Non-absolutism and Omniscience

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Non-absolutism and Omniscience

Prof. Ramjee Singh

Is Non-absolutism Absolute ?

Is non-absolutism is absolute, it is not universal since there is one real which is absolute and if non-absolutism is itself non-absolute, it is not an absolute and universal fact. “Tossed between the two horns of the dilemma non-absolutism thus simply evaporates.” But there are also the following points :

(a) Every proposition of the dialectical seven-fold judgment is either complete or Incomplete. In complete judgment, we use only one 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, we speak of truth as relative to our standpoint. In short, Complete Judgment is the object of valid knowledge (pramana) and Incomplete Judgment is the object of aspectal knowledge (Naya). Hence the “non-absolute is constituted of the absolute as its elements and as such would not be possible if there were no absolute.”

(b) The unconditionally 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 sentence, `I am undecided’, where there is at least one decision that I am undecided. Similarly, the categoricality behind a disjunctive judgment (A man is either good or bad etc.) is not like the categoricality of an ordinary categorical judgment. `The horse is red’. The question of `why’ has been discussed elsewhere in detail.

(c) Samantabhadra, an early Jaina logician, in one of his worship-songs, clarifies this position the light of the doctrine of manifoldness of truth. He says, “even to the doctrine of non-absolutism can be interpreted either as absolute or non-absolute according to the pramana or Naya respectively. This means that even the doctrine of non-absolutism is not absolute unconditionally.

(d) However, to avoid the fallacy of infinite regress, the Jainas distinguish between Valid non-absolutism (Samyak anekanta) and invalid non-absolutism (Mithya Anekanta). Like an invalid absolute judgment an invalid non-absolute judgment, too is invalid. To be valid, Anekanta must not be absolute but always relative. In short, the doctrine of non-absolutism is an opposite (theory) or Ekantavada, one-sided exposition irrespective of other view points. Anekantavada literally means not, one, aside, exposition but many sided exposition taking into account all possible angles of vision regarding any object or idea.

Now, if we consider the above points, we can not say that “the theory of relativity cannot be logically sustained without the hypothesis of an absolute.” Thought is not mere distinction but also relation. Everything is possible only in relation to and as distinct from others and the Law of contradiction is the negative aspect of the Law of identity. Under these circumstances, it is not legitimate to hold that the hypothesis of an absolute cannot be logically sustained without the hypothesis of a relative. Absolute to be absolute presupposes a relative somewhere and in some forms, even the relative of its non-existence.

Jaina Logic of Anekanta is based not on abstract intellectualism but on experience and realism leading to a non-absolutistic attitude of mind. Multiplicity and unity, particularity and the Universality, eternality and non-eternality, definablity and non-definability etc., which apparently seem to be contradictory characteristics of reality or object, are interpreted to coexist in the same object from different points of view without any offense to logic. All cognition be it of identity or diversity or after all are valid. They seem to be contradictory of each other simply because one of them is mistaken to be the whole truth. In fact, “the integrity of truth consists in this very variety of its aspects, within the rational unity of an all comprehensive and ramifying principle.” The charge of contradiction against the explicit, when knowledge is classified into Pramana (knowledge of a thing in its relation). This aspect of knowledge existing in relation to a number of things and being liable to be influenced by others is a fundamental feature of Jaina epistemology. Pramana is complete knowledge (sakaladesa) and Naya is Incomplete knowledge (vikaladesa). Other controversies between the two traditions of Jainism Agamic and the Logical, regarding the classification of knowledge are referred to elsewhere.

For clarification, it may be said that the terms `immediacy and mediacy’ are used in different sense tan the common meaning and understanding. Jainas deny the immediate character of the ordinary perpetual knowledge like the western representationalists but unlike the Realists. “The knowledge is direct or indirect accordingly as it is born without or with the help of an external instrument different from the self.”

However, to avoid sophistication and also bring their theory in line with others a distinction is made between really immediate and relatively immediate. The latter is empirically direct and immediate knowledge produced by the sense-organs and the mind.

Pramana and Naya represent roughly the absolute and the relative characters of knowledge respectively and taken together, as knowledge is constituent, it becomes non-absolutistic. A closer study of the theory of Pramana is defined as the knowledge of an object in all its aspects and since an object has innumerable characteristics it implies that if we know all. The universe is an interrelated whole. Nothing is in isolated phenomenon. Hence, right knowledge of the even one object will lead to the knowledge of the entire universe. This shows that our knowledge has got a relative character. This shows that our knowledge has got a relative character. This relativism is realistic. It not only asserts a plurality of determinate truths but also takes each truth to be an indetermination of alternative truths.” These so many truths are really alternate truths, so it is a mistake of finding one absolute truth or even one cognition of the plurality of truths.

