Jain Philosophy (2) 20 – Theory of Karma

Jain Philosophy (2) 20 – Theory of Karma

Jain Philosophy (2) 20 – Theory of Karma


The Doctrine of Karma is a direct outcome of the extension of the age_old and well_established principle “as you sow, so you reap” to the spiritual sphere. In other words, this doctrine is nothing but an extension of the physical phenomenon observed in every day experience in nature that every action has a reaction, every effect has a cause and vice versa.

According to Karma doctrine, one’s Karma due to one’s deeds determine the course of life of every living being here and hereafter.  A pious life leads to comforts, contentment, and general well being in the present life, and rebirth in a higher and better form of existence. Evil actions result in birth in lower forms of existence in future lives and unhappiness or misery, in the present existence.  In short, Karma theory may be summarized as the “theory of inevitable consequences of one’s actions.” This doctrine seems to have developed along with other doctrines about the course of events or creation.  These include Kälväda (doctrine of time) treating time as a determining agent, Svabhäv_väda, (doctrine of Nature) which held the nature of things as sole determinant and Niyati Väda (theory of predestination) holding destiny as the prime factor, etc. Here it will be sufficient to mention that in Jain thought, true to its non_one_sided (Anekäntavädi) approach, due importance is given to all these factors as agents determining the course of life along with the doctrine of Karma.  However, prime place is given to Karma doctrine as it involves elements of freedom of will of the individual, accountability for one’s deeds (Karma) and is living or active as opposed to the inert and passive nature of other factors like time, nature and others

All the major religious systems originating in India; Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism have universally accepted and adopted the Karma doctrine.  Though the emphasis varies, all these major systems give the Karma Doctrine a prime place in the scheme of things spiritual, pertaining to each system.

Karma doctrine is the central theme of Jainism, coupled with the concept of soul and its transmigration in a continuing cycle of deaths and rebirths.  Jainism stress that one’s Karma primarily regulates the future destiny and course of life of all souls.  In this concept there is no control from an all_powerful God who interferes with, or determines, the destinies of living beings, as in some other religions and beliefs.  Jainism does not believe in such control from an all_powerful God. The position occupied by God in other religions and faiths as an arbiter of destinies of beings, is position occupied by Karma of the beings in Jain Philosophy. In this process the individual being is raised to a high pedestal, capable of determining one’s destiny and competent to write one’s pain and pleasures in this life and lives after.

The Karma concept and believing in the same, encourages and enforces an ethical behavior in its believers.  This is not on account of the fear of an all mighty God but for the simple reason that one will have to face the consequences of one’s behavior, good, or bad or indifferent, in this world or hereafter. Karma doctrine provides satisfactory explanation for the otherwise inexplicable divergence in existence, poverty vs.  prosperity, health vs. sickness, happiness vs. misery, which strikes one at every stage and which is unjustifiably ascribed to an all mighty God, why would God be partial? When these are the inevitable consequences of the beings own actions.

In Jain philosophy all forms of activity in thought, word or deed with any of the passions (anger, ego,, deceit and greed) together with the resultant material particles (Pudgal), which can get attached to the soul, are covered in the definition of Karma. Thus, Karma in Jain scheme is a combination of passions and “complexes of very fine matter, imperceptible to senses, which enters into the soul, causing great changes in it.”

According to Jain philosophy, the beginningless (not created by any one) and endless universe consists of the following six universal substances:

  • Living beings (Jiva)
  • Matter (Pudgal)
  • Medium of Motion (Dharma)
  • Medium of rest (Adharma)
  • Time (Käl)
  • Space (Äkäsha)

Jiva (Living Beings)

Of these only, the living beings have consciousness and possess the potential of infinite knowledge, infinite perception, infinite bliss etc.  Liberated souls possess these qualities and therefore are considered the perfect souls (the Siddhas).  These powers in case of the non – liberated or mundane souls are fettered due to their association with the other substance – (matter), which is non_conscious or non_living but possesses form. It is the only substance with form out of the six substances.

