Anekāntavāda And Syādvāda ► The Axioms Of Non-Absolutism ► The Doctrine Of Conditional Dialectics And Sevenfold Predication

Posted: 08.11.2011

The expression Syādvāda (conditional dialectics) is composed of two words, viz. 'syāt' and 'vāda'. 'syāt' is an indeclinable that appears like a verbal form in the potential mood. It stands for multiplicity, obligation, reasoning etc.. But in the present context it stands for multiplicity or multiple character (anekānta).[1] The term is also used to denote particular space and time,[2] as well as probability (sambhāvanā) and doubt. The word syāt in the expression syādvāda has pot been used to mean doubt. It is used to denote multiplicity or multiple character (anekānta). The implicatioa is that Syādvāda is the doctrine of the multiple character of real. It is a doctrine that is known as Anekānta or the non-absolutistic estimation of reality in its infinitely multiple character. This non-absolutistic estimation is definite in its character and free from all doubts as indicated by the expression syāt which is absolutely free from any kind of association, direct or indirect, with the verbal form syāt used in the potential mood of Sanskrit conjugation of verbal roots.[3] Probability (sambhāvanā) and relativity, however, are implied by the word 'syāt'

The word 'syāt is necessary for the affirmation of the desired attribute to the exclusion of the undesired one. And this is why all the propositions, in order to be precise in meaning, should be accompanied by the use of the word 'syāt'.[4] The propositions without such express use of 'syāt' should be understood to have that word implicitly. The word 'syāt' has a double implication:

(1) Negation without affirmation or affirmation without negation is not possible.

(2) The generic attribute (continuity or the universal) and the specific attribute (origination, cessation or the particular)—both these are relative. We never experience origination-cessation without continuity or the latter without the former. The nature of a real is not omnigenous and so it exists in its own nature and does not exist in the nature of alien things, or, to be more exact, a real exists in its present mode and does not exist in its modes that have passed away or will come in the future.

The cycle of origination and cessation goes on uninterrupted. The mode that arises is the affirmation, whereas the mode that has passed away or is yet to arise is the negation of the object. Affirmation and negation are thus simultaneous moments of the real.

A sensuous cognition of an object is positive in character and never negative according to some thinkers. The inference (anumāna) is, however, positive and negative both. According to the conditional dialectics (syādvāda) affirmation and negation ace the attributes of the real. We perceive fire and the affirmation in this case means that the fire exists in a particular place. When we try to infer fire from smoke, the existence of smoke proves the existence of fire in a particular place while the existence of a contradictory probans (hetu) proves the non-existence of fire. But the affirmation or the negation in the conditional dialectics is not related to space or time of the object. They aie related to the determination of the nature of the object. The fire in a particular place or time exists in its own nature, that is, its affirmation is dependent on its'constituents and its denial is dependent on the dements that do not constitute its character. Affirmation and negation are co-existent in an object. On account of its positive character a thing is existent in its own nature, while on account of its negative aspect it is not mixed up with what is other than itself. In other words, the nature of an object is definite on account of its self-affirmation and negation of alien elements. This is indeed the reality of the real.[5] The word 'syāt' defines this definiteness of the nature of an object.

The conditional dialectics (syādvāda) is also known as the exposition by division (vibhajyavāda)[6] or the doctrine of alternatives (bhajanāvāda)[7] This follows from the following exhortation of Lord Mahāvῑra: 'A monk should take resort to the doctrine of exposition by division (vibhajyavāda); he should utilise all possible alternatives and should never adhere to an absolutistic attitude in explaining the nature of a thing.' The Lord himself explained many a problem by means of this method of division.

Once Jayantῑ asked the Lord which was better between the states of slumber and awakening.

'For some souls, O Jayantῑ! the slumber is commendable, but for others awakening is wholesome.[8]

'Why is it so, O Lord!?'

'The slumber is wholesome for those who are engaged in sinful activities, While for the virtuous awakening is commendable.'

The exclusive assertion of the wholesomeness of slumber or awakening would be an absolutistic answer which was not approved by Lord Mahāvῑra who explained all the questions by means of divisions of issues avoiding exclusiveness.

