First Steps To
SANCHETI ASOO LAL
BHANDARI MANAK MAL
The Central Philosophy of
Jainism - Anekantavad,
The Doctrine of Non-one-sidedness
We take up this subject with some hesitation- it may be admitted in
advance. The subject of Anekantavada or the Doctrine of Non-onesideness is
very difficult (to explain) and yet not so difficult. It is very complicated
as well as very simple. It is a matter of common, everyday experience and yet
so remote that it defies easy understanding.
At the same time the subject is so important that it has been rightly
called the central philosophy of Jainism. It is one of the most significant
contributions of Jain thinkers to the realm of intellectual and philosophical
deliberations; just as the Jain concept of non-violence and Karamvada are
pacesetters in the field of human progress in ethical and metaphysical fields.
An attempt is, therefore, being made to deal with the subject in simple
language so that the student of Jainism may take first steps on this road and
if his interest is aroused, this attempt shall be considered successful. For
those so interested there is no dearth of literature on this subject, as for
the last 2500 years, since Lord Mahaveer, a great many savants have examined
this subject exhaustively and enriched its knowledge with their contributions.
What is Anekantavad -
It is difficult to find a complete and exactly
equivalent term. As such this can be treated as a terminus techniques.
However, it has been variously called as the Philosophy of Non-absolutism (Satkari
Mookerjee), the Theory of the many sided nature of reality, the Philosophy of
harmonizing-together (Hari Bhadra) and Theory of manifoldness. These
nomenclatures throw considerable light on the various aspects of the theory of
Anekantavada. However, one term which encompasses the meaning almost
completely and can be called an equivalent is "Theory of Non-one-sidedness"
used by Dr. B.K. Matilal (from whose lectures published by L.D. Institute
Ahmedabad considerable help has been taken in this article) which is used in
the title of this article.
For understanding the full meaning of "non-one-sidedness" or anekantavada,
one has to understand what is meant by "one sidedness" or Ekant which is
denied by this Theory. To a layman the ordinary meaning would appear as
holding one side or one view steadfastly. It is well known that with the
philosophical development a number of schools of thought developed in India-as
anywhere else - like Samkhya, Bauddha, Vedanta, Nyaya and Mimansa. Even before
the ideas crystallized in such established schools, thoughts of different
types were aired by different thinkers like those seen in the Vedas,
Upnishadas and other scriptures. These concerned the various metaphysical
propositions like different aspects of reality, soul, universe and others.
When such different view points emerged during development of thought, and one
school asserted its metaphysical thesis, it was rejected by another school
which put forward its own contradictory proposition, Each school mustered
arguments in favour of its own thesis and those rejecting the opposite
propositions. This verged on dogmatism. So much so that one school refused to
entertain the point of view of the other side holding it as false and
considering only its own point of view as the gospel - absolute - truth. This
led to intolerance. Such dogmatist and intolerant approach is considered "ekant"
or one-sided philosophical approach in Jain view and such one-sidedness is
considered as equivalent to falsehood or false knowledge and false perception
- Mithya Gyan and Mithya Darshan.
Anekantavada or the Doctrine of non-one-sidedness
is negation of or
is opposed to the above mentioned Ekant or one-sided approach-as the prefix
"an" or "non" would suggest. According to the non-onesided approach while
presenting one's point of view on any subject due consideration is also shown
to the opposite point of view. This approach is based on the acceptance of the
manifoldness of reality or in other words, acceptance of the fact that every
proposition or thesis has many aspects - all of which have some element of
truth from different standpoints. As such a philosophical proposition or
metaphysical thesis can be true if it is viewed from a particular stand-point.
Therefore, the doctrine of non-one-sidedness not only tolerates the view point
of the opposite side, but also tries to understand the basis or standpoints of
the divergent propositions with a view to reconcile the apparent
contradictions. The position will be clear if illustrated with the too well
known story of the elephant and the six blind men.
It is said that six blind men approached an elephant and each of them
caught hold of a different part of the body of the elephant. Each one of the
blind men, therefore, formed his own image of the huge animal. The man who
caught the tail of the elephant thought it to be like a long rope. The one
holding the leg of the animal thought it was like a piller. The third one who
got the ear in his hands thought the elephant was like a huge fan. the fourth
man who held the trunk of the elephant considered that it was like a python.
Another holding the stomach thought it was like a drum. The one who got on the
back of the elephant considered that it was like a platform.