The association of the formless living souls with the non_living and tangible matter is beginningless (but not endless, as we shall see).  This beginningless association is an established concept and an accepted fact in Jainism like other similar accepted facts of an uncreated, beginningless universe.  This association is constantly renewing itself (till complete separation from the soul, Mukti) through the release of old matter and absorption of fresh matter by the soul because of the acts and deeds of the living beings. That element of matter, which is so associated with the souls or living beings, is known as the Karma Pudgal (the Karmic matter) and is included in the wider meaning of the word Karma.  Thus when it is said that one is engaged in the Karma of walking or talking it broadly implies that one is performing the act of walking or talking and also absorbing the resultant Karma matter into his soul. Strictly speaking, the word Karma should imply action only and the attachment of matter with the soul should correctly be expressed by the word Karma Bandha (Karma Bondage). However, the fact remains that in common parlance the term Karma is used to denote the actions and also their consequences by way of Karma Bondage.  This has at times resulted in misunderstanding, which is explained at the cost of a little diversion.

While comparing the message of the Bhagvat Gitä with Jain teachings it is usually said that while the former teaches activity or Karma, the latter is against Karma or action. This is hardly justified.  Jainism does not teach non_activity because it is simply not possible to forgo actions in one form or another as long as one lives.  This has been clearly stated in the beginning of Ächäränga Sutra, one of the earliest and most authentic compilations of the Jain canon. What is, however, prescribed in Jain teaching is to avoid Karma Bondage, (Karma Bandha) which is loosely interpreted as Karma or activity.  Actually there is considerable similarity in the message of the

Gitä and the Jain prescription for the pursuit of a correct course of life. The former teaches action without worrying about the result as per phrase “Karmanyevädhikäraste, Mäphaleshu Kadächan”. In Jainism, we also find exhortation about action with vigilance or Karma with Jayanä (vigilance) without passions, and at the same time maintaining equanimity or indifference while accepting the result, as this will not result in Karma Bondage.

Karma Pudgal (Matter)

To better understand the Karma Principle, we must answer the following questions:

  • What is Karma matter or Karma Pudgal?
  • How does it get attached or detached from the soul?

Matter consists of infinite number of Pudgal (indivisible particles of matter) very much smaller than the atom. They are so fine that in each part of space, infinite number of combinations of the Pudgal can be contained in their subtle (Sukshma) form.  Each of these Pudgals has at least four qualities of touch, taste, smell, and color and is capable of attracting (Snigdha) or repealing (Riksha) another Pudgal. Combination of more then one Pudgal particles is called Skandhas. Skandha can be created bigger or broken to small size by addition or substation of Pudgals, but Pudgal can not be created or destroyed and therefore existed from time infinite and this is the basis of Jain concept of the world being beginningless and endless. Combination of many

Skandhas becomes a functional unit and is called Varganä. There are eight types of Varganäs exist in the entire universe:

  • Audärika Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for all visible substances in the entire universe, which also includes the physical body of all living beings
  • Vaikriya Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for Vaikriya body, which can be converted to smaller or larger at any time. All heavenly and hellish beings possess such body.
  • Ähäraka Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for Ähäraka body. This body can only be possessed by spiritually advanced monks.  This body is very small in size and can be used for traveling the far distance.  The monks can assume this body temporarily and travel to far distance leaving Audärika body behind.  After the return, they will reassume their Audärika body.
  • Tejas Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is forms Tejas body which is responsible for providing heat, digestion power and other energy for internal functioning of the body and is very fine in size.
  • Bhäshä Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for Bhäshä or speech.
  • Shväsoshväs Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for breating
  • Mano Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for conscious “Mana” (mind) for thinking in most of the five sensed living (Sanjni) beings.
  • Kärman Varganä: This Pudgal Varganä is responsible for Karmic or Causal body or Karma attached to the soul.

The listing order of these eight Varganas are as per the Pudagal sizes they possess. The Karma Varganäs are the finest (Sukshma) and  Audärika Varganä is the biggest of all other Varganäs.