If the identity of the substance and the attributes is'accepted, both will merge into each other, losing their duality, and as a consequence the proposition 'the attribute subsists in a substance' would be impossible.

If, again, the attribute were absolutely different from the substance, the proposition 'this attribute belongs to this substance' would be impossible, because in the absence of some sort of identity the proposition would be meaningless. According to the doctrine of alternatives (bhajanāvāda) the rule- of exclusiveness of identity or difference- cannot be acceptable. The doctrine of alternatives (bhajanāvāda) approves of both identity and difference. The adjective-substantive relationship between the substance and the atrribute would be impossible if there were absolute identity between them. This difficulty is resolved by the relativistic viewpoint of the doctrine of alternatives. In the proposition 'a blue lotus', 'blue' is the adjective while 'lotus' is the substantive. The quality 'blue' is identical with the 'lotus', yet the substantive-adjective relationship substists between them. 'A man with a beard is coming', in this proposition the expression 'with a beārd' is the adjective of the expression 'man' which is the substantive. The adjective must be in some respect different from the substantive, and this is why the substantive-adjective relationship does not offer any logical inconsistency in accepting the relationship of identity-cum-difference between the substance and its attributes.

There is no contradiction between the positum and the negatum. This is the implication or pre-supposition of the doctrine of conditional dialectics (syādvāda). The duality of apparently contrary attributes enjoys mutual concomitance. It is on this finding that the doctrine of non-absolutism (anekānyxvāda) as a synthesis of infinite number of such dualities is established. The conditional dialectic (syādvāda) is, in essence, the system of propositions expressing such multiple character of the real. In these propositions affirmation, negation and such other alternatives define the nature of the real. This can be demonstrated by the doctrine of sevenfold predication (saptabhaṅgῑ) which is as follows:

  1. The pot certainly (eva) exists in some respect (syāt).
  2. The pot certainly (eva) does not exist in some respect (syāt).
  3. The pot certainly (eva) exists and does not exist, in some respect (syāt).
  4. The pot is certainly (eva) indescribable is some respect (syāt).
  5. The pot certainly (eva) exists and is indescribable in some respect (syāt).
  6. The pot certainly (eva) does not exist and is indescribable in some respect (syāt).
  7. The pot certainly (eva) exists, certainly does not exist and is indescribable in some respect (syāt).

It represents the existence of the pot, relegating the other attributes to a secondary position by excluding them from the intended area of reference.

The expression 'eva' (certainly) in the above propositions indicates the definite character of the assertion or the negation or indescribability or their possible combinations. Sometimes it is suggested that the expression 'also' (api) should be substituted for the expression 'certainly' (eva) in the above propositions. But such substitution would not carry much meaning. Without the use of the expression 'certainly' (eva) the intended attributes (existence, nonexistence etc.) would not be definitely determined. In the absence of relativism indicated by the phrase 'in some respect' (syāt) the use of the expression 'certainly' (eva) would confer an absolutistic import on the propositions. But by the use of the word 'syāt' (in some respect) indicative of relativism, the expression 'certainly' (eva) loses the absolutistic import and confers definiteness on the intended attributes predicated in the propositions.

The expression leva' (exclusively) is used to serve three purposes—

  1. The exclusion of non-relationship, (ayogavyavaccheda)
  2. The exclusion of the relationship with other (anyayogavyavac-cheda)
  3. The exclusion of absolute non-relationship (atyantayogavyavac-cheda)

In the proposition 'the conch is white exclusively' there is the exclusion of non-relationship. The expression 'eva' (exclusively) is attached to the adjective for excluding the doubt about the existence of the adjective. When the whiteness of the conch is under query, the assertion is made that the conch is white exclusively.

In the proposition 'Pārtha alone is the archer', the exclusion of archership from any person other than Pārtha (Arjuna) is intended. Nobody is in doubt about the archership of Pārtha, but the use of the expression 'exclusively' (eva) is used to set at rest the common doubt as to whether there is any other person equal to Pārtha in the art of archery.