Since they were certain that they were right in their conjectures each of
the six blind men held fast to his view about the elephant holding it
sacrosant, at the same time calling the views held by the others as absolutely
false. This led to acrimony and would have resulted in a fight, but for the
intervention of a wise man who explained the correct position to the six blind
men, by making them feel the other parts of the elephant. They, then, realized
that though each of them was partly correct in his imagination of the
elephant, but the others were equally correct in their conjectures of the
animal from their stand-points and that the true and total picture of the
elephant could be appreciated by understanding the views held by each one of
them with the reasons therefor.
In the above illustrative story the six blind men, when they held fast to
their individual picture of the elephant as a rope or a pillar, were adopting
an ekantvadi or one-sided approach, which was obviously false. When they
appreciated the view points of the others in addition to their own, and the
reasons therefor - thus knowing the true nature of the elephant they were on
the right road of Anekantavad or non-one-sidedness.
From a superficial view the doctrine may appear too simple and obvious and
thus insignificant. It may not be considered justified that so much importance
has been attached to it in the philosophical sphere that it is considered a
major contribution of Jainism. However, if it is remembered that much violence
has resulted from intellectual differences, then any attempt towards harmony
is a major step in the right direction.
It will be more clear if we take the example from philosophical
deliberation of the nature of Reality (Satt) which is fundamental to all
philosophies. The Vedanta philosophy led by Sankaracharya held that Reality (Satt)
is permanent and unchanging. The Buddhist philosophy on the contrary held that
there is nothing permanent and the Reality or Satt is always changing being in
a state of flux, because there is instantaneous and automatic origination and
destruction. History is witness to the fierce controversies resulting from
these extreme ekantvadi or one-sided positions which ultimately led to almost
complete banishment of Buddhism from India, the country of its origin. Jainism
reconciling both these extreme-ekanta-positions, holds that reality is
characterized by a simultaneous operation of origination (Utpad) and
destruction (Vyaya) as well as permanence (Dhrauvya) a truly non-one-sided (Anekantavada)
This is the famous proposition of the Jain Text - Tattvarth Sutra (5.29) "UTPAD
VYAYA DHRAUVYA YUKTAM SAT" i.e. Reality is characterised by origination,
destruction as well as permanence. It implies that reality is not "Permanent"
but also permanent, it is not only in a flux but also in a flux. Accordingly
an object of knowledge must have three inseparable aspects. (i) a permanent
substance - the inherent qualities (ii) destruction or abandonment of old
shape and (iii) origination or acquisition of a new shape. Applying this
concept to a substance like the "Soul", it is permanent when viewed from its
essential quality of "consciousness' which it never gives up, it is destroyed
when it given up a particular body and it again originates when it is reborn,
as another being. This can be applied to all cases uniformly e.g. when a
bangle is broken, it is its destruction, but the continuing gold content
remain permanent, and when rings are made of that gold it amounts to
origination (though only its shape has been changed).
The above discussion shows that Anekantvada is an attempt to reconcile so
called different and opposite points of view by understanding them and as such
it is rightly called a doctrine of synthesis and assimilation as well as
toleration and understanding. This takes us to the philosophic source or
origin of this doctrine which lies in the concept of non-violence of Jainism
and which was responsible to a great extent for the development of
non-one-sided approach- anekant attitude in Jain philosophy.
Sources of Anekantavada :
The concept of Non-violence with its
special and significant features is an unique contribution of Jainism to the
progress of human civilization. This has been discussed in Pt. - I. To
recapitulate in brief, since all beings want to live and live comfortably-want
to have full and free experience of all their vitalities (pranas)-any attempt
to infringe upon such freedom is apparent or gross form of violence. In its
fine form any reckless activity-Pramad-also amounts to violence though it may
or may not result in injury to living beings. The aforesaid attempts or
recklessness can be in thought, word, and deed and abjuring all these is
non-violence. There is also the positive side of non-violence which includes
kindness and compassion, peace and pity etc. Extension of such non-violent
attitude to the intellectual and verbal planes was natural as one cannot be
truly non-violent unless one abjures violence in thought also as much as in
words and deed. Non-violence is indivisible in as much as one cannot be
physically non-violent and intellectually violent, specially when it is the
intellect that guides all physical activity. Therefore, the Jain concept of
respect for the life of others led to the principle of respect for the views
of others, which formed the basis of "anekanta" or non-one-sided doctrine.
This involved not only toleration of the opposite doctrines or different views
but also investigation of the reasons for the difference and further attempts
at reconciliation of the same.`
Historically speaking, since non-one-sidedness or anekantavada was an
offshoot or corollary of non-violence it can be presumed to exist in Jain
thought and belief abinitio-along with non-violence which is the core or
fundamental principle of Jainism. However, its methodology, refinement and
accompaniments like Naya-Vada or doctrine of standpoints and Syadvada " or
"doctrine of may be" might have evolved later.