Here it will suffice to say that Karmic body:

  • Has beginningless association with the soul, which is renewing itself by shedding old Karma and acquiring new ones and this association end only upon the complete liberation of the soul.
  • Consists of the highest number or infinite Pudgals and is the finest (Sukshma) of all the other bodies
  • Always travels with the soul on its transmigration from one place to another and from one life to another without any obstruction
  • Determines the destiny and course of life of the soul in this world and the next that is good, bad or indifferent depending on the nature of the Karmic body.

Bondage and Separation of Karma to the Soul

Essentially the soul is pure consciousness and is absolutely non_contaminated and non_material. The liberated souls (Siddhas) are pure souls.  Such pure souls cannot be contaminated by Karma.  However, due to the beginningless contamination with matter, (Karma) the soul’s pure non_material form has also become partly material and therefore it may further be contaminated.

The Kärman Varganä attach to the soul because of soul’s activities and passions (anger, ego, deceit, and greed). The process of attachment of Karma can be divided into two parts:

  1. Conversion of the Kärman Varganä into Karma attaching to the soul due to Äsrava
  2. Quality and characteristics of the attached Karma particle are explained in Bandha

In higher stages of spiritual development of the soul; when the soul is passionless, the Karma attaching to the soul in the first moment and in the second moment leaves it. Karma stay just for one Samaya (smallest unit of time), which need not constitute bondage.

The worldly (Samsäri) or contaminated (with Karma) soul is undergoing constant vibrations that are due to the maturing of the old Karma already attached to the soul. These vibrations in the soul space are called Yoga. The Yoga is of three types depending on the results of the vibration of the soul in (i) body, (ii) speech or (iii) mind.  Vibrations resulting in activity of the body it is called Body or Käyä Yoga, if it manifests itself in activity of the speech it is called speech or Vachan Yoga and if it results in thought process it is termed Mano Yoga. It is because of these vibrations the potential Karma Pudgal (Kärman Varganäs) are attached into the soul and this is termed Influx or Äsrava.

This Äsrava or Influx due to the three types of Yogas can be good and virtuous (Shubha or Punya) or sinful and non_virtuous (Ashubha or Päp).  This is determined by the intention behind the activity of body, speech or mind. If the intention is bad being colored by the four passions, Anger, Pride, Deceit and Greed, it shall lead to sinful or bad (Ashubha) Yoga and Äsrava and if the intent is good marked by restraint over these passions it will be good or virtuous Yoga (Shubha).

As examples we give the following acts which are called good or Shubha or Punya Äsrava or beneficent Influx:

Good body yoga Charity, restraint, service.
Good speech yoga Truthful, sweet speech. 
Good mind yoga Wishing well of others in thought, good meditation. 

The following are the examples of bad or Ashubha Yoga, or Päp Äsrava:

Bad body yoga Violence, theft etc
Bad speech yoga Falsehood, harsh or hurtful talks.
Bad mind yoga Thinking ill of others. 

Viewed from another angle it is the attachment (Raga), or hatred, (aversion) (Dvesha) that are the villains of the peace as they lead to the four passions.  It is due to the presence of these villains that Yoga or Äsrava of Karma becomes bondage and without these, it does not.  When it does not result in Bondage, it is called Iryäpathic Äsrava (non_affecting) Karma, which departs from the soul as soon as it comes in.  The Karmic influx accompanied by attraction or aversion is called Sämparäyika Äsrava (affecting influx), which attach the Karma Pudgal with the soul and results in bondage with the soul.

The causes of such connecting Influx, Sämparäyika Äsrava are:

  • Twenty_five types of activities – Including acts of false faith, negligence, attachment etc.
  • Three Yoga – Activities of Mind, Speech and Body
  • Five Avirati – Nonobservance of vows of nonviolence, truth, non_theft, sensuous pleasure restraint and non_possessiveness.
  • Four Kashäya – anger, pride, deceit & greed.
  • Five senses – (& their actions) Sense of touch, taste, smell, sight & hearing.

