Anekāntavāda, The Central Philosophy Of Ājīvikism?

Published: 23.12.2014
Updated: 09.07.2015

International Journal of Jaina Studies
(Online) Vol. 9, No. 1 (2013) 1-11



Ājīvikism, a vanished Indian religion, has been admirably studied by A. L. Basham in his 1951 monograph. Since then, a renewed study of the existing evidence has led to an improved understanding of this religion. New evidence, moreover, has shown that this religion remained intellectually active and influential at least until the end of the first millennium CE. This paper will discuss other evidence again, also from the end of the first millennium, which appears to show that Ājīvikism shared the anekāntavāda with Jainism, but not only that. Like Jainism, it used the anekāntavāda to solve a problem that did not arise until many centuries after the time of Mahāvīra. It follows that Jainism and Ājīvikism remained closely in close contact with each other for at least half a millennium since their beginning, perhaps longer, and shared some crucial intellectual developments.


Anekāntavāda, The Central Philosophy Of Ājīvikism?

B. K. Matilal, already in the title of his book that came out in 1981, called anekāntavāda the central philosophy of Jainism. Others, most notably (and perhaps most recently) Jayandra Soni (2007: 5), have protested, describing anekāntavāda as "a small, albeit basic, part of Jain thought".[1]

Anekāntavāda is "the theory of the many-sided nature of reality". Matilal (1981: 26 ff.) has drawn attention to the fact that anekāntavāda was, or came to be, a solution to what he calls the "paradox of causality". [2] Matilal maintained that Mahāvīra himself played a crucial role in the formulation of the anekāntavāda.[3] Whatever the truth in this matter, the paradox of causality came to occupy the mind of Indian thinkers long after him, so that the anekāntavāda as solution to this paradox is much more recent than Mahāvīra, too. [4] We will return to this question below.

Recall what the paradox of causality is all about.[5] The problem with which it is confronted can be illustrated with a simple example. How can a pot, or anything else for that matter, be produced? If there is no pot as yet, what is produced? And if the pot is already there, it need no longer be produced. I have argued elsewhere[6] that the problem is the result of the acceptance of the "correspondence principle": people implicitly believed that the words in a statement correspond to entities in the situation depicted by that statement. In other words, there had to be a pot in the situation depicted by the statement "the potter makes a pot". This implicit belief - it is but rarely given an explicit formulation - inevitably led to the "paradox of causality", which all Indian philosophers from the early centuries CE had to face, and which they all proposed to solve, be it in different ways.

A good illustration of how the Jainas dealt with the paradox of causality is provided by the following passage from Jinabhadra's Viśeṣāvaśyakabhāṣya: [7]

"In this world there are things that are being produced having been produced already, others [are being produced] not having been produced already, others [are being produced] having been produced and not having been produced, others again [are being produced] while being produced, and some are not being produced at all, according to what one wishes to express.... For example, a pot is being produced having been produced in the form of clay etc., because it is made of that. That same [pot] is being produced not having been produced concerning its particular shape, because that was not there before...."

Confronted with the question how a pot can be produced, given that there is no pot at that moment, Jinabhadra would answer that there is already a pot at that time, at least in one sense, in the form of clay. In another sense it is not yet there, because its particular shape is not yet there. In this way the "paradox of causality" disappears (or is believed to disappear) like snow in the sun.

I have argued elsewhere (Bronkhorst, 2003: 105-106) that this particular solution appears for the first time in the story of the heretic Jamāli in the Viyāhapannatti. As a matter of fact, the story of Jamāli brought together two kinds of statements that had been separately attributed to Mahāvīra by earlier tradition. The specific combination we find here, along with Jamāli's literal interpretation of one of these statements, provided a solution to the problem of production (or causality) that had come to occupy the minds of virtually all Indian thinkers. The statement to the effect that what is being made has been made was here, perhaps for the first time, taken literally, and provided a solution to the problem of production. However, the undesired consequence that this way a completely static picture of the world would arise, in which nothing would ever change, could be avoided by recalling Mahāvīra's habit to approach questions from various sides.

