The Indian-Jaina Dialectic of Syadvad (Part-2)

First Steps To Jainism (Part-2)


The Indian-Jaina Dialectic of Syadvad in Relation to Probability (II)

Relational Aspects

Relational aspects have received special notice in Jaina logic.

“Everything is related with every other thing, and this relation involves the emergence of a relational quality. The qualities cannot be known a priori, though a good number of them can be deduced from certain fundamental characteristics.” (JPN, p.3) “A real is only a part of a system knitted together by a network of relations, from which it cannot be divorced.” (JPN, p. 109.) “Every real is thus hedged round by a network of relations and attributes, which we propose to call its system or context or universe of discourse, which demarcates it from others.” (JPN, p.114.)

“It is idle to raise questions of chronological status as to whether the unity is prior to the elements or the elements are prior to the unity. In the concrete real at any rate they are co-ordinate. This unity of being and non-being, or rather of self-being and negation of other-being, is beyond the reach of logical concepts, and hence, of linguistic symbols, which are but the vehicles of such concepts. The Jaina in recognition of this inalienable character of reals declares them to be inexpressible. The inexpressible may be called indefinite from the standpoint of formal logic. But this is not the whole character of a real. It is also expressible and logically definable as existent as non-existent.1 ” (JPN, p.115)

“The Jaina conception of relation may be summed up as follows. Relations are objective verities which are as much given to intuition and to thought as the terms are. A relation has no objective status outside the terms. It is the result of an internal change in the nature of the terms. It is sui generis in that it cannot be placed under the head of identify or of difference, both of which are contained as traits in its being.” (JPN, p.211.)

The Jaina view of relatedness of the things is very naturally extended to the discussion of causality.

“… neither synchronism nor succession is believed by the Jaina to be the essential characteristic of causal relation. Causality is a relation of determination. The effects is that whose coming into being is necessarily determined by the being of another. The determinant is called the cause and the determinatum is called the effect. The determinant may be synchronous with the determined or may be separated by interval…” (JPN, p. 212.)

“What is the organ of the knowledge of causality ? The Jaina answers that it is perception of the concomitance in agreement and difference… The Jaina takes the observation of concomitance in agreement and in difference to be one observation,…. The Jaina posits a twofold cause for the perception of universal relation-an internal and an external condition. The internal condition is found in the developed state of our mind and the external condition is the repeated observation of the sequence of the two events”. (JPN p. 217.)

“….Such concepts as causality, substance, attribute and the like, are no doubt the ways in which the mind works up the data of experience, but this does not mean with the Jaina that they are true of the mind only and not of the extra-mental reality which they purport to understand. The Jaina would take them to be the instruments of discovery of the nature of reality, internal and external, which render the same kind of service as the sense-organs do”. (JPN, p. 217.)

“….The different categories viz., the selves, matter, time, space and so on, are deductions from experimental data. They have been posited since general concepts presuppose their existence and since without these principles the data of experience cannot be organised into a system. These categories in spite of their general and comprehensive character are not only not inconsistent with the existence of individual entities, but on the contrary they are entirely based on the objective data. Without the individual existents these categories would be reduced to unmeaning class concepts. The affirmation of categories as objective principles is thus proof of the existence of individual reals, which are included within the ambit of these categories. Without the individuals forming their contents the categories would be empty and barren, and the individuals without the categories would be reduced to a welter of chaos. The Jaina is a believer in plurality no doubt, but that plurality is not an unrelated chaos. The plurality is a system inasmuch as each individual is cemented with the rest by definite bonds of relationship”. (JPN, pp. 299-300.)

“From the analytic point of view (paryayarthikanaya) the world is an infinite plurality with their infinite variations and modes. But the analytic view does not give us the whole nature of reality as it is. It is a partial picture that we derive of the world by means of such approach. The whole gamut of reality, however, reveals its universal unitise nature as one existence when it is envisaged from the synthetic angle of vision (dravyarthikanaya)”. (JPN, p. 301.)

“It seems legitimate to conclude that the universe is one existence which manifests itself, as substance (dravya) as it unifies the modes and attributes. The selfsame existence again reveals itself as Space in so far as it provides accommodation for the infinite plurality of existence within itself (ksetra). It is the same existence which manifests itself as Time (w.f. kala) is so far as it changes into aspects, past and future modes. It is the same existence that evolves as phases and modes, attributes and states. The substance, time, space, attribute and relation are thus evolved from the same existence. The different categories, thus viewed as functional variations of one principle, are no longer in a position of antagonism of in-different isolation. (Astasahasri, p. 113.)

The world of reals is thus not only plurality but a unity also. It is one universe that the Jaina metaphysics gives us. But the oneness is not secured at the sacrifice of the many, nor are the many left in unsocial indifference”. (JPN, pp. 301-302.)

It has been observed that “Jain philosophy is entitled to be called the paragon of realism. If experience be the ultimate source of knowledge of reality and its behaviour, we cannot repudiate the plurality of things. The admission of plurality necessitates the recognition of the dual nature of reals as constituted of `being’ and `non-being’ as fundamental elements. One real will be distinguished from another real and this distinction, unless it is dismissed as error of judgement, presupposes that each possesses a different identity, in other words that being of one is not the being of the other. This truth is propounded by the Jaina in that things are real, so far as they have a self-identity of their own unshared by others (svarupasatta), and they are unreal in respect of a different self-identity (pararupasatta) …The logic of Jaina is empirical logic, which stands in irreconcilable opposition to pure logic.1 ” (JPN, p. 181.)

