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Jainism – a way of life

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THE PHILOSOPHY OF ANEKĀNTVĀDA

Anekāntvāda (non absolutism) is an ideology, which makes one tolerant towards other viewpoints. The philosophy of anekāntvāda is the heart of Jainism. It states that all aspects of life must be grasped or viewed at from all possible angles. The dual nature of a thing is called non-absolutism. Forming an opinion based on one viewpoint is termed as ekant- vada (theory of singular approach). Jainism has always rejected this and said that reality possesses infinite variations and attributes of human interpretations. Our knowledge is always relative and incomplete and that leads to our views being incomplete and partially true. Anekāntvāda involves not only toleration of the opposite doctrines or different views but also an investigation into the reasons for differences and further attempts at reconciliation of the same.

Some would say that the truth is only one but the aspects of truth are many. Here one can say that the real is perceived through different angles. To accept the theory of multi- dimensional approach is to accept the principle of non-violence in total.

In simple terms, a person may say that his glass is half empty whereas some one else would say that the same glass is half full. A short story of an elephant and six blind men teaches us this philosophy in simple terms. A blind man who touches an elephant’s body/stomach may think the elephant is like a wall whereas one who touches an elephant’s tail may think that the elephant is like a rope. The third person touching elephant’s ears would say something else. The truth is that the elephant is the combination of these opinions. Similarly the absolute truth could be a combination of all or some of the views or it may be completely different.

The theory of anekāntvāda is one of the most significant contributions of Jains to the sphere of intellectual and philosophical deliberations. The root of this ideology could be said to lie in the famous aphorism found in the Tattavārtha Sutra (5.29): ‘Utpad vyaya dhrauvya yuktam sat’ which translates to ‘Reality consists of aspects like origination, destruction as well as permanence’

It is said that Lord Mahāvir used to analyse the subject and develop a philosophy of synthesis, toleration and understanding of different standpoints. In a scripture called the Bhagwati Sutra when answering the question of whether the universe was finite or infinite Lord Mahāvir replied that from the standpoint of area/measurement the universe was finite, but from the standpoint of time the universe was infinite.

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