SYĀDVĀDA - Conditional Dialectic Expression of Anekānta

Published: 04.11.2008
Updated: 30.07.2015

The significant fact about knowledge is its communicability. When knowledge is for one’s own self, the question of communicability can be displayed with; but when it is for the other, the question needs serious consideration. Communicability is accomplished through properly worded propositions. Thus knowledge to be communicable is to be reduced to propositions. This goes without saying that formulation of propositions is dependent on the content of knowledge. It is not idle to point out that if there is discordance between the content of knowledge and formulation of propositions, serious misunderstandings are bound to arise. Sādvāda is the linguistic device to represent without any omission and distortion the content of knowledge. Thus in a way Syādvāda and knowledge become the observe and the converse of the same coin.

Knowledge, according to the Jaina, reveals itself and the object. In consequence the Jaina thinkers propound that the object has infinite characteristics some known, some in the process of being discovered and many as yet unknown. This is known as the doctrine of Anekāntavāda. Syādvāda is the method of communicating the manifold characteristics of a thing to the other. In the absence of this technique real knowledge of a thing cannot be passed to others without any incongruence. Thus Syādvāda is the expression of Anekāntavāda in the mode of cognition, Syādvāda is the mode of expression.

The significant point to be comprehended in regard to Anekāntavāda is that every characteristics of a multiphase thing is maintaining its identity through the existence of its opposite as its aspect. In fact, a thing cannot be the same thing without the negation of other things in it. For example, a colour cannot remain a colour without the negation of other characteristics like taste, smell etc. in it thus non-existence is as much an essential aspect of the real as existence is. Negative propositions cannot be asserted without accepting non-existence as an element in the constitution of the real. Similarly, the characteristics of one and many permanence and change, generality and particularity are reconciled in a thing without any incongruity. Thus when the Jinist is faced with the problems of expressing the complex content of knowledge in language in a way, which can communicate to the other the knowledge as such, he had to devise the method of Syādvāda. The word ‘Syāt’ implies that the subject Ghaṭa is a manifold of attributes, of which the attribute of being colourful referred to in the propositions is there in the Ghaṭa as a matter of fact. This should not be understood, as it is generally done, to mean that the existence of colour in the Ghaṭa is doubtful. In other words, certainty of colour along with the manifoldness of characteristics is indicated by the word ‘Syāt’.

The word ‘Syāt’ can also be understood differently, though the difference is of expression and not of meaning already discussed. As already pointed out, a thing is the repository of infinite attribute. Hence the apprehension of it from a particular angle of vision or point of view, technically called Naya, does not exhaust the whole of the multiphase thing. It is important to note that the Naya is objectively given and not subjectively contemplated. So in order to avoid the possible misunderstanding that a thing is exhausted by a particular Naya, every predication should be preceded by the word ‘Syāt’ thus making us aware of the possibility of other predications in regard to that thing. Thus Syādvāda is the custodian of clarity, certainty and non-ambiguity in the field of philosophy. It is by no means the doctrine of doubt and uncertainty.

Although an existence is possessed of infinite attribute yet the knowledge of it is not a simple affair. The question is what is it to know a thing? And how many propositions are requisite to express the content knowledge? The conviction of the Jaina is that seven distinct propositions, neither more or less, are needed to express the content of knowledge in regard to an existent. The significant point to be noted here is that each proposition is not the result of mere subjective necessity possesses attributes as an ontological truth. All this implies that since the existents or their characteristics are infinite in number, seven propositions can be expressed with reference to each. Consequently, their will be infinitely seven - fold propositions without any inconsistency.

Let us now illustrate the doctrine of seven - fold propositions by taking an example of the attribute existence or permanence or oneness etc. in respect of pen.

