Jain Philosophy (2) 26 – Anekäntaväda III – Five Samaväya (Five Causal Factors)

Jain Philosophy (2) 26 – Anekäntaväda III – Five Samaväya (Five Causal Factors)

Chapter 26 – Anekäntaväda III – Five Samaväya (Five Causal Factors)

Introduction: Who is responsible for the events that occur in the world? Hegel said it is history. Marx said it is “the system.” Various views have been propounded to explain the occurrence of events.  These theories put forward mutually conflicting answers to the question of who or what causes events in this universe to transpire.  An event does not take place because of one reason. There are always more than one factors involved.  Per Jain philosophy, a situation develops or an event happens because of five reasons operating simultaneously.

Some schools of thought believe that whatever happens is God’s wish. They think that

  • God has created the universe
  • God manages the universe
  • God decides who gets what

This type of belief contrasts with that of the Jains, who believe that the six basic substances of the universe are eternal and they are:

  • Soul (Jivästikäya)
  • Material atoms (Pudgalästikäya)
  • Medium of motion (Dharmästikäya)
  • Medium of rest (Adharmästikäya)
  •  Space (Äkäshästikäya) 
  • Time (Käl)
  • They are indestructible and cannot be created.  Nobody manages the universe. Everything in the universe takes place in accordance with the laws of nature.  Every individual feels the appropriate repercussions of his/her actions in accordance with his/her own Karma.


    Samaväya is the name of the group of five causes that are associated with every situation or event. It gives the connection between action and causes. Without a cause, no action can take place.  These five causes have a deep connection with everything that takes place in the universe.  These all are responsible for all events (positive or negative) in the universe. The five Samaväya (group of factors functioning simultaneously) are:

  • Käl (Time)
  • Svabhäv (Nature of a Substance)
  • Niyati (Fate)
  • Nimitta and Prärabdha (External Circumstances, and/or Karma)
  • Purushärtha (Self Effort or Free Will)

Some people give focus only to one of these causes and ignore the others. The theory of Anekäntaväda, the Jain philosophy of multiplicity of viewpoints, rejects this way of viewing matters from a single angle. The Jain philosophy views and reveals the importance of each Samaväya from the Anekäntaväda and considers these five Samaväya as the causes for any action or reaction. Without these five, nothing can take place.

Käl (Time)

Time gives sequence to whatever happens in the universe. The Karma that are bound to the soul due to activities may not immediately manifest their fruits as soon as they are bound. The fruits of Karma appear at a specific time depending on the nature of the Karma itself.

Karma have to depend on time to present their fruits.  One cannot have fruits the very moment a tree is planted. The seed cannot neglect the temporal limitation set out by time for its transformation into a tree; even nature depends on time for its manifestation or actualization.

Time is a controlling principle.  Without it, temporal order cannot be accounted for. If there were no time, a spout, a stem, a stalk, a flower and a fruit – all would emerge and exist simultaneously. We cannot but acknowledge the fact that time plays an important role in the events of one’s life.

If man understands that time is one of the important factors that produces an effect, he will learn to be patient during the period from the inception of the work to its completion or accomplishment. Otherwise, he will wrongly expect success or accomplishment the moment the work has commenced or at least before its due time.  He may then lose all hope on account of not attaining success.  This will make him slack in his efforts.  As a result, he may be deprived of success in the future.

Svabhäv (Nature of a Substance)

Every substance has its own nature and they generate effects according to it. Time is not everything.  Even if the right time arrives, certain seeds do not sprout. Why are thorns sharp? Why do most flowers have beautiful colors? Why are some animals cruel? Why are some animals clever and capable of rapid movement?  Why does a dog bark? A single answer to all these questions is, it is their nature (Svabhäv).  For example, to bark is a dog’s nature. You will not be able to grow mangoes on a lemon tree.  In matters like these, individual nature is considered as the main cause.

Nothing can generate an effect against its own inherent nature, even if all other causal conditions such as time, human effort, etc., are present there.  An insentient or sentient thing produces an effect strictly in accordance with its own inherent nature.  Undoubtedly, the place of inherent nature is very important in the production of an effect or in the occurrence of an event.

Niyati (Destiny)

Niyati means destiny or fate.  In this world, there are certain things that are predetermined and unalterable.  In these situations, whatever has been destined will take place. Whatever has to happen keeps happening. In this process, change cannot be made despite our best laid plans. For example, even if we make all possible efforts, we cannot prevent the aging process or may not be able to save someone’s life.  If someone were going to hit our car from behind, he/she would do so despite our best efforts.  In essence, although we are in control of most events that occur throughout our life, there are certain things that are beyond our control.

Destiny can be regarded as identical to a certain type of karma, an unalterable karma. In Jain terminology, it is called ‘Nikächit karma’.  The Nikächit karma is that which is unalterable and which most certainly causes the experience of pleasure or pain to the concerned soul at the time of its fruition.  The fruit or result of such type of karma being Niyat (fixed and unalterable), the karma is known by the name ‘Niyati’.  However, it must be stressed that the concept of Nikächit only applies to a select few karma and cannot be used as a justification for apathy or evil.

Nimitta or Prärabdha (External Circumstances and Karma)

Nimitta is an apparent cause of a result or a catalytic agent (helper) of a process, result or activity.  There can be one or more Nimitta in any given event. Nimitta can be either external (person, objects) or internal (Karma).  Guidance of a Guru and scripture or an event can be an external cause.

