Blueprint For Peace

Posted: 16.04.2011
Updated on: 21.06.2014


Pranav Khullar | Apr 16, 2011, 12.00am IST

The 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.

The many-sidedness (anekanta) of reality implies that no single point of view can be construed as the whole truth since empirical knowledge is limited according to relative perspectives. Jaina thought emphasises the similarity of the soul-condition of each soul - we may be unique, but we are same as well.

This idea is 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). Maybe something is real and maybe it isn't. Perhaps it is both real and unreal, or it could defy description. This dialectic of the relativity of knowledge, popularly known as syadvad, rules out any categorical or absolutist pronouncements, and shows how each judgment can effectively be only relative and conditional. Syadvad examines the empirical world psychologically, and in doing so, seeks to reveal the relativity of the mind itself.

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 and the parable of the five blind men who tried to describe an elephant, serves to engender respect for each opinion, view and perspective in the knowledge 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.

The 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. 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 emphasis on an ethical way of living, of compassion through the five anuvratas laid down for shraviks or laypersons: Ahimsa, satya, ssteya or non-stealing, brahmacharya and aparigraha or non-possession.

It 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 contours of the conditioned mind. The state of arhat is open for those who have first understood the nature of reality.

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