Nature of Unconditionality in Syadvada

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Nature of Unconditionality in Syadvada

Prof. Ramjee Singh

(1) Ahimsa, Anekantavada and Syadvada – Jainism is a great experiment in Ahimsa (non-violence) in world, deed and though, Infinite knowledge, faith, power and bliss are the innate characters of every soul. What is needed is external non-interference. The doctrine of Anekantavada (non-absolutism) is simply an extension of Ahimsa in the field of reality. When things have many characters (anantadharmatmakam), naturally they are objects of all-sided knowledge. Any particular object can be viewed from different points of view. So when we speak of a particular aspect, we have to use the word `syat’ i.e., from a particular point of view, or as related to this aspect, this objects is such and not otherwise. So Syadvada is the doctrine of Relativity of Judgment which is born out of the non-violent and non-absolutistic attitude of the Jainas, which, led to the uttermost cautiousness of speech of “explaining problems with the help of Siyavaya (Syadvada) or Vibhajjavaya. Our thought is relative. Our expressions are relative. Thus the doctrines of Ahimsa, Anekantavada and Syadvada are organically related.

(2) Syadvada : A form of Scepticism – Scepticism `denies the possibility of knowledge’, said James Iverach. It starts from `no more such than such’ and ends in `we know not where, why and whence’. It doubts or denies the very possibility of knowledge. But the position taken by Jainism is this “there is reality; its nature is such and such’ still it is possible to understand it in quite opposite ways.” Prof.K.C.Bhattacharya who gives indeterministic interpretation of this theory clearly says that the Jainas “the theory of indeterministic truth is not a form of scepticism. It represents, no doubt, but toleration of many modes of truth.” Prof.Kalidas Bhattacharya, who tries to interpret Anekantavada from alternative standpoint also holds that “the Syadvadin is quite definitely assertive so far as asti, nasti etc. are concerned.” This is a form of realism which asserts a plurality of determinate truths and they have thus developed a wonderful organon of Saptabhangi or the seven-fold pluralistic doctrine of Jaina dialectics. True, every judgment bears the stamp of relativity, but this relativity does never mean uncertainly. In fact, this theory of seven-fold predication is `derived from Jaina ontology that reality is determinate’.

(3) Is Non-absolutism Absolute – Put into the dialectics of the seven-fold predication, the negation of non-absolutism (i.e. non-absolutism does not exist) is equivalent to the affirmation of absolutism. If non-absolutism is, it is not universal since there is one real which is absolute; if non-absolutism is itself non-absolute, it is not an absolute and universal fact : thus “tossed between the two horns of the dilemma non-absolutism simply evaporates.”

But we should remember that every proposition of dialectical seven-fold judgment is either Complete or Incomplete. In complete judgment “we use only word that describes one characteristic of that object, and hold the remaining characters to be identical with it.” On the other hand, in Incomplete Judgment (Naya) we speak of truth as relative to our standpoints, hence a partial knowledge. “Hence the non-absolute is constituted of absolutes as its elements and as such would not be possible if there were no absolute.”

(4) Is Conditional Judgment Unconditional – We have seen that every judgment is true but conditionally or relatively. But the statement that ‘all propositions are conditional’ “all statements including even the statement that `all statements are conditional’ would be conditional.” But the Jainas insists that all propositions except the proposition of its own system have, relative truth. They say that all seven alternatives are true and so their seven-fold conditioned predication is an all comprehensive categorical statement. True, they treat the alternatives are mutually exclusive, they are nevertheless making a categorical judgment. Does this mean that their doctrine is the doctrine of relativity of knowledge but not of relativity of truth ? Yes, the Jainas do hold that their own system is absolutely true. But if knowledge is relative, our knowledge of reality also can have only relative truth.

So we come to this statement that `every statement is conditional’ may in sense be taken as unconditional. This is unconditionally in conditionality, or absolutism in non-absolutism. When the Jainas say that `every thing is conditional’, they are unconditional to this extent that `every thing is conditional’. Now, does this not mean self-contradiction or complete overthrowing of the absolutistic position ?

