Article: Jainism in scientific terms

Contributed by Kanti V. Mardia

Jain logic

Śvetāmbara nuns meditate in front of a cloth-wrapped bookstand, used to hold scriptures. To Jains, meditation helps purify the soul of karma and is thus vital for spiritual progress. It is a daily obligatory duty – āvaśyaka – for mendicants.

Śvetāmbara nuns meditate
Image by Claude Renault © CC BY 2.0

Although knowledge is crucial to spiritual progress, Jain philosophy stresses that a lack of certainty is not to be feared. Instead, it should be welcomed in some respects as uncertainty contributes, paradoxically, to greater understanding. The field of Jain logic contains the two important ideas of:

  • 'doctrine of qualified assertion' – syād-vāda
  • 'truth from many viewpoints' – anekānta-vāda.

The concept of syād-vāda means that only what is known at a particular time and place, involving those specific circumstances, can be stated with any degree of certainty. It asserts that there are many aspects of reality, which no one person can know. Examples can be found in chapter nine of Mardia 1990/2007. The notion of syād-vāda stresses that nothing is absolute. Karl Popper, one of the greatest logicians of the last century, also emphasised principles of non-absolutism in science.

Secondly, Jain logic recommends elements of relativism in thinking, in the holistic principle of anekānta-vāda. This notion may be translated as 'truth from many viewpoints'. The concept of anekānta-vāda holds that the same thing can be seen from many various standpoints and thus appears different to each viewer. Each distinct view may contain a glimpse of the truth. The truth of reality cannot be understood from a single point of view. See chapter nine of Mardia 1990/2007 for examples. In fact, relativism in thinking and open-mindedness is needed for a true Jain.

Thus the label 'Jainism' is a misnomer for what can be termed 'Jain-ness' or the 'Jain spirit'.

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