Let us now leave Jainism on one side, and turn to a remark about the Ājīvikas that occurs in a Sāṃkhya text, the Māṭharavṛtti on Sāṃkhyakārikā 9. The Sāṃkhyakārikā introduces here the doctrine known as satkāryavāda, according to which the effect (kārya) exists (sat) already in its cause before it is produced. In concrete terms, if the effect to be produced is a pot, this doctrine states that the pot is already present in the clay out of which it will be made. It will be clear that the satkāryavāda is the Sāṃkhya solution to the "paradox of causality".

The Māṭharavṛtti introduces this verse as follows (p. 16):

tiṣṭhatu tāvad etat. anyat pṛcchāmaḥ: kim etad mahadādi prāg utpatteḥ pradhāne saj jāyata utāsat sambhavati. atrācāryāṇāṃ vipratipattir ata saṃśayaḥ. atra vaiśeṣikā vipratipannā asataḥ sad bhavatīti manyante. mṛtpiṇḍe hi prāg utpatter ghaṭo nāstīti vyavasitās te. asti nāstīti varākā ājīvikāḥ. naivāsti na ca nāsti. eṣa bauddhānāṃ pakṣaḥ. evam anyonyavirodhavādiṣu darśiṣu ko nāma niścayaḥ.

The passage is here quoted as given by Isabelle Ratié (forthcoming), and deviates from the printed edition in one respect: instead of jīvakāḥ it has ājīvikāḥ, a conjectural emendation proposed to Ratié by Vincent Eltschinger and Alexis Sanderson.

Ratié translates the passage as follows:

"Let us admit what [has been said] so far. [But] we [now] ask something else: do [the evolutes that are] the Great, etc., arise [while they already] exist in matter before [their] arisal, or are they nonexistent [at that time]? In this respect, there is a disagreement (vipratipatti) among masters, therefore there is a doubt. [Thus] the Vaiśeṣikas, who are of a wrong opinion (vipratipanna) in this respect, consider that that which exists comes from that which does not 4 exist. For they consider that in the lump of clay, before the arisal [of the pot], there is no pot. The wretched Ājīvikas [consider] that [the effect] is [both] existing and nonexistent. And the thesis of the Buddhists is that [the effect] is neither existing nor nonexistent. Thus, since those teachers hold theses contradicting each other, what certainty [could we get]?"

We are here primarily concerned with the sentence: "The wretched Ājīvikas [consider] that [the effect] is [both] existing and nonexistent."

It is not difficult to understand the use of this particular position. We find ourselves, once again, in the midst of a discussion about the paradox of causality. How is it possible to make something that is not there? What does one make when one makes a pot, given that there is no pot at that time? The followers of the satkāryavāda maintained that, in spite of appearances, the pot is there, other thinkers opted for other solutions. The Ājīvikas, according to this passage from the Māṭharavṛtti, stated that the pot is both there and not there. The advantage of their position would clearly be that they had an answer to the following, potentially embarrassing question: If the pot is already there at the time you are making it, why do you bother to make it?

But this is also the solution offered in Jinabhadra's Viśeṣāvaśyakabhāṣya, as we have seen. What is more, this is in essence the position known as anekāntavāda. In other words, the Sāṃkhya commentator Māṭhara ascribes to the Ājīvikas the position that we know came to be held by Jainas. How is this possible?

Two possibilities come to mind. One is that Māṭhara uses the expression Ājīvikas[8] to refer to Jainas. We know that the former term was sometimes used in the early Buddhist canon to refer to the followers of Mahāvīra,[9] but this was many centuries before Māṭhara. [10] It seems unrealistic to assume, without proof, that this custom had survived until Māṭhara's time.

Alternatively, Māṭhara knew Ājīvikas, and these Ājīvikas had adopted the same response to the "paradox of causality" as the Jainas. This, if true, almost forces us to consider that the Ājīvikas had taken this response from the Jainas (or, perhaps, that the Jainas had taken it from the Ājīvikas). This in its turn is only conceivable if we assume that Ājīvikas and Jainas had remained in close contact right until the time when the paradox of causality began to occupy the minds of Indian thinkers. We have some reason to suppose that Ājīvikas and Jainas still knew each other in Kuṣāṇa times,[11] but we are in the dark as far as more recent times are concerned. [12]

When did Māṭhara live? Frauwallner (1953: 478 n. 149) observed long ago: "Über die Zeit der Kommentare zur Sāṃkhya-Kārikā, vor allem der Māṭharavṛttiḥ und des Gauḍapādabhāṣyam ist mehr geschrieben worden, als ihrem inhaltlichen Wert entspricht." That may be so, but for our specific enquiry the date of the Māṭharavṛtti is very important. Larson and Bhattacharya (1987: 291) sum up research as follows: [13]

