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Anekāntavāda (Sanskrit: अनेकान्तवाद, "many-sidedness") refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, or vantage points, the notion that reality is perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth, yet taken together they comprise the complete truth. It is one of the most important and fundamental doctrines of Jainism.
Jains contrast all attempts to proclaim the sole monopoly on truth with andhagajanyāyah, which can be illustrated through the parable of the "blind men and an elephant". In this story, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant (trunk, leg, ear, etc.). All the men claimed to understand and explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed, due to their limited perspectives. This principle is more formally stated by observing that objects are infinite in their qualities and modes of existence, so they cannot be completely grasped in all aspects and manifestations by finite human perception. (This is the Absolute Truth.) According to the Jains, only the Kevalis—omniscient beings—can comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; others are only capable of partial knowledge. Consequently, no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth.
The origins of anekāntavāda can be traced back to the teachings of Mahāvīra (599–527 BCE), the 24th Jain Tīrthankara. The dialectical concepts of syādvāda "conditioned viewpoints" and nayavāda "partial viewpoints" arose from anekāntavāda, providing it with more detailed logical structure and expression. The Sanskrit compound an-eka-anta-vāda literally means "doctrine of uncertainty" (an- "not", ekānta "certainty" or "single-natured", vāda ("school of thought" or "thesis"); it is roughly translated into English as "non-absolutism". An-ekānta "uncertainty, non-exclusivity" is the opposite of ekānta (eka+anta) "exclusiveness, absoluteness, necessity" (or also "monotheistic doctrine").
Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anekāntavāda apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy—even Jainism—which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view. The principle of anekāntavāda also influenced Mahatma Gandhi to adopt principles of religious tolerance, ahiṃsā and satyagraha.
The etymological root of anekāntavāda lies in the compound of two Sanskrit words: anekānta ("manifoldness") and vāda ("school of thought"). The word anekānta is a compound of the Sanskrit negative prefix an, eka ("one"), and anta ("attribute"). Hence, anekānta means "not of solitary attribute".
The Jain doctrine lays a strong emphasis on samyaktva, that is, rationality and logic. According to Jains, the ultimate principle should always be logical and no principle can be devoid of logic or reason. Thus, the Jain texts contain deliberative exhortations on every subject, whether they are constructive or obstructive, inferential or analytical, enlightening or destructive.
Jain doctrines of relativity
Anekāntavāda is one of the three Jain doctrines of relativity used for logic and reasoning. The other two are:
Syādvāda (Sanskrit: स्याद्वाद) is the theory of conditioned predication, which provides an expression to anekānta by recommending that every phrase or statement be expressed in the optative mood - the equivalent of the subjunctive mood in virtually all other Indo-European languages, including Latin, Russian, Hindi, etc. -, i.e. generally by prefacing each sentence with the verb syāt, the third person singular optative of the Sanskrit verb as, "to be". The optative conveys uncertainty, questioning or conditionality. (In Sanskrit, syāt becomes syān when followed by an "n", and syād when followed by a non-nasal voiced consonant or vowel.) According to Jain texts, a thing or object of knowledge has infinite characters (i.e., it is anekāntātmaka); each character can be analysed and grasped individually. Each individual character is called a naya. Jains asserts that a naya reveals only a part of the totality, and should not be mistaken for the whole. A synthesis of different viewpoints is said to be achieved by the doctrine of conditional predications (syādvāda) wherein every viewpoint is able to retain its relative importance. Highlighting the indispensability of syādvāda, Acharya Samantabhadra asserts:
Affirmation, when not in conflict with negation, yields the desired result of describing truly an object of knowledge. Only when affirmation and negation are juxtaposed in mutually non-conflicting situation, one is able to decide whether to accept or reject the assertion. This is how the doctrine of conditional predications (syādvāda) establishes the truth.”— Āptamīmāṁsā (Verse 113)
Syādvāda is not only an extension of anekānta ontology, but a separate system of logic capable of standing on its own. As reality is complex, no single proposition can express the nature of reality fully. Thus "syāt" should be prefixed before each proposition giving it a conditional point of view and thus removing any dogmatism in the statement. Since it ensures that each statement is expressed from seven different conditional and relative viewpoints or propositions, syādvāda is known as saptibhaṅgīnāya or "the theory of seven conditioned predications". These saptibhaṅgī are:
- syād-asti—in some ways, it is,
- syān-nāsti—in some ways, it is not,
- syād-asti-nāsti—in some ways, it is, and it is not,
- syād-asti-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is, and it is indescribable,
- syān-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is not, and it is indescribable,
- syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is, it is not, and it is indescribable,
- syād-avaktavyaḥ—in some ways, it is indescribable.
