Doctrine of Karma Part -1

First Steps To Jainism (Part-2)


Doctrine of Karma Part -1

The Doctrine of Karma is a direct outcome of the extension of the age-old and well-established principle “as you sow, so you reap” to the spiritual sphere. In other words, this doctrine is nothing but an extension of the physical phenomenon observed in every day experience in nature that every action has a reaction, every effect has a cause and vice versa.

According to the Karma doctrine the course of life of every living being here and hereafter is determined by his Karma or his deeds and a pious life leads to comforts, contentment and general well-being in the present life and re-birth in higher and better forms of existence. Evil actions result in birth in lower forms of existence in future life and unhappiness or misery,, in the present existence. In short Karmavada may summarised as the “theory of inevitable consequences of one’s actions.” This doctrine seems to have developed along with other doctrines about the course of events or creation. These include Kalvad or doctrine of time (treating time as a determining agent), Svabhav-vad or doctrine of Nature (which held the nature of things as sole determinant), theory of pre-destination (holding destiny as the prime factor) etc. These are proposed to be discussed separately in this book. Here it will be sufficient to mention that in Jain thought, true to its non-one-sided (Anekantvadi) approach, due importance is given to all these factors as agents determining the course of life along with the doctrine of Karma.. However, prime place is given to Karma doctrines as it involves elements of freedom of will of the individual, accountability for one’s acts or deeds (Karma) and is living or active as against the inert and passive nature of other factors like time, nature and others.

The Indian thinkers universally accepted and adopted the Karma doctrine in all the major religious systems originating in India viz. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Though the emphasis varied, all these major systems gave the Karma Doctrine prime place in the scheme of things spiritual, pertaining to each system.

What is a bit surprising is that the doctrine of Karma, did not get the place it deserved in the three western religions viz., Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Though it is said that prophet Mohammed warned his daughter that she will be judged by God, on the day of reckoning, by her deeds in her life-time and not because she was the prophet’s daughter. May be the concept of an omnipotent God-head did not permit acceptance of the due importance of the Karma Doctrine.

However, nowhere else except in Jainism is so much importance attached to the principle of Karma. Coupled with the concept of soul and its transmigration in a continuing cycle of deaths and re-births Jainism lays down that it is one’s Karma which primarily regulate the future destiny and course of life of all souls. In this concept there is no place for an all powerful God who interferes with, nay determines, the destinies of living beings as in some other religions and beliefs. As already stated in Part I Jainism does not believe in such an all powerful God. The position occupied by God in other religions and faiths as an arbiter of destinies of beings is held by Karma of the beings in Jain Philosophy. In this process the individual being is raised to a high pedestal, capable of determining his destiny and competent to write one’s fate.

Also the disputes and doubts surrounding the concept of an all powerful and jealous God are resolved as if by one stroke. At the same time the Karma concept and belief in the same- encourages and enforces an ethical behaviour in its believers. This is not on account of the fear of an Almighty God (whom no one has seen) but for the simple reason that one will have to face the consequences of one’s behaviour – good or bad or indifferent – in this world or hereafter. Moreover the Karma doctrine provides satisfactory explanation for the otherwise inexplicable divergence in existence viz., poverty v/s prosperity, health v/s sickness, happiness v/s misery, which strikes one at every stage and which is unjustifiably ascribed to an almighty God when these are the inevitable consequences of the beings own actions.

Against the brief background above, we take up detailed discussion of Karma doctrine in Jain philosophy. The meaning of the word Karma commonly accepted in Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. is activity, work, deed or act. It also implies sacrifices or yagyas performed as a part of Brahamanic rituals as well as the prescribed formalities like fasting and other forms of worship called Karma-Kand.

However in Jain philosophy every form of activity in thought, word or deed with any of the passions (anger, pride, deceit and greed) together with the resultant material particles (Pudgals), which can get attached to the soul, are covered in the definition of Karma. Thus Karma in Jain scheme is a “complexes of very fine matter, imperceptible to senses, which enters into the soul, causing great changes in it.” This can do with some elucidation, though it may involve a little repetition or recapitulation.

