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Readings in Nonviolence

Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)

Religion, belief systems and peace

Introduced by Rob Fairmichael

Belief systems can lead to amazing intolerance. Psychologists, sociologists and others could explain some of the mechanisms at work – including the desire to avoid uncertainty – perhaps arising itself from a certain degree of uncertainty or awareness of other’s uncertainty – leading to cast-iron ‘certainties’ being introduced which, as the outsider can clearly see, may lead to bizarre, cruel, inhumane and counter-productive practices. This can apply to political and philosophical belief systems as much as to religious ones. Inhumanity can take many forms and be bolstered by many belief systems.

How ‘I’ can believe what I do and still respect what ‘you’ believe, and vice versa, and how we can cooperate together for our common good and that of others, is a key question for our times when the world has shrunk through modern communications and population movements, though in truth most people have already lived with ‘others’ – national minorities or different ethnic groups, as well as many other kinds of minorities and cultural groups – present since time immemorial.

Our belief systems are not always good at taking on board others outside the fold. In the following article we have a fascinating approach in Jainism which may be of use in helping us reflect on how we relate to those others who do not hold our one true faith or philosophy (whatever that might be).

Peace through intercultural dialogue in the context of Syadvada

By Samani Rohini Prajna

The jaina [Jain] doctrine of syadvada implies that negation without affirmation and affirmation without negation is not possible. This is to say that we cannot understand our own philosophy, religion and culture unless we understand others. Therefore understanding others is as significant as understanding oneself. Similarly, it is the notion of conflict that gives meaning to peace. Peace cannot be studied without conflict. Thus conflict, conflict resolution and conflict transformation theories are of high significance for peace studies.

Conflict and its meaning
Conflict is an inherent human trait. Sociologists like Max Weber establish a strong belief in conflict stating that, “social progress inevitably demands conflict”. Conflict arises due to incompatible interests, beliefs and customs. Cultural diversity is the fact of global reality. This diversity enlarges one’s attitude and perception, disclosing new meanings. However, there is a crucial problem in apprehending truth objectively. This is because our perception is always backed by our own cultural prejudices. This in turn hides many aspects of truth. Not only do things remain in concealment because of prejudices but it also generates controversies. In such circumstances society becomes a complex web introducing clashes, disputes and hegemony among its different civilisations, cultures, religions and philosophies. No doubt, if positively approached it will broaden the dimension of one’s understanding. As conflict justifies social progress it cannot be resolved in absolute terms. Again as it poses threats upon weaker and poor section of the society it needs to be positively transformed. Gene Sharp, Johan Galtung, Lederach and many other celebrated personalities propose theories of conflict resolution and conflict transformation. They can work as a model in establishing peace and harmony in society.

Our education needs to develop the understanding of the unique ideas and ideals, habits and customs, culture and religions, likes and dislikes of the “other”, beyond all centricism along with the points of overlap. Such an understanding will lead to the cultivation of sensitivity, compassion towards the pain and suffering of those who may be very different from us. It will further ensure that our action towards other be appropriate. The present paper is an attempt to propose the jaina doctrine of syadvada as conceived by the jaina thinkers in the light of conflict resolution theory.

Peace and the inevitable need of understanding the other
With the increased globalised integration of the different parts of the world, those who were earlier used to be the member of remote clans have now become our immediate and active neighbours. Our encounter with these different cultures, faiths and philosophy has become an inevitable fact. This in turn has given rise to three types of reactions:

  1. First an individual sticks to his own culture more and more when confronted with a foreign culture
  2. Second, one neglects the foreign culture and become fully indifferent, and for whom other cultures are merely juxtaposed.
  3. An individual may try to view the whole matter impartially, pleading for the theory and practice of a pluralistic norm of live and let live, read and let read, believe and let believe.

The third one is the right attitude towards other faiths that calls for an intensive and reciprocal dialogue involving all concerned. This attitude moves beyond the two fictions of total identity and radical differences believing in the overlapping structures of the cultures.

Jaina philosophy admits reality as consisting of not only diverse but also opposite attributes. It thus deals with the problem of incompatibility that is foundational to conflict. It addresses this problem of inconsistency through the doctrine of syadvada that supports the pluralistic form of understanding. The term syat indicates the infinite world of understanding the other. By this it establishes the strong ground for conflict resolution due to its openness to look at the other.

Syadvada as a conflict resolution theory
As a conflict resolution theory syadvada makes the following fundamental assertions:

  • It takes seriously the idea of manifold meanings and deems it a value.
  • It supports the study of the alien beyond centricism.
  • It does not take the other just as the echo of itself.
  • It is non reductive, open, creative and beyond system construction.
  • When it makes a certain assertion it equally avoids unnecessary privileged treatment to any view, belief or culture.
  • It demolishes the dispute arising due to hierarchical gradation.
  • It is also non monolithic and discriminatory.
  • It is also not a method of understanding that rejects all description and tries to save “one”, rather it develops the ability to move back and forth between them.
  • It allows treating apparent inconsistency not as something to be rejected as unreal or evil, but as a mark of the dynamic nature of the other.

The most heroic attempt of syadvada is to reconcile the appearing inconsistency and incompatibility of other through conditional dialogue. By this, the exclusive claims that take monolithic positions or promote centricism are declared to be a fallacious position.

The root cause of conflict is the incompatibility of views and understanding of the other. Syadvada through the method of conditional dialectic paves the way to get rid of externally appearing internal contradiction. It is however not expected of this doctrine to turn the impossible into the possible. It allows undertaking intercultural dialogue through transformed consciousness of non-identity, non-difference, not-total identity and not-total difference. With this trained consciousness it allows the most common error of understanding other cultures on the basis of the expressed and manifested world. It also cautions us against this and demands from us the withholding of the arrogance of seeking complete truth on the basis of the manifested world. This is because the rules of the manifested world are always different from those of the expressed or unmanifested world.

One of the significant and possible ways to establish and flourish peaceful intercultural dialogue is that our understanding of others is to be synthesised with the expressed and hidden aspect of reality. This will help to bring the right understanding of the other. Thus, syadvada justifies itself as a conflict resolution theory by opening the new path in cultivating right attitude, sensitivity, compassion and respect for other.


  1. Encyclopaedia of Social Science (part one)
  2. Syadavada Bhasha
  3. Anekantajayapataka
  4. Jaindarshan manan aur mimansa - Acharya Mahaprajna
  5. Interculturality- Ram Adhar Mall

Biographical note: Samani Rohini Pragya is assistant professor in the Department of Nonviolence and Peace, Jain Vishva Bharti University, Ladnun, India, and a student of Philosophy with her research topic being On The Jaina View of Reality - A Hermeneutic Interpretation.

She is a disciple of Acharya Mahashraman and was initiated in the Jaina tradition of asceticism by H.H. Acharya Mahapragya in 2002. See

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