Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: Part 2

Published: 13.02.2012
Updated: 30.07.2015

Not being absolute or independent the concepts of the 'being' (astitva) and the 'not-being' (nāstitva) cannot be fully explained except in their mutual relation. Mere 'being' is fictitious without the co-ordinate element of 'non-being' and vice versa,[1] Each can, however, be described as an isolated aspect of, or abstraction from, a concrete real.

The first mode, represented by the proposition, "In a certain sense the jar is", asserts the existent or positive aspect of the jar. By virtue of the fact that the existence of the jar is inseparably bound up with the non-existence of linen (paṭa) etc. in it, what the proposition signifies is that for some reason at the moment of our making the assertion, our attention is being focussed primarily[2] (pradhānatayā) on the existent aspect of the jar. As already explained earlier'[3] the existent aspect of the jar is to be understood in terms of its self-quaternary, and the non-existent aspect, in terms of the other-quaternary. If, on the contrary, the jar is understood to be capable of being the linen as well (itararūpāpattyāpi), then it will surely lose its very nature (svarūpahāniprasaṅgaḥ) as a distinctive existent[4], viz., a jar. This claim for a distinctive existence is guaranteed by the implicitly understood term 'eva' in the proposition.[5]

The second fundamental concept is 'non-being' (asat). It is embodied in the second predication, viz., 'the jar is not'. This concept is easier to understand after recognising the nature and function of its positive counterpart (vidhipratiyogī), viz., 'being' (sat). It is the negative (niṣedha) element in the determinate context of the concrete nature of the jar in the example. That is, despite its name 'negative element' this concept is a co-ordinate and constituent element in the full make-up of the jar. Negation[6] constitutes a necessary element in reality. This important fact warrants the formulation of a distinctive conditional predication which is provided for in the second mode. The main significance of the second mode lies not in the false statement that the jar does not exist as the jar but in the irrefutable statement that the jar does not exist as linen or anything else. When we focus our attention exclusively (pradhānatayā) on this negative aspect of the jar, as we do under certain conditions, we are said to be viewing the jar in the perspective of the second mode. Non-existence in the second predication is not, therefore, a vacuous predicate but is the obverse of the existent side of the object. In other words, non-existence or 'non-being' is a determinate fact with a content and not a void. This is so because under the category of the 'non-being' all that should not figure within the 'being' of the jar is sought to be ruled out.

An objection of treating the present mode as a logical complement to the previous mode is that the two modes being mutually opposed, are self-contradictory. A refutation of this objection forms the subject of a specific account in an earlier chapter[7] and, indeed, runs as an undercurrent throughout the body of this work. It is, therefore, sufficient to remember here that the two elements, constituting the two modes, are not merely non-contradictory– because, if they were, the qualification 'without incompatibility'[8] (avirodhena) in the definition of syādvāda, would be meaningless– but are mutually necessary complements in the real. Contradiction would arise if the opposition were between the two absolute assertions "the jar exists" and "the jar does not exist". The source of such a fault lies in the objector's mistake in construing the latter assertion, viz., "the jar does not exist", as being equivalent to "the jar does not exist as a jar". The true interpretation of it should be that "the jar does not exist as linen, or water etc." There is surely no contradiction in the latter interpretation because of the fact that it is based on the assumption that the assertion is a relative (kathañcit) and determinate (niyata) abstraction from a complex and concrete real.[9]

The third and the fourth modes may be treated jointly in order to bring out their difference more clearly. They are enunciated as: "In a certain sense the jar is and is not", and "In a certain sense, the jar is inexpressible", respectively. These two modes present the 'being' (astitva) and the 'nonbeing' (nāstitva) together. But there is a great difference in the presentation (arpaṇabheda) they make of the togetherness of the two modes. The third mode offers successive presentation (kramārpaṇa) and the fourth one offers a simultaneous presentation (sahārpaṇa) of the two concepts. These two kinds of presentation are also translated as "consecutive presentation" or "differenced togetherness", and "co-presentation" or "undifferenced togetherness".[10] Although the third mode appears to be one proposition, it entails, in actual fact, two propositions which are expressed as one owing to a certain verbal facility. But the verbal togetherness does not signify a logical compresence of the propositions, or the concepts they embody.

The fourth mode introduces the third primary concept, viz., the inexpressible[11] (avaktavya) in its predicate. Before dealing with the Jaina conception of the inexpressible and its difference from the consecutive predicate, in the third mode, it would be of some interest to trace the dialectical stages through which the concept of the inexpressible has evolved in Indian philosophy. An account of the evolution will not merely give us an estimate of the general significance of the concept, but also will indicate the relation in which the concept stands to similar concepts in other Indian schools. A brief account of it may, therefore, be attempted here.