It has also been stated that the theory of non-one-sidedness developed from
Lord Mahaveer's handling of the process of Vibhajyavad or analytical system.
No doubt the ancient scripture like Sutra Kritanga describe Lord Mahaveer as "Vibhajyavadi"
but Lord Buddha has also been described as such as he also followed the
analytical method. But Vibhajyavad can also, in its broader spectrum, imply a
non-dogmatic and exploratory approach to philosophical and a metaphysical
subjects. In this sense it not only includes a system of analysis but also
that of synthesis-differentiation as well as integration. Lord Mahaveer not
only analysed the subject but also developed a philosophy of synthesis,
toleration and understanding of different standpoints or pre-suppositions to
reconcile and resolve the disputes. This system developed into and came to be
designated as "Anekantavada" or the "Theory" of non-one-sidedness.
Some examples may clarify the position. Suppose a question is asked
"whether A is not B" ? The answer from one group can be "Yes, A is B", while
another group may say "No, A is B". However, Anekantvadi approach will be "A
is B from one point of view", and "A is not B from another point of view".
Just as a man is a husband from the point of view of his wife, brother from
the point of view of his sister and so on. Similarly in Anekantvad a thing is
correct from one point of view and wrong from another point of view.
To take exact quotation from Jain Shastra Bhagwati, to the question whether
the universe was finite or infinite Lord Mahaveer has replied that from the
standpoint of area/measurement the Universe was finite, but from the
standpoint of time the universe was infinite. This brings us to the subject of
Theory of standpoints or Nayavad, and the Theory of Maybe or "Syadvad" which
are considered two wings of the Theory of Non-one-sidedness or Anekantvada.
Before taking up these two theories a couple of observations are considered
necessary. Firstly, the assimilative aspect of Anekatvada pre-suppose the
existence of well developed philosophical schools amongst whom serious
controversies came to the fore, which justified synthesis and assimilation.
Some such schools were Sankhaya, Baudha, Nyaya, Mimansa etc. Another factor
was introduction of use of Sanskrit language in Jain literature, which was
earlier confined to Prakrit or Ardhmagadhi. Thus though the seed of Anekant
existed in Jain thought earlier, it grew, flowered and bore fruits later along
with other schools and then only discussion of Anekant gathered strength and
its details multiplied.
Secondly, though Anekantavad implies acceptance of manifoldness of reality,
it should be clearly understood that a simple joint assertion of contrary
predicates about a subject will not amount to indication of Anekantavad.
Further though anekanta approach permits acceptance of contrary or
contradictory propositions from different stand points the ideas challenging
the fundamental truth or basis principles can in no way be entertained under
the garb of Anekantavad. For example consciousness is considered a hall-mark
of the soul or jeeva in Jainism, as such it cannot be held to be without
consciousness from any standpoint.
To conclude this general-preliminary-survey of Anekantvad, we may refer to
Dr. Y.J. PADMARAJIAH, who mentions the following five types of philosophy
considered from the point of view of the nature of reality in his famous book
"The Jaina Theory of Reality and Knowledge" :
Philosophy of Being or Identity e.g. Vedanta
Philosophy of Difference or Change e.g. Buddhism
Philosophy subordinating Difference to identity e.g. The Samkhya.
Philosophy subordinating Identity to Difference e.g. The Vaisesika.
Philosophy co-ordinating both Identity and Difference e.g. The Jaina
view of reality.
Thus Jainism meets the extremes and presents a view of reality which
comprehends the various sides of reality to give a synthetic picture of the
whole. It recognises the principle of distinction and develops the
comprehensive scheme of Anekanta realism. Anekanta is the "most consistent
form of realism; as it allows the principle of distinction to run its full
course until it reaches its logical terminus on the theory of manifold
Nayavad or Doctrine of standpoints
We now take up the subject of Naya, which, as hinted above, enables proper
view and appreciation of true nature of things through intelligent assessment
of their different aspects from different standpoints. There are two means for
acquiring knowledge of any object-Paramana (proof) and Naya (stand-point) (Tatvarthsutra
1-6). Since an object has a manifold character or many aspects, these can be
comprehended entirely by the omniscient only. However to understand one aspect
of an object or to view it from one stand-point is Naya, and to understand
many aspects of an object is Praman. For example to understand the soul from
one stand-point that it has consciousness is Nayavad, but to appreciate the
soul from its many features like non-material nature, eternal existence,
conscious quality etc. is Praman. In other words Naya is a part of Praman and
Praman is a collection of Naya. Thus Praman is compared to an ocean while Naya
are like ocean water in different pitchers (Raj Vartik-Akalanka).
