Anekantvad: A philosophy of non-absolutism in the time of absolutes

Even as you watch politicians shout out each other on TV decrying the opposite party’s version as falsehood and their own narrative as the absolute truth, a question often pops up. What exactly is the absolute truth?

An interesting concept in Jainism called out explicitly is that of ‘Anekantwad’. Before I move forward here is a disclaimer. This post is not a propaganda of any religion. In fact, I have been at loggerheads with the very concept of organised religion as long as I remember. Having said that I tend to pick up general concepts that resonate with me from across walks of life.

So, coming back to Anekantwad. By definition itself, the word means (as per my knowledge) that there is NO specific word or a singular narrative that can either describe a phenomenon in its entirety or even ascribe to it an absolute meaning. Taking this logic, a bit further, it simply means to me that no version of truth is absolute. What may be true for me w.r.t. an incident, may not be true for you. At the same time this does not mean that my truth is a falsehood. It just means that I have a partial view and that there are other facets of the same incident that are equally true which I am not aware of.

The most popular example that I have read describing this logic is below. We have all read that the sun rises in the east, a phenomenon that has always been presented as an axiom. However, let’s stretch our imagination a bit here. Let’s assume that we are the mighty Galactus of the Marvel universe who has the power to destroy entire planets. Now if he is watching the entire milky way from afar, the sun for him neither sets nor rises. Both the perspectives are true, even if they are inherently contradictory on a stand-alone basis. It’s a farfetched example but nonetheless a suitable one.

Let us try a more practical example. On Feb 4, 1990 the Voyager 1 took one of the most iconic photographs of earth from a record distance of 6 billion kilometers. Why this is an iconic photograph is because in Carl Sagan’s words while the earth in the photograph is nothing but ‘a pale blue dot lost in the vast and dark universe’, it is at the same time a lot more to all of us. As he famously said and I quote “We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam”

Now if the same image were being seen by someone who has never lived on earth and never felt the same attachment to it like we do, why the narrative would have stopped at ‘a pale blue dot of little consequence in the vast darkness of the universe’. However, this definitely does not mean that Carl Sagan’s narrative is untrue.

This I believe really explains the fundamental logic of Anekantwad. Obviously, a question can be raised that by the same logic the veracity of Anekantwad can itself be questioned. That is whether it’s true or not. But that’s the beauty of it. After all, like all other philosophies, religions and also god, Anekantwad was also created by a human and his/her fertile imagination combined with a deep-thinking mind. It’s therefore always up to us whether we wish to try this philosophy or not. Ascribing meaning (positive or negative) to the outcomes of trying out a philosophy or a technique for that matter, is after all again up to us.

Concluding this long write up, and coming back to our hallowed politicians, who are always busy in the eternal game of one-upmanship, I believe a thorough lesson in Anekantwad from a learned guru would really help them. However, knowing whatever little I understand of them, it’s a guarantee that even then their supple minds and consciousness will find ways to achieve their own agendas within the framework of Anekantwad.

On a parting note, there is one phenomenon that I believe is universal, absolute and without any disputes. That is death. As far as I understand, it’s the most absolute truth out there, if there is any. However, the ingenious human mind, has even found a way to counter it. After all it’s the body that dies but the soul is immortal, and since the soul is immortal, are you ever truly dead? Anyways that is a discussion for another time.

Who’s the beggar?

Day 1:
She unpacked the wrapped packet and checked the contents inside. Two Indian breads, a bowl worth of lentil soup, a preparation of cottage cheese in tomato gravy and papadam. She settled on the hard floor of the cobbled streets, contemplating which portion to devour first. Even as her stomach groaned, she was immediately aware of a pair of eyes eyeing the food with acute interest. She was annoyed, that a hard earned meal would have to be fought over. She picked up a rough stone and threw it in the direction of those eyes. The stone hit its mark, and the being scampered away.

Day 2:
Today was flattened rice breads, sour soup and indian pickle. She had just lifted the first morsel to her lips, when those damned eyes showed up around the corner. This time she was prepared and hurled the stone even as the eyes made their silent approach. The result satisfied her as the being again backed off. But in her hurry she had toppled her meal. This night the stomach sang it’s woeful tune for a long time.

Day 3:
She felt as if the 33 million gods were conspiring against her peace of mind. Not only was today’s meal a meagre one of plain rice and bland lentil soup, those eyes had crept much closer. She could smell the sour odour of sweat and hear the incessant panting.
Out of exasperation, she placed a portion of her food on ground for partaking. The being hobbled forward, eyeing her suspiciously even as it gobbled up the food in a hurry.

Day 25:
The two most unlikely beings on this earth had formed a weird routine. She would set aside some of her meal, the being would finish it in a flash and slink away a short distance eyeing her as she would finish her own food.
She wondered silently what had made her to share the precious food. Somewhere she had accepted that the way she got her food through all the hard labour of the day, the being too was going through hardships of its own. She reasoned to herself that in her own small way she was alleviating it’s sorrows.

Day 45:
Winters in Delhi were cruel, and staying warm was a bigger priority. The food was obviously crucial, but so was getting a blanket. Even as she was wondering where she could spend the night without dying of cold, the being slowly came up to her with a tattered blanket.
She wondered where it had stolen it from, but more than that she believed she saw gratitude and loyalty in those staring eyes. Maybe her incessant shivering yesterday night had given it a cue as to what ailed her. She marvelled at the intelligence of the being. She gave a tiny smile and tossed a piece of bread to it, which was dinner for the night and sat down on the side walk.

