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Anekant of the Jains... The Science of Peace...

by Sudhir M. Shah

"To deny the co-existence of mutually conflicting viewpoints about a thing would mean to deny the true nature of reality" - Acharang Sutra

Most of what we know as Jainism today is attributed to Mahavir and the lineage of his followers. One of the most revolutionary and radical thinkers of all times, Mahavir developed a unique method of analysis which could be applied to any facet of our lives. He struck at the roots of blind faith, biased dogmas, and authoritative absolutism with the bold, open minded but simple principle of Anekantvad (non absolutism or multi sidedness) and Syadvad (relativity of truth) which to date is unique only to the Jain system of thought.

'Anekant' means multi-sided views. 'Syadvad' is composed of two words - 'Syat' means from a certain point of view or from a certain angle of vision and the word 'Vada' denotes the system of thought.

Emphasizing the limits of ordinary knowledge, Jain philosophy presents the theory that truth is relative to the perspective (naya) from which it is known. Furthermore, because reality is many sided and knowledge true only from a limited perspective, all knowledge claims are only tentative (syat) having the form, "X may be Y" or "X is Y" under certain conditions rather than "X is Y" . Einstein's theory of relativity in the field of mathematics and science bears great similarity to Jain theory of Syadvad. The latter however is much wider in its scope in all respects.

This NON-ABSOLUTE logic replaces certitude with relativity in thinking. According to this principle, one may be right or one may be wrong. Even the opponent may be right. Once we acquire this attitude, we can never be intolerant to other's viewpoints. Respect for the view of the other is at the core of anekantvad.

King Vikramaditya once asked a question to all the scholars in his court: what is 'truth'? That which is said repeatedly, that which is said loudly, that which is said with authority or that which is agreed by the majority? Stating that none of the above is complete truth, Acharya Siddhasen Divakar answered “Every one has his/her own definition of 'truth' and that it is conditional". Vikramaditya asked again, "How about traditions? They have been established by our ancestors and have passed the test of time"?

To that, Acharya Siddhasen replied "Would the system established by ancestors hold true on examination? In case it does not, I am not here to justify it for the sake of saving the traditional grace of the dead, irrespective of the wrath-I may have to face". -Dwatrinshika (6/2)

Acharya Suddhasen and many other Jain scholars like, Umasvati, Kundakunda, Samantabhadra, Akalanka, Haribhadra, Hemachandra, Yasovijayji, and in this century, Acharya Tulsi have contributed extensively on this subject. It is also stated that practicing Anekantvad is essential for 'Samyak Darshan' (rational perception) one of the three jewels of Jainism.

Anekantvad is a dynamic philosophy of life through which we can lead a life of partnership and participation, a life of friendliness and harmony, a life of non-violence and equality. It touches almost every aspect of life and envisage total change in the horizon of our outlook, thought and action. It provides an integral, balanced and effective approach to the solutions of the problems which mankind is facing today. Thus it has the potential to facilitate the emergence of a new society.

Like every other philosophy, Anekant of the Jains also suffered decay with passage of time. It stagnated as Jainism degenerated into a social system infested with attachment to own interpretations, intollerence for others interpretation and divided into sects and sub-sects. In spite of the array of brilliant scholars and original thinkers in its fold, Jainism for all practical purposes has become a jumble of dogmas, idiosyncrasies and sectarian fights on petty issues.

Although Mahavir is known as the most ardent opponent of senseless rituals, we have succumbed to ritualism. This ritualistic traditionalism has made our thinking extremely definitive. The result is that those who do not agree with us are treated as wrong and we grow intolerant of descending views. Earlier, this kind of dogmatism was based on ignorance, today, however it is caused by certitude arising out of conditional knowledge. What is not being realized is that all knowledge is relative.

In Jainism, there is no place for dogmatism or fanaticism or any kind of censorship. Anekantvad is one of the greatest contributions of Jainism to world thought. And yet, we who claim to be Jains don’t practice it! Instead of re-examining the relevence of our traditionnal practices, we attack a person who does not speak in favor of it! Through strong rules and censorship, we try to suppress thoughts and practices of others. We even impose our ideas on others on the name of 'Jinvani' or historic tradition!

Even seemingly progressive organization like JAINA has succumb to extremeist pressures and have imposed censorship and restrictive language in the convention guideline document. e.g. #2 paragraph 3 "Any activity, performance, presentation, discourse, food or drink at the convention that may violate the canons of Jainism or are considered objectionable to Jain community shall be prohibited." How can the objection of a certain sector of Jain community justify any kind of censorship in a Jain convention?

One of the main purposes of the Jaina Conventions (as I have understood it) is to exchange ideas and to promote learning. Scholarship has no room for censorship. Thus we all must make sure that any kind of censorship is not exercised by Jaina or the convention committee at any future conventions. We also have a responsibility to convince Jaina board to remove the language in the adopted guideline that leaves no possibility of censorship.


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