J.Sinha (HIP., vol II, p. 110) gives the following summary of Jaina philosophy : “The world is self-existent and eternal. All objects of the world are multiform (anekanta) and endued with infinite qualities and relations (anantadharmaka). This is relative pluralism. The reality can be considered from different points of views or nayas. The nayas are the standpoints….All judgements are relative and probable. No judgements are absolute. This is syadvada. These are seven ways of predication. This is called saptabhanginaya.1 “

It is not strange that Jainas believe that “the different systems of philosophy are only partial views of reality. Jainism is the complete view of reality”. (J. Sinha, HIP, vol., p. 180.)

Some General Observations

I have given actual quotations from books on Jaina philosophy to convey the thoughts in their original form (of course, in English translation) without the bias of any subjective interpretations. I should now like to make some brief observations of my own on the connexion between Indian-Jaina views and the foundations of statistical theory. I have already pointed out that the fourth category of syadvada, namely, avaktavya or the “indeterminate” is a synthesis of three earlier categories (1) assertion (“it is”), (2) negation (“it is not”), and (3) assertion and negation in succession. The fourth category of syadvada, therefore, seems to me to be in essence the qualitative (but not quantitative) aspect of the modern concept of probability. Used in a purely qualitative sense, the fourth category of predication in Jaina logic corresponds precisely to the meaning of probability which covers the possibility of (a) something existing, (b) something not-existing, and (c) sometimes existing and sometimes not-existing. The difference between Jaina “avaktavya” and “probability” lies in the fact that the latter (that is, the concept of probability) has definite quantitative implications, namely, the recognition of numerical frequencies of occurrence of (1) “it is”, or of (2) “it is not”; and hence in the recognition of relative numerical frequencies of the first two categories (of “it is” and “it is not”) in a synthetic form It is the explicit recognition of (and emphasis on) the concept of numerical frequency ratios which distinguishes modern statistical theory from the Jaina theory of syadvada. At the same time it is of interest to note that 1500 or 2500 years ago syadvada seems to have given the logical back-ground of statistical theory in a qualitative form.1

Secondly, I should like to draw attention to the Jaina view that “a real is a particular which possesses a generic attribute”. This is very close to the concept of an individual in relation to the population to which it belongs. The Jaina view in fact denies the possibility of making any predication about a single and unique individual which would be also true in modern statistical theory.

The third point to be noted is the emphasis given in Jaina philosophy on the relatedness of things and on the multiform aspects of reals which appear to be similar (again in a purely qualitative sense) to the basic ideas underlying the concepts of association, correlation and concomitant variation in modern statistics.

The Jaina views of “existence, persistence, and cessation” as the fundamental characteristics of all that is real necessarily leads to a view of reality as something relatively permanent and yet relatively changing which has a flavour of statistical reasoning. “A real changes every moment and at the same continues” is a view which is some what sympathetic to the underlying idea of stochastic processes.

Fifthly, a most important feature of Jaina logic is its insistence on the impossibility of absolutely certain predication and its emphasis on non-absolutist and relativist predication. In syadvada, the qualification “syat”, that is, “may be” or “perhaps” must be attached to every predication without any exception. All predication, according to syadvada, thus has a margin of uncertainty which is somewhat similar to the concept of “uncertain inference” in modern statistical theory. The Jaina view, however, is essentially qualitative in this matter (while the great characteristic of modern statistical theory is its insistence on the possibility and significance of determining the margin of uncertainty in a meaningful way). The rejection of absolutely certain predication naturally leads Jaina philosophy continually to emphasise the inadequacy of “pure” or “formal” logic, and hence to stress the need of making inferences on the basis of data supplied by experience.

I should also like to point but that the Jaina view of causality as “a relation of determination” based on the observation of “concomitance in agreement and in difference” has dual reference to an internal condition “in the developed state of our mind” (which would seem to correspond to the state of organised knowledge in any given context) and also to an external condition based on “the repeated observation of the sequence of the two events” which is suggestive of a statistical approach.

Finally, I should draw attention to the realist and pluralist views of Jaina philosophy and the continuing emphasis on the multiform and infinitely diversified aspects of reality which amounts to the acceptance of an “open” view of the universe with scope for unending change and discovery. For reasons explained above, it seems to me that the ancient Indian-Jaina philosophy has certain interesting resemblance’s to the probabilistic and statistical view of reality in modern times.  


Das Gupta, S. (1922) : A History of Indian Philosophy, 1, Cambridge University Press.

Mookerjee, Satkari (1994) : The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism, Bharati Jaina Parisat, Calcutta.

Sinha, Jadunath (1952) : History of Indian Philosophy, Central Book Agency, Calcutta.

Vidyabhusana, Satis Chandra (1921) : A History of Indian Logic, Calcutta University. (1909) : Nyayavatara, Indian Research Society, Calcutta.