Non-absolutistic Heritage of Bhagavana Mahavira

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Non-absolutistic Heritage of Bhagavana Mahavira

Prof. Ramjee Singh

(a) Non-absolutism in Thought : Anekantavada – Life is a unity of thought, word and deed. Thought influences action. Hence, emphasis has been laid upon right thinking (Samyak drsti or Samyak Jnana). But what is right and what is wrong, nobody knows because on the one hand, reality is complex, on the other hand, there is limitation to our knowledge, so long we do not attain omniscience. To know is 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. What is necessary is a change in our attitude, not with the thought alone. Jainism, no doubt, recognizes the objectivity of the material universe because it is the most consistent form of realism in that the universe is independent of the mind. This independence presupposes the principle of distinction, which ultimately leads to the recognition of non-absolutism (anekanta) realism. The theory of manifoldness of knowledge or reality is the logical terminus of the principle of distinction. Further, distinction presupposes the notion of plurality and also activistic implication of reciprocity among the reals which finally results into the relativistic notion of knowledge and reality. The principle of distinction is the universal and basic axiom of all realistic metaphysics. The impelling logic of distinction presents to us an infinitely diversified universe, or in indeterminate reality. A philosophy which does not admit of distinction or independence of subject and object develops inevitably either into subjective or objective idealism. Hence, Anekantavada is the most logical and consistent form of realism. This is true of modern Einstienian Theory of Relativity. Russel refutes the idealistic interpretation and says, “the fundamental assumption of relativity is realistic, namely, that those aspects in which all observes agree when they record a given phenomenon, may be regarded as objective, and not as contributed by the observers.” Subjectivism or solipsism is against scientific relativism, which is sustained by the postulate of the plurality and objectivity of the universe.

Mahavira too was neither a skeptic nor an agnostic. He believed that these infinite number of attributes and characteristics can be discovered by experience alone, and not by a priori logical consideration or random speculations. But he does not admit of a distinction between the external and internal sources of knowledge or reality. A consideration will show the inadequacy of pure logic to give us the full knowledge of the real. The traditional laws of identity (A is A), contradiction (A is not A) or Excluded Middle (A cannot be both A and not A) have no appeal to experience and behavior of things. There is no denying the fact that they are Laws of Thought and hence also laws of Reality but we must determine their meanings by an appeal to experience alone. Reals are concrete facts of experience, Universal is the very life of particulars and particulars cannot be bereft of universals. But again, the truth of this can be realized through reference to our actual experience. Let us try to understand these problems with the help of dialogue between Mahavira and Gautama :

“Are the souls O Lord, eternal, or non-eternal ?

They are eternal, O Gautama,

from the view-point of substance,

and non-eternal from the view-point of modes.”

“Is the body, O Lord, identical with the soul or different ?

The body, O Gautama, is identical

with the soul as well as different from it.”

Similarly, we have numerous dialogue regarding the problem, “whether universal and absolute non-violence is good or bad ?” “Whether to sleep or to remain awake is good ?” “Whether to be weak or strong ?” Whether the Jivas are mobile or not ?” “Whether the soul is powerful or powerless”, and so on. And the replies of Mahavira are always conditional and double, which are also correct, because there is actual reference and experience.