Let us analyze, “A categorical judgment asserts an actual fact absolutely” in which the relation between the subject and the predicate is simple and unconditional one. Now, in the above proposition, `every proposition is conditional’, the relation between `every proposition’ (i.e. subject) and `conditional’ (predicate) is apparently unconditional, but there is no clash between its unconditionality and conditionality.

For example, when Bhattas say that consciousness associated with ignorance is the Self, on account of such Sruti passages, “During dreamless sleep the Atman is undifferentiated consciousness.” Even in the waking state a man says – `I do not know myself’ though he is aware of his own existence. `I had no knowledge’ means that I have at least `the knowledge of having no knowledge’. But here there is no clash between knowledge and ignorance, hence no contradiction.

Similarly in Logic, we have disjunctive judgments – “The signal is either red or green”, “A man is either good or bad” etc., we do mean something categorical behind them. But this categoricality is not like the categoricality of a simple unconditional judgment, `The horse is red’. True, the basis is always categorical but this categoricality does never clash with the proposition being disjunctive.

When a logical positivist says that “there is no metaphysics and reality may come through the back-door. Like “Hydra they raise their heads over and over again, not to be destroyed afresh, but to conquer a new.”

In the conclusion we may say that the unconditionality in the statement, `All statements are conditional’, is quite different from the normal conditionality. This is how and why ?

(5)Senses, Reason and Faith – There are primarily two sources to understand the world – senses and reason. Closely connected and corresponding to them there are two grades of Reality – existence and essence (as the existentialists will say) or existence and reality (as the Hegelians will say). Existence is actuality, or actual verification. This is unconditional, absolute and categorical. There is no alternation or condition, being monistic and unilateral in attitude. But there is another thing thought. Thought is rational thought or simply reason. Thought gives us essences. However, this interpretation is not verification. There may be alternative essences or hypothesis in terms of each, which the world can be interpreted. Thought therefore is not concerned with existence, but with essences, and there is always the possibility of alternative essences or hypothesis. This is exactly what we mean, when we say that `everything is conditional’. To thought or reason thus, every thing is conditional or alternative.

But we cannot live in the world of thought alone; we cannot forget existence. But this attitude to existence must be other than thought or reason and what is other than thought or reason must be unreason or irrationality. This irrationality leads us to existence, which as such is unconditional. Behind reason there is always the unreason. We can give the name of faith to this phenomenon as Kant, Herder, Jacobi etc., have suggested. There are many grounds of faith – one being the scripture. Scripture differs from one another. Jainas must stick to their own position. Here is definiteness. However, we cannot expect such definiteness, on the other side. Reason only differs from one another. Jainas must stick to their own position. Here is definiteness. However, we cannot expect such definiteness on other side. Reason only offers alternative pictures – Jaina, Advaita, Vaisesika etc., all are equally possible. But do we always obey the command of reason ? No, we have also own interest on irrationality. Hence, in order to avoid indefiniteness etc., we stick to one such possibility which is chosen for us by the community to which we belong or by some superior intuition. Thus there comes unconditionality. However, another may choose another possibility as existence if he belongs to another community or if his genius moves in another direction. So there appears to be again alternation among existence. But this alternation is not genuine. There is alternation only so far as we think. There is alternation only on thought level. We compare thought with other thoughts. And, what is comparison? Comparison involves thinking and reasoning, so it is thought process. Some are bound to admit alternation. My standpoint is only a possible one. But I cannot always fly in the air of possibilities, I must have moorings in some one definite form of actuality. I must adopt one standpoint.


Jainism is against all kinds of imperialism in thought. For each community there is a special absolute. But the absolute themselves are alternations so far as they are possible. But this is only on thought level. But when I have chosen one it is more than possible, it is existence or actual. So there is a wonderful reconciliation between conditionality and unconditionality. Every thing is conditional on thought level, but not on the level of existence. Thus there is no real contradiction.