“If knowing is a unity, known is a plurality, the objective category being distinction or togetherness. If finally, knowledge is the object, refers to the known, the known must present an equivalent of this of relation or reference, a relation and its content.” Intellectualistic abstractionism has to be given up and we should try to dehumanize the ideal and realize the real. The reality is not a rounded ready made whole or an abstract unity of many definite or determinate aspect but that “the so called unity is after all a manifold being only a name for fundamentally different aspects of truth which do not make an unity in any sense of the term.” So far we know or can know, the making of truth and making of reality is one. Reality like truth is therefore definite-indefinite (anekanta). Its indefiniteness follows from the inexhaustible reserve of objective reality and its definiteness comes from the fact that it grows up into the reality of our own knowing which we make.

So we can fairly conclude that in Jainism, non-absolutism is not only a metaphysical but also an epistemological concept. There is no absolute reality, so there is no absolute truth.

Jainas believe that “when there is isolation and obstruction, there is everywhere, so far as the abstraction forgets itself unreality and error.”

Distinction between Syadvada and Sarvajnata

Syadvada is not the final truth. It is merely an attitude of knowledge. In fact, it simply helps us in arriving at the ultimate truth. Syadvada works or can work only in our practical life and it is therefore that the Jainas regard it as practical truth (Vyavahara Satya). Siddhasena Divakara points out this fact clearly in following verses — i.e., without the help of Syadvada, we cannot execute our business in our practical life.

But there is another realm of truth which is not in any way partial or relative but absolute and which is the subject matter of omniscience or perfect knowledge.

Let us illustrate the point of difference between these two types of knowledge – Syadvada and Sarvajnata.

(a) The immediate effect of valid knowledge (Prama) is the removal of ignorance, the mediate effect of the absolute knowledge or Kevala-Jnana, is bliss and equanimity, which the mediate effect of practical knowledge or Syadvada is the facility to select or reject, what is conductive or not, for self realization Pramana or Jnana is the right knowledge. The development of omniscience is necessarily accompanied by that of perfect or absolute happiness, being free from destructive Karmas. This happiness is independent of everything and hence eternal it is not physical but spiritual. It is not the pleasures of those senses which are in fact miseries, the cause of bondage and dangerous.

(b) Syadvada is so foundational to the Jaina Philosophy that it has been assigned a very high place in Jaina metaphysics of knowledge. It is said to be flawless, perhaps because it is associated with the great Mahavira. True “both Syadvada ad Kevala-jnana (omniscient knowledge) illumine the whole reality, but the difference between them is that while the former illumines the object indirectly, the latter does it directly. Vidyananda further explaining the point stresses the fact that there is no contradiction between the two kinds of knowledge, since by `illumining the whole reality’, it means revolution of all the seven categories of self, not self etc. This attitude shows the spirit of Syadvada is so much ingrained in Jaina culture that it finds it difficult to assign Syadvada an inferior place than omniscience.

(c) A vital point of difference between Syadvada and omniscient knowledge is that while in the case of the former, one knows of all the objects of the world in succession, in the case of Kevala-jnana, the knowledge is simultaneous. By its every definition, omniscience means “an actual direct nonsensuous knowledge, the subject matter of which is all the substances in all their modifications at all the places and in all the times. The omniscient knowledge is regarded as simultaneous rather than successive, perhaps because it is successive, there can be no omniscience. Since the objects of the world in shape of past, present and future can never be exhausted, consequently knowledge will always remain incomplete.

But their might be difficulties even if we regard omniscient knowledge as simultaneous, such as the following —

1)The omniscient person comprehend contradictory things like heat and cold by a simple cognition which seems absurd. To this objection, it may be replied that contradictory things like heat and cold do exist at the same time, for example, where there is flash a simultaneous perception of the two contradictory things.

2)Then, if the whole world is known to the omniscient person, all at once, he has nothing to know any further, and so he will turn to be quite unconscious having nothing to know. To this, it may be said on behalf of the Jainas that the objection would have been valid if the perception of the omniscient person and the whole world were annihilated in the following instant. But both are everlasting, hence there is no absurdity in the Jaina position regarding the simultaneity of omniscient perception.

(d) The most fundamental difference between Syadvada ad Sarvajnata or Kevala-jnana is that while the former “leads us to relative and partial truth where as omniscience to absolute truth.” It comes within its own range. After all, Syadvada is an application of scriptural knowledge which determines the meaning of an object through the employment of one-sided Nayas, and the scriptural knowledge is a kind of mediate or indirect knowledge.

