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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jainism Paper

Beau Hilton
Dr. Keller
            “An” – article of negation. “Ek” – one, single. “Anta” – view, side. “Vada” – doctrine of. “Anekantavada,” then, is the doctrine of “no single view.” To a Latter-day Saint, or, indeed, any of the People of the Book, the claim that no single view of things is the completely right view seems at first to be at least uncomfortable, if not blasphemous: God is supreme, and His truth is the truth. However, to a Jain there is also the notion of a supreme truth, namely, that truth which was discovered and handed down by the Tirthankaras. How, then, can anekantavada be one of the three core tenets of Jain religion? This paper will explore the doctrine of anekantavada and examine its capacity for usefulness in the lives of religious persons of all faiths. I will, primarily, defend the doctrine in the spirit of syncretism and appreciation. Anekantavada will be argued for by virtue of three of its effects. First, it encourages inter-religious dialogue, appreciation, and “holy envy.” Second, it helps religious persons to remain open to new spiritual inspiration. Third, far from denying absolute truth and encouraging moral relativism, it asserts that there is a supreme truth, but that that supreme truth is simply beyond human grasp until omniscience is gained.
Jain Logic
Before any of the outlined points are defended, a cursory explanation of the logic of anekantavada is in order. Two supplementary doctrines or theories provide the framework for anekantavada, namely nayavada and syadvada.[1] Nayavada describes the standpoints from which a thing might be investigated, and recognizes validity in both Buddhist and Hindu views. That is, a thing might be investigated based upon its identity or center of being, and corresponds to a degree with the Hindu idea of the Brahman-Atman and advaitya, or non-differentiated reality – all things have a core that is real. A thing might also be investigated in terms of its change or action, which corresponds to the Buddhist view of the transitory nature of things. What is found by investigation depends on the viewpoint of the investigator.[2] Syadvada is a system of qualification and predication that holds seven valid options, which are derived from three possibilities. The options are these:
1.     X is
2.     X is not
3.     X is and is not
4.     X is inexpressible
5.     X is and is inexpressible
6.     X is not and is inexpressible
7.     X is and is not and is inexpressible.
The three possibilities are yes (is), no (is not), and inexpressible.[3] Syadvada comes from the Sanskrit “syat,” which may be translated as “in a way” or “conditionally,” and must be added to all of the options above. Therefore, there are many ontological possibilities – in a way, X is and X is not. To use Cort’s analogy, a table is a table if we are using it as a table, but what does it become when we sit on it? Is a desk a dining table when it is being used to eat at? “In a way,” says Syadvada, “the answer is yes and it is no.” Upon combining nayavada and syadvada, the doctrine of anekantavada comes into clearer light – there are many ways to describe and know things, many things may only be understood by their changing nature, and all of this must be qualified by the “syat” addendum. The purpose of all of these mental gymnastics is simply to get at a clearer, rounder, and more accurate view of truth, nature, and each other.
Inter-Religious Interaction

Krister Stendahl had three maxims for inter-religious dialogue, the third of which is to allow room for what he termed “holy envy.” In our relationship with the theologies of other faiths there is a tendency to feel threatened by anything beautiful, to disallow the possibility of seeing beauty “because those religions are false anyway,” or to become angry when falsehoods are found. Armed with anekantavada, none of these reactions hold for long. May it be, perhaps, that we are all looking at the same thing from a different angle? Is it possible that what we are seeing is true “in a way,” and maybe that way is a valid way in at least one sense? Later we will examine the greater context of anekantavada and how it prevents absolute relativism, but for now let us be relativists so far as the doors of religious littleness are thrown open and inter-religious appreciation may be gained. Anekantavada allows us to understand why aspects of our own faith may be threatening to others while simultaneously allowing us to be less threatened by beauty, truth, or falsehood we find in other religions. According to anekantavada, it is certain that our own viewpoint is not complete, whether its content of truth is a kernel or a wagonload. Religious dialogue is made more comfortable by anekantavada, but more than this, anekantavada will be impetus for the honest seeker of truth. Upon realization that one’s own view is not complete, one would want to find out about as many other views as possible with the goal of eventually finding something transcendently real. A person may, using this doctrine, move from disgust to tolerance to appreciation and possibly to acceptation. Anekantavada, while not forcing a person to accept all things as equally true, at least opens that person’s eyes to the prospect of truth in other places.
Openness Assists in Inspiration
Chief among the sins is pride. Pride sets up a wall between the heart and the infinite and prevents their contact. I wonder how many revelations or spiritual impressions have not been received simply because a person refused to believe in the chance of such revelation being real. In this same line of thinking, perhaps aparigraha, ahimsa, and anekantavada are three sides of the same issue – refusing to see other possibilities can be a result of stubbornly grasping at preconceived notions, and this in turn is violence to the soul.[4] All religious traditions value humility as the antithesis to pride and prerequisite to religious experience, and anekantavada is in many ways a doctrine of humility. There is recognition of the problems of knowing, and recognition that every being faces these same problems. It tells the practitioner to be rigorous in study and slow to draw conclusions, to be generous in his or her treatment of the views of others. As Carrithers points out, in-fighting and out-fighting does occur on occasion among the Jains, sometimes with physical violence, but it is difficult to find a case in history where the fighting has taken place over doctrinal issues.[5] This openness of view contributes to peace with other humans and peace with divinity, allowing an influx of compassion and learning from both.