According to Jain philosophy the beginningless, endless and uncreated universe consists of six substances viz. (i) Living being (Jeeva); (ii) Matter (Pudgal); (iii) Time (Kaal); (iv) Space (Akash) (v) Medium of rest (Adharma) and (iv) Medium of Motion (Dharma). Of these only the living beings or souls have consciousness and possess the potential of infinite knowledge, infinite perception, bliss etc. Actually the liberated souls possess these qualities and, therefore, are considered the perfect souls the Siddhas. These powers in case of the unliberated or mundane souls are fettered due to their association with the other substance-matter which is non-conscious or non-living but possesses form and is the only substance with form out of the six substances.

The association of the formless or shapeless living souls with the non-living and tangible matter is beginningless (but not endless as we shall see). This beginningless association is an established concept and an accepted fact in Jainism like other similar accepted fact of uncreated beginningless universe. This association is constantly renewing itself (till complete separation form the soul i.e. Mukti) through the release of old matter and absorption of fresh matter by the soul because of the acts and deeds of the living beings. That element of the matter which is so associated with the souls or living beings is known as the Karma Pudgal or the Karmic matter and is included in the wider meaning of the word Karma. Thus when it is said that one is engaged in the Karma of walking or talking it broadly implies that one is performing the act or activity of walking or talking and also absorbing the resultant karma matter into his soul. strictly speaking the word karma should imply action only and the attachment of matter with the soul should correctly be expressed by the word Karma Bundh or Karma Bondage. However, the fact remains that in common parlance the term karma is used to denote the actions and also their consequences by way of Karma Bondage. This has at times resulted in misunderstanding, which is explained at the cost of a little diversion.

While comparing the message of the Bhagwat Geeta with Jain teachings it is usually said that while the former teachers activity or karma, the latter is against Karma or action. This is hardly justified. Jainism does not teach inaction or non-activity because it is simply not possible to forgo actions in one form or another as long as one lives. This has been clearly stated in the beginning of Acharang Sutra, one of the earliest and most authentic compilation of the Jain canon. What is however, prescribed in Jain teaching is to avoid Karma Bondage or Karma Bandh which is loosely interpreted as Karma or activity. Actually there is considerable similarity in the message of the Geeta and the Jain prescription for the pursuit of a correct course of life. The former teaches action without worrying about the result “Karmanyevadhikaraste, maphaleshu Kadachan” in Jainism also we find exhortation about action with vigilance or Karma with Jayana i.e. without passions, at the same time maintaining equanimity or indifference while accepting the result, as this will not result in Karma Bondage. After this slight diversion we take up the questions about the Karma Principle, that naturally arise :

  1. What is the Karma matter or Karma pudgala, and

  2. How does it get attached with or detached from the soul.

Let us take these questions one by one to throw light on the subject of Karma.


What is the Karma Matter or Karma Pudgal ?

We have seen that “Matter”, the only substance in the universe with form consists of infinite number of Pudgals-indivisible particles of matter-very much smaller than the atom. They are so fine that in each part of space infinite number of combinations of the Pudgals or Skandhas can be contained in their subtle (Sukshama) form. Each of these pudgals has at least four qualities i.e. touch, taste, smell and colour.