We may distinguish four stages through which the concept of the inexpressible has passed in its evolutionary process. These stages, it should be noted, at the outset, do not necessarily represent a chronological order of development but a logical one.

In the first place, we meet with a tendency in the Ṛgveda which is suggestive of a negative attitude to the problem. The seer, confronted with the mystery of the universe which reveals both sat (being) and asat (non-being), tends to feel that the universe is neither being nor-non-being (cf. the primal state of reality, he says. "Then was not non-existent nor existent..." Ṛgveda, the "Song of Creation", Bk. X, Hymn 129, E.T. by R.T.H. Griffith). This somewhat naive and negative attitude that the real is neither being nor non-being may be described as one of anubhaya.

The next tendency is a positive one, and is represented by certain Upaniṣadic utterances like: "sadasadvareṇyam" ('The great Being' as 'being and not being', Muṇḍakopaniṣad, H. 2. 1; tathākṣāt dvividhāḥ somya bhāvāḥ prajāyante... Ibid., II.1. 1) and "samyuktaṁetat kṣaramakṣaraṁ ca vyaktāvyaktaṁ bharate viśvamīśaḥ'' (That which is joined together as perishable and imperishable, as manifest and unmanifest - the Lord...supports it all. Śvetāśvataropaniṣad I. 8). It conceives both being and non-being as inherent in reality. Owing to the positive character this tendency may be described as the ubhaya phase (in which both are real) of the concept.

Before touching upon the third phase in the evolution of the concept it is necessary to note two significant features in the above two tendencies. First, although both attitudes refer to the elements of being and non-being they suggest that two elements as being merely together. As yet there does not seem to be any attempt to weld the elements into a single complex mode. Nor has any definite awareness of the impossibility of expressing the two elements, simultaneously, in a single concept dawned upon these poet-philosophers. Secondly, the two elements are conceived to be mutually opposed rather than complementary.

The third phase is met with again, in certain other Upaniṣadic utterances like "sa eṣa neti neti" (Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, IV. 5. 15); "yato vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha" (Taittirīyopaniṣad, II. 4); or "naiva vācā na manasā prāptuṁ śakyaḥ" (Kaṭhopaniṣad, II. 6. 12). In this phase there is a clear awareness of the unutterableness of the ultimate owing to the fact that an attempt at utterance is beset with contradictoriness. Hence, although this phase is also negative[12] like that of the Ṛgveda it marks an advance upon the naïveté of the latter in so far as it is distinctly aware of the inexpressibility of the ultimate. In order to distinguish this logically sophisticated phase from the simple negative tendency of the Ṛgveda we may call this the stage of avaktavya, or anirvacanīyatā, after the Vedāntic usage. Not merely the modes (koṭis) of sat and asat but also the mode of sadasat are associated with anirvacanīyatā. Although anirvacanīyatā signifies unutterableness like the Jain notion of avaktavyatva it differs from the latter by insisting upon absolute (sarvathā) unutterableness. The specific term by which the Jaina refers to this absolute type of avaktavyatva is avyapadeśya which is in contrast with his own relativistic notion according to which sat and asat are jointly or consecutively (kramārpaṇayā) expressible (kathañcidvyapadeśya). Incidentally, one is reminded, here, of the fact that the Buddha's 'avyākṛtas' and Nāgārjuna's conception of the ultimate as being 'catuṣkoṭivinirmukta'[13] are, after making allowance for the respective differences in the metaphysical tenets and, consequently, in the modes of expressing the concept of the inexpressible, cognate with the concept of anirvacanīyatā, or avyapadeśya, as the Jaina would call them.


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Published by:
Jain Vishwa Bharati Institute
Ladnun - 341 306 (Rajasthan) General Editor:
Sreechand Rampuria
Edited by:
Rai Ashwini Kumar
T.M. Dak
Anil Dutta Mishra

First Edition:1996
© by the Authors

Printed by:
Pawan Printers
J-9, Naveen Shahdara, Delhi-110032

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  1. Akalanka
  2. Asat
  3. Astitva
  4. Avaktavya
  5. Body
  6. Buddha
  7. JAINA
  8. Jaina
  9. London
  10. Neti Neti
  11. Nāstitva
  12. Syādvāda
  13. Syāt
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