Each of these seven propositions examines the complex and multifaceted nature of reality from a relative point of view of time, space, substance and mode. To ignore the complexity of reality is to commit the fallacy of dogmatism.
The phrase ‘in a way’ (syāt) declares the standpoint of expression – affirmation with regard to own substance (dravya), place (kṣetra), time (kāla), and being (bhāva), and negation with regard to other substance (dravya), place (kṣetra), time (kāla), and being (bhāva). Thus, for a ‘jar’, in regard to substance (dravya) – earthen, it simply is; wooden, it simply is not. In regard to place (kṣetra) – room, it simply is; terrace, it simply is not. In regard to time (kāla) – summer, it simply is; winter, it simply is not. In regard to being (bhāva) – brown, it simply is; white, it simply is not. And the word ‘simply’ has been inserted for the purpose of excluding a sense not approved by the ‘nuance’; for avoidance of a meaning not intended. The phrase ‘in a way’ is used to declare that the ‘jar’ exists in regard to its own substance etc. and not also in regard to other substance etc.
According to the Jains, Syādvāda and kevalajñāna (omniscience) are the foundational facts of knowledge. In this regard, Āchārya Samantabhadra writes:
Syādvāda, the doctrine of conditional predications, and kevalajñāna (omniscience), are both illuminators of the substances of reality. The difference between the two is that while kevalajñāna illumines directly, syādvāda illumines indirectly. Anything which is not illuminated or expressed by the two is not a substance of reality and hence a non-substance (avastu).
Nayavāda is the theory of partial standpoints or viewpoints. Nayavāda is a compound of two Sanskrit words—naya ("reason" or "method") and vāda ("school of thought or thesis"). It is used to arrive at a certain inference from a point of view. An object has infinite aspects to it, but when we describe an object in practice, we speak of only relevant aspects and ignore irrelevant ones. This does not deny the other attributes, qualities, modes and other aspects; they are just irrelevant from a particular perspective. Authors like Natubhai Shah explain nayavāda with the example of a car; for instance, when we talk of a "blue BMW" we are simply considering the color and make of the car. However, our statement does not imply that the car is devoid of other attributes like engine type, cylinders, speed, price and the like. This particular viewpoint is called a naya or a partial viewpoint. As a type of critical philosophy, nayavāda holds that all philosophical disputes arise out of confusion of standpoints, and the standpoints we adopt are, although we may not realise it, "the outcome of purposes that we may pursue". While operating within the limits of language and seeing the complex nature of reality, Mahāvīra used the language of nayas. Naya, being a partial expression of truth, enables us to comprehend reality part by part.
Syncretisation of changing and unchanging reality
The age of Mahāvīra and Buddha was one of intense intellectual debates, especially on the nature of reality and self. Upanishadic thought postulated the absolute unchanging reality of Brahman and Ātman and claimed that change was mere illusion. The theory advanced by Buddhists denied the reality of permanence of conditioned phenomena, asserting only interdependence and impermanence. According to the vedāntin (Upanishadic) conceptual scheme, the Buddhists were wrong in denying permanence and absolutism, and within the Buddhist conceptual scheme, the vedāntins were wrong in denying the reality of impermanence. The two positions were contradictory and mutually exclusive from each other's point of view. The Jains managed a synthesis of the two uncompromising positions with anekāntavāda. From the perspective of a higher, inclusive level made possible by the ontology and epistemology of anekāntavāda and syādvāda, Jains do not see such claims as contradictory or mutually exclusive; instead, they are seen as ekantika or only partially true. The Jain breadth of vision embraces the perspectives of both Vedānta which, according to Jainism, "recognises substances but not process", and Buddhism, which "recognises process but not substance". Jainism, on the other hand, pays equal attention to both substance (dravya) and process (paryaya).
