Chapter 21 – Theory of Karma and Reincarnation

Chapter 21 – Theory of Karma and Reincarnation

Chapter 21 – Theory of Karma and Reincarnation

We have seen that our comfortable or uncomfortable situations lie in the activities undertaken by us during this life or earlier lives.   Thus, this assumes a theory of rebirth.   It is the law of nature that we reap what we sow.   However, this reaping does not necessarily occur in the same life.  The law, moreover, is not restricted to physical activities.  It applies to our persisting tendencies and instincts as well, even though they may not be translated into action.  Whatever thoughts we may relish, whether in the midst of mountains or within a remote cave, they will have their consequences.   No one can escape these consequences.   It is not possible to deceive nature.  The consequences have to be borne sooner or later, and no one is immune. This law of Karma as a spiritual science is not different from the law of cause and effect, or that of action and reaction, as from physical sciences.   In the spiritual field, the scope of this Karma law is extended to the realm of emotions and feelings as well.

This law of Karma and theory of rebirth should not be brushed aside as a fancy of spiritual thinkers.   In fact, recent psychological research bears testimony to their validity.     Modern psychologists have been increasingly moving to accept it.   Dr. Alexander Cannon, during his experiments of age regression observed that the causes of his patients’ phobias lay in earlier lives.   The reasons for such ailments in many cases could be traced back, to the Roman period.  After surveying the results of 1382 reincarnation sittings, as he calls them, he compiled a book entitled ‘The Power Within’.   The following is a quote from the book.

  • “For years the theory of reincarnation was a nightmare to me and I did my best to disprove it but I have to admit that there is such a thing as reincarnation.   It is therefore only right and proper that I should include this study as a branch of psychology, as my text bears witness to the great benefit many have received psychologically from discovering hidden complexes and fears, which undoubtedly have been brought over from past lives.
  • This study explains the scales of justice in a very broad way showing how a person appears to suffer in this life as a result of something he has done in a past life through this law of action and reaction known in the East as Karma.  A person cannot see why he suffers one disaster after another in this life, yet reincarnation may reveal atrocities committed by him in lives gone by.”We can consider ourselves fortunate that we can obtain, as part of our heritage, what science has only now been revealing.   Most of us have in the background of our minds the consequences  of  what  we  are  now  doing.    That  helps  us  in  restraining  our  emotions  and tolerating adversity.   We should not react violently even when hurt physically or otherwise.   It is worthwhile to examine the impact of this theory of Karma for the broad spectrum of society.If everyone knew that one day, he is surely going to bear the consequences of whatever he does or thinks, no one would dare to indulge in any activity that would hurt others.  All conflicts and wars, disputes and violence, enmity and vengeance, parochialism and selfishness, would come to an end.   If one ponders rightly, he can realize that hatred and jealousy may or may not hurt the person against whom they are aimed at, but they surely will hurt him; since his sense of discretion and equanimity would be obscured by such defilements.   In that case, no one would harbor any evil and everyone would abide by the code of conduct that is beneficial to society.   Even if someone gets hurt by others, he would be inclined to consider it as a consequence of his own past evil Karma and nothing else.   Instead of adversely reacting, he would therefore bear it with a sense of equanimity and tranquility.   The world would turn into a paradise.

    Unfortunately, not everybody is going to realize this, and living beings have to bear the brunt of evils generated from passions and different types of evil instincts.  The seers have brought out the truth that every being is governed by the inviolable law of Karma.   Realizing that meritorious deeds would be ultimately helpful in pursuit of happiness, one can try to ensure one’s own future well-being by making use of his ability and resources for the benefit of all. Nature has left to us whether to abide by that law and stay happy by extending happiness to others or to learn the lesson the hard way by undergoing the miseries and pains arising from evil Karmas.