While other schools acquired knowledge of objects through "Praman", Jainism
used the method of Nayavad in addition, as the former may not illuminate all
the aspects fully and individually. At the same time it is always necessary to
keep in mind that according to Nayavad one aspect is being revealed from
amongst innumerable aspects which are equally important, and the knowledge so
revealed is coloured or conditioned by the particular point of view or stand
point-failure to so remember will lead to confusion and ekantvad. Therefore
the whole truth or complete nature of reality will be revealed by pooling
together the knowledge revealed by the stand-point or Naya, which though
contradicting each other separately when combind lead to truth. Here an
interesting example may be quoted from Naya Karnika of Vinay Vijay who says
that "just as different smaller feudal lords, who may be opposed to each
other, when commanded by the Emperor-Chakarvati-combine together to render him
proper service, the different Naya or standpoints when combined reveal the
complete and whole truth".
Thus nayavad and naya properly utilised become the tools or instruments for
application of Anekantavada or doctrine of non-one-sidedness in practice
enabling a complete and proper grasp of knowledge on the one hand, and
understanding and reconciliation of different points of view on the other.
Since a substance has innumerable aspects, it can be viewed from
innumerable stand-points and therefore there can be as many (innumerable) Naya.
That would make the comprehension of all the Naya and the object impossible.
As such the acharyas have grouped or classified the naya-standpoint-into
certain categories-which though varying have largely common features. The
first and major classification of Naya is in two groups (i) Dravyarthik Naya
or substance related standpoint and (ii) Paryarthik Naya or modification
related standpoint. The first group of Naya deals with stand-points that
relate to the substance or the general characteristic like viewing the sea
from the point of view of water only. The second group of Naya relate to the
special features of the object which may be subject to modification, or which
are special e.g. viewing the sea from the stand-point of sour taste of its
The classifications or groupings of Naya-
There are many classifications but according to Tatvarth Sutra there are
five classes with further subdivisions of some of them. These are:
Naigam (the common or non-distinguished)
Sangrah (the general)
Vyavahar (the practical)
Rjusutra (the straight thread)
Shabda (the verbal)
which are described below in brief :
Naigam Naya or the common standpoint :
In this group are included those naya or stand points which relate to and
are expressed in commonly used terms according to local tradition without any
particular distinguishing features of the object. They are divided into two
sub-categories viz. Desh Paripekshi (General) and Sarva Paripekshi (Specific).
Thus while going to cut wood, one may say he is going to make a table or while
calling `taxi' `taxi' one may actually be calling the taxi driver. Such
statements or ideas are included in Naigam category of Naya. Such statements
are considered true according to Naigam Naya as these are acceptable by local
tradition and common usage though strictly speaking they may not be quite
correct. For obvious reasons this naya has widest scope and application.
Sangrah or general -
These stand-points or Naya encompass those statements or ideas that have
between them some common or general features of the object, ignoring the other
specific and differing claims or marks. The word Sangrah means collection. As
such under this Naya is implied a method by which separate entities are
brought under one class or notion. Thus when it is claimed that everything is
Sat (being), it is perfectly understandable from Sangrah Naya or stand-point,
though it leaves out the element of Asat (Non-being).
As such it lays emphasis on the Universal ignoring diverse features.
Absolute monism or Vedanta philosophy are notable examples. Jainism, however,
holds it to be a partial point of view and one of the Nayas only. Its scope is
more limited than Naigam Naya.
Vyavhar or Practical -
This group of naya though complementary to item (ii) above Sangarh Naya-further
classifies the object into groups keeping their specific characters in view
and looks at them from the special standpoints. On the basis of Sangrah Naya
and after describing the things in a collective form it is necessary to find
out their special characteristics. That special character is called Vyavhar
Naya. For example when we utter the word "medicine" it includes all kinds of
medicines but when we say allopathic, ayurvedic or homeopathic medicine, then
we can understand its speciality. This can further be divided by its name,
patent, quality use etc. These divisions are examples of Vyavahar Naya and
have a tendency towards greater exactitude. (This Vyavahar Naya is different
from the other Vyavahar Naya dealt with in para below).
Raju Sutra or Straight Thread
This naya requires consideration of the ideas like reality etc. as the
direct grasp of here and now-ignoring the past and future but in the present
Paryay or mode of a thing. Raju means simple and sutra means knowledge.
