Doctrines of Jainism


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 inequalities in mental and physical attainments and of the existence of different species of living beings.

It will not be out of place to recapitulate here whether we have already discussed that every Jiva or soul is possessed of consciousness and of upayoga 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 perfection.

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 achieve perfection.

Nature of Karma

In ordinary parlance karma means action, deed or work. Sometimes 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 analyze 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.

Bondage of Karma

As already noted, the basic principle of Jainism states that mundane 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:

  1. The soul is surrounded by a large volume of fine matter called karma.

  2. 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.

  3. When the soul tries to do anything, instantly the surrounding particles of matter cling to it just as the particles of dust stick to the body besmeared with oil.

  4. Like water in milk these particles of matter get completely assimilated with soul.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. The karmic matter remains with the soul and binds it in the circle of birth as gods, men, denizens of hell and sub-human beings.

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 :

  1. Jnanavaraniya, i.e., the Knowledge-obscuring karma. It obscures the right knowledge of the soul and thereby produces different degrees of knowledge.

  2. Darsanavaraniya, i.e., the Contation-obscuring karma. It obscures the conation attribute of the soul.

  3. Vedaniya, i.e. the Feeling karma. It produces pleasure and pain and thereby obscures the nature of the soul.

  4. 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.

  5. Ayuh, i.e., the Age karma. It determines the length of life of an individual.

  6. 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.

  7. Gotra, i.e., the Family determining karma. It determines the nationality, caste, family, social standing, etc. of an individual.

  8. Antaraya, i.e., the Obstructive karma. it obstructs the inborn energy of the soul and thereby the doing of an action, good or bad, when there is the desire to do it.

Further, these Karmas fall into two broad categories, viz., (A) the ghatiya, the destructive karmas, that is, those which have a directly negative effect upon the soul; and (B) the aghatiya, the non-destructive karmas, that is those which bring about the state and particular conditions of the embodiment. Each category includes four kinds of karmas as given below:

The Ghatiya, i.e. the destructive Karmas comprise:

  1. Jnanavaraniya, i.e. the knowledge-obscuring karma

  2. Darsanavaraniya, i.e. the Conation (darsana)- obscuring karma.

  3. Mohaniya, i.e., the Deluding Karma, and

  4. Antaraya, i.e. the Obstructive karma.

The Aghatiya i.e. the non-destructive karmas comprise the remaining four kinds of karmas, viz.,

  1. Vedaniya, i.e. the Feeling karma

  2. Ayu i.e. the Age karma.

  3. Nama i.e. the Body-making karma and

  4. 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.

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 the embodiment of infinite perception, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss and infinite power. It should, therefore, 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 asserts that the attainment of the freedom of the soul from the karma matter entirely depends on one’s own proper deeds or actions and not on the favors 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 the man the master of his destiny and dispenses away with the favorite theistic idea that some divinity bestows on man various favors 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 misfortunes. If a man enjoys or suffers, he does so as a consequence of his actions, thought or speech.


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 consequences 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 itself by its own deliberate efforts without expecting any help from an outside agency. There is no use in asking the favor 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 inter-mediation and forgiveness 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 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 of karma.

In this connection Dr. C. Krause, 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, effeminate 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”.