"[O]ur extant Māṭharavṛtti has a common core of content with four other early commentaries on the Sāṃkhyakārikā. Although for many years it was thought that the Māṭharavṛtti may have been the original upon which the other four were based, there is now a general consensus that our extant Māṭharavṛtti is the latest of the five commentaries and may be dated anywhere from the ninth century onward. The commentary contains quotations from the Purāṇas, appears to presuppose a much more sophisticated logic (based most likely on later Nyāya discussions), and presents overall a fuller and more systematic treatment of Sāṃkhya (strongly suggesting that it is a later expansion of the earlier and briefer discussions in the other related commentaries). E. A. Solomon has suggested that our extant Māṭharavṛtti closely follows her recently edited Sāṃkhyasaptativṛtti, and that the former may be an expanded version of the latter (with some borrowing also from the other three). She also suggests that Sāṃkhyasaptativṛtti may have been an original Māṭharabhāṣya by the ancient Sāṃkhya teacher Māṭhara, mentioned in the Anuyogadvārasūtra of the Jains, and that our extant Māṭharavṛtti may be the same as the commentary referred to by Guṇaratnasūri in his commentary (from the fifteenth century) on the Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya by the expression māṭharaprānta (the Māṭhara 'corner' or school)."

If the above estimates are correct, we are led to conclude that a Sāṃkhya commentator from the ninth century or later was acquainted with Ājīvikas, and knew that these Ājīvikas adhered to the anekāntavāda in some form or other.

All this is highly surprising, to say the least, and we are entitled to wonder whether we are not drawing far-reaching conclusions from shaky evidence. Our first question therefore has to be: Was the emendation from jīvaka to ājīvika (or ājīvaka) in Māṭhara's text justified? As a matter of fact, none of the other surviving commentaries on Sāṃkhyakārikā 9 refer to the Ājīvikas. Ratié (forthcoming) summarizes their observations like this:

"[T]hese commentaries vary greatly as regards the number of theses involved in the debate and the authorship of these theses: thus the Gauḍapādabhāṣya merely opposes the Sāṃkhya contention that the effect exists before the operation of its cause to that of the 'Buddhists, etc.' who consider the effect as nonexistent, whereas the Māṭharavṛtti explains that according to the Vaiśeṣikas, the effect is nonexistent, and attributes to the Ājīvikas the thesis that the effect is both existing and nonexistent, and to the Buddhists, the thesis that it is neither; the Jayamaṅgalā mentions the theses that the effect exists, that it is nonexistent, and that it is both, and contents itself with attributing the second to the Vaiśeṣikas; the Yuktidīpikā mentions the thesis that prior to its arisal the effect is nonexistent (and ascribes it to the Vaiśeṣikas and Naiyāyikas), the thesis that the effect is both existing and nonexistent (and ascribes it to the Buddhists) and the thesis that it is neither (without any explicit attribution); the Tattvakaumudī mentions the thesis that the effect comes to exist from a nonexistent cause, the thesis (obviously, that of the Vedāntins) that the effect is only an illusory manifestation (vivarta) and therefore no existing entity, the thesis (ascribed to the Naiyāyikas and Vaiśeṣikas) that the nonexistent effect arises from an existing cause, and the Sāṃkhya thesis."

Clearly, only the Māṭharavṛtti refers to the Ājīvikas, if we accept the emendation proposed. But is this emendation justified?

This question leads us to an interesting and perhaps important observation. The nonemended form Jīvaka exists as a synonym of Ājīvika, but, judging by Basham's (1951: 182- 4) book, only the lexicographer Halāyudha and the astrologer Vaidyanātha Dīkṣita are known to have used it. That is to say, even without emendation the passage from the Māṭharavṛtti refers to Ājīvikas, but by using jīvaka rather than ājīvika it may tell us something about Māṭhara's time and place.

Consider the following passage in A. L. Basham's (1951: 182) History and Doctrines of the Ājīvikas:

"Halāyudha gives two lists of unorthodox ascetics in separate verses, the first of which … contains clothed heretical ascetics, and the second members of the naked category:

nagnāṭo digvāsāḥ kṣapaṇaḥ śramaṇaś ca jīvako jainaḥ
ājīvo maladhārī nirgranthaḥ kathyate sadbhiḥ

'By the educated a naked wanderer is called digvāsāḥ, etc.'"