A thing is neither real nor unreal, neither eternal nor non-eternal, neither static nor mobile, neither small nor big in the absolute sense but has dual nature. This is no offense to the Laws of thought because two-valued logic seems to unreal if there is loyalty to experience. There is no brass tracks in life or logic. Take for example, the case of being and becoming or identity and difference. It is presupposition of `difference’ that the `identity’ of a thing undergoing change is maintained. Change is meaningless without the idea of persistence. Hence, the contradiction between them is only so-called and illusory. The denial of pre-non-existence and post non-existence as part of a real leads to the impossibility of the law of causation and the consequential impossibility of all theoretical and practical activity. Similarly, the denial of non-existence of mutual identity (numerical difference) and absolute non-existence is also impossible. There plurality presupposes that the identity of one is not the identity of another. If there is no difference, there will be no distinction, hence no independence between the subject and the object. If there is the negation of identity, there is worse confusion. Hence, the nature of reality is not exclusive or extremistic. It is existent-cum-non-existent; identify-cum-difference, one-in-many. This is seeing both the sides, the obverse and the reverse of the thing. Similarly we can think of the universal and the particular. The world of reals is not only plurality but also unity. But the oneness is not secured at the sacrifice of the many, nor are the many left in unsocial indifference. As regards relations, no relation is meaningful if there is pure identity and no relation is possible between two terms which are absolutely independent and different, hence relation is neither a case of unification nor mutual dependence. Relation has no status outside the terms. Hence, there is only one alternative to treat relation in the sense of identity-in-difference as an ontological truth, not merely infernable, but also as an indubitably perceptual fact. Lastly, if causal efficiency (Arthakriyakaritvam) is the test of reality, the real cannot be an absolute constant nor can it be an absolute variable constant. An absolute real can neither be a cause nor an effect for an absolute effect will have no necessity for a cause, and an eternal cause will be unamenable to any change is self-contradictory. Hence, real to be real must reveal itself not merely as many (Anantatmakam) but also infinitely manifold (Anantadharmatmakam) or non-absolutistic (Anaikantika). This is the integral view of identity-in-difference, or Being-in-becoming etc. (Ubhayavada or Misravada). We may be unable to understand this unique nature (Jatyantara) of this concrete unity through the recognized channels of knowledge but if we can realize at all the general features of the Absolute, we can see that some how they come together in a known, vaguely and in the abstract, our result is certain.

This is another point, whether this kind of non-absolutism is itself absolute or not. If non-absolutism is absolute, there is at least one real which is absolute; and if it is not, it is not an absolute and universal fact. For the answer to this question, we shall have to turn ourselves to the theory of Relativism (Syadvada) including the theory of standpoint (Nayavada), sevenfold predication (Saptabhangi) and Verbal usage (Niksepa).

(b) Non-absolutism in Speech : Syadvada – 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, the object of aspectal knowledge (Naya). This means that the doctrine of non-absolutism is not absolute unconditionally. However, to avoid the fallacy of an infinite regress, the Jainas distinguish between true non-absolutism (Samyak-anekanta) and false non-absolutism (Mithya-anekanta). To be valid, therefore, non-absolutism must not be absolute but always relative. When one attribute is stated as constituting the whole nature of the real and thus implies the negation of other attributes, such cognition are examples of the `false absolute’. But Naya is not false thought it is partial knowledge from a particular standpoint. Similarly, 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 sentence, `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) everything is alternative. We do not like in the realm of thought or reason alone. Behind reason, there is always the unreason (Faith). The Jainas, too has faith in their scriptures as anybody else has in his own. Here is definiteness or unconditionality. In each community, there is a special absolute. The absolute themselves are alternation so far as they are possible (till we are on thought level), but when I have chosen one and stick to it, it is more than possible, it is existent or actual. Thus, there may be a reconciliation between unconditionality and conditionality. So on thought level, the Syadvada statement `Everything is conditional’, holds good but when we adopt the point of view of existence, we are bound to rest on unconditionality.