Our experience of the world presents a profound paradox which we can ignore existentially, but not philosophically. This paradox is the paradox of change. Something – A changes and therefore it cannot be permanent. On the other hand, if A is not permanent, then what changes? In this debate between the "permanence" and "change", Hinduism seems more inclined to grasp the first horn of the dilemma and Buddhism the second. It is Jainism that has the philosophical courage to grasp both horns fearlessly and simultaneously, and the philosophical skill not to be gored by either.
However, anekāntavāda is not simply about syncretisation or compromise between competing ideas, as it is cooperatively about finding the hidden elements of shared truth between such ideas (such as naturalism—relative to pantheism and sanctuary—although its basis in simplicity may be described with the scientific principle of Occam's razor—whereas science is likewise paradoxical in nature—relative to nonviolence). Anekāntavāda is not about denying the truth; rather truth is acknowledged as an ultimate spiritual goal. For ordinary humans, it is an elusive goal, but they are still obliged to work towards its attainment. Anekāntavāda also does not mean compromising or diluting one's own values and principles. On the contrary, it allows us to understand and be tolerant of conflicting and opposing views, while respectfully maintaining the validity of one's own view-point. Hence, John Koller calls anekāntavāda as – "epistemological respect for view of others". Anekāntavāda, thus, did not prevent the Jain thinkers from defending the truth and validity of their own doctrine while simultaneously respecting and understanding the rival doctrines. Anne Vallely notes that the epistemological respect for other viewpoints was put to practice when she was invited by Ācārya Tulsi, the head of the Terāpanthī order, to teach sadhvis the tenets of Christianity. Commenting on their adherence to ahiṃsā and anekāntavāda, she says:
The Jain samaṇīs of Ladnun uncompromisingly maintain ahiṃsā to be an eternal and unchangeable moral law. Other views and beliefs that contradict this belief would certainly be challenged, and ultimately rejected. But what is significant, is that both the rejection and retention of views is tempered by the belief that our perception conveys only a partial reality, that reality itself is manifold, and that to assume one particular viewpoint is final, is to hold a limited picture of reality.
Anekāntavāda is also different from moral relativism. It does not mean conceding that all arguments and all views are equal, but rather logic and evidence determine which views are true, in what respect and to what extent (as truth in relativism, itself). While employing anekāntavāda, the 17th century philosopher monk, Yaśovijaya Gaṇi also cautions against anābhigrahika (indiscriminate attachment to all views as being true), which is effectively a kind of misconceived relativism. Jains thus consider anekāntavāda as a positive concept corresponding to religious pluralism that transcends monism and dualism, implying a sophisticated conception of a complex reality. It does not merely involve rejection of partisanship, but reflects a positive spirit of reconciliation of opposite views. However, it is argued that pluralism often degenerates to some form of moral relativism or religious exclusivism. According to Anne Vallely, anekānta is a way out of this epistemological quagmire, as it makes a genuinely pluralistic view possible without lapsing into extreme moral relativism or exclusivity.
Parable of the blind men and elephant
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: "We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable". So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a drain pipe". For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, "I perceive the shape of the elephant to be like a pillar". And in the case of the one who placed his hand upon its back said, "Indeed, this elephant is like a throne". Now, each of these presented a true aspect when he related what he had gained from experiencing the elephant. None of them had strayed from the true description of the elephant. Yet they fell short of fathoming the true appearance of the elephant.
Two of the many references to this parable are found in Tattvarthaslokavatika of Vidyanandi (9th century) and Syādvādamanjari of Ācārya Mallisena (13th century). Mallisena uses the parable to argue that immature people deny various aspects of truth; deluded by the aspects they do understand, they deny the aspects they don't understand. "Due to extreme delusion produced on account of a partial viewpoint, the immature deny one aspect and try to establish another. This is the maxim of the blind (men) and the elephant." Mallisena also cites the parable when noting the importance of considering all viewpoints in obtaining a full picture of reality. "It is impossible to properly understand an entity consisting of infinite properties without the method of modal description consisting of all viewpoints, since it will otherwise lead to a situation of seizing mere sprouts (i.e., a superficial, inadequate cognition), on the maxim of the blind (men) and the elephant."