Classification of Karma

It is well known that some students do very well in class even though they don’t study, while others have to struggle to get good grades in spite of studying very hard.   In the same way, some people make a lot of money without much effort, while others cannot even find a job.  You might have also heard that some people are sick all the time, while others never get sick and some people live to be over a hundred years old, while others die as young children.  Everybody is searching for  an  answer to these strange disparities.   Some may say it is the God’s will, others may say it is  his luck, and so on.   Jainism says every thing happens due to the result of our past Karmas.   You reap what you sow and no God or anyone else can make this happen or change.

We and only we are the cause of our suffering or happiness.   This can be explained by the theory of Karma.   Therefore, it is very important that we understand this process very clearly. It also explains what karmas are, why and what role karmas play in our life (with the soul), and how we accumulate different kinds of karmas as well as how we get rid of them.

If you sit back and think, you will realize that you are doing something all the time.  Sometimes you might be talking, listening or thinking if not doing something physically. In other words you are always doing something.   This is only natural.   These activities may be harmful or helpful to others.   It is important to realize that everything we do brings karmas to our souls. When these karmas mature, that is when they are ready to give results they bring happiness or suffering to our lives.  This is how the karmas are responsible for our happiness or suffering.

Karmas are made up of Kärman particles.   The Kärman particles are made up of non-living matter (Pudgals).   They are scattered and floating all over the universe (Loka).   They are invisible even with the help of any kind of microscope.  A cluster of such innumerable Kärman particles is called a Kärman Varganä.     Kärman Varganä have the subtlest particles.   When the soul acts with a passion like aversion or attachment; or anger, greed, ego, or deceitfulness, it attracts these Kärman Varganäs to itself.   When these Kärman Varganäs get attached to  the soul, they are called karmas.   Karmas are classified into eight categories depending upon their nature.   The karmas can be good (Punya) or bad (Päp).   The good karmas are the result of good or pious activities while the bad karmas are the result of bad or sinful activities.

Process of the Bondage (Bandha) of Karmas

Bandha is the attachment of karma particles (karma Pudgal) to the soul.   Jainism believes that the soul has had this karmic matter bondage from eternity. Also from eternity the soul is ignorant about its true nature.   This karmic matter is known as the Kärman body or causal body or karma.

At every moment some of the Karmas continually produce their effects creating pleasure or pains to the soul.   After producing the effects, Karmas separate from the soul.

Also at every moment the soul continually attracts new Karmic matter because of its ignorance, lack of self restraint, passions, unmindfulness, and activities of body, mind, and speech.

Hence the soul, which was covered by karmic matter from eternity, continues acquiring new karma from the universe and exhausting old karma into the universe through the above mentioned process at every moment.

Because of this continual process of acquiring and exhausting karma particles, the soul has to pass through the cycles of births and deaths, and experiencing pleasure and pain.   So under normal circumstances the soul cannot attain freedom from karma, and hence liberation.

Our activities are:

1. Physical,

2. Verbal or

3. Mental

We further do these activities in three different ways,

1. We do the activities ourselves,

2. We ask someone else to do for us, or

3. We encourage someone else to carry out these

Thus, in different combinations, we do our activities in nine (3×3) different ways that cause bondage of the karmas to the soul.   At the time of the bondage of karmas to the soul, the following four characteristics play an important role. They are:

What kind (Nature) of Karmas will these be?                               Prakruti Bandha

How many Kärman particles (Quantity) will attach?                      Pradesha Bandha

How long (Duration) will these karmas stay with the soul?         Sthiti Bandha

How strong (Intensity) will the bondage of these karmas be?     Ras Bandha

The nature and the quantity of the bondage of the karmas depend on the vigor of activities while the duration and the intensity of the bondage of the karmas depend on the intensity of the passion behind those activities.

Nature of the Bondage of Karmas (Prakruti Bandha)

Depending upon the nature of the results they give when they mature, karmas are grouped in eight categories.   These eight categories are further grouped in two main categories,

1. Destructive (Ghäti) Karmas

2. Non-destructive (Aghäti) Karmas

Ghäti means destructive or obscuring.   The karmas that obscure the true nature of the Soul are called destructive or Ghäti karmas.   The karmas that do not obscure the true nature of the soul, but only affect the body in which the soul resides are called non-destructive or Aghäti karmas.