Day 55:
Today was exceptionally cold. The blanket was hardly any protection. Even as she thought so, she felt the being’s body settle down next to her. She hugged it tightly even as both of them shared the body heat to survive on the dark, cold wintry night.

Day 66:
She was very happy today. She had laboriously managed to gather a large meal for both of them. It was a feast. The nights too were becoming more bearable as they both shared the blankets under a shamiana of a million stars.
She was experiencing a sense of calmness after a long long time, not since her own children had thrown her out into the streets 5 years ago. The pleasure of having something to share with someone and feel wanted.
She turned into her usual street. Happily she began to cross the lane towards the corner that she had begun to call home. A Landrover rammed into her and tossed her away like a ragged doll. The hotel food that she had scavenged was scattered all around her, mixing with her blood and viscera. The land rover sped away.

Day 80:
The being paced up and down the corner. The human had never failed to appear at night since the day it had approached it. Now it had been 14 days since she had left him. It could not fathom why. Humans were different it said to itself. It had stolen a new quilt for her knowing that her teeth still chattered on some very cold nights.
Maybe it should tell her that he was waiting for her, and that she should hurry. It arched it’s back and howled into the night, so that she could hear him loud and clear. It settled silently next to her spot awaiting her return. Dogs across streets heard it’s fervent plea, and too howled into the night as if to pass on its message to the lost companion.
However amidst the cacophony of human noise, only the shining stars in the night heard it.

Obituary:
On the night of 31st December, 2018 an old woman was overrun by a black landrover. The deceased was identified as Lakshmi Devi the widow of late Mr. Harkishandas Khattar, the gold baron. Disputes over the patriarch’s will had left Lakshmi Devi destitute. The sons allege that their mother had left the home of her own will. Her whereabouts for last couple of years were not known. The sons have begun funeral preparations, & have vowed to build in her name a shelter for abandoned people & animals. The case continues.

Will he , won’t he!

Aniruddh continued musing even as he stepped out of the restaurant onto one of the cobbled by lanes of Jaipur. He was besotted with her. He felt that he had finally found someone who actually understood him, at a time when he had given up all hope.

She had a rich laugh that still rang in his ears. He still remembered how she loved his latest podcast on the forts of Rajasthan. For someone who did not understand Indian history much, she had surprisingly remembered key details of the podcast and eagerly waited for the next one, wherein he was going to expound on the secrets of the Jantar Mantar. She had in the passing asked him not to give up on his passion. After all you had food bloggers, fashion bloggers and then there was this niche stream of history aficionados who were trying to make it to the mainstream of blogging for Indian history. He was one of them.

He trailed along, slowly reflecting on his own twisted past. His had been a failed life of a brilliant engineer who had passed with distinction. He had worked tirelessly for nearly 6 years in some of the most prestigious firms, in pursuit of money (as money for him equated to happiness) then. Money had helped him afford fast cars and luxury stays in fancy resorts. His wardrobe then was bursting at seams with Rohit Bal rubbing shoulders with Armani. There was an entire wall with an enviable collection of perfumes, right from the exotic fragrances of middle east to the classy Issey Miyake and Perry Ellis. After all he believed that women liked men who lived the high flying life. At least that’s what Dan Bilzerian had taught him.

But still he had been unlucky in love. Women were attracted to him, but later he realized that it was not him but his pseudo rich alter ego to which they were attracted to. He was unable to have meaningful conversations with them, and always the relationships would fizzle out even before he could feel his heart flutter.

He realized that he did not love himself, so how would any woman come to love him. They were far more intelligent then men ever could be, as far as matters of heart were concerned. So two years ago he sold all that he had, and dived into his passion which was history, and so began his journey as a history blogger.

The last two months had been magical. He had finally found Anna in his life. She liked him for who he was. He really felt that this time the relationship was for keeps. It would be a very special woman who would actually compliment someone who called history blogging as a caree——

WHAM…the bus hit him at his pelvis throwing him some 20 yards away and he crashed into a brick wall, shattering his spine and cracking his skull. His gut had spilled out on to the road even as he lost complete consciousness.

The sirens blared, as Aniruddh was taken to the nearest hospital that could treat trauma cases. Doctors wheeled him in and checked his vital stats. He was declared brought dead.

Annirudh himself hovered inches above his body, in his metaphysical state. He was mildly piqued by the entire sequence of things. Death had always fascinated him, especially what would happen to a person after death. But to actually go through the process, and to realize that he still retained a sense of his past memories, in a way disappointed him. Death was not the final frontier after all.

The doctors came in again. They could feel a very faint pulse, and began to revive him in earnest. He had half the mind to ask them to stop. What was he to do with a broken body in a world where anything less than an Adonis body was body shamed and a specially-able person was still treated with pity.

The pain solely returned to his consciousness, as the doctor’s labor bore fruit. He struggled hard. There was no point to this exercise. He did not wish to live the life of an invalid, especially when he had finally found true happiness, just before it was so cruelly taken away from him.

But the pain would not go away, and Aniruddh could not keep his eyes closed any longer. He took a long gasp and opened his eyes. A dream. No a nightmare. He could not decide which. It was 6 in the morning and his entire bed was in a disarray, as if he had really lived each and every moment of his dream.

His mobile pinged. His manager was asking him to send an update on yesterday’s site visits before he resumed office.

He ignored it. In the drafts, he saw the email wherein he had half typed his resignation. He only needed to click on send and that would be it. In the back of his mind he wondered if he was a bigger invalid than the broken Aniruddh of his dreams.

His thumb hovered on the send button, even as the sun rays streamed through the windows of his penthouse.