The Concept of Naya in Jainism

Posted: 04.12.2008
Updated on: 30.07.2015

1. Introduction

This universe of ours is complex and it comprises of infinite realities. It is impossible for human intellect to have the simultaneous view of the totality of the infinity and infinitum, with all its subjective and objective characteristics, and with all its aspects of dialectical opposites, such as one and many, similar and dissimilar, eternal and ephemeral, determinate and indeterminate, prior and subsequent, cause and effect, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. The view taken by the finite Jīva (self/soul) and presented by its limited intellect is never a whole view. It is always partial. It is nearly a relative view - relatibe to this beliefs, prejudice, mood and purpose of the seer.

It would be seen that a single substance is endowed with infinite modification and there are infinite classes of substances; and to know one substances fully is to know the whole range of the objects of knowledge. This is possible only in omniscience, which is called Kevala-jṅāna in Jainism, and its domain is beyond the cognition of the senses. A substance is endowed with qualities, attributes modes and modifications. Although the substance is the same, it comes to be different because of its passing through different - modifications. So when something is to be stated about a substance, or anything for that matter, viewed through flux of modifications, there would be seven modes of predication. This is known as Naya in Jainism.

2. The Concept of Naya

Different thinkers have taken different views and perceptions about the universe, reality, and the ultimate end. The philosophical standpoints propounded by them are nihilism, monism, dualism, materialism, atheism, and the like, each one of these ‘isms’ expresses only one aspect of manifoldness; and in turn, there can obviously be various points if views. According to Jain Philosophy, each view is true from a particular stand-points of the seer and none of them is exhaustive. This perception or conception of grasping a particular standpoint at a given situation presented through the concept of Naya in Jainism, and it is even called as Nayavāda and Syādvāda are the two main wings of anekāntavāda.

2.1. Systematic Development of the Concept of Naya

The age of canonical texts and literature of Jainism was the millennium following Mahāvīra. This age was followed by an era of philosophical writings. The Jain ācāryas felt a serious need to construct new terminology for explaining the import and importance of Naya to the contemporaneous world. “In large part such an initiative was inspired by the necessities of the time, which was characterized by the ongoing philosophical and logical debated about the nature of reality often giving rise to competition and engendering conflicts among the debaters.”[1] The major Indian traditions attempted to explain the efficacy, worth and validity of their own points of views about the nature of reality. The Vedāntis held the view of one ultimate unchanging reality, Brahman,[2] whereas for the Buddhists everything was in flux and momentary.[3]

During the first century AD, Ācārya Umāsvāti (also knowm as Umāsvāmī) undertook the task of defining the reality in his famous treatise Tattvārtha Sūtra on the basis of Mahāvīra’s teaching. He articulated three levels for the comprehension of reality: permanence, origination and cessation (or end).[4] Ācārya Siddhasena Divākara, taking a step ahead from Ācārya Umāsvāti, came up with the new terminology anekānta to help reconcile the apparently opposing perspectives on the nature of truth and reality. The concept of naya which we have stated above falls as a part in the anekānta vāda; and his main treatises which explain anekānta and naya are Sanmati Tarka and Nyāyāvatāra.[5] Nayavāda recognizes that ordinary, nonomniscient, knowledge claims they are based. Consequently, claims from one perspective must always be balanced and complemented by the claims from other perspectives.[6]

2.2. Kinds of Naya

While operating within the limits of language and seeing the complex mature of reality with its multiple aspects, Mahāvīra used the language of naya. Naya is the partial expression of the truth. It enables us to comprehend the reality part by part. There are two kinds of naya: Niścaya Naya and Vyavahāra Naya. Niścaya Naya enables us to understand the reality from the viewpoint of the substance without denying the existence of modes. Vyavahāra Naya allows us to comprehend the reality from the perspective of modes and attributes, but does not deny the existence of substance. Take for instance a gold vessel. From the perspective of Niścaya Naya, it is matter in the form of gold. From the perspective of Vyavahāra Naya, it is a vessel. Both the statements are true, because relative to the vessel, gold is the substance and vessel is its mode. However from the perspective of substance, the gold vessel id matter, and gold it is mode. Hence, to have a comprehensive view of reality, it is essential to understand to co-existence of both the nayas. In other words, to recognize the many facets of reality, we must consider it both in terms of the eternal and unchanging substance and also in terms of modes which are infinite, transient and changing. Thus, reality is both permanent and changing.[7]

2.3. Distinction between Pramāṇa and Naya

Pramāṇa and Naya are the different ways of knowing the reality. They enrich our knowledge of real things. Pramāṇa is the valid knowledge of multiform object endues with many qualities. Pramāṇa is valid Knowledge of itself and of things not known before. It is the instrumental cause of right knowledge, which must be free from doubt, vagueness and perversity. Lack of discrimination between the real and unreal is the create wrong knowledge. Mental or physical disturbances create wrong attitude, which again is the cause of wrong knowledge. Objects possess different characteristics, which can be fully comprehended by omniscience only. Our perceptions and knowledge have their own limitation and hence we often take a partial view of thing. This is naya. Naya is the valid knowledge of one part, aspect, quality, or mode of multiform abject. Naya is a part of pramāṇa. It is partial valid knowledge. It deals with a particular aspect which the speaker has in view; it is therefore a theory of stand - points. That is why it is said Pramāṇa-nairadhigamah.

