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Anekantavada is a basic principle of Jainism developed by Mahavira (599-527 BC) positing that reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is completely true. Jain doctrine states that only Kevalis, those who have infinite knowledge, can know the true answer, and that all others would only know a part of the answer. Anekantavada is related to the Western philosophical doctrine of Subjectivism.
'Ekanta' is one-sidedness. Anekantavada is literally the doctrine of non-onesidedness; it is often translated as "non-absolutism".
Anekantvada encourages its adherents to consider others views or beliefs. They should not reject a view simply because it uses a different perspective. They should consider the fact there may be truth in others' views too.
Many proponents of Anekantvada apply the principle to religion and philosophy themselves, reminding adherents that any religion or philosophy, even Jainism, that clings too dogmatically to its own tenets is committing an error based on its limited point of view. In this application, Anekantvada resembles the Western principles of cultural and moral relativism.
The Blind Men and the Elephant Edit
The concept can be explained very well by a poem by John Godfrey Saxe that is based on an Indian story:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“ ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
- Jaina Theory of Multiple Facets of Reality and Truth (Anekantavada), edited by Nagin J. Shah. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.
- Philosophy East & West, vol. 50, no. 3 (July 2000), SPECIAL ISSUE: THE PHILOSOPHY OF JAINISM, Guest Editor: Kim Skoog.
- Sanmatti Prakaran, in Gujarati. Author Acharya Sidddhasen Divakar. Navjeevan Trust, ahmedabad.
- The Jaina Philosophy of Non-Absolutism, by Satkari Mookerjee. Asia Book Corp of Amer (Jun 1978)
- Pravin K. Shah on Anekantvada
- The Indian-Jaina Dialectic of Syadvad in Relation to Probability By P.C. Mahalanobis
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