To summarize, a soul, which is acting through thought, speech or action under the influence of Passions (Kashäya) will attract Karma that will stick to the soul, just like dust blown by wind sticks to a wet or oily piece of cloth, and will become bondage.  This type of Äsrava is of the nature of affecting Karma. Another soul acting similarly without Passions (Kashäya) may attract Karma but that Karma will not stick to the soul, just as dust blown by wind to a dry piece of cloth will not stick to it and are known as Non_affecting Karma.

Bondage of Karma

It might appear incorrect to say that Karma get attached or retained by the soul as the Karma as we have seen karma are non_conscious, non_living matter and, therefore, a passive agent.

Actually, it is the living soul that is the conscious and active agent, which by its vibrations through the acts of body, speech and mind attracts and retains the Karma and binds itself. However, it has to be remembered, that the soul is not a completely free agent (except when in pure state) and is acting under the influence of past Karma with which it has beginningless attachment, and which are in turn guiding its activities as they come to fruition. Further, though the Karma are considered lifeless and non_conscious, due to their attachment with the soul they acquire conscious character and give results.  Similarly, though the soul is invisible and does not have shape, due to the close association with Karma it acquires a Karmic body which is with shape and form and which is its constant companion.

It has been noted above that due to the three types of Yoga, activities of the soul (body, speech and mind), vibrations are caused in the Pudgal which are attracted to the soul and get converted into Karma.  It has also been mentioned that these Pudgal or Karma Varganä get attached to the soul due to presence of the four passions; Anger, Pride, Deceit and Greed along with Yoga activities.  It is clear that it is with passions that the influx becomes bondage (Bandha) of the soul. Thus, the passions are the principal causes of bondage of soul and its transmigration in the world, though the presence of Yoga is a precondition.

As mentioned earlier, causes of Bondage or Bandha are same as the causes of Äsrava or influx.

  • False vision or faith (Mithyä Darshan) implies want of true belief or indulgence in false belief.
  • Undisciplined life (Avirati), is not following the five vows (Vratas) Indulgence in violence, untruth etc.
  • Negligence (Pramäda), is carelessness in thought, word or deed
  • Passions (Kashäya) – Anger, pride, deceit, and greed. 
  • Yoga – Activities of mind, speech and body
  • In addition, these are the prime agents of bondage and therefore are rightly considered so along with Yogas (cause of influx). It must have become evident that the Influx and Bondage (Äsrava and Bandha), so as Samvar(stoppage) and Nirjarä (eradication) are occurring all the time simultaneously. These are very complex phenomena that can be gauged exactly by only omniscient ones the Keval_jnänis. Kevalis can see the interplay of soul and Karma Pudgal like clean water on one’s palm. Before closing this discussion and going over to the attributes of Karma it may be recalled that some Karma bondage is good or happy meaning thereby that they result in worldly prosperity, physical well_being etc. However, it is still bondage, and it results in continuation of transmigration of the soul in the world and obstructs its final release, the Moksha.

Various aspects of Bondage of Karma to the Soul

A number of questions can arise about different aspects of Bondage or Karma Bandha e.g. What is the result of such Bondage, does Bondage affect all quantum (Pradesha) of the soul or part only, is the bondage similar for all souls, etc.  The answers to these questions throw light on the process of Bondage and therefore deserve mention here.  It is the result of Bondage that Karma varieties are formed.

Dry grass is arid without any juice.  However, when a buffalo or a cow eats that grass, it undergoes some process of transformation in their digestive system and turns into milk. The milk of the buffalo is very dense and that of the cow is comparatively less dense. Thus, though they eat the dry grass of the same type, it is transformed into milk of different kinds in their stomach. Similarly, the material particles capable of being received by the souls, acquire different flavors on coming in contact with different souls and consequently being assisted by their passions of different degrees. This is called Rasa – Bandha or Anubhäga Bandha (bondage in respect intensity of flavor). Of the milks of different kinds, some have more energy and some have less energy.  Similarly, of all the auspicious or inauspicious karma, some have intense flavor and some have mild one.

