Eradication of Karma (Nirjara)

Eradication of Karma (Nirjara)

The word Nirjara is made up of “Nir” and “Jara”. Nir is prefix while Jara means to fall off. Hence, in the Jain philosophy Nirjara means falling off, destruction, or removal of karmas from the soul. In the discussion of asrav and samvar, we gave the illustration of boating. Let us again go over that example which also explains how nirjara works. Let us pretend, as if you went boating. You were having a good time and suddenly noticed the water rising on the floor of boat. You immediately felt that the boat had a hole and if leak was not sealed the boat would sink. So, the first thing you did was to find a hole and then seal it so that new water would stop coming in. Then, you started pouring out the collected water so that the boat would be dry again. This removal of water is called a nirjara. Karmas are accumulating to the soul through asrava. These karmas cover the attributes of our soul, and the removal or destruction of these karmas is called Nirjara.

The more effective the nirjara, the faster the attributes of the soul will shine. Once all the karmas are shed off, the soul will go to the salvation and then it will be able to exhibit all its attributes in a full capacity. In fact, as we are constantly accumulating and stopping karmas, we are also to some extent shedding off karmas too. In respect to quantitative shedding off, nirjara is grouped into two kinds:

  1. Desh (limited) Nirjara, and
  2. Sarva (total) Nirjara.

In Desh Nirjara there is limited shedding off of the karmas. This is experienced by all while suffering from adversity or performing austerities, or prayers etc. This shedding off is done during all the stages of all gunasthanaks.

Sarva Nirjara is the total shedding off of the fkarmas and occurs right before the soul is liberated. Whenever the soul becomes a Kevali, it has shed off all the ghati karmas forever, but still has to shed off the aghati karmas. The rest of the aghati karmas are shed off forever right before the soul is liberated and achieves the salvation. These liberated souls are called Siddhas.

When karmas mature they show their results and once these results are experienced completely the karmas are considered shed off. Nirjara can also be divided into two kinds by the process of shedding off of the karmas. They are:

  1. Akam Nirjara,
  2. Sakam Nirjara.

When karmas mature automatically at their due time they cause suffering accordingly. Thus, we have no control on the timing and intensity of such suffering and we have not put any special effort or shown special desire or intention to suffer on our side. Once the supposed suffering is over then those karmas which caused this suffering are considered shed off. This natural process of maturity and sheding off of the karmas is called Akam Nirjara. Example: When someone suffers from hunger not voluntarily or willingly but due to unavailability of the food then those karmas which caused these suffering will be shed off passively.

On the other side when karmas are brought to maturity ahead off their due time by special efforts, voluntarily or willingly to give their results, then those karmas will be shed off sooner then expected. Thus, we have a control on this process and this active process to shed off the karmas prematurely is called Sakam Nirjara. Example: When we perform fasting (not eating) voluntarily and willingly even though the food was available in abundance, then we brought out suffering actively ahead of the time which in turn will shed off the karmas prematurely.

Therefore in akam nirjara, conditions for shedding off of the karmas are ripe, and karmas exhaust themselves after producing their results. When karmas lose their bondage in this way, it is called swathaha, self-destruction. In sakam nirjara, the destruction of karmas occurrs ahead of their natural time by special efforts, by means of tapas (austerity), That is called Upayanirjara, initiated destruction.

Our life is a live drama consisting of accumulating the karmas and shedding off of the karmas. This drama never stops till we reach salvation. Depending upon what kind and with what intensity we commit sinful activities (pap), nirjara may be easier or harder. In order to simulate the process of nirjara, different examples are given to show how easy or hard it would be to remove dust or a stain from an article of clothing.

The dust from the dry clothes can be easily removed by just shaking it.

It becomes a bit harder to remove the dust if the clothes was wet.

It becomes much harder to remove the dust if the clothes was oily.

It would be almost impossible to remove a stain from the clothes when it is from a coal-tar and would have to throw away the cloth.

Same way, from these examples, you can imagine how simple or how complicated a process of nirjara can be. In some instances, one would have no choice but to bear the results of one’s karmas. This last kind of karmas are called nikachit karmas. At this time, it would be wise to remind us that nirjara is done most effectively by humans only, because other destinies have their own limitations. But for humans, the limitations are set by humans only.

