Multiplicity of Viewpoints in Modern Times

By Mr. Ramjee Singh


In the present article, the scholarly writer emphasizes that efforts to establish the superiority of one's religious, social, political or economic system have resulted in conflicts all over the world. So the road to peace lies in living up to the doctrine of multiplicity of viewpoints (Anekaantavaad) by having a genuine regard and tolerance for others' beliefs and practices.

Modern times constitute an era of crisis in the realm of human civilization. A world civilization is fast emerging and we can not afford to solve our problems with a parochial temper and sectarian outlook. For human survival, we need human cooperation on a global scale. At any time in history, it is impossible to convert all of mankind not only to Christianity, or Islam or Jainism (or to capitalism, communism or any other isms), but also to some metaphysical principles that have been cherished since antiquity. The growth of scientific knowledge and outlook has destroyed most of our false dogmas and superstitions. But science has failed to provide knowledge that could sublimate our animal and selfish nature. Hence our lives have become full of tensions, turmoils and disorders. Thus, although we are outwardly pleading for nonviolence and world peace, we have been preparing for war.

Humanity is tottering today upon the brink of self-annihilation for lack of understanding, which includes understanding ourselves and understanding each other. Hence at no period of human history was man more in need of a sound philosophy than today. As war begins in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace should be built. Today, if one person does not agree with me, he is wicked, if a country does not agree with my country, it is wicked as if there is no half-way, no neutrality. So ultimately, it is our warring ideologies that are at the root of world tension. A solution can ultimately be achieved through knowledge free from confusion and prejudices.

Since things have many characters, they are the objects of multi-sided knowledge. Reality has innumerable characteristics. All things are multi-dimensional. Valid knowledge is that which gives knowledge of a thing in its various aspects. All expressions are somehow real. The knowledge that determines the full meaning of an object by employing a one-sided approach is partial. Hence we should discard all absolute judgments, otherwise truth will be violated.

All dogmatism owes its genesis to the partiality of outlook and fondness to a line of thinking to which a person has accustomed himself. Such aggressiveness of thought and attitude constitutes a kind of imperialism. When one individual or group considers the self as the possessor of absolute truth, it brands the other as evil. Today one person or country fights with the other because their views vary. Views are bound to vary because we are guided by different conditions, thoughts and attitudes. Thus it is unwise to think oneself right and the others wrong. Hence relativism (Syaadavaad) and the doctrine of multiplicity of viewpoints (Anekaantavaad) represent the highest form of catholicism coupled wonderfully with extreme conservatism, the most genuine and yet highly dignified compromise imaginable.

We must realize that others have their own viewpoint as we have our own. We will realize this fact by putting ourselves in others' position. This is called sympathy which is the act of reproducing other's feelings in our minds. Mahatma Gandhi once said: "I advise a man not from my standpoint but from his. I try to put myself in his shoes. When I cannot do so, I refuse to advise."

Relativism and the doctrine of multiplicity of viewpoints is the safe and secure middle path of avoiding the extremes. It means that virtue has many facets. There is place for the penance of a saint, chastity of a woman, innocence of a child, bravery of a hero, etc. As a lover of nature, one can equally enjoy the rains of rainy season, coolness of winter and heat of summer. Similarly, life is not one straight road. It is not like a train, which once started keeps running. There are too many complexities in it. The real is variable. It is being and non-being, unity and plurality, the universal and particular rolled into one. A thing is neither an absolute unity nor split into irreconcilable plurality. It is both unity and plurality all the time. There is no opposition between unity of being and plurality of aspects. Similarly, things are neither exclusively particular nor are they exclusively universal, but they are a concrete realization of both. The two elements can be distinguished by reflective thought, but cannot be rent asunder.

Karl Jaspers talks of "luminous encompassive thinking", through which contemporary political consciousness must be transformed and a new kind of politics adequate to the threat of atomic doom should be created. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan while speaking on the future of civilization (Kalki, the Future of Civilization, 1929) held that to avert periodic crises of civilization, what is required is religious idealism and "cooperation and not identification, accommodation to fellowmen and not imitation of them, and tolerance and not absolutism".


(From 'Jaina Theory of Multiple Facets of Reality and Truth', Edited By Nagin J. Shah, Published By Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology, Delhi, 2000, pp. 127-134.)


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