In respect of Karma, the nature (Prakriti), duration (Sthiti), intensity (Anubhäga) and quantity (Pradesha) is determined along with the influx bondage.  The Karma acquired by the soul are in Sukshma (very fine form) and are formed by infinitesimal Pudgals. The soul in its entirety gets bound by the Karma Pudgal, which it draws from all directions but from the limited area of its (souls) existence only (not from beyond it).  However, the Karma Bondage of each soul varies depending upon the difference in its Yoga activities of body, speech and mind and the Kashäyas at that time.

Leshyä (State of Mind)

On account of its association with various types of aggregates of atoms, the mind undergoes different transformations or experiences varied influences. They are called Leshyä. Leshyä is the special state or transformation of the soul due to passions and activities. The soul has infinite fold transformations due to the infinite fold degrees of passions. Sometimes they are highly defiled, excessively evil; defiled, less defiled, less evil; sometimes evil_cum_good, impure_cum_pure; sometimes good or pure; sometimes better, purer; and sometimes best, purest, highly luminous. A crystal assumes the color of a thing placed in its vicinity.  Similarly,mental states change accordingly as the mind comes in contact with different substances. When man is angry, we all notice how the influence of anger on his mental state is seen on his face. At that time, his face turns red with anger and becomes deformed and distorted. This is the outward appearance of the agitation reflected in his mind of the aggregate of atoms of anger; it spreads over the face. Such aggregates of atoms or physical substances are classified into six divisions, viz., those of black color, those of blue color, those of gray color, those of yellow color, those of the lotus color and those of luminous white color.  Of these six types of substances, the mental state assumes the color of the type of substance in whose vicinity the mind happens to be. This coloration of the mental states is called Leshya.  Respectively they are known as Krishna, Neel, Kapot, Tejo, Padma, and Shukla.

In the first three Leshyäs, there is indiscretion (Avivek) and are considered bad. On the other hand, in the last three, there is discretion (Vivek) and are considered good. In the first Leshyä, indiscretion is at its highest degree, while in the last Leshyä, discretion is at its highest degree. The intensity of indiscretion decreases in the first three Leshyäs in accordance with their order of enumeration, while the intensity of discretion increases in the last three in accordance with their order of enumeration. The dense bondage of inauspicious or non_virtuous karma gradually decreases in the first three, while the bondage of auspicious or virtuous karma gradually increases in the last three. Again, auspicious dissociation of karma gradually increases in the last three Leshyäs.

The good mental state that arises on account of the association of mind with good substances is good Leshyä.  On the other hand, the evil mental state that arises on account of the association of mind with evil substances is evil Leshyä.

The material substances that reflect their colors in the mental or spiritual states are called Leshyä substances.  The Leshyä substances are included in activities (yoga) of mind, speech and body.

A Leshyä, being of the nature of transformation of activities (yoga), lasts as long as activities last. Even an omniscient person performing activities does have a Leshyä – the supremely white one. When all activities cease absolutely, that is, only in the 14th stage of spiritual development, wherein all activity ceases (at the time of death), Leshyä too ceases to exist and the soul becomes totally free from any coloration whatsoever as it does not have an association with Karmic body any more.

As per our scriptures, activity (yoga) of mind, speech and body is the determinant condition of nature of bondage (Prakriti Bandha) and quantity bondage (Pradesha Bandha), while passion (Kashäya) is the determinant condition of intensity bondage (Anubhäga Bandha) and duration bondage (Sthiti Bandha). Though Leshyä is of the nature of transformation of activities, it becomes one with passion to such an extent that it too comes to be regarded as the condition of intensity bondage; not only that but it comes to be regarded as of the nature of passion; of course, metaphorically or secondarily.

When the Karma get attached to the soul, they may be attached very loose or very tight depending upon the state of mind (Leshyä).  Accordingly, attachments are of four types:

  • Sprushta or Shithil (Loose): In this case Karma are attached to the soul like a loose knot that can easily be untied.
  • Baddha or Gädha (Tight) In this case Karma are attached to the soul like a tight knot that can be loosened with some efforts.
  • Nidhatta (Tighter) In this case Karma are attached to the soul like a very tight knot that can be loosened only by very strong efforts like austerities (Tapascharyä), and
  • Nikächit (Tightest): In this case Karma are so tightly attached to the soul that they cannot be shed off by any effort except by bearing the results.

Modification of Karma

Before concluding the discussion of four types of Karma bondage, it may be mentioned that it is difficult to divide the causes as well as the four types of bondage resulting from them into watertight compartments. Just as the causes like false faith (Mithyätva), negligence (Pramäda), indiscipline (Avirati), passion (Kashäya) and Yoga (activities of body, mind and speech) are generally present at all times in varying degrees in the different activities of beings. Similarly, the Karma bondage as a result involves all the four types and their species of bondage in varying degrees, which can be exactly gauged only by the perfect beings. The divisions and subdivisions of the types of bondage and their causes are only broad indications for guidance only. Again, there is nothing sacrosanct or permanent about the Karma bondage that must ultimately end in separation (Nirjarä) of the Karma from the soul which leads to liberation (Moksha), except in the case of some beings called Abhavya souls.

Between the stages of Bondage (Bandha) and separation (Nirjarä) of Karma with the soul, there are various stages that are described below shows the changes and developments that can occur in the bondage of Karma by our efforts.  The importance of this discussion lies in the fact that it highlights the supremacy of the soul over Karma or effort (Purushärtha) over destiny.  The process of penance and self_restraint does allow us to undo or reduce some of the Karma in their dormant state by the process of intensification, premature operation and dilution. It shows that by such effort the destined results of Karma bondage can be altered or modified to a certain extent. They are:

Type of Modification  Meaining 
Uday Manifestation
Satta Dormancy
Udvartana Intensification
Apavartana Dilution
Udirana Premature Operation
Sankraman Interchange
Upasham  Suppression
Nidhatta Flexibility
Nikachana Inflexibility

Manifestation (Uday)

Uday is the bearing of fruits by the activation of Karma due to all other conditions also being ripe. It is during the manifestation that the Karma has its good or bad effects on the beings and then leaves the soul. It may be involuntary or by deliberate effort when it is called Udiranä (Premature operation) discussed below. Manifestation of Karma may bring pleasure or pain, but one should observe complete equanimity (Samatä).  This will make the Karma shed its association with the soul without further acquisition of Karma. If one loses his equanimity and indulges in further passions during the manifestations of the karma, this will lead to consequent bondage ad_infinitum.

Dormancy (Sattä)

Sattä means existence of Karma bondage with the soul before coming into fruition or operation. It is the idle state of Karma bodies.

Intensification (Udvartanä or Utkarsan)

Udvartanä means further increase in the Duration (Sthiti) and/or Intensity (Anubhäga) of Karma bondage due to one’s actions.  This can occur only when Karma is in the dormancy state.

Reduction (Apavartanä or Apakarsan)

Apavartanä involves reducing the duration or intensity of Karma bondage due to one’s effort. This can occur only when Karma is in the dormancy state

Premature Operation (Udiranä)

Udiranä means bringing the Karma bondage into operation or fruition by deliberate effort (like penance).  In this process, the Karma that could have borne fruit later can be ripened early to give results in advance like ripening of fruit by artificial means. It may not apply to all cases of and types of Karma bondage.

Interchange (Sankraman) involves the change of one type of Karma bondage into another type like from non_virtuous to virtuous karma or vice versa. Ordinarily one main category of karma cannot be changed to another main category.  However, it is possible to change one subcategory of Karma into another subcategory by proper efforts e.g.  Sensory Knowledge Obscuring Karma (Mati Jnänävaraniya) may be changed into Study Knowledge Obscuring Karma (Shruta_Jnänävaraniya). There are, however, exceptions e.g.  Faith Deluding (Darshan Mohaniya) Karma cannot be interchanged with Conduct Deluding (Chäritra Mohaniya) Karma and the subtypes of Life Span (Äyu) Karma cannot be interchanged etc. The interchange is also possible in respect of duration (Sthiti) and intensity (Anubhäga) Karma bondage, which can be increased or decreased as stated earlier (under intensification (Udvartanä) and dilution (Apavartanä).

