An experiment with Anekāntavāda

May, 2024 by Prof. Anekant Kumar Jain
The 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, Bhagwan Mahavira was a divine personality who left a lasting impact in the form of his teachings for the spiritual advancement of the individual, protection and preservation of all forms of life, peaceful and secular social order. His teachings are as relevant and useful today as they were 2600 years ago. He put forward the doctrine of Anekāntavāda, where he always advised his disciples to discover the truth after taking into account all aspects and giving them due weight. This broadens one’s outlook and trains the mind to accommodate the feelings and the way of life of other faiths and communities. Anekāntavāda is thus the pillar of religious and social harmony and the sheet anchor of secularism. It ensures peaceful coexistence of all shades of philosophical and religious opinions, and paths as well as their followers. Bhagwan Mahavira regarded the individual and his social responsibilities as the key to the progress of both the individual and the society. They point to a new era of hope and promise for the masses delivering social equality, Anekāntavāda, empowerment of women, nonviolence, tolerance, and social justice.

Understanding Doctrine of Anekāntavād:

Anekantvada, a cornerstone of the Jain philosophy, emphasizes that truth is multifaceted and cannot be fully captured from any single viewpoint. A systematic formulation of Anekāntavāda is found in Samantabhadra’s Āpta Mīmāńsā (3-4th century A.D.). However, the doctrine is so assimilating that it has given rise to various interpretations. It will be interesting to see a few of them :

a) Anekāntavāda: – An + eka + anta + vāda, i. e. not-one-sided-statement. , i.e. many-sided exposition. It is a statement made after taking into account all possible angles of vision regarding any object or idea. In this sense, Anekāntavāda is a theory of many-sidedness or Manifoldness of reality.

b) Anekāntavāda: – An + ekānta + vāda, i. e. not categorically asserted philosophical position. In this sense, it stands for the philosophy of non-absolutism.

c) In some other sense, it stands for the theory of manifoldness, which is different from a philosophy of indetermination or that of dubiety.

In order to understand the scope and denotation of Anekāntavāda, it is useful to make a distinction between the two senses of the term. In the first place, the term is used to denote the Jain metaphysical doctrine or the Jaina view of Reality. According to Jain Philosophy, each substance has a multi-faceted nature and consists of diverse forms and modes, of innumerable aspects. In this sense, the term can be correctly translated as ‘the theory of manifoldness of reality’. However, the term Anekāntavāda is also used for the Jaina philosophical method, which allows for reconciliation, integration, and synthesis of conflicting philosophic views. But when we emphasize only one standpoint by excluding all others, we employ an incorrect philosophic method. The aim of Anekānta philosophy is to expose an incorrect philosophic method and isolate and identify the right philosophical method. To use other words, Anekāntavāda is that method of philosophy, which recognizes all the philosophical theories to be the partially true expressions of reality (S.S. Divakara’s Sanmati Tarka).

As every theory is true partially, and not exclusively, there is no perfect theory of reality. The perfect view of Reality will be obtained only by recognizing that our theory is one of the many theories that are equally (partially) true. In this sense, Anekāntavāda advocates a sort of relativistic approach to reality and denies supremacy to any one view about reality.

Individuality, Differences, and Anekantvada:

The world we live in is dualistic, the compound of separateness and oneness. The latter lies concealed, and the former manifests itself clearly. Individuals differ from each other in many ways:

  • Differences of beliefs and concepts
  • Differences of ideas
  • Differences of taste
  • Differences of temperament
  • Differences of emotion

In such a situation, there remains a possibility of a fight. But to prevent such a situation from arising, we can use it in its true meaning only by understanding Anekant Drishti properly. It awakens in us the feeling of co-existence, tolerance, and mutual harmony, through which problems can be solved.

Anekantvada and Co-existence: In a world characterized by diversity and complexity, the philosophy of Anekantvada offers a timeless wisdom for promoting co-existence and harmony. Here are some aspects to understand it.

  • Philosophical aspect: Everything has countless pairs of opposites. They exist together.

 

  • Practical aspect: It is possible for two individuals with opposite views to live together. The beauty of this world lies in the principle of let us co-exist. Therefore don’t think of destroying your opponent. Define the limits and let them stay within them –you within yours and him within his. Don’t transgress the limits.

 

  • Reinforcing practice aspect: Opposition is a mental construct. It is this that is the main obstacle to coexistence. If we sublimate the emotions of fear and hatred, this obstacle will be automatically removed. For the sublimation of emotions repeated mental reflection on coexistence is essential.