Ācārya Akalanka has described the standpoints as the hidden intentions or presuppositions of inquirers, different points of view of persons searching for truth. He further states that a pramāṇa results in knowledge while a standpoint is only a view of the knower. Each viewer views a thing from a particular point. For the ascertainment of reality, the doctrine of standpoints (naya) is necessary, in addition to that of Pramāṇa. In other philosophical schools, it is asserted that reality is revealed and cognized only by the means of knowledge. According to the Jainas a thing has innumerable characteristics, and a Pramāṇa may reveal a thing as a whole, but not its all particular features. Thus the standpoints (nayas), by putting emphasis on one aspect or other, can help us to grasp reality in a complete and proper manner.

A Pramāṇa reveals the thing as a whole of (sakala-grahina) while a naya reveals only a portion of it (amśa-grahina). A naya is only a part of Pramāṇa. A pramāṇa is compared to an ocean, while nayas are like drops of ocean kept in different pitchers. A naya is defined as a particular opinion (abhiprāya) or a viewpoint (apekṣā) a viewpoint which does not rule out other different viewpoints, and is, thereby, expressive of a partial truth about an object (vastu) as entertained by a knowing agent (jṅāta). A naya is a particular viewpoint about an object or an event, there being many other viewpoints which do not enter into, or interfere with the particular viewpoint under discussion. Although the other viewpoints do not enter into the perspective of the particular viewpoint under discussion they constantly, as it were, attack its frontiers and await its reconciliation with them in the sphere of a fuller and more valid knowledge which is the sphere of pramāṇa.

2.4. Naya and Nayābhasa

If we took an object from multiple points of view, we can say that there are many kinds of naya because abject is composed of multiform characteristics, and one naya knows only one characteristic. Naya or incomplete judgment is only one of the qualities of that abject and leaves the rest untouched. This does not mean that one rejects all other qualities except one, while advocating naya. The point is that a particular naya (viewpoint) selects one of the infinite qualities not rejecting the other viewpoints (nayas). If only one particular naya is accepted and all other are rejected it becomes a fallacious standpoint, which is called Nayābhasa.

3. The Seven Nayas

The realities of the world are innumerable and they can be grasped from innumerable points of view. According to Ācārya Akalanka, in the Sanmati Tarka, The standpoints are the presuppositions of inquiries, embodying the points of view fro which they are investigating the thing in question. In ordinary cognition, the knower partially sees the thing from particular point of view. Consequently, the nature of thing that is revealed to him is necessarily conditioned and limited by this particular viewpoint which is giving only some partial knowledge. Ācārya Siddhasena says, “Since a thing has many characters, it is completely comprehended only by the omniscient. But a thing becomes the matter of a naya, when it is perceived from a particular standpoint.’

The Jaina ācārya propose seven nayas even though there are many. These seven nayas are broadly divided into two categories:

    1. Dravyārthika naya (substance view, dealing with generality)
    2. Paryāyārthika naya (model view, dealing with particularly)

Substance standpoint is the view of looking at the identity of things (abheda), while mode or modal viewpoint is the view which looks at the differences of things. Man speaks of something either from the standpoint of identity or from that of difference. Statements of things from the form point of view are put under the head of Substance viewpoint. Propositions of objects, according their differences, fall under the category of mode viewpoint. Many minor classifications of things ranging between general (dravyārthika) and particular (paryāyārthika) viewpoints are a possible. But briefly speaking, there can be only two groups of statements. The viewpoint identity on which the statements of generalization are founded is called the dravyārthika naya; while the viewpoint of difference on which the statements of particularization are founded paryāyārthika naya.

Dravyanayas are of three kinds:

    1. Naigama - naya
    2. Samgraha - naya
    3. Vyavahāra - naya

They are also called artha-nayas. They refer to objects or meanings. Paryāya (or paryāyārthika) nayas are four kinds:

    1. Ŗjusūtra - naya
    2. Śabda-naya
    3. Samabhirūdha-naya
    4. Evambhūta-naya

They are also called Śabda-nayas, for they refer to words. 

3.1. Naigama - naya

Naigama - naya is interpreted in two ways. First, Pūjyapāda takes it as the standpoint which emphasizes the purpose of series of actions, which is not yet completely accomplished. A person going with an axe, being asked for what purpose he is going, answers, ‘I am going to bring a wooden measure.” He is going to cut a bamboo and make a measure out of it. The measure is the purpose to be realized in the action. Secondly, Candraprabha Sūri interprets naigama-naya in another manner. It is the common-sense point of view, which considers things as possessing both generic and specific qualities, which are not distinguished from one another. Advaita Vedānta denies the specific qualities. Buddhism denies the generic qualities. The Jaina holds that a thing is an organic unity of both generic and specific (particular) qualities.

3.2. Samgraha - naya

Samgraha - naya is the class point of view. It refers to mere generality devoid of all particular or specific qualities. It considers things from general points of view, ignores the special features, and treats them as mere ‘being’. The Samgraha - naya is of two kinds: Parasamgraha and Aparasamgraha. Parasamgraha-naya is the highest class view. All individual things in the world may be considered from the most general point of view as mere ‘being’ irrespective of their particular features. Aparasamgraha - naya is the inferior class view. This naya considers dharma, adharma, space, times, soul and non-soul as identical with one another, since they have substantially. It considers all earth vessels as earth irrespective of their particular features. This is the inferior class view.

3.3. Vyavhāra - naya

Vyavhāra - naya is the practical point of view based on sense perception. Vyavhāra - naya is the particular standpoints which considers the particular individuals alone, without taking cognizance of their generic qualities and specific qualities.

3.4. Ŗjusūtra - naya

Ŗjusūtra–naya is literally the straight standpoint which considers only transitory modes of a thing at the present moment apart from the permanent substance. It does not consider the past modes which have vanished, and the future modes which have not yet come into existence. For example, ‘pain exists at the present moment.’ Here the transient mode of pain at present moment is considered, and its substratum, the soul is ignored. It is the extreme opposite of Samgraha-naya. Further, Ŗjusūtra - naya is narrower than vyavahāra-naya which considers individual things with certain duration.

3.5. Śabda - naya

Śabda-naya is the standpoint which refers to words and their meanings. A word implies a particular object, an attribute, a relation, or an action. Each word has its own meaning. Different words also may refer to the same object. The relation between the words and their object are relative and absolute. Words differing in gender, number, person, case and the like may refer to the same object. Puṣya (masculine), Tārā (feminine) and Nakṣatra (neuter) mean the same object - star. Dārāh (plural) and Kalatra (singular) mean the same object - wife.

3.6. Samabhirūdha - naya

Samabhirūdha-naya refers to the different meanings of words according to their roots. Indra literally means ‘all prosperous’. Śakara literally means ‘all powerful’. Purandara literally means ‘destroyer of the enemies’. Samabhirūdha - naya emphasizes the literal meaning of the words and ignores their identical derivative meanings. The three words we have just seen have the same derivative meanings. They refer to the king of gods in heaves. Samabhirūdha-naya is a special application of the Śabda-naya. It distinguished the synonyms from one another, and applies each word appropriately to a specific object according to the etymological meaning.

3.7. Evambhūta - naya

Evambhūta - naya is a special application of Samabhirūdha - naya. It restricts a word to one particular meaning which emphasizes one particular aspect of an object suggested by its root meaning. The word gau literally means ‘a moving animal.’ A moving cow is gau. When it is at rest, it should not be called a gau. It should be designed by a different world according this naya. It uses a word in the strictest etymological sense.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, it could be said that the nayas serve to categorize the different points of view from which reality could be investigated. Nayavāda also encourages investigators to assume other perspectives, including the important perspective of the other as persisting, but constantly changing, entity or reality. A substance has infinite powers, and can be known from various points of view. The nayas are partial, one-sided views, which are not adequate to the complete reality. They give only relative truths, and not absolute truths. All affirmations and negations are relative to time, place, and circumstances. This is what the doctrine of naya maintains in Jainism.


Helpful Books:

    • A comparative study of the Jaina theories of Reality and knowledge - Y.J. Padmarajiah. MLBD - 1963
    • The Central Philosophy of Jainism by - Bimal Krishna Matilal, University of Toronto Canada, Pub. L.D. Institute, A Bad-9
    • Nyay Dilika Primary text for Jain logic - by Itaru warkirgo, Pub. Pratibha Prakashan - Delhi.
    • Jaina Philosophy: An Intriduction by- Mohanlal Mehta Pub. Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Banglore - 1.
    • Compenduim of Jainism. T.K. Tukol, Pub. Karnatka Universiti University, Dharwad. Karnatka, First - 1980
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