In the proposition 'a blue lotus certainly exists', the absolute non-relationship (between a lotus and blueness) is excluded. In this proposition 'certainly' (eva) is attached to the verb 'exists' in order to exclude the doubt about the affirmation of universal existence or absolute non-existence (Of blueness in the lotus).

In the proposition 'the pot certainly exists in some respect', the word 'pot' is the substantive and the word 'exists' is the adjective. The word 'certainly' (eva) is connected with the adjective (viz. asti) and determines the attribute of existence of the pot. If the phrase 'in some respect' (syāt) were not used in the proposition, the admission of absolute existence would be the result, which was not desirable, because there are also attributes other than existence in the pot. The use of the expression 'syāt'(in some respect) precludes such undesirable consequences. It also widens the limit imposed by the expression 'eva' (certainly). The unambiguous assertion of the intended attribute and the comprehension of many an unmentioned attribute are effected by the joint use of the words 'syāt' and 'eva'.

In the doctrine of sevenfold predication (saptabhaṅgῑ) the affirmation and negation of the predicate are respectively made in the first two propositions, the predominant feature in the first being position and in the second negation. The attribute verbally mentioned is evidently predominant, while the attribute not so mentioned, but only understood, is secondary and subordinate.

A thing is not absolutely devoid of its own nature and so it is described by means of affirmation as a predominant character. Nor is it omnigenous and so it is described by means of negation as a predominant factor. Negation is as much an attribute of a thing as affirmation. A pot has existence in respect of its own substance. This is affirmation. The pot has non-existence in respect of an alien substance. This is negation. Apparently thus the negation is a relative mode, that is, a mode with reference to another thing. But truly speaking this is not so. Negation is an intrinsic potency of a thing. A substance, if it were exclusively possessed of the attribute of existence bereft of non-existence, would not be able to preserve its substancehood. Negation is predicated with reference to other things and so it is called relative or 'dependent on others'. The negation acts as a protecting shield by not allowing the encroachment of alien existences. A pot exists in respect of its own substance and does not exist in respect of an alien substance—both these propositions reveal the truth that the pot is a relative entity, as much dependent on itself as on others for its definite nature. This relativism falsifies either of the propositions, viz. the moment of existence of a thing is bereft of non-existence or that the moment of non-existence of a thing is bereft of existence. Existence and non-existence (affirmation and negation) are simultaneous. But this simultaneity is incapable of being expressed by a single word at a single moment. This is why a third proposition is requisitioned for expressing the simultaneity of existence and non-existence through the expression 'indescribable' (avaktavya). The implication is that the existence and non-existence are necessarily co-existent, but they are unspeakable simultaneously by a single expression on account of the absence of any linguistic symbol capable of discharging this ambivalent function.

It would follow from the above that there are only three fundamental predicables, viz. existent, non-existent and indescribable. The remaining four predicables are but the different combinations of these three taken two or three at a time. In the Āgamic period the use of three predicables was mostly in vogue. The use of the seven predicables is also found in some cases.[9][*]

Once Gautama asked Lord Mahāvīra—'O Lord! is a two spaced aggregate self, not-self or indescribable?'

Lord replied—'O Gautama! a two spaced aggregate is self in some respect, not-self in some respect and indescribable in some respect.'

Gautama said—'How is it so, O Lord!?' Mahāvῑra replied—'O Gautama! it is self in respect of its own nature, it is not-self in respect of alien nature and it is indescribable in respect of both.'

Four additional predicables follow-spontaneously,viz.—

  1. A two-spaced aggregate is self in some respect, is not-self in some respect.
  2. A two-spaced aggregate is self in some respect, is indescribable in some respect.
  3. A two-spaced aggreagate is not-self in some respect, is indescribable in some respect.
    The seventh predicable follows in respect of a three-spaced aggregate—
  4. A three-spaced aggregate is self in some respect, is not-self in some respect, is indescribable in some respect.

A thing is positive and negative rolled into one.The doctrine of sevenfold predication has been framed on the basis of this dual attribute of position and negation. The dualities of universal-particular, permanent-impermanent, describable-indescribable can also constitute this system of sevenfold predication (saptabhaṅgῑ).