 

Anekantavada and Reconciliation: In the face of conflicts and differences, Anekantvada advocates for dialogue as a means of resolving disputes and fostering reconciliation. By engaging in constructive conversations and seeking common ground, we can find peaceful solutions to even the most entrenched conflicts. Here are some aspects to understand it –

  • Philosophical aspect: No idea can be wholly true. It is partly true. Try to discover the truth in other man’s idea even as you regard your own idea as true. It is a sheer obduracy to consider one’s own idea as absolutely true and the other’s idea as absolutely untrue. Such an obduracy or false insistence leads one to falsehood. The way to discover the truth is a lack of false insistence. A man devoid of false insistence can seek reconciliation between opposite views.

 

  • Practical aspect: Obdurate attitude is mainly responsible for sectarian provocations. One sect is not ready to accept the partial trueness of views held by another sect. Acharya Vinoba once wrote “I agree that the Gita has profoundly influenced me. Next to that is the influence of Lord Mahavira, the reason being my complete belief in his teachings.” Bhagwan Mahavira has directed people to accept the truth (satyagrāhi). Today everywhere we encounter satyagrāhis — followers of a policy of passive resistance as advocated by Mahatma Gandhi. I was also made a Satyagrahi by Gandhiji. But I knew who I was–not a Satyagrāhi but a Satya-grāhi (one who accepts the truth). Every man carries a part of the truth in him, which is what makes his life worthwhile. It follows that one should be prepared to accept each such part of the truth as a particular religion, or creed. We should become satyagrahi (accepters of truth). It is this teaching of Mahavira which has influenced me most next only to the Gita.”

 

  • Reinforcing practice aspect: A man with a ‘reptilian brain’ is always ready to spread sectarian and racial hatred. Its evil effects can be mitigated through persistent efforts. For begetting an awareness of reconciliation one has to mentally reflect on reconciliation.

Practicing Non-violence and Tolerance:

Central to Anekāntavāda is the principle of Ahimsa, or non-violence, which lies at the heart of Jain ethics. Jainism says war is not a solution, violence begets violence. Nobody can win lasting peace by the use of force. The Chinese president while visiting the US presented the book ‘How to Win War Without Fighting by Lao Tse’. In our own time, we have seen Mahatma Gandhi using Ahiṃsā and anekānta to win freedom for India. To end terrorism and other political and social conflicts, we have to first become self-sufficient and confident or have faith in our beliefs so that we can defend ourselves in all situations, understand the viewpoints of all, and use education, and dialogue to resolve differences using the technique of give and take. Ahiṃsā and Anekānta (existence of opposing forces, reconciliation) will bring us closer to solving this problem. By renouncing violence in all its forms and promoting tolerance and compassion, we can create environments where all individuals feel safe, valued, and respected. Through non-violent resistance and peaceful activism, we can challenge injustice and oppression while upholding the dignity and rights of all.

Anekāntavāda is a philosophy of intermixture and tolerance (better known as reconciliation to the existence of opposite attributes simultaneously) and presupposes balanced and equitable thinking rather than from a position of strength or weakness. It encourages interpersonal and communal harmony by promoting tolerance in the community. The same principle of tolerance can be extended to intellectual, social, religious, and other fields of activities. Tolerance as enunciated by Anekāntavāda will end all inter-caste strife and communal violence.

Adopting Anekāntavāda experimentally means creating a balance. Taking decisions at one’s own discretion, keeping in mind the place, time, and situation, and understanding all the perspectives. The man should not tilt in one direction. The scale of the balance should not be heavier on one side. Both sides should be in balance. Through the lens of Anekāntavāda, we may discover that truth is not a fixed destination but a journey of exploration and understanding. Let us embrace the spirit of Anekāntavāda and journey towards a more inclusive and enlightened worldview.

About Author

Philip-Wollen

Prof. Anekant Kumar Jain is a distinguished scholar in the fields of Jain Philosophy, Prakrit language, and literature. He is a Professor at the Department of Jain Darshan at Sri Lalbahadur Shastri Central Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi. He is a chief editor of ‘Pagad Bhasa’ the world’s first newsletter in the Prakrit Language. He has received numerous awards. Recognizing your great contributions to the field of oriental languages and literature, the Ministry of Education, Government of India has honored you with the President’s Award. Under your guidance, several research students have obtained Ph.D. degrees.

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