Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Section III

Published: 21.06.2012

Lord Mahāvīra answered hundreds of questions on the basis of relative standpoints. He even explained the most fundamental problems of the universe in similar manner. Whether the atoms are permanent or not, he points out, they are and are not. They are permanent (nitya) with reference to substantiality (Dravyatya) but changing (anitya) with regard to its outward form.[1] The same is said by the Lord with regard to Ātmā.[2]

Albert Einstein speaks in a similar tone as regards natural states. He says, "Nature is such that it is impossible to determine absolute motion by any experiment whatever,"[3] in the words of James Jeans, "Rest and motion are merely relative terms. A ship which is becalmed is at rest only in a relative sense - relative to the earth; but the earth is in motion to the sun, and the ship with it. If the earth stayed in its course round the sun, the ship would become at rest in relation to the sun, but both would still be moving through the surrounding stars. Check the sun's motion through the stars and there still remains the motion of the whole galactic system of stars relative to the remote nebulae move towards or away from one another with speeds of hundreds miles a second or more; by going further into space. We not only find standard of absolute rest, but encounter great and greater speed of motion."[4]

There is no fixed standard in the Universe to judge the absolute motion of the earth or of any other moving system. Motion is a relative state; it can be detected only as a change of position with respect to another body. It is meaningless to speak of the motion of a single object removed from all the others.

Thus it becomes clear that according to the theory of Relativity, every object and every planet is static as well as moving. So too say the Syādvādins analogously of the world and the atoms. The atoms are both nitya and anitya, the world is eternal as well as changing (Śāśvata - Aśāśvata). It is surprising to note how similar is the device, the method, approach in these two theories - of the East and the West. Both these doctrines stress the relativity of standpoint in examining the object or its attributes. Reality is so complex and over intelligence so finite, limited that what we can have at the best is only relative truth and not absolute, eternal, indivisible truth. Truth is, in reality, only one; only thing is that there are different ways of attaining it. In other words, reality is many-sided and approaches to it are multifarious. It is impossible for the finite mind to have knowledge of complete truth and, therefore, relative truth itself is perfect knowledge for him.

Here the opponents may put fourth an objection and point out that what Syādvāda can offer is only relative or half-truth and not the Ultimate eternal truth. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan remarks, "The theory of relativity (Syādvāda) cannot be logically sustained without the hypothesis of an absolute...The Jainas admit that things are one in their universal aspect (jāti or kāraṇa) and many in the particular aspect (Vyakti or Kārya). Both these, according to them, are partial points of view. A plurality of reals is admittedly a relative truth. We must rise to' the complete point of view and look at the whole with all the wealth of its attributes. If Jainism stops short with plurality which is at the best a relative and partial truth and does not ask whether there is any higher truth pointing to one which particularises itself in the objects of the world, connected with one another vitally, essentially and immanently, it throws over boards its own logic and exalts a relative truth into an absolute one."[5] It seems to some that Syādvāda is an easy compromise which does not overcome the contradictions inherent in the opposed standpoints in a higher synthesis. It takes care to show that the truths of science of every-day-experience are relative and one-sided; but it leaves us in the end with the view that truth is a sum total of relative truths. A mere putting together of half-truths definite-indefinite cannot give us the whole truth.

Answering the charges, it should be pointed out that Syādvāda is (to use Warren's words) 'the method of knowing or speaking of a thing synthetically'. Syādvāda itself is not truth but is a guide that helps us to reach the highest truth. By the aid of this doctrine, we can reconcile the contradictions that arise in ordinary experience. Besides relative truth, Jainism recognises Absolute what it terms Kevaljñāna by possession of which one would know truth[6] or have the perfect knowledge of all the objects in their entirety. Perhaps we may say the former is empirical truth (vyāvahārika-satya); while that latter is transcendental truth (pāramārthikasatya). In empirical realm, what we can have at the most is only relative truths from various view-points, as truth possesses numberless aspects (Anantadharmatmakameva tattvam); and there is no contradiction in the synthesis of contradictory concepts, viz., sattva, asattva and akartavya of one and the same subject as the opposites (i.e. different predicates) refer to different aspects of the same subject (upādhibheda). When we cannot have the Absolute Eternal Truth, these relative truths have significance.

We meet 'asti-nāsti (is, is not) in Albert Einstein's Relativity Theory also. We shall take the weight of an object for instance. We say ordinarily that a certain object weighs 154 lbs., but relativity doctrine would point out it 'is' and 'is not' so. An object which weighs 154 lbs. at the equator would weigh 155 lbs. at north or south pole. This is due to difference of distance. Still more change of weight would be found when the velocity and position are taken into consideration. We may refer here to the famous illustration of the 'man in the lift'. Suppose that the man is in the lift with an apple in his hand and that the support breaks and down goes the man with ever-increasing velocity, falling freely. The man now tries to drop the apple held in the hand. The apple cannot fall more than it was doing already. It should be remembered that all the things contained in the lift are falling along with the lift. Consequently the apple remains poised by his hand. So he would think; but the observer outside the lift would regard the falling of the apple due to the law of gravity. Thus for the 'man in the lift' is that 'apples do not fall'. The Newtonian Law of gravitation is altogether absent in his scheme of laws of Nature. It should be borne in mind that Einstein accepts that law of gravitation for the observer outside here for the sake of illustration only.

