By Swami Harshananda
Anekāntavāda literally means ‘theory of several assertions’.
Jain logic and metaphysics have developed a theory technically called ‘anekāntavāda,’ ‘syādvāda’ or ‘sapta-bhaṅgīnaya’ according to which seven assertions are possible with regard to everything. Though these assertions are seemingly contradictory, they are possible.
The theory derives its name from the fact that ‘ekānta’ or one absolute assertion cannot be (‘na’) made about anything (na + ekānta = anekānta). Since the possible statements contain the word ‘syād’ (‘may be so’), it is called ‘syādvāda.’ Since the number of such alternatives or possibilities is seven it is also called ‘saptabhaṅginaya’ (sapta = seven, bhaṅgī = mode, naya = standpoint; seven modes of expression from different standpoints). The object, like a ghaṭa or jar can now state the theory as follows:
The word ‘syād’ (‘may be’) indicate the possibility is added everywhere (e.g., syād asti, syān nāsti and so on). The word āsti’ ( = is) when used with regard to any object affirms its existence from the standpoint of its (sva) rupa (form), dravya (material), kṣetra (place) and kāla (time).
Similarly the word ‘nāsti’ (= is not) denies that existence from the standpoint of another (para) form, material, place or time. When these two are taken together, it becomes ‘avaktavya,’ unspeakable or unpredictable. For instance, the jar in front of us in this room exists as jar here and does not exist as a cloth or elsewhere or at a different time.
The seven possible assertions are obtained by a permutation and combination of the statements (1) to (4).
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore