Anekant: Views And Issues ► [02] The Axioms Of Non-Absolutism ► Dialogue

Posted: 08.12.2009

Question 1. How can syat mean 'in some respect'? Is it not a verbal form in the potential mood?

Answer. Just as the expression 'asti' in the sentence 'the world is inhabited by the heroes' (astivīrā vasundharā), is an indeclinable (nipāta), exactly so in the expression 'syādvāda' the word 'syāt' is an indeclinable. It is not used to denote the potential mood. It is possessed of many senses, one of them being 'in some respect.'

Question 2. Both the sentient and the non-sentient are possessed of infinite number of attributes. What, then, is the line of demarcation between them, when it has been virtually asserted that everything has the nature of everything - a proposition which expresses the universal property of a real (both sentient and nonsentient)?

Answer. The attributes are of two kinds—generic and specific. By the specific attributes a substance is defined in its independent and discrete aspect. Sentience is one such specific attribute which belongs to the substance that is sentient and not to what is non-sentient. From the view point of the attribute 'sentience' there is absolute difference between the sentient and the non-sentient. And this is why the sentient and the non-sentient are absolutely different substances. Every substance is possessed of infinite number of attributes. All the substances have their own separate identities due to their uncommon properties and so the Sānkhya-Yoga dictum that everything is possessed of the nature of everything (sarvaṃ sarvātmakam)' is not acceptable to Jainas who do not admit the evolution of the physical cosmos from the single principle of Prakṛti (primordial matter).

The existence of sentience in a sentient being is natural and independent of anything else. In the non-sentient material particle or body there are attributes that are natural and intrinsic, viz. colour, smell, taste and touch. All attributes, momentary or durable, originating from the combination of soul and matter, are dependent on extraneous conditions and factors. A substance is possessed of infinite number of attributes on account of the combination of modes that are intrinsic as well as extrinsic.

Question 3. The Naiyāyikas and others also define the nature of an object by means of a determining characteristic, just as in the system of conditional dialectic (syādvāda) the nature of the real is determined by a specific attribute. What, then, is the difference between the two philosophies, as both of them admit a real as independent of anything else so far as its own nature is concerned? There must be a point of departure between the two which should characterise the Jaina thinker's standpoint as the proponent of relativity as implied in the conditional dialectic (syādvāda).

Answer. In the proposition 'the soul certainly exists in some respect', that is, in its aspect of sentience, the existence of sentience is affirmed; that does not mean that existence alone is its own characteristic, but that non-existence also is an equally valid aspect of it. Here the question may arise that if the extraneous non-existence is a nature of the soul, then the colour etc. of physical objects should also be considered as the nature of the latter. The solution is obvious. That both existence and non-existence constitute the nature of a thing is attested by experience, just as smoke and fire exist in the same locus, say a kitchen. Existence and non-existence are similarly concomitant attributes, there being a natural relationship (svabhāva-sambandha) between the two. This in essence is the principle of relativity propounded by the doctrine of conditional dialectic (syādvāda).

The nature of the substance does not follow from the doctrine of conditional dialectic. The substance is as it is by nature. One cannot explain why that is so. Philosophy does not create a real. It only explains it. And exactly this is the aim and purpose of conditional dialectic. The Jaina philosopher admits five special qualities on the basis of experience which are responsible for the postulation of five substances that are as follows:

Quality Substance

1. Motion

Dharmāstikāya (the substance which is the medium of motion)

2. Rest

Adharmāstikāya (the substance which is the medium of rest).

3. Accommodation

Ākāśastikāyā or Space (The substance which is the medium of accommodation).

Colour, smell, taste and touch




(We have not translated the word 'astikāya' in the above renderings. The above substances are called 'astikāya' because they have extension and are conceived as consisting of space-points, countable, countless or infinite.)

All the qualities other than the above five are generic attributes. The distinction between them is explained by means of conditional dialectic (syādvāda).

Question 4. It has been said that the sevenfold predication can be applicable with respect to each and every attribute of a substance. If so, is the non-absolutism (relativism) itself available to the system of sevenfold predication? If the reply is in the affirmative, the predication of negation (that is, the second among the seven propositions) would be a kind of absolutism. And in this way non-absolutism (relativism) would not be a universally applicable doctrine.

Answer. Ācārya Samantabhadra has explained non-absolutism (relativism) from the non-absolutistic standpoint itself. When the system of conditional dialectic is applied for the knowledge and exposition of an object in its entirety, non-absolutism (relativism) is proper and genuine. And when only a particular attribute is cognised and explained, the services of a particular viewpoint (naya) is proper and genuine. And when only a particular attribute is cognised and explained, the services of a particular viewpoint (naya). The propounder of non-absolutism (relativism) admits both non-absolutism and absolutism in their proper perspective. This is why the system of sevenfold predication (sapatabhaṅgī) is applicable to non-absolutism itself in the following manner.

  1. There is absolutism in some respect.
  2. There is non-absolutism in some respect.
  3. There are both absolutism and non-absolutism in some respect.
  4. There is indescribability in some respect.
  5. There is absolutism and indescribability in some respect.
  6. There is non-absolutism and indescribability in some respect.
  7. There is absolutism, non-absolutism and indescribability in some respect.

There is no contradiction in absolutism by itself. What is denied is only the absolutism that refutes the contrary viewpoint. Absolutism thus is two fold, viz. right and wrong. The absolutism that is right is naya, while the wrong one is pseudo-naya. Non absolutism is not an obstinate and rigid doctrine because the admission of the co-existence of contrary attributes not attested by any valid source of knowledge does not fall within the purview of genuine non-absolutism. Thus non-absolutism is of two kinds, viz. right and wrong. The former is valid knowledge, while the latter is a sham simulation of it. The right non-absolutism has a universal application.[37]

Ācārya Akalaṅka has subjected the substance 'jīva' to the system of sevenfold predication as follows:-

  • The soul exists (in its aspect of consciousness) in some respect.
  • The soul does not exist (in its other aspect is) in some respect. The implication of the above two propositions is that the soul

is a conscious substance only so far as its activity of consciousness is concerned. But it has also other aspects, such as the aspect of being a cognitum or an agent of will, and so on, which are the attributes quite apart from consciousness. In this way all such attributes that are not opposed to reason and logic are the subject-matter of the doctrine of non-abolutism.[38]

Question 5. Is relativity itself subject to the system of sevenfold predication? If so, the admission of an absolutistic truth would be inevitable.

Answer: An object is relative in some respect and non-relative (absolute) in another. Both these alternatives may be acceptable. From the standpoint of the instantaneous or spontaneous mode (artha-paryāya) a thing is absolutely independent of anything else. The substance of space is nothing but space from the standpoint of its instantaneous mode. A thing is a relative reality from the standpoint of extraneous and alien modes. Viewed from the standpoint of relativity the same substance of space is perceived as circumscribed by a jar or a canvas etc. All the prolonged modes (vyñjana-paryāya) are relative aspects. There is not a single element in the cosmos that may be described as independent of anything else. But every substance is a synthesis of the absolute and the relative, which can never be absolutely disconnected. Such disconnection itself can be effected only relatively. The modes are intertwined and can never be disentangled, though the instantaneous mode can be called independent in contradistinction to the prolonged modes that are relative.

- Translated into English by
Late Dr Nathmal Tatia

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