Jaina View of Life

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Jaina View of Life

Prof. Ramjee Singh

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(1) Life is a struggle for perfection. Philosophy should serve as the light house in this struggle of life. Hence, true philosophy, must be a philosophy of life. Our attention has until now been mainly directed towards the problems of reality and knowledge, God and Soul etc., but we have culture have got significance only in relation to man. Hence, Vyasa correctly said : “There is nothing higher than man” (nahi sresthataram kincit manusat)”. Chandidas perhaps went a little further : “Man is higher than everything and nothing is more important than him” (Sabar upare manusa satya, tahar pretation regarded “man as the measure of all” (Hamo men sura). The Jainas, even denied God, because they believed in the potential divinity of man. This reminds us of the famous Vedic saying : “Those who know Brahman in Man knows the Being who is Supreme” (Ye puruse Brahman Viduste Viduh Paramesthinam : Atharva Veda, X.VII. 17).

(2) According to Jainism, man can attain divinity contained in the concept of Four-fold Infinities (anantachatustaya). Thus, it shifted the emphasis from God to Man – an outcome of the development of inwardness. Hence, the interest of Jainism has been centered mainly around man, his morality and destiny. Of the seven fundamental categories of Jaina philosophy, only two, the `self’ and the `Non-self’ are dealt with from a metaphysical point of view, the other five are more corollaries. Asrava (inflow of karmic-matter) is the cause of mundane existence and Samvara is the cause of liberation. Everything else is only its amplification.

(3) Our conduct cannot be isolated from our way of life. Truth and valuation are inseparable. Samantabhadra in his Yuktyanusasanam (Verse 15) says : “Without knowing the real nature of things, all moral distinctions between bondage and liberation, merit and demerit, pleasure and pain will be blurred.”

(4) For Plato, Samskara and Bradley, philosophy, broadly, is the `knowledge of reality’ for the logical positivist it is only `linguistic analysis’. However philosophy, to be true, must be philosophy of life, where we do not have a part-view but the whole-view or world-view. “Idealism was unable to see the trees in the wood, while empiricism could not see the wood in the trees” said C.D. Broad (Contemporary British Philosophy, Ed. J.H. Muirhead, Vol.1, 1924). These are the two different ways of approaching the problem but they are not the only ways. Hence, we should see the world steadily and as a whole. If we do not look at the world synoptically, we shall have a very narrow view of it. Purely critical philosophy is arid and rigid.

(5) The Jaina view of life known as anekanta (Non-absolutism) is nearer to such a synoptic view. To quote Whitehead, such an non-absolutistic approach is “an endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted” (A.N. Whitehead : Process and Reality, 1929, p.4). The function of philosophy is not merely academic pursuit of knowledge and reality, it also serves as a way of life. It has the dual purpose of revealing truth and increasing virtue so that it may provide a principle to live by and purposes to live for. Hence, C.E.M. Joad options that “We must achieve a synoptic view of the universe” (C.E.M. Joad : A Critique of Logical Positivism, 1950, p. 29).

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(1) The Jaina attitude of non-absolutism is rooted in its attitude towards life. Life is dear to all. To do harm to others is to do harm to oneself. The Acaranga Sutra ( 1. 5. 5) declares: “Thou art he whom thou intends to tyrannize over.” Hence a feeling of immense respect and responsibility for human personality inspires Jainism. It has upheld the worth of life very much, hence its main emphasis is on Ahimsa or non-violence.

(2) However its concern for non-violence is more due to ideological consciousness than emotional compassion. Unlike Buddhism Jainism does not view life as a transient and illusory phenomenon, nor it regards it as immutable like the Upanisad-Vedanta philosophers. In fact, both absolute permanence and absolute impermanence is absolute non-sense. Adhering to the common experience, Jainism regards the nature of reality as having the characteristics of origination, decay and continuance-giving a non-exclusivists view.

(3) Secondly, Jainism believes in the potential divinity of man. Given freedom of development, every individual can attain the supreme spiritual progress. Hence, any interference means spiritual degeneration. Violence is nothing but interference with life, hence it must be eschewed in thought, word and deed. In this context, Anekantavada (non-absolutism) is an extension of Ahimsa in the realm of thought and so is Syadvada a logical corollary in the field of speech. Anything should be viewed not from only one standpoint (ekanta) but from many, angles of vision. The real is a variable angles of vision, which will negate dogmatism and imperialism of thought. Ekanta, means the `only’ point of view, whereas Anekanta implies the principle of reciprocity and interaction among the reals of the universe.