History and development
The principle of anekāntavāda is the foundation of many Jain philosophical concepts. The development of anekāntavāda also encouraged the development of the dialectics of syādvāda (conditioned viewpoints), saptibhaṅgī (the seven conditioned predication), and nayavāda (partial viewpoints).
The origins of anekāntavāda lie in the teachings of Mahāvīra, who used it effectively to show the relativity of truth and reality. Taking a relativistic viewpoint, Mahāvīra is said to have explained the nature of the soul as both permanent, from the point of view of underlying substance, and temporary, from the point of view of its modes and modification. The importance and antiquity of anekāntavāda are also demonstrated by the fact that it formed the subject matter of Astinasti Pravāda, the fourth part of the lost Purva that contained teachings of the Tīrthaṇkaras prior to Mahāvīra. German Indologist Hermann Jacobi believes Mahāvīra effectively employed the dialectics of anekāntavāda to refute the agnosticism of Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta. Sutrakritanga, the second oldest canon of Jainism, contains the first references to syādvāda and saptibhaṅgī. According to Sūtrakritanga, Mahāvīra advised his disciples to use syādvāda to preach his teachings:
A monk living single should not ridicule heretical doctrines, and should avoid hard words though they be true; he should not be vain, nor brag, but he should without embarrassment and passion preach the Law. A monk should be modest, though he be of a fearless mind; he should expound the syādvāda, he should use the two permitted kinds of speech, living among virtuous men, impartial and wise.— Sūtrakritānga, 14:21–22
The early Jain canons and teachings contained multitudes of references to anekāntavāda and syādvāda in rudimentary form without giving it proper structure or establishing it as a separate doctrine. Śvētāmbara text, Sutrakritanga contains references to Vibhagyavāda, which, according to Hermann Jacobi, is the same as syādvāda and saptibhaṅgī. Bhagvatisūtra mentions only three primary predications of the saptibhaṅgīnaya. After Mahāvīra, Kundakunda (1st century CE) was the first author–saint to expound on the doctrine of syādvāda and saptibhaṅgī and give it a proper structure in his famous works Pravacanasāra and Pancastikayasāra. Kundakunda also used nayas to discuss the essence of the self in Samayasāra. Proper classification of the nayas was provided by the philosopher monk, Umāsvāti (2nd century CE) in Tattvārthasūtra. Samantabhadra (2nd century CE) and Siddhasena Divākara (3rd century CE) further fine-tuned Jain epistemology and logic by expounding on the concepts of anekāntavāda in proper form and structure.
Vikramāditya: What is 'truth'? That which is said repeatedly, that which is said loudly, that which is said with authority or that which is agreed by the majority?
Divākara: None of the above. Every one has his own definition of 'truth' and that it is conditional.
Vikramāditya: How about traditions? They have been established by our ancestors and have passed the test of time?
Divākara: Would the system established by ancestors hold true on examination? In case it does not, I am not here to justify it for the sake of saving the traditional grace of the dead, irrespective of the wrath I may have to face.— Ācārya Siddhasena Divākara, Vardhamana Dvātrimṣikā, 6/2
In Sanmatitarka, Divākara further adds: "All doctrines are right in their own respective spheres—but if they encroach upon the province of other doctrines and try to refute their view, they are wrong. A man who holds the view of the cumulative character of truth never says that a particular view is right or that a particular view is wrong."
Age of logic
The period beginning with the start of common era, up to the modern period is often referred to as the age of logic in the history of Jain philosophy. By the time of Akalanka (5th century CE), whose works are a landmark in Jain logic, anekāntavāda was firmly entrenched in Jain texts, as is evident from the various teachings of the Jain scriptures.
