DOCTRINES OF JAINISM
1. THE DOCTRINE OF KARMA
(1) Importance of the Doctrine
The doctrine of karma occupies a more significant position in the Jaina
philosophy than it does in the other systems of philosophy. The supreme
importance of the doctrine of karma lies in providing a rational and
satisfying explanation to the apparently inexplicable phenomena of birth
and death, of happiness and misery, of in�equalities in mental and
physical attainments and of the existence of different species of living
It will not be out of place to recapatulate, here whether we have already
discussed that every Jiva or soul is possessed of consciousness and of
upqvoga comprising the powers of perception and knowledge; it has no form
but it is the doer of all actions; it has the capacity to occupy the full
dimensions of the body which embodies it, it is the enjoyer of the fruits
of its actions and is located in the changing universe: it has an inherent
tendency to move upwards and is a Siddha or liberated in its state of
If these are the characteristics of jiva or soul, how is it that a Jiva
finds itself entangled in the samsara, i.e., cycle of transmigration,
suffering birth and death, happiness and misery? In the world, only a few
souls are in a state of comparative development and the rest of them are
encaged in forms and bodies which make them blind to their nature.
The answer to this enigma is to be found in the doctrine of karma which
explains the operation of karmic matter which draws a veil over the
natural qualities of the soul crippling their powers in varying degrees.
Jainism starts with the premise that the soul is found entangled with
karma, since eternity. It is the primary function of religion to stop the
influx and mitigate the presence of karma with the soul and to show the
path of the liberation and the methods through which the soul could
(2) Nature of Karma
In ordinary parlance karma means action, deed or work. Some�times, it
means acts of ritualistic nature enjoined by the scriptures. In Jaina
philosophy, it means a form of matter or pudgala. It is inert and
lifeless. It is very fine and subtle. It cannot be perceived or discerned
by any of our senses. It cannot be seen even with the most sensitive
Microscope, and with the maximum magnifying capacity. It baffles all
analysis at the hands of the chemist or physicist who can neither identify
or analyse it. It is millions of times finer and subtler than the waves of
sound, light or electricity, or the electrons or the protons conceived by
modern science. Yet the matter is ever surrounding us on all sides and
permeating the entire space and atmosphere. It is the primary cause which
keeps the universe going. Every phenomenon in the universe is the
manifestation of the karmic energy.
(3) Bondage of Karma
As already noted, the basic principle of Jainism states that mun�dane
souls exist in the world from time eternal in association with matter. Of
course, the character of the bondage is freely and constantly being
changed; but the fact and condition of the bondage of the soul by matter
persists through all changes. This association leads to further bondage
and so the cycle goes on till the association is severed in such a manner
as to avoid any fresh contact.
As regards the process of bondage of karma with soul, it is maintained
that the contact takes place in the following way:
(i) The soul is surrounded by a large volume of fine matter called karma.
(ii) The vibration of the soul is called Yoga or activity and the activity
may be due to the body, speech or thought. Hence vibrations in the soul
occur as a result of activity of any kind.
(iii) When the soul tries to do anything, then instantly the surrounding
particles of matter cling to it just as the particles of dust stick to the
body besmeared with oil.
(iv) Like water in milk these particles of matter get completely
assimilated with soul.
(v) This assimilation of matter with the soul remains throughout life as
well as in its migration from one body to another through the process of
birth and death.
(vi) This connection of soul and matter is real; otherwise in a pure state
the soul would have flown to the highest point in the universe, as it is
the innate quality of the soul.
(vii) As this connection or bondage is effected by the karma or deed or
activity of the soul, the subtle matter which combines with the soul is
termed as karma.
(viii) This bondage of karmas with soul produces in the soul certain
conditions, just as a pill of medicine which when introduced into the
body, produces therein manifold effects.
(ix) This bondage of karmas with soul, obscures the innate qualities of
the soul in the manner in which the light of the sun is obscured by thick
clouds or blinding dust.
(x) Karma may result in or cause the inflow of punya, i.e. merit, or papa,
i.e., demerit or sin, according as the activity is subha, i.e., virtuous,
or asubha, i.e., wicked. The intention underlying an activity and its
consequences are both taken into account. That is why, subha karma, i.e.
merit, produces happiness and an asubha karma. i.e. demerit or sin,
produces misery, pain or uneasiness.
(xi) The karmic matter remains with the soul and binds it in the circle of
births as gods, men, denizens of hell and sub-human beings.
(4) Kinds of Karma
The karmas are divided into eight main divisions and 148 sub�divisions
according to the nature of karmic matter. The main eight karmas are :
(i) Jnanavaraniya, i.e., the Knowledge-obscuring karma. It bscures the
right knowledge of the soul and thereby produces different degrees of
(ii) Darsanavaraniya, i.e., the Conation-obscuring karma. It obs�cures the
conation attribute of the soul.
(iii) Vedaniya, i.e. the Feeling karma. It produces pleasure and pain and
thereby obscures the nature of the soul.
(i) Mohaniya i.e., the Deluding karma. It distorts the right attitudes of
the soul with regard to faith and conduct, etc. and produces passions and
a variety of mental states.
