Relevance of Anekanta for Modern Times

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Relevance of Anekanta for Modern Times

Prof. Ramjee Singh

Modern times is an era of crisis in the realm of human civilization. The reason is that we give so much attention to short-range and local problems that longe-range and global problems continue to be neglected. Secondly, life has become more intricately interdependent and complex. So simple solutions no longer suffice. A world civilization is fast emerging and we cannot afford to solve our problems with a parochial temper and sectarian outlook. For human survival. we need human cooperation on a plenary scale able to deal with rapidly increasing complexities. The critical problems are so complex that we need a philosophy equally complex to grapple with them One dimensional man in a multi-dimensional world-crisis will be out of joint. Inter-existence is the positive option for mankind. Either there is organic growth of mankind or there is organic destruction of human civilization. Not only this is too late in history to convert all of mankind to Christianity or Islam or Jainism (or to Communism or Capitalism or any other isms), but also to some metaphysical principles which we have been cherishing since antiquity. The growth of scientific knowledge and outlook has destroyed most of our false dogmas and superstitions but it has failed to provide us knowledge that could sublimate our animal and selfish nature. Animality has been dominating our individual as well as social behaviour. Hence, our life has become full of tensions, turnoils and disorders. Therefore, although we are outwardly pleading for world-peace and non-violence, yet we have been preparing for war. This is the crisis of modern time that we aspire for peace but prepare for the formidable funeral procession of mankind.

Humanity is tottering today upon the brink of self-annihilation for lack of understanding, which includes understanding ourselves and understanding each other. It is a time of tragic importance for the world because even before the shadows cast by one war is lifted fully, the skies become overcast with dark threatening clouds. Hence, at no period of human history man was in need of sound philosophy than today. As war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defence of peace should be built. Today, if one person does not agree with me, he is wicked, if a country, it is wicked as if there is no half-way, no neutrality. So ultimately it is our warring ideologies that are at the root of world-tension. But ideologies or philosophies depend upon our-way of philosophizing. Hence Locke rightly felt that epistemological problems are prior to all others. An epistemological rerientation will influence metaphsical grounding which in turn will determine our socio-ethico-political views. Any solution can ultimately be achieved through knowledge free from confusion and prejudices.

Since things have many characters, they are the objects of all sided knowledge. The knowledge which determines the full meanings of an object through the employment of onesided knowledge, is partial knowledge. Hence we should discard all absolute judgements, otherwise truth would be violated. Reality has got innumerable characteristics. A valid knowledge is defined as that which gives us knowledge of a thing in its have got innumerable characters, hence all things are multidimensional or Anekantic.

The word is the store-house of great chaos in thought. All the confusion of thought which is prevailing in the world is the outcome of inexhaustive research and acceptance of a part for the whole. Almost all our disputes only betray the pig-headedness of the blind men who spoke differently about an elephant. The outstanding presonalities like Sri Aurobindo, Raman Maharshi etc. spoke to us, in a world over organised by ideological fanaticism, that truth is not exclusive or sectarian. Every idol however noble if may seem is ultimately a Moloch that devours its worshippers. It is fatal to treat the relative and the home-made as though it were the Absolute. It is only intellectual clarity which will resolve all conflict and rivalry. All dogmatism owes its genesis to the partiality of outlook and fondness for a line of thinking to which a person has accustomed himself. This is imperialism and aggressiveness in thought. When the one party or another thinks himself the sole possessor of absolute truth, it becomes natural that he should thinks his neighbours absolutely in the clutches of Error or the Devil. Today, one man or one country fight with the other because their views vary. Views are bound to vary because we are guided by different conditions, thought and attitudes. Hence, it is wrong to think oneself right and rest others wrong. Here Syadvada-Anekantavada represents the highest form of Catholicism coupled wonderfully with extreme conservatism, a most genuine and yet highly dignified compromise better than which we cannot imagine.

We must realise that there is other’s view-point as our own. This can happen when one puts oneself into another’s shoes or to get under the skin of others. This is called sympathy which is the act of reproducing in our minds the feelings of another. Gandhiji once told: “I advise a man not from my standpoint but from his. I try to put myself in his shoes. When I cannot do so. I refuse to advise.” He once said: :”I am myself a Puritan but for others a Catholic.”