But there is a problem, how to express this conditionality-cum-unconditionality in language ? From the point of view of anekanta. 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 disjunction (Either S or P) is said to have a categorical basis and therefore, they can be converted into a categorical one. But since our thought is relative, so must be our expression. Then angles of visions 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 etc.) It is therefore, they can be converted into a categorical one. But since our thought is relative, so must be our expression. Then there is another problem also to synthesize the different angles of visions 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 etc.). It is therefore, Lord Mahavira had always prefixed a restrictive expression, Syat (`somehow’ or `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 the proposition, it is called Syadvada. But words are only expressive or suggestive (Vacaka or Jnapaka) rather than productive (Karaka). Thus, the meaning is, however, eventually rooted in the nature of things in reality and we have, therefore, to explore a scheme of linguistic symbols (Vacanvinyasa) for model judgments representing alternative stand-points (Nayas). A Naya in an alter-viewpoint a way of approach or particular opinion (abhipraya) or viewpoint (apeksa) about an object as an event. 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 (Saptabhangi) is the logical consummation of the doctrine of relative standpoints (Syadvada) which synthesize the different points of view. If we insist on absolute predication without conditions (Syat), the only course open is to dismiss either the diversity or the identity as a mere metaphysical fiction. Every single standpoint designated in every statement has a partial truth. Different aspects of reality can be considered from different perspectives (Niksepa). Thus Naya is the analytic and the Saptabhangi is the synthetic method of studying ontological problems. In the forms of statements, this doctrine insists on the co-relation of affirmation and negation. All judgements are double-edged in their character. All things are existent as well as non-existent. The predicate of `inexpressibility’ stands for the unique synthesis of existence and non-existence and is therefore `unspeakable’ (Avaktavya). These three predicates, `existence’, `non-existence’ and the `indexpressible’ make seven propositions. These seven predicates are thus the seven exhaustive and unique modes of expression of truth.

It is wrong to charge the theory of Syadvada with the fallacies of self-contradiction, undeterminism, doubt, uncertainty or abandoning original position is describing the Avyaktam, Infinite Regress, Confusion, Vaidhikarana etc. It is also wrong to confuse the pragmatic and pluralistic-realistic. attitude of Syadvada with either Pragmatism of Messrs. James-Dewey-Schiller or with the subjectivistic relativism of the Sophist or with the relative absolutism of Whitehead or Bodin or with Einstienian relativity except in the most general attitude. Pyrroh’s prefixing every judgment with a `may be’ must not be identified with Jaina `Syat’, for the former degenerate into agnosticism or scepticism, where as there is no rooms for any scepticism whatsoever in Jainism. Scepticism 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.

Although, I have tried to designate Anekantavada as theory of non-absolutism in thought, while Syadvada as the doctrine of non-absolutism in speech, both of them are used as synonyms. It is opposed to one sided exposition or statement. There is relation between thought and speech. Hence, Buddha emphasized the importance of right speech (Samyak Vaca) along with right views (Samyak drsti). The Hindu thinkers have also recognized the virtue of speech (Vacaka) along with the physical (Kayika) and mental (Manasika) virtues. To the Jainas, non-absolutism is a virtue, absolutism is vice (Adharma). Views are bound to differ because we are guided by different conditions, thought and modes and attitude. Hence, we must avoid strong and absolute judgements, because we are not the sole possessor of truth. In other words, it is fatal to treat the relative and the home made as though it were the Absolute. It is the language that makes cognition illuminative of its objects. Hence, language too must be so disciplined as to conform itself with the dictum of reality, which is recognized as manifold.

(c) Non absolutism in Action : Ahimsa – The Jaina principle of respect for life (Ahimsa) is the origin of the respect for the opinion of others. Hence, anekantavada or syadvada is an extension of Ahimsa in thought. Non-violence in action must precede non-violence in thought. For Jainism, of all moral principles, ahimsa is a universal and categorical rule of action and is prescribed for its own sake. It is, therefore called the supreme virtue. It is perhaps, because life is dear to all. The Acaranga says : “There art he whom those intendest to kill.” One’s soul is inviolable, so is that of others. Mahavira believed in the spiritual equality of all beings and the supreme importance of life. Hence, any action out of our passional vibrations inflicting injury or death is abjured on all accounts. But what is negatively, abstaining from violence is positively love, sympathy and fellow-feeling. Negations and affirmations are complementary to each other. So what is negation of the evil is also the affirmation of the good. Hence, there are the negative and positive aspects of Ahimsa. The Jaina philosophers have distinguished objective violence (Dravya-himsa) is concerned with the act, the latter with the agent. Purely objective violence like the surgon’s operation is not violence. Hence, the attitude of the soul, the bad motive and intention (Pramada and Kasaya) constitute the true basis of violence and non-violence. Of course, the Jainas also take into account the external behaviour. But the emphasis is upon intention. If only material (Dravya himsa is regarded as the touch-stone of Ahimsa, which we cannot remove in any form when we are living, individual salvation would become an impossibility.