Ācārya Haribhadra (8th century CE) was one of the leading proponents of anekāntavāda. He was the first classical author to write a doxography, a compendium of a variety of intellectual views. This attempted to contextualise Jain thoughts within the broad framework, rather than espouse narrow partisan views. It interacted with the many possible intellectual orientations available to Indian thinkers around the 8th century.
Ācārya Amrtacandra starts his famous 10th century CE work Purusathasiddhiupaya with strong praise for anekāntavāda: "I bow down to the principle of anekānta, the source and foundation of the highest scriptures, the dispeller of wrong one-sided notions, that which takes into account all aspects of truth, reconciling diverse and even contradictory traits of all objects or entity."
Ācārya Vidyānandi (11th century CE) provides the analogy of the ocean to explain the nature of truth in Tattvarthaslokavārtikka, 116: "Water from the ocean contained in a pot can neither be called an ocean nor a non-ocean, but simply a part of ocean. Similarly, a doctrine, though arising from absolute truth can neither be called a whole truth nor a non-truth."
Yaśovijaya Gaṇi, a 17th-century Jain monk, went beyond anekāntavāda by advocating madhāyastha, meaning "standing in the middle" or "equidistance". This position allowed him to praise qualities in others even though the people were non-Jain and belonged to other faiths. There was a period of stagnation after Yasovijayaji, as there were no new contributions to the development of Jain philosophy.
Role in ensuring the survival of Jainism
Anekāntavāda played a pivotal role in the growth as well as the survival of Jainism in ancient India, especially against onslaughts from Śaivas, Vaiṣṇavas, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians at various times. According to Hermann Jacobi, Mahāvīra used such concepts as syādvāda and saptbhangi to silence some of his opponents. The discussions of the agnostics led by Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta had probably influenced many of their contemporaries and consequently syādvāda may have seemed to them a way out of ajñānavāda. Jacobi further speculates that many of their followers would have gone over to Mahāvīra's creed, convinced of the truth of the saptbhanginaya. According to Professor Christopher Key Chapple, anekāntavāda allowed Jains to survive during the most hostile and unfavourable moments in history. According to John Koller, professor of Asian studies, anekāntavāda allowed Jain thinkers to maintain the validity of their doctrine, while at the same time respectfully criticizing the views of their opponents.
Anekāntavāda was often used by Jain monks to obtain royal patronage from Hindu Kings. Ācārya Hemacandra used anekāntavāda to gain the confidence and respect of the Cālukya Emperor Jayasimha Siddharaja. According to the Jain text Prabandhacantamani, Emperor Siddharaja desired enlightenment and liberation and he questioned teachers from various traditions. He remained in a quandary when he discovered that they all promoted their own teachings while disparaging other teachings. Among the teachers he questioned was Hemacandra, who, rather than promote Jainism, told him a story with a different message. According to his story, a sick man was cured of his disease after eating all the herbs available, as he was not aware which herb was medicinal. The moral of the tale, according to Hemacandra, was that just as the man was restored by the herb, even though no one knew which particular herb did the trick, so in the kaliyuga ("age of vice") the wise should obtain salvation by supporting all religious traditions, even though no-one can say with absolute certainty which tradition it is that provides that salvation.
Jain religious tolerance fits well with the ecumenical disposition typical of Indian religions. It can be traced to the analogous Jain principles of anekāntavāda and ahiṃsā. The epistemology of anekāntavāda and syādvāda also had a profound impact on the development of ancient Indian logic and philosophy. In recent times, Jainism influenced Gandhi, who advocated ahiṃsā and satyagraha.
Intellectual ahimsā and religious tolerance
The concepts of anekāntavāda and syādvāda allow Jains to accept the truth in other philosophies from their own perspective and thus inculcate tolerance for other viewpoints. Anekāntavāda is non-absolutist and stands firmly against all dogmatisms, including any assertion that Jainism is the only correct religious path. It is thus an intellectual ahiṃsā, or ahiṃsā of the mind. Burch writes, "Jain logic is intellectual ahiṃsā. Just as a right-acting person respects the life of all beings, so a right-thinking person acknowledges the validity of all judgments. This means recognizing all aspects of reality, not merely one or some aspects, as is done in non-Jain philosophies."
