Applied Philosophy Of Anekanta ► 1. Origin and Development of the Theory of Anekānta ► 1.1 The Period of Āgamas

Posted: 02.03.2014

It is a fact worth noting that though the two sects, i.e. svetambaras and digambaras, differ in many aspects, but with regard to the theory of anekāntavāda, they do not. As far as the development of anekāntavāda is concerned, it can be said that it is not very old. From the historical point of view, the last tīrthaṅkara of Jain religion, Lord Mahāvīra, is the originator of the tripadī of anekāntavāda, i.e. a thing which consists of origination, cessation and permanence.[1]

According to the sixteenth chapter (śataka) of Bhagavatī Sūtra, śramana Mahāvīra before attaining kevala-jñāna, dreamt ten dreams in the temple of śulpanī yaksa at Asthika village. Among these ten dreams, the third dream was of a male-cuckoo with strange wings, and by seeing it he was awakened. According to Bhagavatī Sūtra, this dream meant that Lord Mahāvīra would interpret a strange kind of svasamaya (vāda) and para-samaya (vāda).[2]

tannañ samane bhagavam mahāvīre vicittam sasamayamparasamaiyam... ityāsdi.

Pandit Dalsukh Malavaniya has clearly connected this dream with the idea of anekāntavāda.[3] It was śramana Mahāvīra, who first dreamt of the bird, but later ācāryas have significantly connected this dream with anekāntavāda. For, according to them, in the strangeness of the wings of the bird, śramaṇa Mahāvīra had seen the theory of non-absolutism, that is anekāntavāda.

Though there are some glimpses here and there in the Jain canonical literature, the real development starts from the 5th century CE, when the Śvetāmbara Jain canonical literature was codified finally. In the Bhagavatī Sūtra, the process of anekāntavāda is hinted in the form of 'syādvāda'. The origin of anekānta can be traced in āgama in Ganadhara Gautama's questions to the tīrthaṅkara Mahāvīra and the answer to it.

The canonical literature (āgamas) of the Jains forms the basis of their philosophical thoughts. For the origin of anekānta, when one looks into the agamic literature. Gautama, the disciple of Mahāvīra raised several thousands of questions, which are specially quoted in the Bhagavatī Sūtra. It is these questions of Gautama, which can be considered as the origin of anekānta philosophy. Among the series of questions of Gautama, the first question was pertaining to the nature of soul as well as the nature of matter, then regarding the permanent and impermanent nature of universe. In these dialectics, we can find the seeds or germs of anekānta philosophy. It highlights the truth that both the predicates (the permanent and impermanent) refer to the same subject. So they are not contradictory to each other, but complementary to each other. The theory of anekānta was explained by using the technical term of siyā by tīrthaṅkara Mahāvīra. Let us have a glimpse of anekāntika discourse.


Is the soul permanent or impermanent?


The soul is permanent as well as impermanent. From the substantial point of view (dravyarthiva naya), soul neither originates nor perishes, so it is permanent. From the modal point of view (paryāyārthika naya), the modes originates and perishes. The Bhagavatī Sūtra hints upon the two aspects of reality, permanent and impermanent. It is quoted that 'athire palottai, thire no palottai.[4] It means, the permanent part does not change, the impermanent part undergoes change.

Mahāvīra very well knew that a substance is possessed of an infinite number of attributes. It is however, not possible to express in language these infinite numbers of attributes taking place every moment. Besides, our span of life and also the range of language have their own limitations. A substance is unspeakable on account of these infinitude aspects of things. [5] Mahāvīra said, due to limitation of our language only one attribute can best be spoken of, in one moment and many in many moments, but never are, all during any stretch of time. Thus we can speak about a thing reference to only a limited number of its attributes. Mahāvīra got the way to solve the problem of limitation of language through the successive explanation of all qualities from different standpoints.

