Doctrine of Karma in Jain Philosophy by Glasenapp

First Steps To Jainism (Part-2)


Appendix A: Preface to German Edition of Book of
The Doctrine of Karma in Jain Philosophy, by Dr. H.V. Glasenapp

The doctrine of Karman is the central dogma of the Indian religions. It means : every action, every word, every thought produces, besides its visible, an invisible, transcendental effect- the Karman : every action produces, if one may so express it, certain potential energies which under given conditions, are changing themselves into actual energies, forces which, either as reward or punishment, enter sooner or later into appearance. As in the case of a bond which, although the amount borrowed may long ago have been spent, continues to exist and only loses its validity on the repayment of the capital sum, so also the invisible effect of an action remains in existence long after the visible one has disappeared. This effect does not confine itself to the present life, but continues beyond it; it destines qualitatively and quantitatively the state after death. Actions performed during the present existence are the causes of the future existence, and the present life is, in its condition and duration, the result of the actions of the preceding one. Thus the natural difference between individuals finds an explanation which is so plausible that inversely it is adduced as a proof of the truth of the Karman theory. The Karman doctrine involves the idea of an eternal metempsychosis; for, as in each new existence actions which must be expiated in a future life are performed anew, so the migration of souls continues without end; but, as, on the other hand, every existence presupposes the actions of a preceding one, so likewise it is without beginning. Now, however, the idea of the eternity of the samsara, as soon as life was contemplated pessimistically, necessarily led to the endeavour to bring the painful reincarnation to an end and eradicate the power of the Karman. To this longing after salvation from the painful cycle of rebirths a great number of religious and philosophical systems owe their origin, systems which, widely as they may deviate from one another in detail, are all in agreement in belief in the operating power of fault and of merit, in acceptance of the theory of the migration of souls, and in striving after a nirvana.

When and where the Karman doctrine has had its origin in India we do not know; only it is sure that it existed at least a thousand years before the beginning of the Christian Era, and has since become the basis and centre of religious thought. Although the various sects and schools are to some extent in accord with one another in their estimation of the efficacy of the Karman, there exist great differences between them regarding its philosophical explanation. There may be distinguished a whole scale of views, from the most extreme realism, which regards the Karman as a complexity of material particles infecting the sinful souls, to the most extreme idealism, according to which it is a species of newly produced invisible force, after all, in its highest meaning only unreal, because the entire world of the senses is an empty illusion, a dream, a Fata Morgana.

The conception first mentioned, the most realistic of all that have had their origin in India, is that of the Jains, of that Indian religious community which has existed from pre-Buddhistic times down to the present day. Their fundamental idea is, that the soul, pure in itself, is polluted through its actions and, in order to regain its natural state, must be free from its stain-an idea which is also found in other religions, but which, however, while it has remained with them only an allegorical expression, has been adopted by the Jains in the real sense of the word, and has been worked up into an original system, which even now is the foundation of the belief of one-and-a-half million people.

The Karman theory of the Jains as still taught today has been fully dealt with in a great number of works, Of these up till now, as far as I know, the following have been published : (1) the Karmagranthas; (2) the Pancasamgraha; and (3) the Karmaprakrti.