(ii) Ayuh, i.e., the Age. karma. It determines the length of life of an
(iii) Nama, i.e., the Body-making karma. It determines everything that is
associated with personality, that is, the kind of body, senses, health and
complexion and the like.
(iv) Gotra, i.e., the Family determining karma. It determines the
nationality, caste, family, social standing, etc. of an individual.
(v) Antaraya, i.e., the Obstructive karma. It obstructs the inborn energy
of the soul and thereby prevents the doing of an action, good or bad, when
there is a desire to do it.
Further, these Karmas fall into two broad categories, viz., (A) the
ghatiya, the desructive karmas, that is, those which have a directly
negative effect upon the qualities of the soul; and (B) the aghatiya, the
non-destructive karmas, that is, those which bring about the state and
particular conditions of embodiment. Each category includes four kinds of
karmas as given below:
(A) The Ghatlya, i.e. destructive Karmas comprise:
(i) Jnanavaraniya, i.e., the knowledge-obscuring karma.
(ii) Darsanavararuya, i.e., the Conation (darsana)-obscuring karma.
(iii) Mohaniya, i.e. the Deluding Karma, and
(iv) Antaraya, i.e., the Obstructive karma.
(B) The Aghatiya i.e., the non-destructive karmas comprise the remaining
four kinds of karmas, viz.,
(i) Vedan~ya, i.e., the Feeling karma.
(ii) Ayu i.e., the Age karma.
(iii) Nama i.e., the Body-making karma and.
(iv) Gotra i.e., the Family-determining karma.
The reason for distinction in these two categories lies in the fact that
while ghatiya karmas destroy the manifestations of the essential
attributes of the soul, the aghatiya karmas are mainly concerned with
environments, surroundings and bodies.
(5) Destruction of Karma
Since the presence of karmic matter in the soul is the cause of the cycle
of births and deaths and of all conditions of life, the soul must be freed
from the karmic matter. For this the influx or inflow of karmic matter
into the soul must be stopped by cultivating pure thoughts and actions,
and the stock of existing karmic matter must be consumed by the practice
of religious austerities.
In this way when the karmas are completely destroyed, the soul becomes
liberated with all its potential qualities fully developed. This liberated
and perfect soul is an embodiment of infinite perception, infinite
knowledge, infinite bliss and infinite power. It should, there�fore, be
the aim of every individual to achieve this perfect and natural condition,
of soul by one�s own efforts.
In regard to the question of the destruction of karmas. Jainism clearly
assets that the attainment of the freedom of the soul from the karmic
matter entirely depends on one�s own proper deeds or actions and not on
the favours of human or divine beings. Just as the interacting eternal
substances, viz., the dravyas, postulated in Jainism, admit no Creator, so
also the inviolable law of karma makes man the master of his destiny and
dispenses away with the favourite theistic idea that some divinity bestows
on man various favours and frowns.
The doctrine of karma is not the doctrine of fatalism. It is the law of
cause and effect. It is the moral law of causation which shows that man is
the maker of his fortunes or mis-fortunes. If a man enjoys or suffers, he
does so as a consequence of his actions, thought or speech.
(6) Distinctiveness of the Doctrine
Thus the doctrine of karma is the key-stone in the arch of Jaina ideology.
It tries to explain the reasons lying behind or causes leading to effects.
It maintains that every happening is the result of antecedent causes. As
the soul is regarded as the doer of actions, really the soul is made
responsible for all differences in people�s conditions. Whatever actions
are performed by the soul, it must bear the consequences thereof sooner or
later. There is no way out of it. The responsibility of consequences
cannot be shifted, nor exemption from the conse�quences be given. The soul
has to enjoy the fruits of the karmas in this life or in subsequent lives.
Further, it is clear that according to the doctrine of karma, there is no
salvation until the soul stops the influx or inflow of karmas and gets rid
of the existing karmas and that the soul will have to activate it�self by
its own deliberate efforts without expecting any help from an outside
agency. There is no use in asking the favour of God or His representatives
because Jainism never invests God with the power of determining the
consequences of the karmas nor bestows on them the authority to forgive
people from future consequences of past actions. It may be noted that
Jainism denies both intermediation and for�giveness on the part of God; of
what we have done we must bear the consequences. It is not fate, nor even
predestination, but it is the ceaseless effect of recording of the
different accounts that we keep with the forces of life. The karmas
constitute the karmic body; and it drags the soul into various forms of
existence till the karmic body bids good-bye to the soul.
This doctrine or theory of karma is an original and integral part of the
Jaina system. As it lays full stress on individual action and completely
denies the existence of divine dispensation, it is clear that the ethics
and asceticism of the Jainas are the logical consequences of this doctrine
In this connection Dr. C. Krause has, in her book Heritage of Last Arhat,
has rightly said that �Jainism does not fortify its followers by the
terrors of karma nor does it make them languish in unhealthy, effiminate
fatalism, as many people think all oriental religions do, but on the
contrary, it trains the individuals to become a true hero on the
battlefield of self-conquest�.