Narendra Bhandari

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Anekantavad () is the corner stone of Jainism around which the whole philosophy and religion have developed. It is as fundamental as the Karmavad or Causality in physics. It has been mentioned in the scriptures that one who is “equipped” with Anekanta attains samyakdrishti and Kewalgyan (see eg. Samayasara). So it must be very profound knowledge. But what is anekanta? It is nowhere defined clearly. Its social importance has been emphasized, time and again, in the context of today’s problems facing the communities, the nation and indeed the whole world and it is interpreted to mean co-existence and cooperation by various sects, factions or religious groups although they may be ascribing to different faiths and philosophies. Its importance in the spiritual world has been emphasized in Jain scriptures to explain undescribable spiritual phenomena and entities. The question I want to discuss here is whether the nature follows “Anekantavad”. In other words, “Is Anekanta confined to the philosophical and social domains only or it is also a fundamental law of the physical world? In philosophical or social domains one has the freedom of choosing a doctrine, which he thinks is right according to his concepts but if the nature follows a law, it becomes a fundamental law which one can not violate, even if one wishes. Therefore naturally the question arises whether Anekantvad is something which governs the physical processes operating in the universe too or it is merely a philosophical concept. To do so, we will first have to define Anekantvad rigorously.

Let us begin by asking what is meant by Anekantavad. It is considered as a doctrine which is usually defined in a negative way as “non-absolutism” just as some other Jain concepts like non-violence is defined. It has been variously described as the theory of many-foldedness, many-facetedness, non equivocality and syādvāda. Saying that Anekantavad means non-absolutism does not convey much except to say that there is nothing like the absolute truth or absolutely or uniquely correct perspective. Manyfoldedness or many-facetedness, imply that there could be many perspectives or points of view of a thing or a concept. Some of these views may even be contradictory to each other. So, it may be taken to imply that everyone is free to hold his own views and this concept has been developed to imply tolerance, accommodation of other’s views and nonviolence. Some times anekāntvād is contrasted with Ekantvad which stands for definite and categorical asserted philosophical position. This may be true in the fields of philosophy and sociology where anekantvad and ekantvad can coexist but in the physical realm, if nature follows anekantvad, there would be no place for ekantvad. Unlike philosophy and sociology, Anekantavad and Ekantvad are contrary terms in the realm of physical nature. If one is true, the other is false.

If we wish to address to the question posed above, then I may have to transgress the definitions given in scriptures, which have been mainly used in philosophical or spiritual context and I may be compelled to take the liberty of going beyond these well debated definitions so that we can look at the physical universe from this point of view. We therefore make two propositions: first as an axiom or principle and second as a testable hypothesis.

  1. Many (anek) can not originate from One (Ek).
  2. As one goes to finer and finer constituents of matter, it exhibits more and more attributes, their “state” or behavior changes with observation and environment, so much so that it is difficult to be certain about any inference about the true nature of reality. It is therefore not possible to comprehend or quantify all these states at once. This is not a limitation of instrument or technique of measurement , nor it is a limitation of consciousness, but it is due to the inherent nature of matter itself.

It is said that the truth is interwoven in the universe. So let us look at the universe from the point of view of these propositions. The Universe is the biggest object we know (by definition), formed some 15 billion years ago, as observationally shown, consistent with the “Big Bang” theory. We will not go here into the controversies of the state of the Universe before the Big Bang, or debate between other ideas of steady state, oscillating or multiple universes, but rather accept, for the purpose of the present discussion, that there is one universe which contains everything, although this idea of one universe may not be consistent with Anekantavad. Anekantavad probably implies many Universes. None the less, continuing our attempt to understand the nature of the Universe, we begin with what we know of the Universe. It consists of some 200 billion galaxies, each of which consists of some 100 billion stars and even more planetary (rocky) objects (Figure 1). All the matter in the Universe is made up of some millions of chemicals, thousands of minerals and, in addition, there is the most important component, life. As far as we know at present, life probably originated from the inanimate matter and exists only on the Earth, although there are reasons to believe that it should also occur throughout the universe, wherever suitable conditions exist. The visible universe with all its diverse components is basically made up of some 118 elements (92 stable and long lived radioactive elements and about 26 short lived elements, synthesized by nuclear reactions, but not naturally occurring on Earth). The vast tree representing diversity of matter and life in the universe formed out of just a hundred odd elements, acting as the basic bricks compelled philosophers to hypothesize that the root cause of all the elements may be some smaller number of elementary particles, may be even just one. This principle was at the heart of Dalton’s atomic theory, a concept erroneous according to Anekantavad. The initial search for these building blocks of matter were encouraging and was even taken to support this idea of one basic constituent of all matter, another concept which is erroneous according to Anekantvad. Initially hydrogen was recognized as the atom out of which all the known elements could be formed. As the search for the ultimate constituents of matter continued, three particles, proton, electron and neutron were discovered from which all the 100 elements and their 2000 isotopes could be formed. This trinity could be used in different proportions to build the whole universe (except life).This strengthened the belief in Ekantvad , ie one can give rise to many but as further research continued, serious problems arose. By the nineteen sixties, using large high energy accelerators, scientists were able to discover hundreds of elementary particles. Hundreds of elementary particles could not be the building blocks for making just a hundred elements and therefore the hypothesis was made that the so called elementary particles should be made up of only a few fundamental entities.

The visible universe or the gross world follows the classical physics. Basically, the state of the universe can be determined by summing up the state of all its components. If mass (m), velocity (v) and position (x) of all the components are known, the state of the system can be determined.

Whole = Σ (m,v,x)parts

However as we go to the level of elementary particles, the classical physics fails to hold and quantum mechanics has to be adopted and some new principles come into play. Thus there is a natural division between physical laws of classical physics, applicable to the gross universe, bigger than an atom, and the quantum physics applicable to the subtle world, consisting of elementary particles and the micro universe. In classical physics, a proposition that ” a particle is at position x” is either true or false. In contrast, in quantum physics, the best that can be said is that if a measurement of position is made, the probability that the particle will be at a position x would lie between 0 to 1.

Quantum mechanics is the crowning glory of the 20th century physics. What does it say? Physicists were forced to develop it because the laws of the so called classical physics ie of macro world are not found to be valid in the microworld. After a lot of debate to understand the quantum behavior, Feynman, a Nobel Laureate and one of the greatest minds of the modern era said “nobody understands quantum mechanics….. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that may be she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, enchanting thing. Do not keep saying to yourself…. ‘how it can be like that?’ Because you will get into a blind alley from which nobody has escaped . No body knows how it behaves like that.” Some Quantum phenomena can not be described in a language, they are “crazy beyond words”, and can not be comprehended by common logic.

New principles have been used to define the behavior of particles in the microworld. The principle of symmetry and complementarity seem to play some role in the macroworld too but in the micro world, we have, in addition to these principles, the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Pauli’s exclusion principle and so on. Before we discuss the quantum behavior, we will briefly introduce some of these principles which have helped us in understanding the nature of the universe.

  1. Principle of Complementarity
  2. Principle of symmetry
  3. Uncertainty principle
  4. Exclusion principle