jain religion and teachings of bhagwan mahavir





The Jain philosophical concept of ANEKANT has vitally enriched the wide-ranging and comprehensive perception of Ahimsa in thought, expression and deed. Anekant is the doctrine of relativity in thinking (Syadvad) that brings about appreciation of the multifaceted nature of truth. Truth is multidimensional with an inbuilt coexistence of opposites- each dimension being as plausible as another. It is with relation to other factors like time, place and context that one dimension gains predominance over another. A person can be a son, father, husband, and uncle at the same time. The truth of his being a father will be relevant to his son only, while that of being a husband only to his wife.

Thus, Anekant promotes sympathetic understanding and harmonization of  related interpretations of facts, situations and events. Indeed, the modern theory of relativity is based on the same assumptions as the doctrine of Anekant. It rejects any absolutist view of any animate or inanimate substance or situation. Absolutism projects a totally one-sided view, and ignores the fact of existence of any other attributes, facets or realities. Anekant approach makes for a open-minded liberal interpretation of different facets, and opens the door for finding synthesis, arriving at the core truth nature and rejecting the false or distorted versions.

Jain religious text Dwatrishatika beautifully portrays the attribute of sybthesis inherent in Anekant, the doctrine of manifold aspects :

“Just as many rivers flow into and join the ocean, similarly variety of views can be seen in an integrated perspective in the doctrine of Anekant which provides a total picture of the nature of any substance (vastu swabhava).”

In the ego-centric world of today, situations and problems are quite often perceived, viewed and assessed with a one track absolutist approach. It is, however, important to realize that there is nothing like an absolute truth as such. Truth and reality to be clearly understood have to be seen in a relative context in all its multifold aspects and from multiple angels. An absolutist approach tends to ignore overall reality in its comprehensive setting. The inherent nature of truth about any person, situation, commodity or problem could well have manifold aspects of thesis, ante-thesis and synthesis. Anekant approach seeks resolution of such contradictions in order to determine the core and fundamental element of truth.

For instance in the life history of a tree, one witnesses first growth from seed to sprout, and then to a little plant and from it to a growing tree. At every stage there is a change of structure as well as change of functioning of particular parts. Thus there is continuous change in the same organism, which is otherwise unchanging and permanent. In the growth of a tree, one observes both identity as well as difference. Forgetting or ignoring the multi-dimensional aspect of reality and attempting to describe it piecemeal and absolutist isolation would end in a similar confusion as the description of an elephant by five blind men, each describing the animal from his own point of contact and thus distorting the reality.

Anekant maintains that each individual entity has its unique perception of the world which is a mixture of truth and ignorance. All perceptions may be valid in their place, but may be incomplete, prejudiced, subjective and inadequate view of the reality. The approach of Anekant projects awareness at all times of the multidimensional relativity. It seeks interpretation of a fact or a situation as seen from various related angles. The objective is to initiate an effort to understand and harmonize different points of view in order to bring to surface the core truth from among them.

Thus, it will be seen that Jain metaphysics has got a more rational view in its approach to reality than other schools of thought that obstinately cling to one particular aspect only. It rejects EKANTAVAD or a dogmatic assertion of one’s own prejudice and an effort to squeeze truth into a preconceived readymade framework. Seen in this light, Anekant is of paramount value in self-evolution, because it stimulates synthesis (Samanvaya), equanimity (Somyata), sympathy (Sahanubhuti), cooperation (Sahayog), and tolerance (Sahishnuta).

Anekant helps in shaping  thought orientation not only in terms of self-salvation but also towards creating a collective conscience of society for peace, harmony, compassion, piety, fearlessness, fraternity, equity and justice. Tatwartha Sutra affirms this by saying that

“Souls influence each other through service which may be favourable or unfavourable, beneficial or harmful. They create a common environment and live together in weal and woe.”

Anekantvad or Syadvada rationalizes human thought and behavior and equips it with a spirit of reconciliation, mutual understanding and accommodation. In a deeper sense it elevates the individual self to the realm of the universal or the cosmic self. If anekant technique is used to untangle the complex social, religious, cultural, economic or political strategies, the world could hope to be free from the tense and bitter confrontational atmosphere.  Such is the potential power of this principle of omni-perception.

Renowned Jain saint Mahapragyaji has described Anekant as the practical philosophy emanating from enlightened and rational perception (Samyak Gyan). Dogmatic views or arrogant assertions have resulted in creating most world problems. Anekant is the bridge that will take us beyond these problems and crisis situations. Acharya Sushilkumarji has analysed the significance of Anekant in terms of its being a unique tool that prevents distortion or falsification of truth, promotes liberal, conciliatory and yet ethically correct environment in the society, rejects blind beliefs, encourages objective assessment, strengthens soul energy and self-confidence as well as self-restraint

Bhagwan Mahavir put the utmost focus on the philosophy of anekant for providing root support to the Dharma of Ahimsa. In his time he came face to face with as many as 363 differences of interpretation of religion. There was growing disillusionment with the cult of violence which had penetrated Hindu religious rituals and customs. Several reformist initiatives came up to counter this trend and to reassert the compassionate nature of spirituality. Jainism and Buddhism were the two most prominent religions that gave reformist orientation to their teachings, but avoiding confrontation and hostility, and persuasively pursuing their mission in a logical yet conciliatory manner. The approach of Anekant made their mission rational, objective and convincing.

In a very thoughtful observation, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, former President of India once said that the Jain philosophy of Anekant had richly contributed to the blossoming of the concept of “unity in diversity” in India’s culture. The spirit of cultural pluralism was also strengthened thanks to the spirit of tolerance promoted by the approach of anekant. Dr. Sharma also saw great possibilities of strengthening the functioning of parliamentary democracy by bringing to bear in an effective and persuasive manner the anekant approach of reconciliation and accommodation between the ruling party and the opposition. In the present times with fundamentalist forces raising their head, it is important to promote the spirit of anekant in all spheres of life.

A poet has put it very succinctly :

“There is something bad in the best of us;
There is something good in the worst of us;
It beholds us to find out without prejudice or fuss;
The best that exists in all of us.”