  1. The Karmagranthas are six books, of different dimensions, which treat of the most important points of the Karman doctrine. The text, composed in Prakrit-Gathas, and the Sanskrit Commentary on books I.-V., have been written by Devendrasuri (died Samvat 1327 in Malava). There also exists a Commentary on the Gathas, Balavabodhas written in Gujarati by Maticandra, Yasahsoma and his pupil Jayasoma, which is printed in the collection Prakaranaratnakara (Bombay, Samvat 1937) Vol. IV, pp. 305 et seq. The last, the sixth Karmagrantha, consists of some 70 Gathas, which have been taken from Drstivada by Candramahattara. The most important commentary appears to be that by Malayagiri (according to Kielhorn in the 12th century A.D.), which in the edition employed is added to the text; here the number of the Gathas is 75. Peterson, Report 1883, Appendix I. p. 27, mentions a manuscript, with a commentary by Devendrasuri, which comprises 77 Gathas : “Candramahattaracaryakrtagatha 70 tatra praksiptagathakarta Devendracaryah”. In the Fourth Report (1886-1892) p. 57, he mentions another manuscript which contains 89 Gathas, and makes the following comment : “At the end of the Saptatika Devendra states that tract is the work of Candramahattara to which he has himself added 19 gathas, bringing the total number up to 89”. According to that, then, the original text must have contained 70 Gathas, and the one used by Malayagiri was already enlarged by additions. In the Prakaranaratnakara IV, pp. 773 et seq the sixth Karmagrantha is also furnished with a commentary. The number of the Gathas therein has been increased by additions to 93. The variation in the number of the verses shows that this book has been the object of extensive activity on the part of commentators so that it is to be supposed that divergence between the views of different teachers has taken in it particularly acute forms. To me the commentary of Malayagiri has alone been accessible, for which reason deviations from the doctrine, that may have been expounded in his commentary by Devendra, might have been unavoidable. The difference between the views of the two masters cannot, however, have been of far-reaching consequence, because the variations existing between the first five Karmagranthas, explained by Devendra, and the sixth, commented upon by Malayagiri, are altogether of insignificant importance.

  2. The Pancasamgraha contains a summary of the entire Karman doctrine. It consists of a great number of Prakrit-Gathas, which emanate from Candrarsi (Candramahattara) i.e., from the author of the Gathas of the sixth Karmagrantha. Its name, Pancasamgrah “Epitome of Five Things”, the book owes either to the circumstance that it has been compiled from five older books : Sataka, Saptatika, Kasayaprabhrta, Satkarma and Prakrti (p.3) or to the five dvaras, of which it treats, namely yogopayogamargana, bandhakah, baddhavyam; bandhahetavah, and bandhavidhayah (p.5). It was commented upon by Malayagiri.

  3. The Karmaprakrti gives, in 475 Gathas, the detailed account of a portion of the Karman doctrine. It was compiled by Sivasarmasuri, who indicates as his source the chapter of the Agrayaniyapurva of the Drstivada, called “Karmaprakrti”. The K.P. has often been commented upon. The most celebrated commentary is the Tika by Malayagiri; besides, that, there exists a Vrtti by Yasovijaya; who lived in the 17th century, an anonymous Curni and a Tippana by Nemicandra.

The relations of the Karman works to one another and to other books of Jain literature are still in need of thorough examination, which, it must be admitted, can only be made possible when other works of description will yet have been published That Devendra was acquainted with the Karmaprakrti and the Pancasamgraha is seen from Kg. II, 144 a: “Devendrasurina likhitam karmaprakrti-pancasamgraha-brhacchataka-disastrebhyah”. Concerning his dependence on the commentaries of Malayagiri nothing for the moment can be said: there are, however, in many different places literal reminiscences of the writing of the latter; but, as both have made use of still older authors, it cannot be decided to what extent he leans upon him, or how far both go back to a common source.

Candramahatara and Sivasarman indicate as their source the twelfth Anga, the Drstivada, an indication which is also found in other parts of the Jain literature. As the Purvas are said to have been, partially at least, in existence up till the year 1000 after Vira., the Karman doctrine must have been, at the latest, completely developed at that time. The question now arises, whether this very complicated doctrine had already existed before that time or not i.e., whether it is the product of a comparatively recent speculation, or had been already in its essential points contained in the sacred writings. A final judgment regarding this can only be arrived at through a comparison of the ideas developed in the Karman works with those of the entire canon. I have not made such an examination. Nevertheless, as far as I could see, the most important Karman doctrines are contained actually in the Siddanta, of which any one can easily convince himself, if he but superficially consults the Sthananga-Sutra, Bhagavati-Sutra, Aupapatika-Sutra and Uttaradhyayana-Sutra. Many of the passages concerning Karman appearing in these works contain only generalities; many, however, give so many details that through them we may arrive at the result that already at the time of the canon the Karman was developed in a high degree. That not only the principle points but many details of the Karmna theory are contained in the Angas and Upangas, is proved by the numerous passages from the sacred writings which are quoted by the commentators and which often refer to quite special things.