Syadavada or Anekantavada is adoption of the safe and secure middle-path leaving the two extremes. It means that of a saint, chastity of a woman, innocence of a child, bravery of a hero etc. As a lover of nature, one can equally enjoy the rains of rainy season, coolness of winter and heat demand that refuses to be actialised. The only scepticism is that there is concerning the so-called self-complete reality. So where as a sceptic is sceptical about any character of reality, Syadvada is quite definitely assertive. Yet he is more sceptical than any sceptic in the world so far as the definiteness of the ultimate reality is concerned. He would go beyond avaktavya or Sunya so far the Advaitins and Sunyavadins are concerned with regard to their statements regarding ultimate reality.

Hence, Anekanta stands against all mental absolutism. We can substantiate this relativistic standpoint on the cosmo-micro-physical ground supported by Einstienian doctrine of relativity and Maxwell’s equation of electrc-magnetism which go funamentally against the notion of absolute truth. When we say, we know this, we are saying more than is strictly correct, because all we know is what happens when the waves reach our bodies. Researches in Psychology of thinking, perception of self and conception of self in Child-psychology, and Psycho-analytical studies in Freudian narcissim or Adlerian power-factor support relativism is justified for no smooth functioning of society is possible without mutual accomodation and adjustment which presupposes Catholicism in thought and sense of tolerance. In ethics and morality, we know so far relativism is dominating. In the field of logic, the doctrine of the universe of Discourse is sometimes limited to a small portion of actual universal of things and is sometimes co-extensive with that Universe. The Universe of Discourse controls the interpretation of every word. Logic of Relatives too recognises the truth of Syadvada-Anekantavada when it discusses all relations embodied in propositions.

Much of the confusion either of Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta is due to false exaggeration of the relative principles of becoming and being into absolute truths. Same is the fault called the variety of philosophical doctrines.

Hence Anekanta doctrine is the exposition of the principle of `comprehensive perspectivism’. No perspective is final or absolute unless it is understood in terms of relativity. Therefore, even Anekanta (non-absolutism) is subject to Anekanta (non-absolutism). If non-absolutism is absolute, it is not universal since there is one real which is absolute, it is not universal since there is one real which is absolute. And if it is not a non-absolute and universal fact. Tossed between the two horns of the dilemma, non-absolutism thus simply evaporates. But we can meet this difficulty by making a distinction between the theory and practice of anekanta. Every proposition of the dialectial seven-fold judgement is either complete or incomplete. In the former, we use only one word the remaining characters to be identical with it. On the other hand, in the Incomplete judgement, we speak of truth as relative to our standpoint. In short, the complete judgement 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 absolutes.

Here we can solve this difficulty by analysing the nature of unconditionality of the statement `All statements are conditional’, which is quite different from the normal meaning of unconditionality. This is lkike the idea contained in the passage – `I do not know myself’, where there is no contradiction between `knowledge’ and `ignorance’. In the sentence, `I am undecide’, there is at least one decision that `I am undecided’. Similarly, the categoricality behind a disjunctive judgement (A man is either good or bad), is not like the categoricality of an ordinary categorical judgement like `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’, philosophy enters through the back-door. In short, the unconditionality in the statement `All statements are conditional’ is quite different from the normal conditionality. There are primarily two sources to understand the world – senses and reason, closely connected with two grades of reality (Hegel). Existence is actuality or actual verification, which is unconditional, absolute and categorical. There is no alternation or condition. But on the level of thought or reason or essence, there may be alternatives. But we cannot live in the world of thought alone and forget existence. We must also have something other than thought or reason which is unreason or irrationlity. Behind reason, there is always the unreason, which we can give the name of faith (as suggested by Kant, Herder, Jacobi etc.). There are many grounds of faith – one being the Scriptures. Scripture differs from one another. Jainas must stick to their position. Here is definiteness. However, we cannot expect such definiteness with reason because it only offers alternative pictures – Jaina, Advaita, Vaisesikas. All are equally possible. In order to avoid indefiniteness 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 direction. So there appears to be again alternation amog existence. But this 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 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 alternatives so far as they are probables, 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 wonderful reconciliation between conditionality and unconditionality. Every thing is conditional on thought level, but on the level of existence there is no real contradiction.

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 judgement, an invalid non-absolute judgement, too, is invalid. To be valid, Anekanta must not be absolute but relative.

If we consider the above points, we cannot 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 Identity. Under these circumstances, it is not legitiamte to hold that the hypothesis of an absolute cannot be 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, definability and non-definability etc. which apparently seem to be contradictory characteristics of reality are interpreted to co-exist in the same object from different points of view without any offence to logic. They seem to be contradictory of each other simply because one of them is mistaken to be the whole truth. Infact, 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 co-presence of being and non-being in the real is figment of a priori logic.