What do we know about Halāyudha? If the lexicographer of that name is also the Halāyudha who composed the Kavirahasya, which serves as a eulogy of the Rāṣṭrakūṭa king Kṛṣṇa III, he must have lived in the former half of the tenth century in southern India.[14] Basham (1951: 182) concludes from this that he "had no doubt come into contact with the Tamil Ājīvikas". We have already seen that Māṭhara "may be dated anywhere from the ninth century onward". Like Halāyudha, he may have come into contact with the Tamil Ājīvikas. If so, he may have become acquainted with their position as to the "paradox of causality".

Vaidyanātha the author of the Jātakapārijāta, the work in which he mentions the Jīvaka (15.15-16), wrote in South India before 1450 CE (Pingree, 1981: 91f.).

It may here be recalled that the tenth century Vaiśeṣika commentator Śrīdhara shows in his work acquaintance with Ājīvika thought (as did the Mīmāṃsaka Kumārila Bhaṭṭa before him). [15] Śrīdhara, it appears, belonged to Bengal.[16]


The tentative conclusion we arrive at is that the Ājīvikas of southern India of the end of the first and/or beginning of the second millennium were known by the name Jīvakas, and shared with the Jainas the anekāntavāda, the view that reality is multiplex. Given that the two religions were originally close to each other[17] and appear to have remained close for a numberof centuries, we are led to conclude that they were still close when the anekāntavāda was applied to the paradox of causality. When was that?

We have already seen that some scholars attribute the anekāntavāda to Mahāvīra himself.[18] Whatever the truth in this matter, it became the Jaina response to the paradox of causality, and this paradox did not yet occupy the minds of Indian thinkers until long after Mahāvīra. In this form the anekāntavāda was introduced into Jainism before the closure of the Śvetāmbara canon, as I have shown elsewhere. It is also already known to Kundakunda's Pravacanasāra (2.22-23), as I have argued (Bronkhorst, forthcoming a). The position of the Tattvārthasūtra remains obscure.

It appears, then, that Ājīvikas and Jainas were still in close contact during the first half of the first millennium CE, so close that the Ājīvikas borrowed wholesale the solution to the paradox of causality that the Jainas elaborated at that time, or vice-versa. This relatively late example of Jaina influence on Ājīvikism or vice-versa would have remained unnoticed, had it not been for the fact that a Sāṃkhya commentator, Māṭhara, felt the need to mention the Ājīvikas in passing in his otherwise unremarkable commentary.


Primary Sources:

Jinabhadra. Viśeṣāvaśyakabhāṣya, With Auto-Commentary. Ed. Dalsukh Malvania (& Bechardas J. Doshi, for Volume 3). 3 Volumes. Ahmedabad: Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Bharatiya Sanskriti Vidyamandira, 1966-68. (Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Series 10, 14 & 21.)

Kundakunda. Pravacanasāra. See Upadhye, 1964.

Māṭhara. Māṭharavṛtti. In: Sāṅkhyakārikā Īśvarakṛṣṇaviracitā, MāṭharācāryaviracitaMāṭharavṛttisahitā. Ed. Vishnu Prasad Sarma. Benares: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1922. (Chowkhambâ Sanskrit Series 296.)

Vaidyanātha. Jātakapārijāta. Edited by Gopeśakumāra Ojhā. Vol. 2. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 2005.

Secondary Sources

Basham, A. L. History and Doctrines of the Ājīvikas: A Vanished Indian Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1951/1981.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "The Riddle of the Jainas and Ājīvikas in Early Buddhist Literature." Journal of Indian Philosophy 28 (2000) 511-529.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "Jainism's First Heretic and the Origin of Anekānta-vāda." Jainism and Early Buddhism: Essays in Honor of Padmanabh S. Jaini. Edited by Olle Qvarnström, 95-111. Fremont, California: Asian Humanities Press, 2003.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "Ājīvika Doctrine Reconsidered." Essays in Jaina Philosophy and Religion. Edited by Piotr Balcerowicz, 153-178. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 2003a. (Lala Sundarlal Jain Research Series 20.)