A.  Ghäti Karmas (Destructive Karmas):

  1. Knowledge obscuring (Jnänävaraniya) karma

As the name implies, knowledge obscuring karma obscures the full potential of knowledge of the soul.   Those who have less knowledge obscuring karma are more intelligent and learn more easily, while those who have more knowledge obscuring karma have problems retaining knowledge and learning.   There are five sub-types of knowledge obscuring karma.   They are:

  • Empirical-cognition knowledge obscuring (Mati-Jnänävaraniya) karma
  • Articulate knowledge-scripture knowledge obscuring (Shrut-Jnanävarniya) karma
  • Clairvoyance knowledge obscuring (Avadhi-Jnänävaraniya) karma
  • Telepathy knowledge obscuring (Manah-Paryay-Jnanävarniya) karma
  • Omniscience knowledge  obscuring (Keval-Jnänävaraniya) karma
  1. Perception obscuring (Darshanävaraniya) Karma

Perception means to perceive the right meaning and cognition.   Perception obscuring karma diminishes the powers of our correct perception through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin to the extent that we may not be able to see well, hear well, smell well, etc.   Perception obscuring karma therefore reduces the real meaning of the things we see, hear, smell, feel, taste and read and how we correlate them with each other.

  1. Obstructing (Antaräya) karma

The inflow of Antaräya (obstructing) Karma is caused by obstructing others in

  • Charity (depriving food, water, and cloths)
  • Gain (depriving of their due profit)
  • Enjoyment of consumable things
  • Enjoyment of non-consumable things
  • Making use of their powers to progress

It produces the following types of result in one’s life

  • Even though a person has a large savings but not able to donate some to charity
  • A rich person cannot eat a regular meal or cannot do meditation because of medical problem (diabetes).

Consequently Obstructing Karma is responsible for all the obstacles we face in our lives.  There are five sub-types of Obstructing Karma:

01  Charity obstructing (Dänäntaräya) Karma

02  Gain obstructing (Läbhäntaräya) Karma

03  Enjoyment Obstructing (Bhogäntaräya) Karma

04  Re-enjoyment obstructing (Upabhogänträya) Karma

05  Will power obstructing (Viryänträya) Karma

  1. Deluding (Mohaniya) Karma

Deluding Karma creates doubts about religion and spiritual teachers and destroys faith in the Jinä.  It obscures right belief and right conduct of the soul.  Deluding Karma causes attachment and hatred and passions such as anger, ego, deceit, and greed.  Deluding Karmas are divided into two groups.

Faith Deluding Karma (Darshan Mohaniya)

This Karma is so powerful that it brings in its train all other causes of Bondage of soul. They are undisciplined life (Avirati), Negligence (Pramäda), and Passion (Kashäya). As such it completely overpowers and misleads the soul and not only does it vitiate Right faith but also obstructs acquisition of Right knowledge and Right conduct.

Conduct Deluding (Chäritra Mohaniya) Karma

Conduct Deluding (Chäritra Mohaniya) Karma are those which obscure or obstruct Right conduct and are further sub-divided into twenty five categories,  sixteen of Passion Deluding (Kashäya Mohaniya) and nine of Pseudo-passion Deluding (No-Kashäya Mohaniya) Karma.

Of all the karmas, Deluding Karma is the most dangerous and the most difficult to overcome. It is well known that the senior most learned disciple of Lord Mahävir, Ganadhar Gautam could not attain Omniscience or Perfect knowledge (Keval Jnän) due to this Karma and his resultant attachment (Moha) for Lord Mahävir.  Gautam Swami became omniscient only when he realized this and gave up such delusion (Moha) after the death of Lord Mahävir.   Once this karma is destroyed, salvation or liberation is assured.

B.    Aghäti Karmas (Non-destructive Karmas):

  1. Feeling Producing (Vedaniya) Karma

Feeling Producing Karma is responsible for all the pleasure and pain we feel.   Some of the effects of Feeling Producing Karma are good health, happiness, sickness, sorrow, etc.