Mahāvīra encouraged his followers to study and understand rival traditions in his Acaranga Sutra: "Comprehend one philosophical view through the comprehensive study of another one."
In anekāntavāda, there is no "battle of ideas", because this is considered to be a form of intellectual himsa or violence, leading quite logically to physical violence and war. In today's world, the limitations of the adversarial, "either with us or against us" form of argument are increasingly apparent by the fact that the argument leads to political, religious and social conflicts. Sūtrakrtānga, the second oldest canon of Jainism, provides a solution by stating: "Those who praise their own doctrines and ideology and disparage the doctrine of others distort the truth and will be confined to the cycle of birth and death."
This ecumenical and irenical attitude, engendered by anekāntavāda, allowed modern Jain monks such as Vijayadharmasuri to declare: "I am neither a Jain nor a Buddhist, a Vaisnava nor a Saivite, a Hindu nor a Muslim, but a traveler on the path of peace shown by the supreme soul, the God who is free from passion."
Contemporary role and influence
Some modern authors believe that Jain philosophy in general and anekāntavāda in particular can provide a solution to many problems facing the world. They claim that even the mounting ecological crisis is linked to adversarialism, because it arises from a false division between humanity and "the rest" of nature. Modern judicial systems, democracy, freedom of speech, and secularism all implicitly reflect an attitude of anekāntavāda. Many authors, such as Kamla Jain, have claimed that the Jain tradition, with its emphasis on ahimsā and anekāntavāda, is capable of solving religious intolerance, terrorism, wars, the depletion of natural resources, environmental degradation and many other problems. Referring to the September 11 attacks, John Koller believes that violence in society mainly exists due to faulty epistemology and metaphysics as well as faulty ethics. A failure to respect the life and views of others, rooted in dogmatic and mistaken knowledge and refusal to acknowledge the legitimate claims of different perspectives, leads to violent and destructive behaviour. Koller suggests that anekāntavāda has a larger role to play in the world peace. According to Koller, because anekāntavāda is designed to avoid one-sided errors, reconcile contradictory viewpoints, and accept the multiplicity and relativity of truth, the Jain philosophy is in a unique position to support dialogue and negotiations amongst various nations and peoples.
Some Indologists like Professor John Cort have cautioned against giving undue importance to "intellectual ahiṃsā" as the basis of anekāntavāda. He points out that Jain monks have also used anekāntavāda and syādvāda as debating weapons to silence their critics and prove the validity of the Jain doctrine over others. According to Dundas, in Jain hands, this method of analysis became a fearsome weapon of philosophical polemic with which the doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism could be pared down to their ideological bases of simple permanence and impermanence, respectively, and thus could be shown to be one-pointed and inadequate as the overall interpretations of reality they purported to be. On the other hand, the many-sided approach was claimed by the Jains to be immune from criticism since it did not present itself as a philosophical or dogmatic view.
Influence on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Since childhood, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was exposed to the actual practice of non-violence, non-possession and anekāntavāda by his mother. According to biographers like Uma Majumdar, Rajmohan Gandhi, and Stephen Hay, these early childhood impressions and experiences contributed to the formation of Gandhi's character and his further moral and spiritual development. In his writings, Mahatma Gandhi attributed his seemingly contradictory positions over a period of time to the learning process, experiments with truth and his belief in anekāntavāda. He proclaimed that the duty of every individual is to determine what is personally true and act on that relative perception of truth. According to Gandhi, a satyagrahi is duty bound to act according to his relative truth, but at the same time, he is also equally bound to learn from truth held by his opponent. In response to a friend's query on religious tolerance, he responded in the journal "Young India – 21 Jan 1926":
I am an Advaitist and yet I can support Dvaitism (dualism). The world is changing every moment, and is therefore unreal, it has no permanent existence. But though it is constantly changing, it has a something about it which persists and it is therefore to that extent real. I have therefore no objection to calling it real and unreal, and thus being called an Anekāntavadi or a Syādvadi. But my Syādvāda is not the Syādvāda of the learned, it is peculiarly my own. I cannot engage in a debate with them. It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. And this knowledge saves me from attributing motives to my opponents or critics. The seven blind men who gave seven different descriptions of the elephant were all right from their respective points of view, and wrong from the point of view of one another, and right and wrong from the point of view of the man who knew the elephant. I very much like this doctrine of the manyness of reality. It is this doctrine that has taught me to judge a Musulman from his standpoint and a Christian from his. Formerly I used to resent the ignorance of my opponents. Today I can love them because I am gifted with the eye to see myself as others see me and vice versa. I want to take the whole world in the embrace of my love. My Anekāntavāda is the result of the twin doctrine of Satyagraha and ahiṃsā.