Supposing a man was a Minister and now he is not on the post. Thus his past is
of no use. Similarly a person is nominated Minister, his future is meaningless
in terms of Raju Sutra. Only present is recognised by Raju Sutra Naya making
the identification more easy and scope more narrow. The Buddhist Philosophy of
Kshanikvada is an example of this Naya.
Shabda or the Verbal
This naya relies on the meaning of the words for viewing the objects in
question. Some schools of thought rely on words and the meaning thereof to
explain the nature of things. According to Jain thinking, such understanding
may be true and may throw light on the subject-though partially. This will be
true from Shabda Naya or Verbal point of view. There are further subdivisions
of this Naya to make the understanding more easy and exact.
Of the five nayas mentioned Naigam (the common or non-distinguished),
Sangrah (the general), Vyavahar (the practical) these three are Dravyarthic
Naya, or substance related and Rjusutra (the straight thread) and Shabda (the
verbal) are Paryarthic Naya or modification related standpoints.
Another major divisions of Naya is (i) Nishchaya or intrinsic or
determination stand-point and (ii) Vyavhar or common usage or worldly
behaviour stand point which is applied quite frequently in day to day
parlance. The first implies the real or the ultimate meaning or interpretation
of an object while the latter involves the apparent or the general superficial
view. Thus for example from Nishchya Naya or stand point a soul is
independent, self-existed and uncontaminated by matter, from Vyavahar stand
point it can be called as involved in Karma as well as the cycle of birth and
death. Such classification of naya or standpoints enables identification or
distinction of objects or theories according to particular class of naya. Thus
it can be said that from Naigam Naya a particular object or statement is true
while from Sangrah Naya another statement is so true. Thus it resolves
controversies that may otherwise arise.
The Four Nikshepa
A brief mention may be made of the term Nikshepa which is used by some
scholars in addition to the Naya as a means to analyse and correctly
understand the interpretation or meaning of any particular term by referring
to the context. These Nikshepa (or Nyas as mentioned in Tatvarth Sutra) are
four in the least and may be many more. These are (i) Nam Nikshep (Name) (ii)
Sthapna Nikshep (Attributory) (iii) Dravya Nikshep (Proximate) and (iv) Bhav
Nikshep (Intrinsic or Real). To illustrate the four Nikshepa it is stated that
if a person is named King, even without any real qualities of a King, the term
will be so understood according to Naam Nikshepa, The picture or statue of a
king will also convey the idea of king according to Sthapana Nikshep and if a
person was a ruler in the past he may be termed king for all times according
to Dravya Nikshep. Though in all these cases the nomenclature king will not be
justified by facts. Only the person with all qualities of a king and ruling
presently should be called king which will be correct according to Bhav
The Nikshepa of word helps to arrive at the correct meaning, at the same
time explaining how the particular word is used at a particular place. Of
course the real sense is conveyed by Bhav Nikshepa. As stated earlier these
are aids to the application of Naya and sometimes considered as part and
parcel of the same. Some scholars even consider that they (Nikshep) are
superfluous and a duplication as the first three Nikshepas are covered by
Dravyarthik naya and the last one is covered by Paryarthik Naya.
Before concluding this brief discussion of Naya (standpoints) or Nayavad,
it may be added that purpose is not only to acquire knowledge from different
points of view, but also to ascertain the basis for commonality in
contradictory propositions with a view to reconcile the same. Another example
of such as approach can be the two views about the soul i.e. some hold there
is only one soul and others hold there are innumerable souls. Nayavad
reconciles the apparent contradiction by holding that from the standpoint of
separate individual beings there are innumerable souls, but from the
standpoint of pure omniscient quality all souls are alike and, therefore, one.
Since standpoints are also known as "Apeksha", Nayaved is called Apekshavad,
yet another name for Anekantvada which can be loosely translated as
We close this discussion of Nayavad with the following shloka of Acharya
Yashovijaya which gives succinctly the purpose and scope of Naya to embrace
different schools of thought :
Rajusutra Naya includes the Buddhist point of view. Vedanta and Sankhya are
covered by Sangrah Naya, the Yoga Vaisheshika are embraced by Naigam Naya and
Shabda Naya covers the Shabda Brahmvadi. Thus the Jain approach is apparent
that Nayavad embraces all philosophies.
In any case, the divisions are subdivisions of Nayas in not sacrosanct as
difference is apparent in the approach of different thinkers and at different
times-with development of thought, which cannot be static. As stated earlier
there can be unlimited Naya as the aspects from which a thing can be viewed
are unlimited. Further, all the Naya are dissolved and disappear with the
appearance of omniscience or Keval Gyan, as the stars disappear with the
appearance of the sun.