Each of these dualties can be used as the predicates of the seven propositions. Three propositions constituted by these duals are given below by way of illustration. It should be noted here that the Jaina philosopher's conception of universal is quite different from that of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school. The Jainas substitute similarity for universal—

  1. The pot certainly is similar in some respect.
    The pot certainly is different in some respect.
    The pot certainly is indescribable in some respect.
  2. The pot certainly is permament in some respect.
    The pot certainly is impermanent in some respect.
    The pot certainly is indescribable in some respect.
  3. The pot certainly is speakable in some respect.
    The pot certainly is unspeakable in some respect.
    The pot certainly is indescribable in some respect.

Each attribute of an object can give rise to a system of sevenfold predication (saptabhangῑ). Permanence and impermanence being mutually contradictory attributes, how could they qualify the same pot. It is on the basis of relativism that a synthesis is established between these mutually opposed attributes.

The Greek poet-philosopher Heraclitus of the 6th-5th century B.C believed in the doctrine of the co-existence of contraries. His relativism is the spur which pricks the side of a sluggish conservatism in all departments of life—taste and morals, politics and society - and it is the absence of relativism that, according to Heraclitus, is responsible for absolutisms and stagnation in philosophical thinking. Heraclitus announced for the first time in Greek thought the principle of relativity of qualities which he pushed forthwith to its extreme consequences in the words 'good and bad are the same', 'we are and we are not'. The movement of life, according to him, is like the back-returning of the bow, to which he compares it,[10] an energy of traction and tension restraining an energy of release, every force of action compensated by a corresponding force of reaction. By the resistance of one to the other all the harmonies of existence are created.[**]

Heraclitus was a fluxist and, therefore, a relativist. In point of fact his doctrine of flux and his doctrine of relativity lead to the same result; the successive states of an object as well as its simultaneous qualities frequently both bear the stamp of a far-reaching diversity which amounts at times to complete contradiction. In one aspect, according to him, X is 'good', in another aspect it is 'bad'. He believed in a fundamental law in the natural as well as the spiritual world that contraries were not mutually exclusive, but rather pre-supposed and conditioned, or were even identical with each other. His theory of relativity contained like a folded flower the correct doctrine of sense-perception with its recognition of the subjective factor, and it taught Greek thinkers the lesson they were bound to acquire if they were to be saved from a bottomless scepticism.[***]

The relativism of Heraclitus is based on fluxism. But the basis of relativism of the Jaina philosopher is quite different, according to whom the momentariness is as much dependent on permanence as the latter is dependent on the former. Momentariness and permanence both together constitute the nature of the real. They do not occur in succession but are co-existent and inseparable. Change or momentariness is only one aspect of the thing and is meaningless without its co-ordinate, viz. the permanence. Relativity, in fact, is understandable on the interdependence of the two aspects, viz. momentariness and permanence, in the absence of which it is unthinkable. It is only on the simultaneous existence of the two contrary aspects or attributes that relativity acquires a meaning.

Śri Aurobindo thinks that Heraclitus seems to recognise the inextricable unity of the eternal and the transitory, that which is for ever and yet seems to exist only in this strife and change which is a continual dying.

If this estimate is acceptable, the philosophy of Haraclitus would be nearer to the Jaina standpoint.But even then the Jaina philosopher would disagree because the transitoriness and eternality are coordinate factors, neither being sub-ordinate to the other, as Śri Aurobindo or the Vedāntists would like to believe. Ācārya Amṛtacandra[11] has brought out the equipollence of the two contrary attributes by the examples of churning by a milkmaid, who moves her left and right arm alternately in opposite directions to make butter, thus exercising both the arms in succession. In the doctrine of conditional dialectics (syādvāda), similarly, of the two contrary attributes one is assigned prominence by relegating the other to the background at a time. This explains the nature of relativism or relativity of the Jaina philosopher. None of the attributes is subordinate to the other, both being active in their own way to discharge their respective functions and constitute the nature of the real.

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Published by:
Jain Vishwa Bharati Institute
Ladnun - 341 306 (Rajasthan)

General Editor:
Sreechand Rampuria

Edited by:
Rai Ashwini Kumar
T.M. Dak
Anil Dutta Mishra

First Edition:1996
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