By Leo Gura - September 2, 2018

If you’re a seeker of Truth, you need to understand the concept of Anekāntavāda:

“Anekāntavāda (‘many-sidedness’) refers to the Jain doctrine about metaphysical truths that emerged in ancient India. It states that the ultimate truth and reality is complex and has multiple aspects. According to Jainism, no single, specific statement can describe the nature of existence and the Absolute Truth. This knowledge… is comprehended only by the Arahats (enlightened masters). Other beings and their statements about Absolute Truth are incomplete, and at best a partial truth. All knowledge claims, according to the anekāntavāda doctrine must be qualified in many ways, including being affirmed and denied. The origins of anekāntavāda can be traced back to the teachings of Mahāvīra.”

“The Jain doctrine of anekāntavāda… states that truth and reality is complex and always has multiple aspects. Reality can be experienced, but it is not possible to totally express it with language. Human attempts to communicate is naya, or ‘partial expression of the truth’. Language is not Truth, but a means and attempt to express truth. From truth, according to Māhavira, language returns and not the other way around. One can experience the truth of a taste, but cannot fully express that taste through language. Any attempts to express the experience is syāt, or valid ‘in some respect’ but it still remains a ‘perhaps, just one perspective, incomplete’. In the same way, spiritual truths are complex, they have multiple aspects, language cannot express their plurality, yet through effort and appropriate karma they can be experienced.”

“Māhavira’s approach to answering all metaphysical philosophical questions was a ‘qualified yes’… The Buddha taught the Middle Way, rejecting extremes of the answer ‘it is’ or ‘it is not’ to metaphysical questions. The Māhavira, in contrast, taught his followers to accept both ‘it is’ and ‘it is not’, with ‘perhaps’ qualification and with reconciliation to understand the Absolute reality. The Jain doctrine of anekāntavāda, according to Bimal Matilal, states that ‘no philosophic or metaphysical proposition can be true if it is asserted without any condition or limitation’.”

“For example… all the following seven predicates must be accepted as true for a cooking pot, according to Matilal:

  • from a certain point of view, or in a certain sense, the pot exists
  • from a certain point of view, the pot does not exist
  • from a certain point of view, the pot exists and does not exist
  • from a certain point of view, the pot is inexpressible
  • from a certain point of view, the pot both exists and is inexpressible
  • from a certain point of view, the pot both does not exist and is inexpressible
  • from a certain point of view, the pot exists, does not exist, and is also inexpressible”

Wikipedia: Anekāntavāda

To really understand this is to move into Spiral Dynamics stage Yellow integral Tier 2 cognition, where every perspective is seen as part-true, part-false. This requires letting go of the notion of there being totally wrong and totally right perspectives — a notion which the lower Spiral stages cling to vehemently.

Anekāntavāda is relativism, but it is also so much deeper than conventional notions of relativism because there is an Absolute. It just cannot be encapsulated in finite symbols or thoughts.

The Jains have a really high quality epistemology. It’s amazing that Mahavira figured this out 2500 years ago, before the earliest Greek philosophers were even born! Compared to the Hindus the Greeks were savages.

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