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Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Section III

Published: 25.05.2012

One of the earliest presentations of the doctrine in modern times was made by Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar.[1] Mrs Sinclair Stevenson, speaking of Jain anekāntavāda in general and syādvāda in particular, remarks that 'the locus classicus of its exposition to which all Jains immediately refer you is in Dr Bhandarkar's Search for Jaina Manuscripts, from which they always quote it in full'.[2]

'You can', the famous passage runes, 'affirm existence of a thing from one point of view (Syād asti), deny it from another (Syād nāsti); and affirm both existence and non-existence with reference to it at different times (Syād asti nāsti). If you should think of affirming both existence and non-existence at the same time from the same point of view, you must say that the thing cannot be so spoken (Syād avaktavyaḥ). Similarly under certain circumstances, the affirmation of existence is not possible (Syād asti avaktavyaḥ); of non-existence (Syād nāsti avaktavyaḥ); and also of both (Syād asti nāsti avaktavyaḥ). What is meant by these seven modes is that a thing should not be considered as existing everywhere, at all times, in all ways, and in the form of everything. It may exist in one place and not in another, and at one time and not at another.'[3]

The presentation is fair as far as it goes but seems to be flawed in one respect. The last three predicates are stated as: the affirmation of existence, is not possible... of non-existence... and also both. The expression syād asti avaktavyaḥ has thus been taken to mean: the affirmation of existence is not possible. It has been read as a single syntactical unit. It seems, however, that it should be read with a (mental) comma after asti. It would then translate as: May be is, and is inexpressible[4]; rather than as 'is inexpressible as is', the way Bhandarkar seems to take it.

Dr. S Radhakrishnan outlines this Jain doctrine thus: The view is called Syādvāda, since it holds all knowledge to be only probable. Every proposition gives us only a perhaps, or may be a syād. We cannot affirm or deny anything absolutely of any object. There is nothing certain on account of the endless complexity of things. It emphasises the extremely complex nature of reality and its indefiniteness. It does not deny the possibility of predication, though it disallows absolute or categorical predication. The dynamic character of reality can consist only with relative or conditional predication. Every proposition is true, but only under certain conditions, i.e. hypothetically.

It holds that there are seven different ways of speaking of a thing or its attributes, according to the point of view. There is a point of view from which substance or attribute (1) is, (2) is not, (3) is and is not, (4) is unpredictable. (5) is and is unpredictable, (6) is not and is unpredictable, and (7) is, is not and is unpredictable.

(1) Syād asti. From the point of view of its own material, place, time and nature, a thing is, i.e. exists as itself. The jar exists as made of clay, in my room at the present moment, of such and such a shape and size.

(2) Syād nāsti. From the point of view of the material, place, time and nature of another thing, a thing is not, i.e. it is not no-thing. The jar does not exist as made of metal, at a different place or time or of a different shape and size.

(3) Syād asti nāsti. From the point of view of the same quaternary, relating to itself and another thing, it may be said that a thing is and is not. In a certain sense the jar exists and in a certain sense it does not. We say here what a thing is as well as what it is not.

(4) Syād avaktavya. While in three we make statements that a thing is in its own self and is not, as another successively, it becomes impossible to make these statements at once. In this sense a thing is unpredictable. Though the presence of its own nature and the absence of other-nature are both together in the jar, still we cannot express them.

(5) Syād asti avaktavya. From the point of view of its own quaternary and at the same time from the joint quaternary of it-self and no-thing, a thing is and is unpredictable. We note here both the existence of a thing and its indescribability.

(6) Syād nāsti avaktavya. From the point of view of the quaternary of the no-thing and at the same time from the joint quaternary of itself and no-thing, a thing is not and is also unpredictable. We note here what a thing is not as well as its indescribability.

(7) Syād asti nāsti avaktavya. From the point of view of its own quaternary as well as that of no-thing and at the same time from the joint quaternary of itself and no-thing, a thing is, is not and is indescribable. We bring out the inexpressibility of a thing as well as what it is and what it is not.[5]

The presentation of the doctrine by Radhakrishnan is fair on the whole, especially as he assesses even the views of such 'Hindu' critics of the doctrine as Saṅkara and Rāmānuja from the Jain point of view.[6] However, it should be noted that the example used by Radhakrishnan differs slightly from the traditional illustration in which typically an object (say jar) is spoken of as not existing by way of being another object (say cloth). The objects considered are thus generically distinct. In his illustration Radhakrishnan compares two distinct objects belonging to the same class, and describes ajar of clay as not existing as made of metal. Thus it will be noted that whereas in the traditional description two different classes of objects were considered, Radhakrishnan takes two distinct objects belonging to the same class, i.e. a clay-jar and a metal-jar, into account. If one were to move further in this direction then one could compare one clay-jar with another clay-jar and state that a clay-jar exists as a clay-jar but not as another clay-jar. If one were to move still further in this direction then could one state of the same clay-jar that the clay-jar can be seen as existing at this point in time and not at another? According to Jainism a substance possesses both 'as essential unchanging character guṇa and an accidental, changing character paryāya or paryaya',[7] Radhakrishnan is aware of this aspect of the situation but occasionally seems to overlook it when he maintains that Syādvāda is the 'logical corollary of anekāntavāda, the doctrine of the manyness of reality. Since reality 'is multiform and ever changing,...'[8] it seems that the traditional illustration of syādvāda seems to be weighted more towards the multiform nature of reality rather than to the fact that it is ever changing.


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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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  1. Anekāntavāda
  2. Avaktavya
  3. Bombay
  4. Delhi
  5. Guṇa
  6. JAINA
  7. Jaina
  8. Jainism
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  14. Syādvāda
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