Anekantavada and Supreme Truth
As was stated at the outset, the Jain belief is in an absolute truth. In anekantavada there is not only possibility of supreme truth, there is surety of supreme truth.[6] Core to Jain doctrine is the ability of every soul to gain godhood. Godhood is predicated upon omniscience, or the experience of kevala-jñana, so it may be said that every soul has the ability to rise above the plane of limited cognition and finally grasp truth in its entirety. One ceases to have knowledge and instead becomes knowledge. In Jain doctrine this change occurs when the soul is no longer burdened down by heavy karmic particles. In other doctrines this change may happen in other ways, as the eventual outcome of devotion, atonement, samadhi, satori, and so on. In the practical sense, the recognition that supreme truth exists forces the simultaneous recognition that none of us (or, optimistically speaking, very few of us) possess this supreme truth. Life becomes a journey and quest to compassionately seek for supreme truth through study and right living, and through the study of right living. The quest is aided by seeing truth on all sides and by being open to the possibility of being wrong. Anekantavada does not make of us lazy agnostics, bitter nihilists, or sad impotents, but guides us in the path of the jina, conquerors.
         The study of anekantavada is itself subject to the doctrine of anekantavada – perhaps it is only useful from certain standpoints, and perhaps there are better ways to describe the principles and truths that anekantavada claims for itself. It is evident to me, however, from my own exploration and consideration of the doctrine, that there is more than just a little of the divine present here. As Joseph said, God holds none of our contracted notions and sees none of His children with anything but fatherly compassion. Anekantavada is a mode of thinking and acting that creates love in the human heart, expands the soul and the mind, asks for both more critical and more free thought, and drives one towards truth. I see nothing but God in that.


[1] For a better and fuller treatment of these doctrines, see Koller, “Syadvada as the Epistemological Key to the Jaina Middle Way Metaphysics of Anekantavada,” and Jain, “Saptabhangi – The Jaina Theory of Sevenfold Predication: A Logical Analysis.” The bulk of the information from this paragraph is sourced from these two essays.
[2] As an interesting note, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in physics holds that if a great deal is known about a particle’s current location, then very little can be known about its movement, and if a great deal is known about a particle’s movement, then very little can be known about its current location. A Jain would love this.
[3] See Cort, “’Intellectual Ahimsa’ Revisited: Jain Tolerance and Intolerance of Others”
[4] This is similar to the modern Jain apologetic view. See Cort, “Intellectual Ahimsa.”
[5] Carrithers “On Polytropy: Or the Natural Condition of Spiritual Cosmopolitanism in India: The Digambar Jain
Case.” 858-860. When fighting occurs in and around Jain communities, it is typically over the issues all communities fight about – land, money, etc. In the case Carrithers described, both offended parties added religious purposes for the conflict later, but the conflict arose over more mundane matters.
[6] Sinari treats this in “A pragmatist critique of Jaina relativism,” and calls the Jain philosophical tendency “transcendentalism par excellence.

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