After the period of canonical speculation, came the age of Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. Umāsvāti (1st or 2nd century CE) makes no mention of the syādvāda, and does not discuss about the seven alternative predicates as well. In his Tattvārtha Sūtra, he didn't make any explicit reference to the principle of anekānta. But still we find an implicit definition of anekānta in his Tattvārtha Sūtra, arpitānarpita siddheḥ, which means, as ungrapsed (unnoticed) aspect of an object is attested by the grasped (noticed) one as translated by Nathmal Tatia in 'That which is’ [6] Here Ācārya Umāsvāti has defined anekānta in a lucid manner. The Sarvārthasiddhi explains that, a particular attribute or mode of an object are bought in to light by the observer for a specific purpose, relegating the other attributes and modes to the background. Such attributes and modes are designated as "the grasped ones", while the unspoken attributes and modes are mentioned as the "ungrasped ones". So when a person speaks about eternal aspect (the substance) of an object, the non-eternal (the modes) is left unsaid and vice versa.

Pujyapada Devanandī (5 and 7 centuries CE) in his commentary, Sarvārthasiddhi written on Tattvārtha Sūtra comments on this sūtra thus, as translated by S.A Jain, 'Substance is characterized by an infinite numbers of attributes. But for the sake of use or need, prominence is given to certain characteristics of a substance from one point of view and prominence is not given to other characteristics, as these are of no use or need at that time. Thus even the existing attributes are not expressed, as these are of secondary importance (anarpita). [7] There is no contradiction in the same person named Devadatta, being a father, a son, a brother, a nephew as the points of view are different. For his son, he is father, and from the point of view of his father, he is son. Similarly, with regard to his other designation. In the same manner, as depicted in the canonical literature, Umāsvāti expressed his view in different terms of arpita and anarpita implying the same meaning of canons.

Actually he follows the very same view as found in canons regarding the nature of a Reality. From the standpoint of its specific modes, it is not permanent, from the substantial point of view, it is permanent. Hence there is no contradiction. These two, the general and the particular somehow, are different as well as identical. Thus, these form the cause of worldly intercourse. Till the date of Umāsvāti, while dealing with the doctrine of nayas, no explicit reference to non-Jaina school of philosophy is made, nor can it be said that a reference is implicitly present. The viewpoints are not studied with their supporting arguments, nor are they examined and criticized. With Umāsvāti ends the age of agamās.

In the Jain canon, Sūtrakṛtāṇga Sūtra, Lord Mahāvīra reflected on the monk way of speech to be in 'vibhajyavāda' technique or syādvāda method. [8] The very same word vibhqjyavāda is found in Buddhist text named 'Mazhim Nikāyd' Sutra 99, in the context of dialogue between the Śubhamanavaka and Lord Buddha. Śubhamanavaka asked Lord Buddha, that I have heard that only householder is ārādhaka and houseless monk is not ārādhaka.Let me know your view in this regard. Lord Buddha adopted vibhajyavāda method in answering this question. Buddha said, if a householder possesses wrong view, he is virādhaka and even houseless monk with the wrong view, is also not ārādhaka. If Buddha had replied, only houseless monk is ārādhaka, not the householder, then his answer might be one-sided. But he used wrong and right view as the criteria of ārādhaka and virādhaka kind of householder and houseless monks. So he considered himself as vibhajyavādi.

But one point to be noticed here is that Buddha didn't apply vibhajyavāda method everywhere, but only in few dialogues as found in Dīganikāya of Sangiti Pariyāya Sutta. But Lord Mahāvīra used this 'syādvāda' method in all the occasions of dialogues with the laymen and laywomen, monks and nuns. A long series of the dialogues are found in the Bhagavatī Sūtra. But Dalsukha Malavaniya asserts, it is due to Buddha's silence regarding various philosophical questions, which played a great role in the origin of the so called, doctrine of anekānta. Let us introspect on the unexplained questions of Buddha, which are later on replied by Lord Mahāvīra.

Share this page on:



Title: Applied Philosophy Of Anekanta
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 978-81910633-8-7
Publisher: JVBI Ladnun, India
HN4U Online Edition: 2014.02

Get this book at