True, unlike Naya (knowledge of an aspect of a thing), Syadvada in it sweeps all the different nayas; but even then it never asserts that it is the absolute truth. In fact, Syadvada is merely an attitude of philosophizing which tells us that on account of infinite complexities of nature and limited capacity of our knowledge, what is presented is only a relative truth. Now, one can point out that if we combine the result of the seven Anekanta (non-absolutism) is non-absolute (Anekanta) in respect of Prama a and Naya. Further, the distinction is made between Samyak-Anekanta and Mithya-Anekanta (i.e. Real and False non-absolutism) and it is held that the real Anekanta is never absolute but always relative to something else. However, this is not the case with omniscience. It is the knowledge of the absolute truth.

(e) There is one more minor point of difference between Syadvada, knowledge and omniscience. Syadvada like ordinary knowledge rests on sense-perception, i.e., it is limited to our sense-organs only. But Kevala-jnana has no dependence on any sense and arises after destruction of obstructions. Ordinary individuals do not have this knowledge but only the Arhats, whose deluding (Mohaniya) Karmas are destroyed and the knowledge and Belief obscuring (Jnanavaraniya + Darsanavaraniya) Karmas are removed and the obstructive Karmas (Antarayas) are also destroyed.

Here, knowledge is acquired by the soul directly without the intervention of senses or signs, for in that case it would not have cognated all objects, for the senses can only stimulate knowledge of object which can be perceived by them. Here we find a complete absence of dependence upon anything except the soul. Jainas like the western Realists and Representationalists held that the ordinary sense-perception is really mediate in character and hence according to the Jainas, the transcendental perception (Kevala-jnana) is immediate along with Avadhi and Manah-paryaya, all of which do not require the help of the senses.

This attempt to free perception from the limitations of senses accords it a very high status and hence it is regarded as supreme knowledge characteristic of supreme state of self-realization and bliss.


The following points have emerged out of the foregoing discussions :

(a) Importance of Anekanta Logic : Anekanta logic is as important as the absolute wisdom or omniscience. The loss caused by Anekanta or Syadvada by its being mediate is fully made up by its capacity to demonstrate the truth of the absolute wisdom to mankind. That is why it has been regarded as indispensable for common practical life. Not only this, it has been accorded a special religious status. Even Lord Mahavira’s sermons are delivered through the technique of Syadvada, which is very much perfect technique of expressing the manifold nature of reality. This is the technique of the Victor and the perfect.

(b) The dual nature of Anekanta – Anekanta & Ekanta : Anekantavada is both Anekanta and Ekanta. It is ekanta in as much as it is an independent view point, it is anekanta because it is the sum total of view points. Anekanta may also become Ekanta, if it does not go against the right view of things. As the doctrine of Anekanta shows all possible sides of a thing and thus does not postulate about a thing in any fixed way, in the same way Anekanta itself is also subject to this possibility and other side-that is to say, it also sometimes assumes the form of one-sidedness. However, the Jainas do not have any objection even if their doctrine recalls on itself. On the contrary, it strengthens their position and shows the unlimited extent of the range.

(c) Beyond Anekanta : True, absolute wisdom is baseless without the Anekanta logic but to suppose that there is nothing beyond Syadvada in Jaina theory of knowledge, is wrong. The importance of Syadvada lies more in its analytical inquiry than in concrete results. It is a way of philosophizing rather than a ready-made metaphysics. The demand of higher spiritual life is the life of a Yogin, who realizes the complete unity of existence in his consciousness, transcending the sphere of the phenomena. He can view things sub-species aternitatis, through his pure insight and intuition. “He is in possession of absolute truth, transcending the realm of provisional truths.” This is the state of supreme knowledge, free from all limitations, where “the soul vibrates at its natural rhythm and exercises its function of unlimiting knowledge.” This is another name of pure perception or infinition in epistemology and mysticism in religion. This is an attitude of mind which involves a direct, immediate and first hand intuitive apprehension of the reality. Some Jaina teachers and another like Acarya Kunda-kunda and Yogindu are outspoken mystics. Their mysticism turns round two concepts – Atman and Paramatman (God but not creator). Paramatman in Jainism is nearer to that of a personal Absolute and the different states of spiritual development are merely meditational stages being caused by sick-mindedness of the soul for its final deliverance.

(d) From Anekanta to Advaitiya Omniscience : So far Jainism puts the highest value on the mystical experience of a Kevalin who transcends the realm of the phenomenal and reaches at the absolute truth, “it approaches very near Advaita Vedanta”. Yogindu’s identification between the spirit and the super spirit is a triumph of monism in the history of Indian religious thoughts. As the Vedantins distinguish between the higher and the lower knowledge, so here also we find a distinction between omniscience and Syadvada. However, inspite of many other similarities, there is one vital difference, in the Vedantic conception the objectivity is not outside the knower, while for Jaina omniscience, there is a complex external objectivity infinitely over both time and place and the individual self retains its individuality even in the search of omniscience and bliss.