According to Jainism, knowledge is of two forms –
- Pramāna or knowledge of a thing as it is in itself, and
- Naya or knowledge of a thing in its relation.
The doctrine of nayas or standpoints is a peculiar feature of Jaina logic. A naya is a standpoint from which we make a statement about a thing. What is true from one standpoint may not be true from another. This is a reference to the relativity of knowledge.
There are several ways in which nayas are divided. There are artha (meaning) nayas where in the division is based on whether the emphasis is on the particulars or on the general views. So also there are dravyārtika nayas based on the point of view of substance, and paryāyārtika nayas based on the point of view of modification or condition.
The most important use of these standpoints is of course the Syād-Vāda or the saptabhangi. It is the conception of reality as extremely indeterminate in its nature. It signifies that the universe may be looked at from many points of view and each point of view yields a different conclusion (anekānta). The nature of reality is not expressed by any one of them. In its concrete richness, reality admits all predicates. Therefore, strictly speaking, every proposition is only conditional. Absolute affirmation and absolute negation are both erroneous. The Jains illustrate this point by narrating the story of six blind men examining an elephant and arriving at different conclusions regarding its form. While, in fact each observer has only a part of the truth. The seven steps of syādvāda are:
- May be, is (syāt asti)
- May be, is not (syāt nāsti)
- May be, is and is not (syāt astu bāsti)
- Maybe, is inexpressible (syāt avaktavyah)
- May be, is and is inexpressible (syāt asti ca avaktavyah)
- May be, is not and is inexpressible (syt nsti ca avaktavyah) Jainism
- May be, is, is not and is inexpressible (syt asti ca nsti ca avaktavyah)
Each naya or point of view represents one of them any ways in which a thing can be looked at. When anyone point of view is mistaken for the whole, we have a naybhsa or a fallacy.
Jains believe that both the Upanisadic thinkers who believe in permanence and the Buddhist thinkers who believe in change are one sided, and that both are against experience. Since the Jains believe in both permanence and change, they have difficulty in expressing the nature of reality in one step. But we have to mention here that the Jaina criticism against the Upanisadic view is not warranted because the Jaina is only speaking of the empirical reality while the Upanisads are speaking of the transcendent.
But the Jains while rightly drawing our attention to the relativity of all judgments and knowledge fail to understand that all talk of relativity makes sense only in the light of some absolute. But Jainism never leaves the plane of the relative.
Further, the seven-fold scheme is only a mechanical assemblage of the various possible judgments but not a synthesis of them. Jains forget that the conjunction of several partial truths is not equivalent to the whole truth. It is a theory of identity and difference but not identity in difference. If the Jaina logic is built on the law of contradiction, then they forget that the law of contradiction is only the negative aspect of the law of identity.
Jains believe in kevala jnna, which is the right intuitive experience. It is perfect knowledge, which is in fact a case of absoluteizing the relativity of knowledge. If, in this experience, there is the unity of the subject, object and knowledge, then their claim to relativistic pluralism breaks down.
The Jains admit of five kinds of knowledge mati, ruti, avadhi, manah-paryya and kevala.
- Mati jnna is the knowledge by means of senses or irdriyas and mind. Mind is called animdriya. This is knowledge by acquaintance.
- Ruti refers to testimony. It is knowledge derived from signs, symbols or words. This is knowledge by description.
- Avadhi is clairvoyance or it is knowledge of things even when it is at a distance in space and time. However, since it is not beyond the spatio-temporal existence it is limited.
- Manah-paryya is telepathy. It is the direct knowledge of the thought of others. It is knowing other minds.
- Kevala is perfect knowledge, which comprehends all substances and their modifications. It is omniscience, and is unlimited by space, time or objects. This is independent knowledge not dependent on the senses and can only be felt but not described. This is the knowledge that is acquired by the liberated souls.
These five types of knowledge are brought under two broad divisions pratyaksa (immediate) and paroksa (mediate).
Of the five kinds of knowledge mentioned above, the first three kinds of knowledge, namely, mati, ruti and avadhi are liable to error but manah-paryya and kevala cannot be ever wrong.
Validity of knowledge consists in its practical efficiency enabling us to get what is good and avoid what is evil. Valid knowledge is a faithful representation of objects and therefore practically useful. It is said, “…the validity is either determined intrinsically or extrinsically.” (Pramana Mimamsa 1-1-8 Hemachandra).
Jains believe in both intrinsic and extrinsic validity. The determination of validity in some cases is achieved by a cognition by itself. Under this we can cite the example of all those cognitions, which are habitual. Like we know water quenches thirst and we do not require another confirmatory cognition to establish the validity of this proposition. On some occasions the experience of validity is secured by means of an external datum. Its validity is determined by (i) a consequent confirmatory cognition of the same object. (ii) a cognition of its pragmatic consequences (iii) the cognition of an object invariably or universally concomitant with it. This is extrinsic validity because here the validity is determined by other means.
According to Jains wrong knowledge means disharmony with the real nature of the object. Invalid knowledge represents things in relation in which they do not exist. When we mistake a rope for a snake, our error consists in seeing a snake where it is not. Erroneous knowledge is of three kinds. They are, (i). Samasya or doubt (ii). Viparyaya or mistake (iii). Anadhyavasaya or wrong knowledge, which is caused by carelessness or indifference. According to Jains, invalid knowledge leads to contradiction.