditional method in which the modes or predications affirm, negate or both affirm and negate severally or jointly in seven different ways, a certain attribute of a thing without incompatibility in a certain context that is no modal assertion or proposition on - simple or complex, affirmative, negative or both - can, at once express anything other than an aspect of the truth of a thing". The full truth or rather the synthesis of truths can result only from a well ordered scheme of propositions. Each proposition is therefore relative to, or alternative with, the other propositions which in their totality present the full of the thing with respect to the particular attribute predicated of it. The Jainas maintain that saptabhaṅgī offers such a well ordered scheme in which the modes are exclusive of one another, but are at the same time, in their totality, exhaustive of the many-sided truth of the indeterminate real under discussion.

Thus Syādvāda or saptabhaṅgī is the theory of relativity of knowledge. It is a dialectic of the seven steps.

The word 'syāt' means probable, perhaps, may be. Syādvāda is often called the theory of probability but as CD. Sharma says it is not a theory of probability in the literal sense. "Probability suggests scepticism and Jaina view is not scepticism". The word 'Syāt' should be translated as 'relatively' or in a certain sense'. It is treated as an indeclinable. It is significant that even the linguistic philosophers are fond of saying now-a-days. 'In a certain sense you are right and in a certain sense you are not'.

'Syāt' thus means that Reality is manifold. The real cannot be determined as possessing only such and such attributes and not the rest. Discussing the spirit of Syādvāda a modern critic observes, "It signifies that the universe can be looked at from many points of view and that each standpoint yields a different conclusion. The nature of reality is expressed completely by none of them for in its concrete richness it admits all predicates". Every proposition is therefore in strictness only conditional. Absolute affirmation and absolute negation are both erroneous. (I think, to this the Absolutist will reply that truth is not given in propositions. As Bradley says: "Thought must commit suicide in order to grasp Reality".

Padmarajiah observes, "It is this conception of reality as extremely indeterminate in nature that is suggested or illumined by the term Syāt. A phrase which will approximately bring out this indeterministic significance of Syāt would be 'from a certain point of view' or 'in a certain sense' or some other equivalent form.  My own belief is that the word 'Syāt' cannot be rendered into English without losing some of its meaning.

Schools which build up their systems on the foundation of some single concept or the other which represents only one facet of the many-sided truth in reality illustrate this narrow and dogmatic approach. Sāpekṣavāda is another name for 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. Anekānta
  2. Anekāntavāda
  3. Baroda
  4. JAINA
  5. Jaina
  6. Naya
  7. Nayavāda
  8. Saptabhaṅgī
  9. Science
  10. Syādvāda
  11. Syāt
  12. Y.T. Padmarajiah
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