(4) This Anekanta-ideology is the spirit of synthesis (Samanvaya-drsti) nurtured into the synthetic culture of India. In the Vedas and Upanisads, the ultimate reality is described neither as real (Sat) nor as unreal (Asat). Some described the reality is one, while others hold it as many. In fact, the ultimate reality as the same, though it is called by different names. Ajneyavada or Agnosticism of Sanjaya shows reconciliatory spirit through his Four-fold or Five-fold formula of denial, so the Vibhajyavada or the Critical method of Investigation of Buddha is contrasted with Madhyam-pratipada which included Buddha to “treat prevalent opinions with all due consideration.” Nagarjuna’s Dialectics of Four-fold Antinomies (chatuskoti) resembles Anekanta approach. The Bhedabheda system of Bharata Mimamsa and the Samkhya have an anekanta bias with respect to some of their ideas and methods. Therefore, Santaraksita attributes the concept of vaichitrya to the Mimamsa as well to the Samkhyas. Even the critique on the light doctrines of Gautama resemble the Anekantavada in its spirit an form although they are not as pervasive as they are in Jainism.

(5) Anekantavada is the heart of Jainism. It constitutes its moral original contribution to the philosophical speculation. However, Anekantavada- syadvada has been more maligned than understood even by the great Vedantic and Buddhist Avaryas. It is misfortune that system like Advaita which realizes the inadequacy of logic to appreciate the evidence of experience as well as the probabilistic interpretation of multi-valued logics, which can reconcile the apparent contradictions in the Anekantavada. Anekanta implies twin functions of analysis and synthesis known as conjunctive and disjunctive dialectics respectively or Nayavada and Syadvada.

(6) Viewed in the light of the doctrine of Anekanta, the reality reveals not merely as many (anantatmakam) but also as infinitely manifold (ananta- dharmatmakam). The reality is possessed of infinite number of attributes and human knowledge is limited until it attains omniscience. Hence we cannot have the complete grasp of the whole reality or an absolute affirmation or complete negation of a predicate. To know is to relate, therefore our knowledge is essentially relative and to relate, therefore our knowledge is essentially relative and limited in many ways. In the sphere of application of the means of knowledge or in the extent of the knowable our thought is relative. The whole reality in its completeness, cannot be grasped by this partial thought. The objectivity of the universe reveals that the universe is independent of the mind which implies principles of distinction leading to the recognition of non-absolutism.

(7) In absolute sense, a thing is neither real nor unreal, neither permanent nor evanescent but both. This dual nature of things is proved by a reductio-ad-absurdum of absolutism. Further, this is also the basis of the Law of Causation, because an `absolute real’ can neither be cause nor an effect. However, an `absolute flax’ cannot be the basis of operation for the Law of Causation. Similarly, the controversy between unity and plurality can be easily solved by the Anekanta logic, which affirms attributes in a unitary entity. A thing is neither an absolute unity nor an irreconcilable multiplicity. In fact, it is both multiplicity-in-unity. Similarly, both absolute existence and non-existence are metaphysical abstractions.

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(1) To say that a thing is neither real nor unreal, neither eternal nor non-eternal, neither static nor mobile but partakes of the dual nature perhaps is an affront to the believes in the traditional Laws of Thought. No body rejects them but these abstract formulations are not suited to dynamic character of the universe. Our own observation and experience reveals that the two-valued logic seems to be unreal. So far that abstract formulation of the Laws of Thought A is A (Identity),A is A (Contradiction), A is either A or not A (Excluded Midoh), they may be right. But their concrete formulations (A Radio is a Radio) admits of change. A real radio is constantly undergoing change, hence there is change according to space and time. Similarly, even change is meaningless without the idea of persistence. Hence the contradiction (A Skylab cannot both be and not be) is only national because `A Skylab’ is a Skylab so long it works as a laboratory in the Sky but when it takes as a debris after degeneration, if it is not the same sky-lab in the same condition. Hence, a Skylab can be both a Skylab and not a Skylab. There is no difficulty to accept this in actual experience.

