Jayanta’s Inclusivism
August 17, 2007 — 5:57

Author: David Slakter  Category: Religious Belief  Comments: 4

One of the things for which Hinduism is most well-known for among Westerners is its claim to catholicity.  This view is usually associated with Advaita Ved�?nta, which posits a purely noumenal being, Brahman, behind the phenomena of experiencing God, Dhamma, etc. in all the world’s religions. The late 9th century Kashmiri Jayanta however gives a strictly theistic defense of religious inclusivism in his play Āgama��?ambara (“Much Ado About Religion”).  I give a brief sketch here of Jayanta’s arguments, as well as a discussion of the relevance they might have to contemporary debates.

Jayanta defends his view by claiming that all �?gamas (sacred texts and the traditions based upon them) are either the product of God or trustworthy person who “clearly bears the Lord’s luster.”  In response to the objection that the various �?gamas contradict one another, he claims that:

 With regard to the highest human goal, there is no contradiction among scriptures, since all teach the very same reward: deliverance.  Nonetheless, differing salvific paths are taught, according to the intellect of the beings to be favored.

This claim is defended through an examination of what Jayanta or members of opposing Hindu sects might offer as a defense of their own belief.  For Jayanta, he knows that the Vedas and the Pañcaratra are authoritative because they were pronounced by God.  This view is justified by the testimony of trustworthy persons and religious experience.

The significance of this, when one examines other religions, is that they also consider their tradition to be trustworthy because of divine origins, the testimony of trustworthy persons, and religious experience.  It cannot be argued that, contrary to Hinduism, these religions are immoral, for they all teach “nonviolence, sincerity, contentment, purity, self-control, munificence, compassion and the like.”  Thus, the other religions have as much claim to being reasonable as does Jayanta’s sect.

Jayanta does not think the claim that all contrary religions are the product of greed or delusion can be maintained, because their teachings are accepted by many erudite and respected persons.  He also gives the criteria a religion must meet in order to be considered valid:

Provided it has a widely acknowledged, unbroken tradition, provided the Aryas are not repulsed by associating with it or discussing it, provided its accepted practice is neither antisocial nor dangerous, provided it has not just recently sprung into being, provided it is not based upon the ramblings of a madman, nor on something outlandish, nor simply on something like greed: for such scriptures this method of validation is applicable, but it cannot be used for just any text.

Any religion which meets these criteria has as legitimate a claim to truth as Jayanta’s own.  For himself, this means that such religions must somehow be the result of a revelation by God or someone whom He has blessed, and thus their teachings about how to attain salvation must be considered to be trustworthy.

The fact that many religions have an equal claim to legitimacy does not undermine the authority of one’s own.  Furthermore, the authority and traditions of a religion which is not one’s own can also have no claim over a person, so each person’s obligations are always restricted to the sphere of a single �?gama.

The relevance of Jayanta’s position to contemporary debates is that it highlights some shortcomings of both exclusivist and pluralist positions.  For exclusivists who closely tie truth to rationality, Jayanta’s arguments show that the means one might use to show the truth of only one’s own religion can also be applied to other religions with the same results.  Contrary to pluralists, Jayanta’s argument also shows that it is possible to maintain the exclusive authority of one’s own tradition for oneself without claiming that the experiences and traditions of others are illusory or delusional.

  • Dear David, thankyou for an interesting post.
    Is there any further explanation given as to why older revelations should be preferable to new ones? I’m aware, of course, that in most cultures, there is a preference for ancient doctrines. Anyone who wants to found a new religious movement is advised to present it as an ancient teaching rediscovered if they want a popular following. At the same time, one would think that with a recent revelation, we would be in a better position to ascertain that it was not the result of madness or greed, and even old revelations were once new – it would be odd to say that someone was wrong to accept a revelation five hundred years ago when it was first revealed, but right to accept it now. So what role exactly does age of revelation play in Jayanta’s inclusivism?

    August 17, 2007 — 14:49
  • David Slakter

    Hi Ben,
    I think Jayanta assumes that any religion worth its salt will claim a basis in antiquity, regardless of how recent the revelation may be. His own sect was actually a form of Tantric Shaivism, and in both the Āgama��?ambara and the Ny�?yamañjarÄ«, he is concerned with rebutting the claims of the Vedic orthodoxy that his is an upstart religion with no basis in tradition. Jayanta’s response is to argue that the Vedas are the product of an all-powerful agent (God), rather than self-revealed, and that the same God is also the pronouncer of the Tantric texts that he follows.
    As for the role of revelation in the genesis of a religion, I think Jayanta assumes a prior Golden Age when the truth would have been widely known to all. I’m not aware of him stating this explicitly, but it’s a common part of Hindu cosmogony. Without clear proof that a religion does not have ancient roots, Jayanta seems to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt. You see this when he defends the Buddhists from the orthodox Brahmins by saying that the Buddhists’ religion may in fact stretch back beyond memory.

    August 17, 2007 — 15:35
  • I am a little bothered by Jayanta’s teleological focus. On Jayanta’s view, truth matters in a religion only insofar as it leads to good behavior and eventual salvation. But if we love someone, we do not just eventually want salvation, but we want to be know as much as we can about that person now, so that we will have more to love him for. So truth matters beyond its impact on good behavior and eventual salvation.

    August 18, 2007 — 12:14
  • David Slakter

    Hi Alex,
    I don’t think that Jayanta is saying that truth matters only insofar as it leads to good behavior and salvation, but that the latter reflect in some way on the potential truth of a religion, or at least the reasonableness of its adherents in assuming its truth.

    August 18, 2007 — 13:29