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "Echoes of Ājīvikism in Medieval Indian Philosophy." Theatrum Mirabiliorum Indiae Orientalis. A Volume to Celebrate the 70th Birthday of Professor Maria Krzysztof Byrski. Edited by Monika Nowakowska & Jacek Woźniak, 239-248. Warszawa: Komitet Nauk Orientalistycznych Polskeij Akademii Nauk, 2007. (Rocznik Orientalistyczny 60, 2.)

Bronkhorst, Johannes. Language and Reality: On an Episode in Indian Thought. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2011. (Brill's Indological Library 36.)

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "Ājīvika." Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. IV. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen et al., 823-828. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2012. (Handbook of Oriental Studies 2/22/4.)

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "Why did Buddhism and Jainism Develop Differently in India?" Forthcoming.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. "Two Uses of Anekāntavāda." Forthcoming a.

Flügel, Peter. "Sacred Matter: Reflections on the Relationship of Karmic and Natural Causality in Jaina Philosophy." Journal of Indian Philosophy 40, 2 (2012) 119-176.

Frauwallner, Erich. Geschichte der indischen Philosophie, I. Band: Die Philosophie des Veda und des Epos, der Buddha und der Jina, das Samkhya und das klassische Yoga-System. Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1953.

Hulin, Michel. Sāṃkhya Literature. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1978. (A History of Indian Philosophy VI/3.)

Jain, Jagdish Chandra. Life in Ancient India as Depicted in the Jain Canon and Commentaries: 6th Century BC to 17th Century A.D. Second Revised and Enlarged Edition. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1984.

Keith, A. Berriedale. A History of Sanskrit Literature. Oxford University Press, 1920.

Larson, Gerald James & Ram Shankar Bhattacharya (ed.). Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, IV. Sāṃkhya: A Dualist Tradition in Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1987.

Malvania, Dalsukh & Soni, Jayendra (ed.). Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, X. Jain Philosophy (Part I). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 2007.

Matilal, Bimal Krishna. The Central Philosophy of Jainism (Anekāntavāda). Ahmedabad: L. D. Institute of Indology, 1981. (L. D. Series, 79.)

Pāsādika, Bhikkhu. "An Example of Buddhist-Jaina Congruence in the Kālāmasutta." Jaina Studies: Proceedings of the DOT 2010 Panel in Marburg, Germany. Edited by Jayandra Soni, 65-75. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 2012.

Pingree, David. Jyotiḥśāstra: Astral and Mathematical Literature. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1981. (A History of Indian Literature, VI/4.)

Potter, Karl H. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, II. Indian Metaphysics and Epistemology: The Tradition of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika up to Gaṅgeśa. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1977.

Qvarnström, Olle. "The Niyativādadvātriṃśikā Ascribed to Siddhasena Divākara." Jaina Scriptures and Philosophy. Edited by Peter Flügel & Olle Qvarnström. Forthcoming.

Ratié, Isabelle. "A Śaiva Interpretation of the Satkāryavāda: The Sāṃkhya Notion of abhivyakti and its Transformation in the Pratyabhijñā Treatise." Proceedings of the Śaiva Philosophy Panel of the 15th World Sanskrit Conference (New Delhi, 5-10/01/2012). Edited by Lyne Bansat-Boudon & Judit Törzsök. Forthcoming.

Soni, Jayandra. "Introduction." = Malvania & Soni, 2007: 3-34.

Upadhye, Adinath Neminath (ed.). Śrī Kundakundācārya's Pravacanasāra (Pavayaṇasāra). A Pro-Canonical Text of the Jainas. The Prakrit Text Critically Edited with the Sanskrit Commentaries of Amṛtacandra and Jayasena and a Hindī Commentary of Pāṇḍe Hemarāja, with an English Translation of the Text, a Topical Index and the Text with Various Readings, and with an Exhaustive Essay on the Life, Date and Works of Kundakunda and on the Linguistic and Philosophical Aspects of Pravacanasāra. Reprint of the Second Revised Edition. Agas: Shrimad Rajachandra Ashram, 1935/1964.

Vogel, Claus. Indian Lexicography. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1979. (A History of Indian Literature V/4.)

Winternitz, Moriz. Geschichte der indischen Literatur. Band 3: Die Kunstdichtung, die wissenschaftliche Literatur, neuindische Literatur. Stuttgart: K. F. Koehler, 1920/1968.

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