Further, the fact that the Karman writings go beyond that which has been laid down in the canon, but do not contradict it, follows already from the reason that they have not invoked upon themselves the reproach of heterodoxy. For, with a religious community that zealously guards the purity of their doctrine, as do the Jains, any important deviation would not have remained unreproved. As with the canon, so also all Karman works are in accord in all things of prime importance; in some details, however, where in the sacred writing does not make any distinct declaration and leaves free rein to speculation, they differ from one another to the extent that in some details two or more views are exposed. There are two schools in particular who are opposing one another on many by-issues : the Agamikas and the Karmagranthikas. The former, the chief exponent of whom is Malayagiri, derive their ideas from a tradition which is dependent upon the Purvas. The Karmagranthikas and their spokesman Devendrasuri, however, lean on the authority of older works on the Karman, portions of which are even to-day in existence in Jain monastic libraries, but about which, nevertheless, nothing distinct is as yet known. For this attempt at a first complete, although not exhaustive, account of the Karman doctrine, works of the two schools have been used. This could be done without hesitation, because the differences between the two schools are quite unimportant in regard to the system as a whole, and in a preponderating majority area of an altogether trifling nature; in their proper place there will be pointed out the most conspicuous of these differences.

The leading works, on which this account is based are the six Karmagranthas, in addition to which the two other work have been consulted for comparison and for supplementary material; the ideas reproduced by us are therefore, within certain limitations, practically in their entirety those of Devendrasuri. The Karmagranthas recommended themselves before all other writings in so far as they demonstrate the Karman doctrine in the clearest manner, and because of their most methodical arrangement. For similar reasons they appear to be those most highly estimated by the present-day Jains as is proved by their frequent occurrence in manuscripts and in translations into the vernacular languages.

In order to afford the uninitiated an insight also into the essential principles and arrangement of the Karmagranthas, I append the following observations relating to them, commencing with a Survey of the contents of the Karmagranthas.

First volume of the Edition consulted.


1. Praise, list of contents, explanations and proofs of the K (1 a); 2. the K is fourfold, according to prakrti, sthiti, rasa, prades (3a); 3. the 8 Karma prakrtis, their sequence is logical (3b); 4-9. detailed explanation of jnanavarana-k (5a); 9-12. of darsanavarana-k (21b); 12-13. of vedaniya-k (23b); 13-22. of mohaniya-k (24a); 23. of ayus-k (31b); 23-50. of nama-k (31b); 51. of gotra-k (48a); 51.52. of antaraya-k (48b); 53-60. the ethical conduct as cause of the binding of ks. (49b); 60. colophon (53b).


1. Praise, list of contents (55a); 2. explanation of the 14 gunasthanas (56a); 3-12. representation of the different prakrtis which are possible in bandha in the gunasthanas. (63a); 13-23, the same in udaya (69a); 24. the same in udirana (74a); 25-34. the same in satta (75a); 34. colophon (78b).


1. Praise, list of contents (80a); 2-3. summary of prakrtis which are not bound (81a); 4-24. what prakrtis are bound in the 14 marganasthanas (81b); 24. colophon (91a).


1. Praise, list of contents (92a); 2. explanation of the jivasthanas (95b); 3. gunasthanas in jivasthanas (96b); 4-5. yogas in jivasathanas (98b); 6. upayogas in jivasthanas (100a); 7. lesyas in jivasthanas (101b); 7-8. bandha, udaya, udirana, satta in jivasthanas (102a); 9-14. detailed explanation of the marganasthanas (104a); 14-18. jivasthanas and marganasthanas (115b); 19-23. gunasthanas and jivasthanas (119b); 24-29. yogas and marganasthanas (123a); 30-34. upayogas and marganasthanas (133b); 35. another view on the relation of yogas, upayogsas, jivasthanas, gunasthanas (135b); 36-37. lesyas and marganasthanas (136b); 37-44. alpabahutava of the marganasthanas (137a); 45. jivasthanas in gunasthanas (145b); 46-47. yogas in gunasthanas (146a); 48. upayogas in gunasthanas (147a); 49. another view on the same subject (147b); 50. lesyas in gunsathanas (148a); 50-58. the causes of bandha (148b); 59-62. bandha, udaya, satta, udirana in gunasthanas (152b); 62-63. alpabahutva of the different beings in the gunasthanas (154a); 64-68. the states of the soul (154b); 69. the states in the Karmans and ajivas (157b); 70. the states in the gunasthanas (160b); 71-86. explanation of samkhyata, ananta (163b); 86. colophon (175b).

