According to Jainism, no single, specific statement can describe the nature of existence and the absolute truth. This knowledge (Kevala Jnana), it adds, is comprehended only by the Arihants. Other beings and their statements about absolute truth are incomplete, and at best a partial truth. Anekāntavāda is a fundamental doctrine of Jainism.
The origins of anekāntavāda can be traced back to the teachings of Mahāvīra (599–527 BCE), the 24th Jain Tīrthankara. The dialectical concepts of syādvāda "conditioned viewpoints" and nayavāda "partial viewpoints" arose from anekāntavāda in the medieval era, providing Jainism with more detailed logical structure and expression. The details of the doctrine emerged in Jainism in the 1st millennium CE, from debates between scholars of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu schools of philosophies.
Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anekāntavāda apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy—even Jainism—which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view. The principle of anekāntavāda also influenced Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to adopt principles of religious tolerance, ahiṃsā and satyagraha.
The word anekāntavāda is a compound of two Sanskrit words: anekānta and vāda. The word anekānta itself is composed of three root words, "an" (not), "eka" (one) and "anta" (end, side), together it connotes "not one ended, sided", "many-sidedness", or "manifoldness". The word vāda means "doctrine, way, speak, thesis". The term anekāntavāda is translated by scholars as the doctrine of "many-sidedness", "non-onesidedness", "many pointedness" or "non-absolutism". An-ekānta "uncertainty, non-exclusivity" is the opposite of ekānta (eka+anta) "exclusiveness, absoluteness, necessity" (or also "monotheistic doctrine").
Traces of the doctrine of anekāntavāda are found in comments of Māhāvira in cannonical texts, where he states that the finite and infinite depends on one's perspective. The earliest comprehensive teachings of anekāntavāda doctrine is found in the Tattvarthasutra by Acharya Umaswami, and is considered to be authoritative by all Jain sects. In the Digambara tradition texts. The 'two-truths theory' of Kundakunda also provides the core of this doctrine.