(2) The denial of pre-non-existence and post-non-existence as part of a real leads to the impossibility of all theoretical and practical activity. Similarly, the denial of non-existence of mutual identity (numerical differences) and absolute non-existence is also impossible. If there is no difference, there will be no distinction, hence no independence between subject and object. If there is negation of identity, there is worse confusion. Hence the nature of reality can neither be exclusively identity nor multiplicity. As regards relations, no relation is meaningful if there is pure identity and no relation is possible between the two absolutely independent and different terms. Similarly regarding causal efficiency, the real cannot be either `absolute constant’ nor can it be an `absolute variant’ but a `variable constant’.

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(1) I t is asked, whether this kind of non-absolutism is itself absolute or not. If it is former, there is at least one real which is absolute; if it is not, it is not absolute and universal fact. Whether non-absolutism is itself absolute or relative depends upon the nature of proposition which is either complete (Sakaladesa) or incomplete (Vikaladesa). The former being the object of valid knowledge (Pramana) and the latter, two object of aspectal knowledge (naya). This means that the directive of non-absolutism is not absolute unconditionally. However, to avoid the fallacy of infinite regress, the Jainas distinguished between the true non-absolutism (Samyak-Anekanta) and the false non-absolutism (Mithya-Anekanta). To be valid, therefore, non-absolutism must not be absolute but always relative. When one attributes is stated as constitution the whole nature of the real and thus implies the of the `false absolute’. But Naya is not false though it is partial or knowledge from a particular standpoint.

(2) The nature of unconditionality in the statement “All statements are conditional” is quite different from the normal meaning of unconditionality. This is like the idea contained in the passage “I do not know myself” where there is no contradiction between knowledge and ignorance, or in the statement `I am undecided’, where there is at least one decision : “I am undecided” the unconditionality is not at the level of existence, while at the level of essence (thought) anything is alternative. We do not live in the realm of thought or reason above. Behind reason, there is always the watershed of unreason or faith. The Jainas too have faith in their scriptures as anybody else has in his or her. Her is unconditionally. In each community, there is a special absolute. The absolutes themselves are alternation so far as they are possible (till we are on thought level), but I have chosen one and stick to it, it is more than possible, it is existence or actual. At this point, there may be a reconciliation between conditionality and unconditionality. On thought level, the statement “Everything is conditional”, holds good but when we adopt the point of view of existence, we are led to rest with unconditionality.

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(1) Ideologically, we cannot make one-sided exposition. But in actual usage, whenever we make any particular statement (S is P or S is not P), it takes the form of a categorical proposition. Even a Hypothetical (If S then P) or a Disjunctive (Either S or P) is said to have a categoric basis and therefore, they can be converted into categorical propositions. But since our thought is relative, so must be our expression.

(2) There is another problem also – how to synthesize the different angles of vision or internal harmony of the opposed predications (S is P, S is not P, S is both P and not P, S is neither P nor not P). It is, therefore, the Jainas prefix Syat (Somehow, in some respect) as a corrective against any absolutist way of thought and evaluation of reality. This is a linguistic tool for the practical application of non-absolutism in words. Because of this prefix Syat and the relative nature of proposition, it is called Syadvada. But words are only expressive or suggestive (Vachaka or Jnapaka) rather than productive (Karaka). Thus the meaning is, however, eventually rooted in nature of things in reality and we have, therefore, to explore a scheme of linguistic symbols (Vachanavinyasa) for model judgments representing alternate standpoints. (Nayas), or a way of approach or a particular opinion (abhipraya) or view-point (apeksa).

(3) This philosophy of standpoints bears the same relation to philosophy as logic does to thought or grammar to language. We cannot affirm or deny anything absolutely of any object owing to the endless complexity of things. Every statement of a thing, therefore, is bound to be one-sided and incomplete. Hence the doctrine of seven-fold predication (Saptabhanga) in the logical consumption of the doctrine of relative standpoints (Syadvada). If we insist on absolute predication without conditions (Syat), the only cause open is to dismiss either the diversity or the identity as a mere metaphysical fiction. Every single standpoint designated in every statements has a partial truth. Different aspects of reality can be considered from different perspectives (Niksepa). This Naya is the analytic and Saptabhanga is the synthetic method of studying ontological problems.

If this form of statements, this doctrine insists on the correlation of affirmation and negation. All judgments are double-edged in character-existent and non-existence. The predicate of inexpressibility stands for the unique synthesis of existence and non-existence and is therefore `unspeakable’ (avaktavya). Thus three predicates – `existence’, `non-existence’ and `inexpressibility’ make seven exhaustive and unique modes of expression of truth.

