Jain Philosophy (2) 24 – Anekäntaväda I – Theory of Multiplicity

Jain Philosophy (2) 24 – Anekäntaväda I – Theory of Multiplicity

Chapter 24 – Anekäntaväda I – Theory of Multiplicity


Modern day logic is defined as the study of principles and method of argumentation. An argument in the system of logic is a set of statements.

Jain logic is ancient. Its roots can be traced to the Holy Scriptures in which it states, “Non_absolutism is the principal dogma of Jainism”.  Furthermore, “every statement is to be accepted as relative truth”.

Let us take an example. My name is Kirit.  My father’s name is Prabhudas and my son’s name is Amit. Now I am father and son at the same time.  How can this be? From Prabhudas’s perspective, I am a son and from Amit’s perspective, I am a father. Thus, both statements are true from their own perspectives.

Soul is eternal as well as changing.  How can these two conflicting statements be true? According to Jain logic, they are true statements in their own perspective. Soul is eternal from a substantial point of view (Dravya).  The soul is ever changing from a modal point of view (Paryäya).

Six blind men touched an elephant and came out with their own opinion that the elephant is like a pillar, python, drum, pipe, long rope, and huge fan depending on the parts of the body that they touched.  They could be right from their own perspective, but an elephant is an elephant, and the person who can see knows an elephant as total.  He also knows that the elephant could be like a pillar, python, drum, pipe, long rope and a huge fan from the perspective of the legs, trunk, abdomen, tusk, tail, and ears.  Therefore, if you do not have complete knowledge, do not believe in other possibilities and think that the partial point of  view is the only truth and others are wrong, then the partial point of view is not right.

Thus, understanding of Jain logic helps a lot for tolerance.  Nothing may be absolutely wrong and nothing may be absolutely right. All the statements are true in their own perspective. Because of our inability to know substance as a whole, we cannot have complete knowledge of a substance. Only the omniscient Bhagaw än has perfect knowledge, so He has the complete knowledge.

The spoken and written language has limitations of expressions. So one has to understand the broader meaning of Jain logic and then try to understand reality in that perspective. We should know all the angles of the substance and then present the partial point of view, and then we are right. Presenting the partial point of view, and then considering it as a complete knowledge is wrong according to Jain logic.  We should also keep in mind, that when a sentence is spoken, we should know from what angle it is spoken.  If we understand it correctly, then our knowledge base increases. Literature is also written either in a substantial point of view (Dravyärthika Naya), or modal point of view (Paryäyärthika Naya).

Thus to have complete knowledge or organ of knowledge (Pramäna Jnän), we should also know partial points of view (Naya).  The partial point of view becomes a pillar on which the building of the organ of knowledge rests.  Of course, the true and complete knowledge of a substance is only possible with omniscience.

To know a substance, there are 4 different categories, which are described in the scriptures.

Lakshana (Characteristics of a Substance)

One should know the characteristics of a substance. The characteristic (Lakshana) should be such that it is present only in the substance and not in any other substance. For example, when we say that the soul is formless, this is not its absolute characteristic because there are other substances like medium of motion, medium of rest, space, and time, which are also formless substances. Nevertheless, if we say that the soul’s characteristic is ‘to know’ then it becomes a true characteristic. Every soul starting with the lowest form (Nigod) to the highest form (Siddha) has characteristics of knowledge.  Touch, taste, smell and color are all characteristics of matter because none of the other five substances have these characteristics. Thus, a peculiar characteristic present in only one substance and not in any other substance is known as its true characteristic.

Pramäna (True Knowledge)

That by which a thing is known rightly is called Pramäna, i.e., true or valid knowledge. To know a substance from all angles is called the organ of knowledge, or true knowledge. On the rise of true knowledge doubt, illusion, and ignorance are removed and a nature of a thing is understood rightly to a considerable extent.  The knowledge that allows one to differentiate and to make decisions about the self and others (Sva and Para) is called the organ of knowledge or true knowledge.  The organ of knowledge consists of several different and apparently opposite points of views.  Thus with the organ of knowledge, one gets equanimity, and becomes tolerant of different points of views. The perception, which grasps the nature of a thing in a proper and contraindicated form, is called the organ of knowledge.

Naya (Partial Point of View)

The knowledge of a substance from one point of view is called Naya (a partial point of view). The thought activity, which grasps only one aspect of an object with the aid of scriptures, is called a partial point of view.

Total knowledge or organ of knowledge (Pramäna Jnän) is the sum total of all partial points of view. Thus to understand a substance in its fullest form, one must have knowledge of all partial points of view including seemingly opposite partial points of view. Just as Pramäna is pure knowledge, so also Naya is pure knowledge.  The former grasps the entire thing, while the latter grasps only one of its many aspects.

There are several different classifications of partial points of view given in scriptures. We will see the one, which is more widely used, in a later part of this chapter.

Nikshepa (Analysis of Truth)

Analysis of truth can be done with precision and clarity in different way.  A substance has various attributes. Keeping those attributes in mind, a substance can be divided into different ways. Language is a means of communication.  All practical exchange of knowledge has language for its main modality.  When it is embodied in language, intangible knowledge becomes tangible and hence conveyable.  Language is made up of words. One and the same word is employed to yield several meanings depending on the purpose or context. Employment of a word to express different meanings is done at least in four different ways. These four ways are known as Nikshepa.

Four Nikshepa (Four Way Analysis of Truth) Name (Näm)

The meaning that is not derived etymologically, but is gathered on the basis of convention set up by the father, mother or some other people, is known Näm Nikshepa. It means to refer to the object merely by its name. Our daily activity becomes easier by giving name to an object. For example, a poor person’s name is King.  He is known as King by name, even though he is very poor.

Symbol (Sthäpanä)

It means referring a person through his image, idol, picture, painting, etc. These things contain in themselves the symbol of an original object; e.g.  looking at a marble idol at a temple, one says that this is Mahävir Swämi. In this usage we superimpose the real thing on its representation, viz., a statue, a photograph, or a picture.

Potentiality (Dravya)

Here one refers to an object by mentioning its past condition or future condition. The term ‘Dravya’ in the word ‘Dravya Nikshepa’ has the sense of potentiality. For example, we refer to a person as a king now even though he is not a king but is going to be a king in the future.

Actuality (Bhäva)

It means the name signifying the object is meaningful in its present condition. This meaning satisfies the etymology of the concerned word.  A person is called king (Räjä), when he is actually carrying the royal scepter and is shining with glory on that account; he is king in the real sense.

For example, the word Tirthankar is used only after the soul attains omniscience and is now preaching and establishing a fourfold religious congregation.


We worship Supreme Soul (God) by respectfully remembering and muttering His name, worshipping His image, worshipping Him by devotedly serving the spiritual teacher, because the real spiritual teacher can be regarded as Supreme Soul (God) in potentia. In this way, Nam Nikshepa, Sthäpanä Nikshepa, and Dravya Nikshepa (rather our activities performed with respect to these three meanings) lead to Bhäva Nikshepa (rather the activity with respect to the Bhäva Nikshepa, or the actual attainment of the state corresponding to the actual etymological meaning of the concerned word).

Please see the table at the end of the Samväya.


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