Non-violence, however, is not only an individual affair. Individuality is a social affair because personality is a social product. It is embedded in social adjustments and accommodation, reason and persuasion rather than force and fraud. True, the concept of power is as fundamental to politics as that of energy to physics, but what is needed is power without passions, exploitation, hatred and subjugation of the fellow beings. Hence, non-violence has a social content. Its application to the problems of social relations gives rise to the principles of truth (Satya). Ahimsa here assumes the forms of anekanta, which is perhaps the most persistent and rigorous quest of truth in a dispassionate manner. Similarly, the vows of non-possession (Aparigraha) and non-stealing (Asteya) taken together constitute the principle of non-violence in the economic field. If murder is violence, disproportionate possessions, vulgar show of wealth, corruption, exploitation, adulteration etc. are violence, though veiled but more dangerous. Similarly, the principle of brahmacarya (Celibacy or self-control) is also nothing but a form of sexual ahimsa. There is also social violence which consists in the denial of equal, effective and maximum opportunity of self-realization to all. In the international field, imperialism and colonialism, also constitute violence like war and armament. On the other hand, the doctrine of peaceful co-existence and move for disarmament are the application of the principle of non-violence in the international politics. In short, Ahimsa is in reality of the basic social ethics.

Every set of institution requires a virtue, without which it loses organic vitality and becomes mechanical, ineffective and perverted. However, if non-violence is accepted as universal social morality, we can achieve a better society and a happier world. Therefore, Roman Rolland said that the `Rsis’ who discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence were greater geniuses than Newton, greater warriors than Wellington. Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute.

Ahimsa has become both a philosophy and a creed for Jainism. It is distinguished from the Buddhist and the Brahmanical thinkers who would justify wars and even hunting etc. They believe in the purity of intention but they are not very particular about purity of behaviour. For the Jainas, the behaviour (external) must be as pure as intention (internal). Hence, the Jaina-agamas classify himsa into Sankalpaja and Arambhaja. The former is committed with the sole intention of himsa, the latter is committed unavoidably in the exercise of one’s professions, duties, self-defense, etc. which may further be divided into Udyamis, Grharambhi and Virodhi. The householder can abstain from Sankalpaja Himsa, but not from Arambhaja although he tries his best to avoid it. The root cause of himsa, however, is passion. Therefore, the Jainas, indicate not only the transgressions (Aticara) of Ahimsa but also prescribe a number of ways and means for the preservation of Ahimsa, called bhavana (contemplation), both negative and positive.

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The trio of mana, vacana and karma which is brought in our discussion is to establish non-absolutism. Hence, it is a trio rather than a trichotomy. It is vicious intellectualism and the error of exclusive particularity to separate thought from speech or action or vice-versa. Ethical life is a whole an integration of the three aspects of personality, which are interdependent and supplementary to each other. But as I have been able to follow the Jaina spirit and scriptures, I am constrained to believe that the metaphysics of anekanta together with the logical dialectics of naya, syadvada, saptabhangi, niksepa, have been explored to establish the doctrine of Ahimsa on a solid logical and metaphysical foundation. However, the motivation for Mahavira to adopt Ahimsa is to be traced outside the realm of logic and metaphysics. It has to be find out in the long heritage of non-violence in the Indian culture and also in the character and conditions of Indian society during Mahavira. It seems that the Indian society at this stage was worst victim of violence. Ethics is situational. It cannot be indifferent to the needs of the time. Cruel sacrifices, meaningless rituals, unequal social order, growth of capitalist economy and political rivalries led to this great emphasis upon the philosophy of non-violence. This is very similar to our time, when there is strong opinion in favor of disarmament and world peace. It seems, non-violence is a necessity, even today. We have to choose between Atom and Ahimsa. William James, therefore, calls for a `moral equivalent of war’. It is not only an intellectual utopia but a concrete moral guide and social stabilizer. The all or the non-approach has brought us on the brink of total annihilation and social anarchy, hence the non-absolutistic approach in thought, word and deed is the only way before us.