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(1) We are aware of various criticisms against Anekantavada-Syadvada that they involve the fallacies of self-contradiction (Virodha), Absence of Common Abodi (Vaiyadhikaranya), Infinite-Regress (Anavastha), Confusion (Sanka), Exchange of Natures (Vyatikara), Doubt (Samsaya), Non-apprehension (Apratipatti), Both sides (Ubhaya) etc. However, we do not want to go into details.

(2) We have considered the most formidable criticism that how far non-absolutism of Syadvada is not absolute but relative. However, it is wrong to confuse the Pragmatic and Pluralistic realistic attitude of Syadvada with either Pragmatism of James-Dewey either or with the objective relativism of the sophists or even with the relative absolutism of Whitehead or Bodies or with Einstenian relativity except in the most general attitude. Pyrroh’s prefixing every judgment with a `may be’ must not be identical Jaina `Syat’. The former degenerates into Agnosticism or Skepticism means in the minimum, absence of any assertion, whereas Syadvadins always assert, thought what they assert are alternatives – each being valid in its own Universe of Discourse, which controls the interpretation of every word. This is the logic of Relatives.

(3) Perhaps on account of its catholicity of outlook Syadvada is branded as a form `eclecticism’ or a `philosophy of compromise’. “Since an eclectic system is a loose piece of mosaic work, rather than an organized body of original thought, the term has come to be one of reproach.” However, this is unjust to brand it as a `loose piece of mosaic work’ or `odd collection of arbitrary half-truths’. In fact the truths presented are alternative truths which are true in their own aspects. Of course, Syadvada rejects the `dispotic absolute truth’ or the `block universe’ or a `seamless coat’. Even in the synthesis achieved through the dynamics of Syadvada, there is `discriminative unity’ rather than `secondless unit’. In short, absolutism in thought is rejected to avoid arbitrariness in action.

(4) To brand Syadvada as agnosticism or Skepticism like that of Sanjaya or of Pyrroh is again another injustice. The prefix `Syat’ does not mean `perhaps’ but `in respect of’ a particular context. Each model truth is valid from its own standpoint. It is not a doctrine of `know nothingness’ or `unknowability’. Each standpoint of the saptabhangi is definite in its own place. Syadvada statements are not `indefinite’ (Belvalkar), but `indeterminate’ (Hiriyana) which means that it cannot be defined absolutely. No single mode of expression is adequate to express the nature of reality. The various modes of truths are not merely many truths, but alternative truths, each being as definite as anything.

(5) Regarding the charge of `Self-contradiction’ against Syadvada by the great Vedantic and Buddhist Acaryas, I feel that the motive behind it must be extra-logical. How one can believe that Dharmakirti will call Anekantavada as mere non-sensical talk (Pralapamatra) in view of Jaina theory of dual character of universal and particular of a thing. He asks of all realities are sat, there would be no difference between cow and camel. Prajnakara Gupta and Arcaya point out that the triple charactered nature of reality having origination, destruction and permanence cannot exist together and hence is self contradictory. Sanmtaraksita thinks that there would be a commingling (Sankarya) and a confusion (Sandeha) in the dual nature of reality, the result of which would not be helpful to decide which is general and which particular.

Karnakagomin also refutes the dual characteristic theory of the Jainas in his own way. In this famous treatise Refutation of Anekantavada (Anekantavada Nirasa), Jitari says that one cannot have identity as well as difference by the same nature.

Sankara and Ramanuja also point out to the violation of the law of contradiction.

However, all these thinkers forget that the laws of thoughts should be considered by the testimony of experience and not be pre-conception. Experience shows that a thing is real in own respect but not so in other respect.

The triple character theory is supported through anvasthanupapannatva hetu. From the realistic standpoint there is so much difference which could indicate the separation between identity and difference. The reality is synthism of identity-in difference and each synthesis is a Jatyantara (sui genesis). Akalanka points out that the Buddhists philosophers ignore the formula Sarvobhavastudatasvabhati and tries to establish equality between curd and camel.

In fact, Syadvada is against the formulations of formal two valued logic. It avoids vicious intellectualism and the fallacy of exclusive particularity. Thus Syadvada is a new dynamics of thinking which is based on Catholicism and regard for truth seen from different angles.