The difference in weights of the object and in views with regard to Natural Laws in the above illustrations judgements which are nonetheless true if we only bear in mind the stand point from which they are made. A certain thing may be large in comparison with some subject say X, but it is small with regard to another say Y. Thus the same thing is said to be large and small but in comparison with different objects X and Y. Largeness and smallness of a thing is thus relative to the points of view adopted.

Eddington says, "I think we often make a distinction between what is true and what is really true. A statement which does not profess to deal with anything except appearances may be true, a statement which is not only true but deals with the realities beneath the appearances is really true."[7]

Einstein even challenged the measurements and the length of classical dynamics. The lengths (distance between points in rigid bodies) usually measured in classical dynamics by a rod not independent of the system of co-ordinates adopted according to Einstein's view. Einstein showed that the change of directions makes for the difference in lengths. Thus lengths are relatively true in their own systems. The same is true of the movement relatively to the vast distances, it proceeds very slowly in the universe.

Thus the weights, lengths, motion are all relative to the points of view from which they are seen. None of them is absolute, i.e., cannot be regarded in the same way in different systems. Time, space, causation, motion, duration, mass, force, etc., are all relative and have no absolute significance. They are not attributes of physical realities but are relations whose value changes with the observer's attitude to the object.

It now becomes clear that we can have relative truths on the basis of various points of view adopted. These relative truths are neither untrue, i.e. erroneous, nor imperfect. They are the result of what we experience in reality. In other words, they are the facts of experience and so cannot be denied. They are "complete truths from the stand-points adopted. When the modern scientists have come to accept the relativity of measurement only, we meet in Syādvāda truth itself divided into several kinds." In Sri Panhavaṇṇa Sūtra, we come across the ten division of truth itself. These ten divisions are: Janapada satya, Sammata satya, Nāma satya, Sthāpanā satya, Rūpa satya, Pratīti satya, Vyavahāra satya, Bhāva satya, Yoga satya and Upamā satya. We shall not go into their details. Moreover if somebody disagrees with the fact that an orange is small with reference to coconut and big with reference to grapes and says that the two contradictory aspects big and small cannot be predicated of one and the same thing or objecting to these two different kinds of judgement, he may say that both cannot be true, then we should ask him what is absolutely true with respect to orange except that it is small as well as big, from two different aspects? Is it then not true to say that the orange is small and big with regard to two different things is 'complete', perfect, truth from the respective standpoints?

We already referred to the criticisms and charges against Syādvāda. It is not that Einstein's theory of relativity did not meet any severe criticisms. It also has been criticised as 'arrant non-sense' or as 'a very silly basic error in Logic'. But in spite of the severe opposition and adverse criticisms, it has come to be established on solid foundations.

Finally one may ask as to what exactly is similar or common between these two doctrines of different hemispheres. One is purely physical (Bhautika), the other is purely spiritual (Ādhyātmika). It is true that Einstein's Relativity is connected mostly with physics and that Syādvāda is the unique and central feature of Jaina darśana. But we should remember that Syādvāda is as much concerned with pudagala (matter) as with Ātmā (soul) and also that though Relativity is not extended beyond the science of physics, it need not be restricted to its own sphere. In fact Syādvāda as well as theory of Relativity are the devices to determine the real nature of things. They are not phantoms of imagination of phantasm of mind but quite reliable practical devices of life. And here lies the similarity. It is not as we said earlier, that Syādvāda is only Ādhyātmika, as pudagala (matter) has a place in it as Atman has. Thus the subject of Albert Einstein's Relativity doctrine and of Syādvāda is common, viz., the study of material things from the atoms (paramāṇu) to the universe (Brahmāṇḍa). Moreover, the ever-widening gulf between philosophy and science has been bridged very successfully with the advent of this new theory of physics. In his 'Foundations of Indian Culture', Sri Aurobindo has remarked: "Even science itself is constantly arriving at conclusions which only repeat in the physical plane and in its language, truths which ancient India had affirmed from the standpoint of spiritual knowledge and in the language of Veda and the Vedānta." Can we not then say that Syādvāda, an important philosophical doctrine has reappeared in the realm of physics in the form of the theory of relativity which strikes at the root of all our conventional ways of representing the universe and its laws? At least, it is to be accepted that Syādvāda is an important approach to truth, as is shown by the Relativity theory which has been firmly established on mathematical principles. The difference between the two is that Syādvāda has been formulated thousands of years ago; while Relativity principle has been very recently enunciated in the realm of physics by Einstein. But the underlying principle of investigation of truth, an approach to Reality in both is one and the same.

In man's struggle to understand the manifold of nature, we come across more and more exact systems distinguished by constantly increasing mathematical accuracy, yet it cannot be said that the results arrived at are final, rather they are starting points for new investigation. With the advancement of scientific thought it becomes increasingly clear that there is no mystery of the physical world which does not point to a mystery beyond itself. As Lincoln Barnett remarks, all high roads of the intellect, all bye-ways of theory and conjecture lead ultimately to an abyss that human ingenuity can never span. With expansion of man's horizon, the fact that as the physician Niels Bohr puts it, "we are both spectators and actors in the great drama of existence" becomes more and more evident. Man is thus his own greatest mystery. The value of Syādvāda lies in this, that it refuses to regard the truth from any one particular angle as absolute, it lays stress to think about the fact from as many sides as possible. Syādvāda and Relativity are the devices which are helpful in our incessant quest for truth and so for as they assist us in determining the true nature of things, they shall continue to have importance in science and philosophy.[8]


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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. Albert Einstein
  2. Anitya
  3. Atman
  4. Bhāva
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  7. Eddington
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