Second Volume of the Edition consulted


1. Praise list of contents (1b); 2-9. prakrtis with dhruva and adhruva bandha, udaya, satta (3a), 10-12. the latter in the gunasthanas (8a); 13-14. sarva-desa and a-ghatins (10a); 15-17. punya and papa-prakrtis (12b); 18-19. para-vartamana and pap prakrtis (13b); 19-21. ksetra, jiva-, bhava-and pudgalavipaka-prakrtis (14a).

Prakrti-bandha : 22-25. bhuyaskara-, alpatara-, avasthita-and avaktavya-bandha (16b).

Sthiti-bandha : 26-27. maximum and minimum-duration of the mula-prakrtis (22b); 28-34, maximum-duration of them (28a); 35-39, minimum-duration of them (28a); 40-41, explanation of ksullakabhava (32b); 42-44. who binds the minimum-sthiti of the different prakrtis ? (33a); 44-45. who binds the minimum-sthiti ? (36a); 46-47, utkrsta-, anutkrsta-, jaghanya-, and ajaghanya-bandha and sadi-, anadhi, dhruva-adhruva bandha (37b); 48. sthiti-bandha in the gunasthanas (39a), 49-51. alpabahutva of the sthiti-bandha of the different jiva-species (40a); 52. pleasant and un-pleasant sthiti-bandha and its causes (42a); 53-55 yoga; sthiti, and adhyavasaya-sthanas (43b); 56.62 abandha and satata-bandha (47b).

Anubhaga-bandha : 63. species of rasa (53b); 64. degrees of it (54a); 65. pleasant and unpleasant rasa (55a); 66-68. who binds maximum-rasa of the different prakrtis ? (57a); 69-73. who binds the minimum-rasa ? (59b); 74-75. utkrsta-, anutkrsta-, jaghanya-, ajaghanya-bandha and sadi-, dhruva, anadi-, adhruva bandha (64b).

Pradesa-bandha : 75-77. grahana and agrahana-varganas (68b), 78-79. what is the constitution of the matter which the jiva assimilates and how is the assimilation done ? (72a); 79-81. the distribution of matter between the prakrtis (74a); 82-83. the gunasrenis (79b); 84. antarala of the gunasthanas (81b); 85-88 explanation of palyopama and pudgalaparavarta (83a); 89-92. who has maximum-pradesa-bandha of the different prakrtis ? (89a); 93. who has minimum pradesa-bandha ? (93b); 94. utkrsta-, anutkrsta-, jaghanya-, ajaghanya-bandha and sadi, anadi-, dhruva-, adhruva bandha (95a); 95-97. yoga-and adhyavasaya-sthanas (98b). 98. Upasama-sreni (105a); 99-100. ksapaka-sreni (111b); 100. colophon (113a).


1. List of contents (115b); 2. bandha-, udaya-, satta-, mula-prakrti-sthanas (116a); 3-5. their samvedha in guna-and jiva sthanas (118b); 6. explanation of uttara-prakrtis (120b); 7. bandha-, udaya-satta-sthanas of the uttara-prakritis of jnanavarana-, and antaraya-k. (127b); 8-9. of darsanavarana (128a); 10. of vedaniya, ayus, gotra (130a); 11-24. of mohaniya (132a); 25-33. of naman (143a); 34-39. the same in the jivasthanas (158b); 40-52. in gunasthanas (168b); 53-55. in marganasthanas (189b); 56-58. udirana (194b); 59-63. bandha in gunasthanas (195b); 64. bandha in gatis (197b); 65. upasama-sreni (198a); 66-72. ksapaka-sreni (205b); 73. salvation (212b); 74-75. epilogue (213a).