The doctrines of anekāntavāda and syādavāda are often criticised on the grounds that they engender a degree of hesitancy and uncertainty, and may compound problems rather than solve them. It is also pointed out that Jain epistemology asserts its own doctrines, but at the cost of being unable to deny contradictory doctrines. Furthermore, it is also argued that this doctrine could be self-defeating. It is argued that if reality is so complex that no single doctrine can describe it adequately, then anekāntavāda itself, being a single doctrine, must be inadequate. This criticism seems to have been anticipated by Ācārya Samantabhadra who said: "From the point of view of pramana (means of knowledge) it is anekānta (multi-sided), but from a point of view of naya (partial view) it is ekanta (one-sided)."
In defense of the doctrine, Jains point out that anekāntavāda seeks to reconcile apparently opposing viewpoints rather than refuting them.
Anekāntavāda received much criticism from the Vedantists, notably Adi Sankarācārya (9th century C.E.). Sankara argued against some tenets of Jainism in his bhasya on Brahmasutra (2:2:33–36). His main arguments centre on anekāntavāda:
It is impossible that contradictory attributes such as being and non-being should at the same time belong to one and the same thing; just as observation teaches us that a thing cannot be hot and cold at the same moment. The third alternative expressed in the words — they either are such or not such — results in cognition of indefinite nature, which is no more a source of true knowledge than doubt is. Thus the means of knowledge, the object of knowledge, the knowing subject, and the act of knowledge become all alike indefinite. How can his followers act on a doctrine, the matter of which is altogether indeterminate? The result of your efforts is perfect knowledge and is not perfect knowledge. Observation shows that, only when a course of action is known to have a definite result, people set about it without hesitation. Hence a man who proclaims a doctrine of altogether indefinite contents does not deserve to be listened any more than a drunken or a mad man.— Adi Sankarācārya, Brahmasutra, 2.2:33–36
However, many believe that Sankara fails to address genuine anekāntavāda. By identifying syādavāda with sansayavāda, he instead addresses "agnosticism", which was argued by Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta. Many authors like Pandya believe that Sankara overlooked that, the affirmation of the existence of an object is in respect to the object itself, and its negation is in respect to what the object is not. Genuine anekāntavāda thus considers positive and negative attributes of an object, at the same time, and without any contradictions.
Another Buddhist logician Dharmakirti ridiculed anekāntavāda in Pramānavarttikakārika: "With the differentiation removed, all things have dual nature. Then, if somebody is implored to eat curd, then why he does not eat camel?" The insinuation is obvious; if curd exists from the nature of curd and does not exist from the nature of a camel, then one is justified in eating camel, as by eating camel, he is merely eating the negation of curd. Ācārya Akalanka, while agreeing that Dharmakirti may be right from one viewpoint, took it upon himself to issue a rejoinder:
The person who criticises without understanding the prima facie view is acting like a jester and not a critic. The Buddha was born a deer and the deer was born as Buddha; but Buddha is adorable and deer is only a food. Similarly, due to the strength of an entity, with its differences and similarities specified, nobody would eat camel if implored to eat curd.
- Problem of universals
- Degrees of truth
- False dilemma
- Indian logic
- Jain epistemology
- Jaina seven-valued logic
- Logical disjunction
- Logical equality
- Logical value
- Multi-valued logic
- Principle of bivalence
- Propositional logic
- Rhizome (philosophy)
- Value pluralism
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