Suppression (Upasham)

When the Karma (bondage) is made not to give results when it is due, but are made suppressed, it is called a state of Upasham of that Karma. This is like fire covered by ashes. As soon as suppression is over, the Karma start giving results like fire whence ashes have been removed.

Flexibility (Nidhatta)

Nidhatta is the state of Karma when its intensity can be partially altered by effort like penance. This is, however, possible subject to extreme conditions and limitation. In this state, there is no possibility of Udiranä (Premature Operation) and Sankraman (Interchange). However, in this state, Udvartanä (Intensification) and Apavartanä (reduction) can take place. Thus, this state implies that the bondage of the karma is so tight that Udiranä and Sankraman cannot take place, but not so tight, that even Udvartanä and Apavartanä too cannot take place.

Inflexibility (Nikächanä)

Nikächanä is such Karma bondage the result of which is inescapable and the effects of which cannot be altered even by the best effort like penance.  Such Karma will release the soul only after giving results upon manifestation (Uday) except in last birth. Penance can remove Nikächit karma in last birth.

There can be more such stages in the relationship of soul with the Karma and between Karma intensity.  Even some of those described above are overlapping. However, it should be clear that though at times it seems that the Karma bondage has a stranglehold and upper hand on the soul, but it is not true. By adequate efforts, the soul can be supreme and can alter and dilute the effects of Karma; may even completely getting rid of them. This shows the importance of human effort (Purushärtha) vis_a_vis destiny.  If an aspirant engages him/her self in such activities as renunciation, austerities, practicing vows to refrain from sins and performing higher degree of spiritual activities, he/she can get rid of all Karma except Nikächit Karma.

It has become clear that Karma and the results thereof are strictly personal to the soul, responsible for and bound by them.  No other soul or being can help or share in the result of one’s Karma as they travel with the particular soul from birth to birth. If any expiation or alleviation has to be done it has to be done by the soul itself. No other soul can bail out the responsible soul by agreeing to bear or share the fruits of its Karma. In short, Karma bondage and Karma results are not transferable.

True to its analytical tradition, Jainism has divided Karma into a number of groups in order to bring out their important features to enable a clearer understanding of this difficult but important subject.  Accordingly, Karma are divided into the following significant groups:

  • Dravya Karma and Bhäva Karma
  • Shubha Karma and Ashubha Karma
  • Iryäpathic Karma and Sämparäyika Karma
  • Ghäti Karma and Aghäti Karma.

Though some of them have been discussed, they are highlighted below for the sake of comprehensiveness.

Dravya Karma and Bhäva Karma (Material Karma and Thought Karma)

The Karma Pudgal attached to the soul are the Dravya Karma, Yoga and the four passions (which lead to bondage) are the Bhäva Karma. The Dravya Karma being part of matter are materials in character while Bhäva Karma being activities or passions are characteristics of a defiled soul.  The former are called cover (Ävaran) of the soul like cloud covering the sun and the latter are defects (Dosha) of  the soul as it is associated with Karma.  The Dravya and Bhäva Karma are mutually related as each other’s cause and effect.  The Bhäva Karma (Yoga and passions) starts the vibrations and that attract Dravya Karma (Karma particles) and bind them to the soul, fruits of Dravya karma again cause vibration in the soul leading to further Yoga and Kashäya or further Bhäva Karma.  This chain reaction continues as a vicious circle till broken by positive and deliberate efforts called Samvar (Stoppage) and Nirjarä (Separation).

