Jaina Philosophy Is Humanitarian In Essence

Posted: 13.04.2015
Updated on: 02.07.2015

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By: Pranav Khullar on Apr 09, 2015

Jaina Philosophy Is Humanitarian In EssenceThe fundamental issue of liberation from human bondage is deconstructed in Jaina thought, through a detailed analysis of the nature of reality and the notion of karma. In its unique assertion that the soul itself is a material cause of drawing a veil over its real nature, the Jaina tradition shifts the onus from external causes and influences to pinning responsibility on oneself for one’s salvation --- the soul itself has the capability to become free also. The interplay between the structure of the soul and the processes of karma, is itself rooted in the dynamics of anekantavada, a metaphysical dissection of the empirical world.

Many sides to reality

In detailing anekanta or the many-sidedness of reality, and positing that no single point of view can be construed as the whole truth -- since empirical knowledge is limited and relative to the perspective from which it is seen or known -- the Jaina was emphasising the similarity of the soul-condition of each soul. That is, we may be unique, but we are all the same also.

This metaphysic is further elaborated upon in the abstruse logic of ‘saptabhanginaya’--- the doctrine of seven conditioned predications, wherein each statement is expressed from seven different relative points of view, and each view is prefixed by a “maybe” or “relatively”(syad), so maybe (relatively) a thing is real, or unreal; perhaps it is both real and unreal. On the other hand it might be indescribable and so on. This dialectic of the relativity of knowledge, popularly known as syadvad, rules out any categorical or absolutist pronouncements and shows how each judgement can effectively be only relative and conditional. Syadvad dissects the empirical world psychologically and in doing so seeks to show the relativity of the mind itself. 

 

The absolute and the relative

Jaina thought is positioned midway between the vedantic assertion of Brahmn as Absolute and the Buddhist postulation of ‘Change as permanent’ and throws up a pragmatic blueprint for a more peaceful existence, where all views are accommodated out of the belief that all minds are relatively conditioned, and are actually interdependent. Anekantavada says that all perspectives of reality are uniquely true from the knower’s own feel of reality; yet no single view can be construed as complete or whole.

This theory of partial truths becomes the philosophical basis for ethical living, through the principle of ahimsa, for the metaphysic lays the ground for acceptance and respect for opposing views. The Jaina sees this as possible only in the realisation of “parasparopagraho jivanam” or interdependence, that all life and beings are inextricably bound with each other, and ahimsa thereby becomes a natural empathy for another being rather than just an outer sympathy. This idiom shaped Gandhiji’s own notion of non-violence in the modern era. 

The metaphysics of anekantavada provides the key to an understanding of the world of Mahavira --- the multiplicity of the world is to be resolved through the emphasis on an ethical way of living, of compassion through the five anuvratas laid down for the shraviks (laypersons), ahimsa, satyaasteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya and aparigraha (non-possession). 

The metaphysics of anekantavada then provides, in rare cases, the trigger to pursue the Jaina renunciate ideal of kaivalya-jnana, just as Mahavira ventured forth, in search of the real nature of reality beyond the conditioned mind. The state of arhat or enlightenment is open for those who have first understood the nature of reality.

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