    1. The first proposition is: Syāt pen exists. This means that the existence of pen is contextual, the context being its own Dravya (substance), Kṣetra (Space), Kāla (time) and Bhāva (state). It is by virtue of this context that the pen derives its individuality and becomes meaningful. In fact this context is interwoven into the constitution of the pen itself, so it cannot be separated from the object. This proposition controverts the possibility of unqualified existence of a thing without the consideration of substance, space, time and state.
    2. The second proposition is: Syāt pen does not exist. The proposition does not, as it seems, negate the existence of pen referred to in the first propositions, but it states the non-existence of pen in respect of other Dravya, Kṣetra, Kāla, and Bhāva. Thus it strengthens the first propositions rather than cancels it. The pen is pen only because it is not pen. In other words the existence of pen in respect of its own Dravya, Kṣetra, Kāla, and Bhāva cannot maintain its identity, if non-existence of pen in respect of other Dravya, Kṣetra, Kāla, and Bhāva is not considered the concomitant aspect of pen. Thus both existence and non-existence is co-present in the pen without any contradiction. According to the Jaina, non-existence is as much constitutive of the nature of thing as existence. The critics fail to see that contradictory statement can be made about a thing, if context is changed. The conviction of the Jaina is that if this proposition is denied, it shall be difficult for us to account for the differences of things. Hence, by asserting this proposition. We come across a new aspect of thing, which is not given in the first proposition.
    3. The third proposition is: Syāt pen exists and does not exist. In this proposition the two attributes of existence and non-existence in their relevant contexts are successively predicated of the pen. Thus this proposition, which appears merely the summation of the first two propositions is not really so. It expresses a new aspect of pen under consideration. This aspect is not present either in the first or in the second proposition considered separately. If mathematics is our guide, the third proposition is nothing but a summation of the first two. But according to the Jaina experience, which is our sole guide, tells us that the combination or separate units give rise to a distinctive meaning, not apprehended in any of its constituent elements.
    4. The fourth proposition is: Syāt pen is inexpressible. In this proposition the two attributes of existence and non-existence instead of being asserted successively as in the third proposition, are asserted simultaneously. The need for simultaneous assertion of these appositive attributes is man’s desire to express in words the apprehension of pen as such. Since words are incapable of expressing this apprehension of pen the pen is inexpressible. It may be noted here that inexpressibility is a novel and factual characteristics of pen. The distinction between the third and fourth propositions is that in the former the novel attribute is the result of consecutive togetherness of the elements of existence and non-existence, whereas in the latter it is the result of simultaneous presentation of the two elements in question. It goes without saying that this inexpressibility is not absolute, it is only so in the context of the two opposite attributes being together synchronically. “The common-sense principle implied in its recognition is that what is given cannot be rejected simply because it is inexpressible by a single positive concept”. The fifth, sixth, and seventh propositions are:
    5. Syāt pen exists and in inexpressible.
    6. Syāt pen does not exist and is inexpressible.
    7. Syāt pen exists and does not exist and is inexpressible.

All these propositions according to the Jaina, represent a new aspect of the real. It may be noted here that the Jaina texts have not discussed these propositions clearly. Now the question arises: What is the basis of regarding the number of propositions as seven, neither more nor less than this? The answer of the Jaina is that since affirmation and negation are possible in regard to the real, there are only seven questions possible in regard to the real. These questions know a thing, which in turn is dependent on the seven objective aspects of the real. In fact, the enquiry starts upon the initial doubt, for example does a pen exist or not? Or is a thing permanent or changing? And the answer is seven distinct propositions or Bhaṅgas.

What I feel here is that the Jaina in propounding the seven propositions are making use of mathematical knowledge, which necessarily leads to these seven Bhaṅgas. Out of these the first four are empirically verifiable or understandable and the last three are mathematical possibilities. That is why the Jaina texts have not explained the first four ones. But there is nothing wrong in saying that they are possibilities confirmed by mathematics. So if one speaks of more than seven Bhaṅgas, there will either be duplicated or assertion of propositions neither confirmed by mathematics nor by experience, if one speaks of less number of propositions, there will either be omission or suppression of the aspect of the real given to us either mathematically or experientially.

It may now be argued that since Jaina philosophy is known as Anekantāvāda (non-extremism and non-absolutism) does the seven-fold prediction apply to Anekantāvāda itself? The answer of Jaina is in the affirmative. Syāt Anekantāvāda, Syāt Ekāntavāda and so one will be the seven propositions (Saptabhaṅgas). Knowledge which takes into account the nature of the real as consisting of an infinite plurality of attributes is called pramāṇa and this is non-absolutism, knowledge which takes into account one attribute without negating the order attributes present in the real is called, Nyāya and this is Ekāntavāda. In other words the Anekānta can not be sub stained without admitting Ekānta as its opposite, just as a tree can not he saved if the branches are taken out.

Of the many charges alleged against the doctrine of Syādvāda, the most fundamental is that of self-contradiction. In other words, the charge is that the Jaina doctrine flagrantly violates the law of non-contradiction which says that A cannot be both A and B at the same time. Thus how can pen have the characteristics of both existence and non-existence? Before answering this objection, let us first discuss the attitude of the Jaina towards the law of non-contradiction propounded by formal logic. The conviction of the Jaina is that the law of non-contradiction is a priori and thus does not state any facts about reality. If it were asked what is the criterion of contradiction the reply of the Jaina would be that it is experience and not pure thought. It is by the former that the notion of contradiction should be decided. Two facts are contradictory, if they are not found to coexist in experience just as light and darkness, heat and cold, and the like. On the contrary, if experience confirms the coexistence if seemingly contradictory attributes in a thing it should be regarded as valid. Thus the Jaina insists that the source of the law of non-contradiction should be sought not in a priori thought, but in experience of the behaviour of things. Following this mode of logic, the Jaina finds no empirical contradiction in asserting that the pen has the characteristics of both existence and non-existence, as has been explained above.

International School for Jain Studies
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekānta
  2. Anekāntavāda
  3. Bhāva
  4. Dravya
  5. Ekānta
  6. International School for Jain Studies
  7. JAINA
  8. Jaina
  9. Kāla
  10. Kṣetra
  11. Naya
  12. Non-absolutism
  13. Nyāya
  14. Pramāṇa
  15. Space
  16. Syādvāda
  17. Syāt
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