Shubha (Happy or Good) and Ashubha (Unhappy or Bad) Karma

Strictly speaking, from the spiritual point of view all Karma Bondage is Ashubha, as it fetters the powers of the soul. However, from the worldly point of view, fruition of some Karma gives happiness and contentment in the embodied life while others lead to unhappiness and discontent. The former are the result of Shubha Yoga and the later of Ashubha Yoga as discussed in the beginning of this chapter. These are loosely called Shubha and Ashubha Karma and are also described as Punya and Päp.  As all the Karma bondage must involve passion (Kashäya) even Shubha Karma (Punya) also imply Räga attachment) or Kashäya of some type or other. However, such attachment may be of noble type, which is called Prashasta Räga (praise worthy). Further the control over the passions or making them dormant (Upasham) may also result in Happy or auspicious Karma Bondage or Punya.  The reason for terming such Karma as Shubha or Punya is that they provide further opportunity for emancipation of the soul from Karma through prevention (Samvar) and separation (Nirjarä).

Iryäpathic (Shuddha or Pure) and Sämparäyika (Ashuddha or Impure) Karma

Iryäpathic Karma is a third group of Karma, which does not strictly bind the soul, as passions (the binding agents) do not accompany them.  They do not contaminate the soul. These may be termed as pure Karma or Shuddha Karma or Akarma (as mentioned in Gita). However both Shubha and Ashubha Karma fall in the Sämparäyika or impure group of Karma, as they are the result of activity colored with passions (Kashäya) and they bind the soul.

The pilgrim on the path of spiritual progress has to try to adjure the Ashubha (Päp) Karma completely and direct his efforts towards Shubha (Punya) Karma, which even though useful on the path of Moksha, is not his ultimate destination.  He should always aim at Shuddha (pure) Karma to avoid further bondage of the soul, which can lead to Moksha or liberation.

Ghäti Karma and Aghäti Karma

It is discussed in the Bandha chapter.

Vindication of the Doctrine of Karma

After endless argument about God, it can be said, “for those who do not believe in God, no arguments are possible, and for those who believe in God, no arguments are necessary”. The same thing may be said about the concept of Karma and no proof is possible or necessary for this theory.  Nor can it be proven in a laboratory.  However, it is a universally accepted postulate that is not required to be proven.  It was the revealed word from the teachings of the enlightened ones with all the authority of their perfect knowledge, insight and experience.

Moreover, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  The Karma concept provides a satisfactory explanation for otherwise inexplicable divergence in existence, as stated in the beginning of this chapter.  The other explanations for the divergence are the extremely materialist theory of thinkers like Chärväk who considers the creation as a lifeless interplay of five elements. This is generally not acceptable. Alternatively, at the other end is the theory that a supernatural phenomenon, called God is responsible for the creation with all the diversity and aberrations.  The institution of the supreme God though solving a number of problems creates many more and leaves a large number of unanswered questions like “who created the creator God” and “why should He put man to sin only to forgive him” and many more.

As stated earlier Karma theory steers clear of such problems and makes the being self_reliant and responsible for its deeds, at the same time enforcing an ethical behavior and highly moral conduct by willing common consent, which ultimately makes the world a better place to live. It provides a satisfactory key to the riddle of the creation and its complications and the key is in the hands of a real living being the soul, who is the central piece in the Karma scheme. Every living being is in control of his/her destiny.  Karma theory stands the scrutiny of reasoning. It substantiates the laws of nature.

Note that Karma theory and the materiel nature of Karma has faced its share of criticism. It has been considered fatalistic, individualistic, and rather mechanical and too emphatic on punishment and retribution. Here it may be briefly stated, on the basis of earlier discussions, that the Karma theory is neither fatalistic nor individualistic, nor mechanical nor retributive. A deeper understanding of the subject will reveal that belief in Karma leads to voluntary healthy effort along with acceptance of the inevitable and inescapable results of Karma, which avoids unnecessary discontentment. There is a deep social commitment in auspicious or Shubha Karma as already noticed above. There being scope for alteration or transformation in the results of Karma there is no question of its being called mechanical but involves self_effort. Lastly, belief in Karma emphasizes not so much on punishment or retribution but on the continuous efforts for moral regeneration and uplift of the beings and these result in a better social order a utopia visualized by all philosophers and prophets alike.




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