The task of the Karmagranthas is to expose completely a dogma but not to prove it. That is why we find in them a full enumeration of the different kinds of the karman, of the states of the soul, the degrees of their development, etc., but we do not hear why any of this is thus and not otherwise. I am aware of one passage only wherein the author deliberately raises the question concerning the cause. It is contained in Kg. II; 75a; herein the author raises an objection as to how it is possible that the particle of matter seized in a moment by the soul is capable of transforming itself into the number of particles necessary for the formation of the various species of the Karman, whereupon he replies that it is through the mysterious power of the soul, of which we may not make to ourselves any idea, and through the peculiar quality of the matter itself. It may be observed, he argues, that matter on which no spiritual force is working, is changing into clouds and rainbows; why, then, could not matter with which a jiva is in connection be changed into different kinds of karman ? All further discussion is cut off by an energetic “alam vistarena”. The disregard of rational argumentation here shown is justified in so far Jainism does not pretend to have attained its doctrines by human rational means. It is not through the limited comprehension of an average man that Jainism arrives at its view-point of the world, but by revelation or, better, by that which an omniscient man, a kevalin, has communicated. Everything that such a master, adorned with 18 characteristics, proclaims concerning world and life is accepted un-conditionally as Truth that nothing can shake. All Jain scriptures, therefore, only undertake to recapitulate the utterances of such a man, to explain them, and, if necessary, to supplement them. This supplementing is done by the restricted agency of the human understanding ; the interpreters are consequently fully aware of their own inperfection, and point out, over and over again, that they are liable to err, for the reason that the Truth is only revealed to the omniscient ones, -nevertheless, this fact in no way deters them from opposing people who arrive at other conclusions.

In working up the material I have been governed by the desire to be as concise as possible. I have discarded all that is not in direct connection with the subject, that is to say, all the discursive matter which is interwoven in the text and the commentaries. Further, I have not taken into consideration all the views of the different teachers excepting only opinion expressed in the text itself. Although several things have been abbreviated or omitted. I hope that nothing of importance has been lost to view. If in many instances and in manifold regard the text provided too much for our necessities, on the other hand, in many respects, it supplied too little. In order to present a general view of the world of ideas connected with the karman doctrine, I felt myself compelled to supplement the missing points by drawing upon other works, chiefly the Tattvarthadhigam-asutra and the Lokaprakasa. This applies especially to the introduction and to chapter V., VI.2, VII.1, which, although probably affording scarcely anything new to the specialist in Jain philosophy, will not be unacceptable to other readers.

Of the books published in European languages, two only have been of prominent use to me. The first is the series of lectures on Karman Philosophy, delivered by the late Mr. Virchand R. Gandhi in London, and which were subsequently published from notes made by Mr. H. Warren. This excellent work would undoubtedly have become an exhaustive manual had Gandhi not been overtaken by death before its completion. Thus his work remains a torso, and treats of a small part only of the karman system proper, namely the doctrine of the karmaprakrtis and the first five gunasthanas; but, notwithstanding its incomplete form, it has been of great value to me. The other work to which I have referred is Professor H. Jacobi’s German translation of the Tattavarthadhigama-Sutra, the only book on Jain dogmatics hitherto translated into a European language. The rendering of numerous termini technique is due to it, and to it likewise I owe many observations contributing essentially to an understanding of the subject.

In conclusion, I feel myself bound to acknowledge the kindly aid and information supplied to me by those whose names follow : Mr. Hemchand Amerchand (Bombay), Dr. A. Guerinot (Paris), Jagmandar Lal Jaini, M.A. (Bankipore), Dr. Willibald Kirfel (Bonn), Pandit F.K. Lalan (Bombay), Vakil Keshavlal P. Mody, B.A., L.L.B. (Ahemdabad), Dr. Walther Schubring (Berlin), Dr. F.W. Thomas (London) and Mr. Herbert Warren (London).

I must reserve till the last my special expression of gratitude to my revered teacher, the celebrated Jainadarsanadivakara, Her Geheimrat, Professor Dr. Jacobi, who inspired me to undertake this work and who, by his advice and encouragement, has aided me in its accomplishment.

Dr. Helmuth Von Glasenapp