Appreciating Diversity in Daily Life

Syadavada Illustration

by Jayaram V

Conflicts are part of our lives. We cannot avoid disagreeing with others or asserting ourselves in the face of oppression, domination and insubordination. It is not necessary that we have to agree with everything and everyone, but we must be tolerant. Conformity and blind adherence to the authority of society, scriptures and institutions curtail your freedom to be yourself.

The ideal is you should have your own mind, but at the same time recognize the right of others to have their own. You must stand for your beliefs and opinions if you are satisfied that they are based upon your own rational observations, but tolerate those of others to have their own. Jainism has a beautiful concept called Ankentavada, which can greatly be helpful in cultivating such an attitude. In conflict situations people lose their inner balance and resort to abuse, aggression and violence. With thoughtful consideration this can be avoided.

Anekantavada can be practiced in a world of diversity by anyone to broaden his or her vision, tolerance, understanding, insight and compassion. Anekantavada is loosely translated as the theory of multiple views, viewpoints, or standpoints. Aneka means several or many. Antah means inter or internal. Vada means statement, assertion, argument, dispute, explanation, theory, doctrine or conclusion.

Closely related to Anekantavada are two other theories, Nayavada and Syadavada. Syad means "perhaps," or "may be," and it is used in relation to the condition of a particular truth or object. Naya means a set of criteria or approaches used to determine the nature of an object or reality. Knowingly or unknowingly we use different patterns, beliefs, approaches and viewpoints to interpret reality. Navayada takes them into consideration and recognizes seven schemes or Nayas. A naya or set of perceptions arise when you view an object and focus upon particular aspects of it. Thus for example, you may say the sky is blue, ignoring the white clouds that are floating in it or the night sky which is dark.

To give an example of Anekantavada, to a person standing on the moon, the earth will look like a blue globe or disc, but for a person standing on earth it will look flat. Now, both views are right in the context of the position from where the earth is seen. It is, therefore, necessary to examine an issue or object from multiple perspectives or standpoints to develop a fuller understanding of It. Similarly, to give an example of syadavada, you exist for a person who knows you and do not exist for one who has never met you or know you. Sometimes things may exist in your memory, but you may mistake them for reality. For many people memories and dreams become things.

The purpose of this discussion is not to explain the traditional and scriptural meaning of the concept of Anekantavada, but explore its practical value and significance in our day to day lives. You can use the theory to broaden your vision and overcome your narrow-mindedness and closed thinking. The ultimate purpose of it is to free the mind from its habitual thought patterns, mental filters, and attachments you form to certain ideas, notions, theories and beliefs. Freedom from attachments eventually leads to freedom from rebirth. Whether you are a Jain, Hindu, or Buddhist, or even an atheist, you have to rise above the diversity that exists within you and around you and resolve the duality and conflicts you experience. It is the purpose of all spiritual practice and its goal is to settle your mind, so that you can experience peace, an expansive vision, and oneness with the life around you.

We live in a world of plurality. Life is largely a matter of compromises and adjustments. To experience peace and happiness, you must be adaptable and flexible to the demands of life, without sacrificing your values and ideals. It can happen only when you have tolerance, respect, and openness. As human beings, we need to coexist with others, overcome divisive thinking, avoiding frivolous conflicts, judgmental attitude, and make peace with ourselves and the world around us.

It is where, you can use this concept and learn to accommodate diversity, overcome attraction and aversion to things, and become equal to the world around you. It is not difficult with compassion and understanding to cultivate an accommodative and expansive mind that can assimilate contradictions and bear with the burdens of life, the mistakes of others, and the shortcomings of your own behavior.

Develop an expansive vision, following the example of the world around you. The world does not exclude anything. It is actually made up of dualities and opposites. If supports both good and evil, day and night, east and west, earth and heaven, and heat and cold. Imagine a world where dualities do not exist at all. It would be incomplete and untrue. The same happens to you if you just focus upon specific aspects of your life and ignore the rest, or cling to certain beliefs and opinions, without examining their related ones.

You can cultivate tolerance and compassion to others by reflecting upon the following. Give them a thought, to cultivate a deeper awareness. Whenever you are tempted to argue or find fault, remember them.

  1. There can be many opinions about the same subject.
  2. People differ in their ability to know and understand.
  3. You can explain your point of view but do not expect everyone to accept it.
  4. You learn more by knowing what others think and believe.
  5. Focus on knowing rather than being right always.
  6. Your thinking and beliefs depend upon your desires and attachments.
  7. There are many paths to truth, God and liberation.

You can reflect upon the above mentioned set of principles and practice them in the following manner.

  1. Do not go by surface impressions and impulsive thoughts when you make significant decisions in your life.
  2. Examine your attachments and desires to overcome your prejudice and irrationality.
  3. Keep an open mind and let your reflective thinking analyze and examine facts.
  4. Have compassion for those who do not understand you or appreciate you.
  5. Examine important decisions and issues from various perspectives.
  6. When you are in doubt, consult others and seek their opinion.
  7. The world is characterized by duality and diversity. In that there is a clear message about life, existence, Nature and God.

True freedom arises when you are free from the authority of opinion, judgment and fear. When you have it, you are not governed by the conditions of life but the condition of your own mind as it remains stable, free and poised. It is the state which all yogis strive to achieve through years of practice.

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