This is divided in 2 subtypes:

Pain producing (Ashätä Vedaniya) Pleasure producing (Shätä Vedaniya)

  1. Body Determining Karma (Näm Karma)

This Karma bondage determines the physique or the body that the soul will occupy.   It has got numerous sub-categories, varying from two to one hundred three, according to different schools and classification and sub-classification. There are two main divisions namely (i) Happy Physique  Karma  (Shubha  Näm  Karma)  and  (ii)  Unhappy  Physique  Karma  (Ashubha  Näm Karma).

  1. Status-Determining (Gotra) Karma

Status determining karma determines your social and economical status.   There are two sub- types of status determining Karma:

  • High status determining (Uchcha Gotra) Karma

High  Status  Karma  involves  a  high  and  respectful  status  in  respect  of  (i)  family;  (ii)community (iii) learning (iv) power (v) profit (vi) penance (vii) looks and (viii) luxury.

  • Low status determining (Nichcha Gotra) Karma

Low  Status  Karma  results  in  the  opposite  equipment  and  attainments  like  low  and disrespectable family.

  1. Life Span-Determining (Äyushya) Karma

Age determining karma determines our life span.   Our life span may be shortened by natural calamities or accidents.   The age determining karma determines the lifespan for the next life when  two  thirds  of  our  current  life  has  passed  and  it  is  based  on  precisely  what  kind  of activities we are doing with our mind, speech or body. If we are involved in good deeds at that time in point, we will have a longer and a better next life. Since nobody knows which point in our life is this point; we should be constantly involved in doing good deeds. If our next lifespan is not decided at the first two thirds then it is decided at two-thirds of remaining time.   If it is still not decided yet then again at the two thirds of  remaining time and so on and so forth, or at the time  of death.   Age determining karma will not be acquired if the soul is going to be liberated in the current life.  

There are four sub-types of age determining karma:


  • Infernal Age Determining  Narak Äyushya Karma
  • Sub-Human Age Determining  Tiryancha Äyushya Karma
  • Human Age Determining  Manushya Äyushya Karma
  • Celestial Age Determining  Dev Äyushya Karma

Quantity of the Bondage of Karmas (Pradesha Bandha)

If the physical vigor of our activities is weak, then we accumulate a smaller number of Kärman particles, but if the physical vigor is stronger, then we accumulate a larger number of Kärman particles on our soul. The higher the number of Kärman particles bonded, the stronger is the resultant effect.

Duration of the Bondage of Karmas (Sthiti Bandha)

The duration of karmic particles on the soul is decided by the quality of our passions at the time of our activities.   If our desire for the activity is mild, then the duration of the bondage will be for a short time.   On the other hand if the passions are stronger, the duration of the bondage will be for a long time.   The minimum time could be a fraction of a second and the maximum time could be thousands or even millions of years.

Intensity of the Bondage of Karmas (Ras Bandha)

The  intensity  of  karmas  depends  upon  how  intense  our  passions  are  at  the  time  of  our activities.   The lesser the intensity of our passions, the less strong is the resulting effect of the karma; the greater the intensity the stronger the resulting effect is.

The tightness of the bondage of the karmas to the soul is categorized in four different kinds.

  • Loose Bondage: This is like a loose knot in a shoestring, which can easily be untied. The Karmas, which are attached loosely to the soul, can be easily shed off by simple austerities and repentance.
  • Tight Bondage: This kind of bondage needs some more effort to untie it.  Similarly, the Karmas, which are attached tightly to the soul, could be shed off with some effort like atonement.
  • Tighter Bondage: This kind of bondage needs even greater effort to untie it.  Similarly the Karmas, which are attached tighter to the soul, could be shed off with special effort like greater austerities.
  • Tightest Bondage: This kind of bondage cannot be undone, no matter how hard you work at it.   Similarly the Karmas, which are attached so tight to the soul, cannot be shed off by any kind of effort b ut we have to bear their results for this karma to be shed off.













Related Articles