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.

EK KHWAISH…

Chhedi ek guftgu bande ne Apne parvardigar se,
To pucha Bande se khud Khuda ne
‘bata kya hai teri khwahish?’

‘Banade mujhko itna be garaz, ki pyar Dil khol kar karu
Par Dil de kar Dil Lene ki aas na rakhu
Jab Dil tute to shikwa ke bina duaaon Ko Ada karu
Aur jab sachha saathi mile, to tujhe shukriya kahu’

Sunkar khwahish hua Khuda hairaan

‘Aisi takat to mujhme bhi nahi ki puri karu teri ye aarzu
Yeh hai teri khud hi se khudki ek Jang,
Tolna hoga khudko, banke khud hi ek tarazu.

Jeet hai mushkil, par nahi hai namumkin
Jab utarle yeh taleem apne zehen me to ana milne ek baar,
Azad Mai bhi Azad tu bhi, kyonki tab tu hoga khud apna Parvardigar

poem ©Nirav Shah

Photo : Liane Metzler

Galiyaren

In galiyaron ne dekhe hain kaee kisse,
Kuch the bichadte doston ke,
Kuch the naye bante rishton ke..
Inhi galiyaron se guzre har ek musafir ke kadam,
Koi hai ek CEO aaj, to koi aur, ek likhti Kalam…

In galiyaron ne badi shiddat se sambhale hain inhi bisri hui yaadon ko,
Har naye bande ko sunati kisi guzre hue lamhon ki Dastaan ko…
Fraz hai mera, karu kuch to anokha,
Yeh galiyaren bhi kahen yeh kissa to humne bhi nahi dekha…
Kyonki, inhi galiyaron ne dekhe hain kaee kisse…

.

.

— @isbco2020 @isbindia #indianschoolofbusiness #lightswillguideyouhome #shadowandlight #nightphotography #nokia61plus #hindipoetsclub #hindipoetry #hindipoems #hindipoetryisnotdead #hindipoem #hindipanktiyaan #isbco2020

Epiphany

Hamare man ke andheron me kuch khwahishen thi,
Hamare man ke andheron me kuch tamannaein thi,
Man hi man sochte rahe gaye, bina sukarm kiye inhe haasil karne ki guzarish thi,
Bhul gaye ki roshni dene ki aas me khud suraj ko jalna padta hai,
Ichhaon ko pura karne ke liye man se nikal kar chunoti se do do haath karna padta hai

Choice!! It’s an illusion, but wait…

When the 18 day war of Mahabharata is about to commence, Arjuna is struck with an uncharacteristic despondency. His mighty Gandiva discarded, Arjuna questions his Sarathi i.e. his ‘Guide’ Krishna about the merits and demerits of this great carnage and his role in it. A discourse begins which is known around the world as ‘The Gita’. Amongst many other pearls of wisdom, Krishna implores Arjuna to give up this self defeating attitude, concentrate his focus on his karma and surrender himself to the supreme being (i.e. Krishna in this case). Krishna convincingly argues that it is to him that all beings return and it is from him that all beings come forth. Krishna is the Adi and the Ananta i.e. the beginning of all and the end of all: the supreme Brahman. It is therefore Arjuna’s hubris if he believes that he is striking the enemy down, cause they all are already dead for Krishna. Arjuna is just a means of accomplishing the lord’s vision.

As is known, Arjuna follows Krishna’s advice and fights in the 18 day war. He is crucial to the eventual victory and Yudhisthira ascends the Kuru throne.

Now here is the interesting part. 36 years after the war, due to certain strange circumstances Krishna and Balaram are forced to destroy the entire Yadava clan (this is a separate story). Balaram tired by this endless bloodshed, gives up his earthly existence. Krishna on the contrary is killed like a wild animal by a hunter who shoot him with an arrow through his heel.

Yudhisthira sends Arjuna, to securely escort the 16000 wives of Krishna and the scores of women of Dwarka who were vulnerable, now that the men were dead. Arjuna reaches Dwarka. He takes the responsibility of ensuring safe passage to the women and begins the return journey with them traveling under his protection.

En route to Hastinapur, bandits attack the Kuru camp. They kidnap the women. Ironically, the mighty Arjuna who could vanquish entire armies on his own, could not string his Gandiva, let alone draw an arrow. It is said that when Krishna died, the pandavas lost their near mythical martial prowess and spiritual strength.

For some this thought process, may raise a question about whether there is any meaning to all the actions that we take in our day to day lives, if everything is preordained from the start. Why should I reskill myself;why should I work hard; why should I put in effort for anything, if in the end the outcome is never in my control.

For someone like me who has always enjoyed reading our mighty epics as stories, analysing and trying to join dots between disparate events was always a subconscious process; The Mahabharata is a fertile ground of multitude of stories masterfully tied to each other to form the longest poem in the world.

To everyone the epics speak differently and that is the epic’s beauty. For some the Mahabharata will signify how the lord steered his child towards the right path and may instill in them a faith for a supreme being who will guide them too. For some it could be a study in political science, as they keenly observe the cunning manoeuvres between Krishna and Shakuni.

For me this story is a call to action. It signifies through out to me that it is ALWAYS our choices and responses to the events around us in the present that define our future; Not a supreme being or a metaphysical being who has pre ordained my destiny. The answer for this too lies in the Mahabharata and it is shown beautifully.

Even before the war begins, both Arjuna and Duryodhan visit Dwarka to beseech Krishna to join their camp and fight against the enemy. Readers would know, it was Arjuna who CHOSE Krishna and not vice versa. It was a conscious decision of Arjun to choose the unarmed Krishna and not his invincible Narayani Sena, and for the good or the bad of it he was more than happy to face the consequences of his choice. That is what I CHOOSE to take away from this immortal story.

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.