The special efforts to destroy karma is done through Tapas or austerities. Austerity means restraint, which is done willingly by giving away some of the bodily comforts to discipline our mind from passions and pleasures. Austerities are performed at various occasions and in various different ways. All austerities have their own uniqueness. Austerities may be performed at two levels:

  1. Physical manner or
  2. Psychic manner.

In the physical manner the person performs the austerity, but does not have the inner desires to change his or her life and therefore, it is just a physical act. While in the psychic austerity the person controls his or her inner desires along with performing a physical act. Unless the austerities are performed in psychic manner, they do not produce the much needed results. After all, the whole purpose of austerities is not just to simply make the body suffer, but to change our desires. Once that happens the person will be on the path to spiritual uplift. Austerity is part of right conduct.

Austerities are categorized into two groups:

  1. External, and
  2. Internal.

External (Bahyantar): External austerities are noticed by others because they have a greater component of physical than psychic manner.

Internal (Abhyantar): Internal austerities are not noticed by others because they have a greater component of psychic than physical manner.

Each of these two austerities are further divided in six types:

External (Bahyantar)

Fasting Completely (Anasan),

Partial Fasting (Unodari),

Limiting the number of items of food (Vruti Sankshep),

Limiting desired tasty food (Ras parityag),

Bodily Endurance (Kayakalesh),

Controlling of the Senses (Pratisanlinata).

Internal (Abhyantar)

Atonement (Prayaschit),

Politeness (Vinay),

Serving others (Vaiyavachch),

Giving away (Vyutsarg),

Spiritual study (Sajzaya),

Meditation (Dhyan).

External Austerity

Fasting Completely (Anasan):

Anasan means fasting, renouncing food and water, etc., for a day, for many days or throughout one’s life. One day of total fasting is called upavas. Fasting completely until death is done when life is close to an end. Such fasting is considered very auspicious and is called Physical Anasan.

Bhav Anasan refers to the total control of our inner desires for a short or a long time. If this austerity is cultivated then only we will be able to strive for spiritual uplift.

Partial Fasting (Unodari):

Unodari means eating less than what ones hunger is. The Jain dharma prescribes thirty-two handfuls of food per day and in order to perform this austerity, one may eat a few handfuls less than the prescribed amount.

Bhav Unodari means to limit our desires to some extent. It may be more difficult to do this than to control them totally, but once this starts then we will be able to limit our desires for the things in our daily life.

Limiting the number of items of the food (Vruti Sankshep)

In Vruti Sankshep, we put a limit on the number of items we may eat during a single sitting or throughout the day.

Bhav Vruti Sankshep means to limit our desires for some part of a day or a whole day. This austerity will help us to control our desires so that our mind will keep from wandering.

Limiting desired tasty food (Ras Parityag)

Ras Parityag means to renounce tasty foods which one likes very much. It can be done partially or in total for a short time or prolonged period of time.

Bhav Ras Parityag is more difficult to perform than the other austerities because in this we limit our most desired thoughts. An austerity of this nature will help us to control our passions even in the most tempting situations.

Bodily Endurance (Kayakalesh)

Kayakalesh means to stand or sit in a particular posture for a long period of time. This austerity may cause pain, but one should ignore the pain.

In Bhav Kayakalesh one stands firm in controlling passions even if temptations are great.

Controlling of Senses (Pratisanlinata)

In Pratisanlinata one controls all types of senses in order to prevent pleasant and unpleasant temptations. In order to perform this austerity one may stay in isolation for one or more nights.

In Bhav Pratisanlinata one controls oneself from lying, telling the distorted truth, or from participating in sensual activities. Thus this austerity helps to control passions like anger, pride, deception, and greed.


Atonement (Prayaschit)

In Prayaschit, one asks for forgiveness for the various errors of commission and omission, the faults and sins committed knowingly or unknowingly. This austerity may be performed in the presence of a monk or nun or can be done alone. Prayaschit helps us to reflect upon ourselves in a way that leads to self correction. Even for a small fault we begin to say ” Michchami Dukkadam.”

Humility (Vinay)

One must cultivate humbleness towards everyone. This austerity leads to tolerance and sympathy towards others and helps us to overcome ego and anger.

There are four types of Vinay:

  1. Jnan Vinay – One should be humble and respectful to those who are superior in knowledge and wisdom.
  2. Darshan Vinay – One should be humble and respectful to those who have acquired the true insight of religious principles.
  3. Charitra Vinay – One should be humble and respectful to those who have good morals and follow religious principles.
  4. Mana Vinay – One should pay respect and be humble to all saints who help others in their spiritual uplift.

Serving others (Vaiyavachch)

Vaiyavachch means serving religious teachers, ascetics, virtuous people, sadhus, colleagues, and companions with devotion. One should especially render services to the sick and weak. Though this austerity seems to be external activity it makes a person humble and serves the purpose of overcoming ego and hatred.

