Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda: The Buddha And Syādvāda

Published: 25.04.2012
Updated: 30.07.2015

During the Buddha's time there were certain philosophical points which became the subjects of violent debate. Having realised the futility of such debates the Buddha became an analyst, like the Jainas[1]. In the Dīghanikāya the Buddha is reported to have said that he had taught and laid down his doctrines with categorical (ekaṃsika) and non-categorical (anekaṃ sika) assertions[2]. The theory of Four Noble Truths is an example of the former, while the theory of Avyākatas is of the latter.

Here the terms "ekaṃsika" and "anekaṃsika" are very similar to ekāntavāda and Anekāntavāda. The former is concerned with the non-Jaina philosophies and the latter with the Jaina philosophy. The difference between the Buddha's and Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta's standpoints is that according to the former's conception the non-categorical assertions are not true or false, from some standpoint or another, unless we analyse them further, while the latter upholds the view that all the statements are relatively (syāt) correct, i.e. they contain some aspect of the truth. The theory of Avyākata does not consist of any such quality.

The Buddha adopted the four-fold scheme to answer the logical questions of that time as outlined below:

(i) atthi (it is).

(ii) natthi (it is not).

(iii) atthi ca natthi ca (it is and it is not).

(iv) n'ev'atthi na ca natthi (it neither is, nor is not).

This four-fold scheme has been used in several places of the Pali Canon. For instance:

(i) Channaṃ phassāyatanānaṃ asesavirāganirodhā atth'aññam, kiñcī ti? (Is there anything else after complete detachment from the cessation of the six spheres of experience?).

(ii) Channaṃ… natth'annaṃ kiñcī ti?

(iii) Channaṃ… atthi ca n'atthi c'nnaṃ kiñcī ti?

(iv) Channaṃ… n'ev'atthi no n'atth'annaṃ kiñcī ti?

Miyamoto[3] observes that the seven-fold scheme of the Jainas is equivalent to the four-fold scheme of Buddhists in the following manner:

(i) Syādasti=I

(ii) Syānnāsti=II

(iii) Syādastināsti=III

(iv) Syādavaktavya

(v) Syādastyavaktavya

(vi) Syānnāstyavaktavya=IV

(vii) Syādastināstyavaktavya

But this observation is not perfectly right, since the Jainas pondered over the problems more profoundly than the Buddhists. It would be more appropriate if we think of the first four propositions of the Buddhists.

But there are differences between the Jaina and the Buddhist schemes. According to the Jaina Scheme, all the seven propositions could be true from relative standpoints, while in the Buddhist scheme only one proposition could be true. The propositions are not considered logical alternatives in Jainism as considered in Buddhism.

It is more problems that the Buddha's "Catuṣkoṭi" formula has been influenced by the four-fold formula of Sañjaya, although there are also traces of the influence of the seven-fold formula of Jainas. Such formulas, it must be remembered, were commonly accepted at that time by teachers with different attitudes.

The Pali Canon considers Anekāntavāda or Syādvāda as a combi­nation of both Ucchedavāda and Sassatavāda. Buddhaghosa was of the opinion that Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta presented his views in contradictory ways[4]. As a matter of fact, he could not understand the real nature of Syādvāda. We know that Jaina philosophy considers problems neither by absolute eternalism nor absolute nihilism, hut eternalism-cum-nihilism. Apart from the confusion regarding Sassatavāda and Ucchedavāda, there are no explicit references to Syādvāda in the Pali Canon. The absence of direct reference does not mean that the Syādvāda conception was not a part and parcel of the doctrines of the Nātaputta at that time. This conclusion is further strengthened by the fact that Buddhist books appear to be aware of some characteristics of Syādvāda, which might have belonged to the tradition of Pārśvanātha.

In the course of a discussion, the Buddha says to Saccaka, who was a follower of the Pārśvanātha tradition and converted later into the Nātaputta's religion, that his former statement is not in keeping with the latter, nor the latter with the former (na kho te sandhiyati purimeṇa vā pacchimaṃ pacchimeṇa vā purimaṃ)[5]. Here attention is drawn to self-contradictions in Saccaka's statements. This might have been an early instance of adducing self-contradiction (svātmavirodha) as an argument against Syādvāda. This has been a repeated criticism against Syādvāda by opponents of different times.

Likewise in the course of a conversation held between Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta and Citta Gahapati, the latter blames the former for his self-contradictory conception. He says: If your former statement is true, your latter statement is false, and if your latter statement is true, your former statement is false (sacepurimam saccaṃ, pacchimaṃ te micchā, sace pacchimaṃ saccam purimaṃ te micchā)[6].

Another reference found in Pali literature helps us to understand the position of Syādvāda. The Dīghanakha Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya mentions three kinds of theories upheld by Dīghanakha paribbājaka. They are as follows[7]: -

(i) Sabbaṃ me khamati (I agree with all views).

(ii) Sabbaṃ me na khamati (I agree with no views).

(iii) Ekaccaṃ me khamati, ekaccaṃ me na khamati (I agree with some views and disagree with other (views).

The Buddha criticises Dīghanakha's views in various ways, and expresses his own views towards the problem. Dīghanakha's views are similar to the predications of Syādvāda, and represent its first three bhaṅgīs as follow: -

(i) Sabbaṃ me khamati=Syādasti

(ii) Sabbaṃ me na khamati=Syānnāsti

(iii) Ekaccamme Khamati, ekaccaṃ me na khamati=Syādastināsti

Now the problem is to consider to which school of thought Dīghanakha belonged. According to the commentary on the Majjhima Nikāya, he is said to be the holder of the view of Ucchedavāda[8], which is a part of Syādvāda in the opinion of Buddhaghosa[9]. He might have belonged to Sañjaya's school of Paribbājakas who were followers of Pārśvanātha tradition converted later into Nātaputta's religion before he joined the Buddha's order. Dīghanakha was a nephew of Sañjaya. It seems therefore that he was a follower of Jainism. This inference may be confirmed if Dīghanakha can be identified with Dīghatapassi of the Upālisutta of Majjhima Nikāya, who was a follower of Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta.

In the above propositions of Saccaka, Citta Gahapati and Dīghanakha Paribbājaka, we can trace the first three or four predications (including Syādavaktavya) of Syādvāda conception of Jainism.

It is not impossible that the term "Syāt" had been used by Jainas in the beginning of each predication to justify correctly the other's views on the basis of non-absolutism. The word "syāt" (siya in Pali), which indicates the definite standpoint towards the problems, is also used in the Cula Rāhulovādasutta of the Majjhima Nikāya, where the two types of the Tejodhātu are pointed out in definite way[10]. It seems that this word "syāt" originally belonged to Jainas and was later used by the Buddhists in a particular sense. The defect of self-contradiction in Syādvāda conception of Jainas is a criticism levelled against it by the Buddhists. It happened so, only because of ignorance of the meaning of Syāt. As a matter of fact, the Jainas had concentrated their attention on the matter of controversial points in different theories of the then philosophers and had tried to examine their views from different standpoints. By this method, the Jainas could figure out the real nature and consider the problem in a non-violent way.


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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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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anekāntavāda
  2. B.C. Jain
  3. Buddha
  4. Buddhism
  5. Citta
  6. JAINA
  7. Jaina
  8. Jainism
  9. Nigaṇṭha
  10. Non-absolutism
  11. Pali
  12. Pārśvanātha
  13. Sutta
  14. Syādvāda
  15. Syāt
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