According to the doctrine of the Jains, the world is everlasting and imperishable, created by no God and governed by no Higher Being. It is subject only to its own laws (lokasthiti) and, in spite of the change undergone by its component parts, remains in its essential character unchanged. It is of indeterminable, although limited, dimensions. In shape it is comparable to a symmetrically built man, in whose lower extremities are to be found the hells, whose central portion of the body encloses the animal and the human world, and whose breast, neck and head are composed of the heavens of the gods. Above the world of the gods, to be likened unto a lens, concave below and convex above, is the dwelling-seat of the blessed. The entire world is surrounded by dense layers of air and water. Beyond this is the non-world, the absolutely empty space.
The world consists of five everlasting, imperishable substances(dravya) which, through their modifications and the relation in which they stand towards one another, produce the multifarious world processes. These substances are the following:
1. Akasa, Space. It is the receptacle of all things, but in itself is contained in Loathing. Before all dravyas it is distinguishable as being also present-as alokakasa-in the non-world, whereas the others exist only in the loka. It is composed of an infinite number of space-points (pradesa), which consequently represent the smallest space-units.
2. Dharma, Motion. It is a kind of ether, which serves as the medium for movement. In itself it produces no local change, but it is the indispensable preliminary condition for it, as water is for the swimming of a fish.
3. Adharma is the medium for rest, the concomitant cause of the inertia of a thing; like dharma, it pervades the cosmos and comprises an innumerable quantity of space-points.
4. Pudgala, Matter. This exists in an infinite number of the most minute indivisible atoms (paramanu). Each one of these possesses touch, taste, smell and color, and can unite itself, after certain laws, with another or several more, till they reach an aggregate (skandha), and by that means produce the heterogeneous phenomena of the empiric world. The aggregate can occupy a greater or smaller number of space-points, the atom only one. Matter is found in a gross (sthula) and in a subtle (suksma) condition. Numerous pudgalas in a subtle state occupy the space of a gross one. The gross bodies alone are impenetrable; the subtle ones are not so (Tattv. V. 3c.).
5. Jiva, the Soul. The jiva is distinguished from all other substances mentioned above in that it possesses consciousness and intelligence. There are innumerable souls who, in fact, can influence one another, but who, according to their nature, are quite independent from one another and not connected in some higher unity (Brahman). Every jiva possesses infinite qualities (guna). For our purpose, only the following eight are of interest:
1) The faculty of omniscience (kevala-jnana).
2) The faculty of absolute undifferentiated cognition (Kevala-darsana).
3) The superiority over joy and grief (avyabadha).
4) The possession of complete religious truth (samyaktva) and irreproachable moral conduct (carita).
5) The possession of eternal life (aksayathiti).
6) Complete formlessness (amurtatva).
7) Complete equality in rank with other jivas.
8) Unrestricted energy (virya).
All these attributes belong by nature to every soul. In the world, however, comparatively only few souls exist in which they develop to perfection. On the other hand, the majority of all living beings has only restricted knowledge and energy, adheres to false metaphysical doctrine and neglects the laws of morality, experiences joy and grief, possesses the manifold individual qualities, and has only a temporal limited existence. The question as to how it happens that the peculiarities of the jiva are so changed into their contrary, is answered by Jainism in the following manner: All the eight gunas can become apparent if the jiva from all external influences. This, however, can only be the case with few souls. Most of them are not pure, but are infected by something foreign which veils their natural faculties, i.e. hinders them from entering into appearance. This foreign element is the Karman does not here mean "deed, work", nor invisible, mystical force (adrsta), but a complexes of very fine matter, imperceptible to the senses, which enters into the soul and causes great changes in it. The karman, then, is something material (karmapaudgalam), which produces in the soul certain conditions, even as a medical pill which, when introduced into the body, produces therein manifold effects.
The fine matter which can become karman, fills the entire cosmos. Through the vibration of the particles of the soul, which must necessarily follow when the soul puts into motion the material substrata of its activity, the pudgalas are attracted and are drawn to unite themselves to it; they become karman and enter into union with a jiva, more intimate than that between milk and water, than between fire and an iron ball. The matter once entered into the soul separates itself into a greater number of particles, the karma-prakrtis, with varying effects. Their number and character are conditional upon the conduct of the jiva; if this is good, the jiva assimilates good karman species, he "binds" good karman; when bad he binds bad karman. The karman may remain latent in the soul for a time without entering into appearance; but when the right moment arrives it becomes apparent, it realizes itself. The duration and intensity of the effect of a karman depends upon the state of mind (adhyavasaya) at the moment of the assimilation. When its efficacy expires it becomes extinguished.
The soul is eternally infected by matter; its union with the karman has no beginning and, as every moment it is gathering new matter, it has, in the natural course of things, no ending. The deliverance of the soul from the karman is, therefore, only possible by artificial means. Through a series of special processes the jiva must hinder the absorption of new karman and eliminate the karman already accumulated before they come to realization. If, through the eradication of the physical cause which predisposes him to assimilate certain karman, he succeeds in restricting and in the end totally hindering the binding of new karman, as well we, through the methodical subjugation of the senses, in annihilating the potential karman already in existence, he will become free from all karman. Then all obstacles which impede the development of his true nature are automatically overcome; released from the power of the karman, he can undisturbedly make manifest his own innate capabilities.
The karman doctrine, which in the foregoing has been only briefly sketched, has been formed by Jainism into a remarkable system, accurately worked out in its most minute details. To represent this is my task in the following chapters. We shall at first show the different karmans in themselves and in themselves and in their relation to one another; further on, the conditions which arise in the soul under the influence of the karmans; then , the causes which produce the formation of certain karmans; and, finally, the way that leads to release from them.