Giving away (Vyutsarg)

In Vyutsarg, not only one gives away sinful physical activities but also gives away sixteen different inner passions.

Spiritual Study (Svadhyay)

Svadhyay means to study scriptures or can also mean to understand the self. Through study we try to answer the questions: who am I? Who should I be? Through Svadhyay we realize that a soul is a pure thing. This will lead us to contemplate on the question: what am I doing in this body? Thus, study will lead you to be a pure soul. This study is divided into five levels:

When one starts reading the scriptures it is called Vachana.

While reading some doubts may arise and trying to resolve them is called Prachana.

After understanding what is right and contemplating on it is called Anupreksha.

After realizing what is right, one should contemplate on it again and again so one can stay in focus. This repetition is called Amnaya.

After learning what self is one should teach others the same. This is known as Dharmopadesh.

All five of the above are external svadhyay, but they will lead us to do internal svadhyay about the self. Thus, one will acquire right perception and right knowledge which will lead to right conduct and will open up the path to ultimate liberation.

Meditation (Dhyan)

Dhyan means concentration of thought. This concentration could arise from intense passions like attachment, lust, or animosity or from the search for the truth and from absolute detachment towards worldly affairs.

Dhyan is divided into four categories:

  1. Arta dhyan,
  2. Raudra dhyan,
  3. Dharma dhyan,
  4. Shukla dhyan.

In arta dhyan a person reflects on the i) loss of dear ones (Ishta Viyog), ii) development of a new relationship with an undesirable or unpleasant person (Anishta Samyog), iii) physical illness (Roga chinta) and iv) future planning (Agrasocha or Nidanartha).

In raudra dhyan one is absorbed in taking total revenge for some damage or loss caused by others. There are four types: i) Hinsanubahndhi, ii) Mrishanubadhi, iii) Steynubandhi, and iv) Samrakshanubandhi.

Both arta and raudra dhyan lead to accumulation of bad karmas and therefore art and raudra dhyan should be avoided.

Dharma dhyan means reflecting on the ways and means towards realization of self.

Shukla dhyan means reflecting on the purity of the soul.

Dharma dhyan and shukla dhyan lead to the removal of karmas. Therefore, for the purpose of nirjara we shall contemplate on dharma dhyan and shukla dhyan. If contemplation on dharma dhyan is at the highest level then we can completely destroy Mohniya karma and within 48 minutes of the destruction of Mohaniya Karma, Jnanavarniya, Darshanavarniya and Antary Karmas are also destroyed and one becomes a Kevali.

Other Austerities (Tapasyas)

There are some other common external austerities. They are:

  1. Navkarsi: One must take food or water forty minutes after sunrise. Even the brushing of ones teeth and rinsing of once mouth must be done after sunrise.
  2. Porsi: Taking food or water three hours after sunrise.
  3. Sadh-porsi: Taking food or water four hours and thirty minutes after sunrise.
  4. Purimuddh: Taking food or water six hours after sunrise.
  5. Avadhdh: Taking food or water eight hours after sunrise.
  6. Biyasan: Taking food twice a day sitting in one place while taking food.
  7. Ekasan: Taking food only once and sitting in one place.
  8. Ayambil: Taking food only once in one sitting. The food should not have any taste and spices and should be boiled or cooked. Also, one shall not use milk, curds, ghee, oil, and green or raw vegetables.
  9. Upavas: One must not take any food for twenty four hours starting from sunrise to sunrise the next day.
  10. Tivihar upavas: One may drink only boiled water during upavas.
  11. Chauvihar upavas: One does not even drink water during upavas.
  12. Tivihar: After sunset no food or juice shall be taken, but one may take only water until sunrise the next day.
  13. Chauvihar: After sunset no food or water is taken until sunrise the next day.
  14. Chhath: Upavas for two consecutive days.
  15. Attham: Upavas for three consecutive days.
  16. Atthai: Upavas for eight consecutive days.
  17. Masakshaman: Consecutive upavas for one month.
  18. Navapad oli: During every year for 9 days starting from the 6/7th day of the bright fortnight until the full moon day in Ashwin and Chaitra months, one does Ayambil. This is repeated for the next four and half years. These ayambils can also be restricted to only one kind of food grain per day.
  19. Varshitap, Vardhaman, and visasthanak tap, etc.

In Ekasan, Biyasan, Ayambil, or upavas one drinks boiled water only and that too only between sunrise and sunset. It is better if one can do a chauvihar or tivihar on the night before starting these austerities. If any of the austerities allow food, one shall not take raw vegetables, underground roots, and raw grains while performing such austerities.