Happiness, misery and various conditions related to us depend on diverse karma. Sometime we notice that good deeds yield bitter fruits and evil deeds yield sweet ones. Behind this apparent anomaly, it is the force of karma that is at work.  All strange things and all the sad and happy things we experience; are all due results of previously bonded Karma. A mother gives birth to twins. Still one turns out to be different from the other. This is because of one’s own Karma. The rich become poor, poor become rich, rich become richer and poor become poorer. This is also because of one’s own Karma.  Every one has to experience both the good and the evil consequences of their Karma.

There occur inexplicable or strange events in the life of an individual or of a group, which are described as ‘determined or controlled by Fate’.  From such events, we get the idea of the existence of karma.

Purushärtha (Self effort or Free Will)

Purushärtha or individual effort has a special place.  A person cannot progress if he/she depends on Time or Nature or Destiny or Karma and if he/she does not put forth effort. The human race has progressed because of efforts and initiatives.  It is not possible to improve anything without effort.

Which one is the most important of these five?  Which is the most effectual? The controversy regarding these questions is not of today; but has existed for centuries. Countless arguments and counter arguments have been made for and against one or another proposition. One who supports one view disagrees with other causes.  However, Jain philosophy does not consider these five from a single point of view; nor does it consider anyone of them as the only right one. The Jain philosophy considers their collective effect as valid and right. We must understand that in the production of each and every effect, all five causal factors are not equally important. Of course, all of them are necessarily present there simultaneously to produce an effect. However, with respect to a particular effect a particular causal factor acts as the principal one and the rest act as subordinate to it.

However, Jain philosophy does put more emphasis on individual effort (Purushärtha), because individual effort is the only one in our control.  Individual effort can change or eradicate one’s Karma. Purushärtha of the past is Karma of the present and Purushärtha of the present is Karma of the future. If we continue to put forth self_effort to shed our Karma, our destiny will improve and that can happen sooner depending upon the eradication of Karma. However, we must understand that it takes all five causes for any action to take place.

We cannot help but recognize the importance of human effort.  Those who regard karma as supreme should question themselves as to who generates karma.  It is the activity and passions of the soul that generates karma. Karma makes the soul wander in the cycle of life and death, whereas human effort wages war against karma, destroys their entire force and leads the soul to the Abode_of_the_Liberated. It is not the force of karma that brings about the manifestation of the state of liberation. In fact, it is the destruction of karma that is the only cause of liberation. It is only human effort that can destroy karma.  When one directs one’s attention to this uncommon characteristic of human effort, one finds it improper to give sole importance to karma. This is the reason why the knowledgeable and wise saints have taught us that the only means for improving and destroying karma is one’s firm determination to keep one’s mental, vocal and bodily operations auspicious (virtuous) or pure while performing spiritual good, auspicious, praiseworthy and compassionate acts. Those who depend solely on karma become despondent and indolent. Hence, they are deprived of success.

Though human effort has to depend on time, nature, etc., it is the most efficient way to bring victory to man. In the modern age, many wonderful things have been invented and widely used. These inventions serve as brilliant instances of the efficacy of human effort. Individuals or nations that put forth great efforts make progress and attain prosperity and welfare. On the other hand, idle individuals and nations fall behind and degenerate on account of their lack of vigor and vitality; they consequently become slaves of others and subject themselves to their oppressions.  If the achievements attained or inventions made by human effort are misused, it is the people who misuse them that are at fault and not the achievements or inventions.


We have now seen the importance of the five causal factors. All five are useful in their own places.  All contribute to the production of an effect.  We should not give exclusive importance to any one of them, rejecting all others or relegating them to an utterly insignificant place. The believers in the doctrine of time are under the sway of illusion, if they accept time while excluding the other factors without properly evaluating their contribution. This view is the right view, which accords proper placement to all the causal factors.  Contrary to it, the wrong view is that, which regards anyone of them as the sole cause, neglecting the rest.

Jainism puts most emphasis on Purushärtha (to rely a great deal on one’s own efforts and initiatives) since it is the only one in our control and can make an impact on other Samaväya in future.  No progress can be made if one depends only upon fate or Karma. Individual effort (Purushärtha) can help in shedding Karma and in purifying his/her consciousness. Believing in these five causes is the beginning of the theory of multiplicity of views (multifaceted truth or Anekäntaväda).

Significance of Samaväya:

  • To form an opinion on any one of the five causes indicates our ignorance about Jain reality.
  • However during our spiritual growth period, we should reflect on one cause that will reduce or minimize our vices and enhance our spirituality.
  • During the action or activity period one should reflect on: One’s own effort for the success (Determination, Free will, Self effort)
  • At the conclusion of an activity or action one should reflect on:

If the result is positive

The success was due to the help from others (external Nimitta or circumstances)

If the result is negative

The failure was due to my past karma (internal Nimitta) or

The failure was Predestined or

My effort was not adequate

  • Person needs Freewill, Determination, and Effort to progress from Illusionary/Ignorant state (1st Gunasthäna) to Monkhood state (6th Gunasthäna)
  • Person can not spiritually progress further without dissolving his/her ego.
  • To the egoless person, all events that occur in the universe seems predestined
  • This does not mean that events are predestined in reality (all five causes are equally present)
  • We may continuously change two of the five causes:

Purushärtha and Nimitta (Self Effort or Free Will, Karma and External situation) Hence the probability of all events are predetermined is very low

  • During an ignorance state a person is controlled by surroundings (Nimitta).
  • Hence on the path of spiritual progress the person should be surrounded by proper
  • environment
  • As spiritual progress occurs, the effect of external causes reduce, and the power of soul increases
  • Karma philosophy applies to ourselves, Compassion applies to all


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