There are many categories of clusters of these pudgals called varganas. These varganas are of eight types (with many subtypes) like Bhasha vargana or category of speech, Sharir vargana (category of body), Mano vargana (mind category) etc. One of such categories of pudgals is Karma varagana i.e. pudgals that have the potentiality of becoming Karma matter of different types and of getting attached to the soul. It is this particular category of matter called Karma Vargana which is absorbed by the contaminated and thus material soul due to its activity and passions and is converted into Karma body (Karma Shareer) just as an oil lamp absorbs oil and converts it into a flame due to its heat. It has been mentioned that it is the contaminated soul that absorbs Karma matter. This needs to be elucidated. Essentially the soul is pure consciousness and is absolutely non-contaminated and non-material the liberated souls (Siddhas) are like this. Such pure souls cannot be contaminated by Karma-as they are two categories distinctly separate from each other i.e. one is living being (Jeeva) and other is non-living being (ajeeva). But due to the beginningless contamination with matter (Karma) the soul’s pure non-material form has also become partly material and, therefore, it may further be contaminated. As stated earlier pudgals joining the soul are in the form of Karma Vargana each with infinite number of pudgals in their fine (sookshama) form and constitute the Karma body or Karma Shareer of the soul. These Karma varganas are the finest (sookshama) of all other varganas, which means that while they have the largest number of Pudgals, yet they occupy the least space (as explained in a separate chapter).

All the Karma matter associated with a soul form the soul’s Karma body (Karma Shareer) which is one of the five categories of bodies of the soul i.e.

  1. Audarik,

  2. Vakriya,

  3. Aharak,

  4. Tejas and

  5. Karman (to be discussed separately).

Here it will suffice to say that Karma body:

  1. has beginningless association with the soul which is renewing itself by shedding old Karma and acquiring new ones and which can and finally end only upon the complete liberation of the soul,

  2. it consists of the highest number or infinite pudgals and is the finest (sookshma) of all the other bodies,

  3. it is not stopped by any obstruction,

  4. it always travels with the soul on its transmigration from one life to another and finally,

  5. it determines the destiny and course of life of the soul in the world and the next which is, good, bad or indifferent depending on the nature of the Karma body-Karman Shareer-accompanying the soul and giving results.


How does Karma matter get attached with the soul ?

After dealing with the Karma matter, we come to the second and more important question of the nature of attachment of Karma matter with the soul. This issue is the core or heart of Jain thought and to some extent it has been dealt with in Pt. I while dealing with Seven Fundamentals. However, that discussion was primarily from the point of view of the soul and its journey in this world. We shall now deal with this subject from the point of view of Karma which is the subject under discussion.

The process of attachment of Karma (it should imply Karma matter) with the soul can be divided into two parts (i) entrance or introduction of Karma into the soul, (ii) attachment proper or retention of Karma by the soul. The former is called Asrava or Influx and the letter is known as Bandh or Bondage as they denote entry into and the binding of the soul by the Karma respectively.


Entrance or introduction of the Karma into the soul ?

All Influx or Asarva of Karma into the soul may or may not be followed by or become bondage or bandh, but bondage is always preceded by Influx. In higher stages of spiritual development or progress of the soul (Gunasthans to be dealt with separately) when the soul is passionless, the Karma entering the soul leave it simultaneously, staying just for one Samay (smallest division of time), which need not constitute bondage. However, all bondage i.e. bandh of soul by Karma must be preceded by entrance or influx or Asrava as without such introduction or influx the Karma cannot bind the soul. The line of distinction between the two is very fine so much so that in its broader concept bondage includes influx and the causes for the latter (influx) are also included in the list of causes of the former (bondage). This will be clearer as we continue this discussion. Let us first discuss the influx, introduction or Asrava of Karma into the soul.

The unliberated worldly (Sansari) or contaminated (with Karma) soul is undergoing constant vibrations which are due to the effect of the old Karma already attached to the soul. These vibrations in the soul space are called YOGA-distinct from the other meanings of word YOGA like meditation, concentration or addition. In the external world they are manifested through the body that the soul may be occupying. The Yoga is of three types depending on the results of the vibration of the soul in (i) body, (ii) speech or (iii) mind. In case vibrations result in activity of the body it is called Kaya or Body Yoga, if it manifests itself in activity of the speech or speaking it is called speech or Vachan Yoga and if it results in thought process it is termed Mano Yoga or Mind Yoga. It is because of these vibrations of the soul, termed three types of Yogas as mentioned above, that disturbance is created in the area of influence of the soul and body (it occupies) in the world. The potential Karma pudgal (Karma varganas) out of the other infinite number of pudgals in the world are attracted into the soul as a result of these vibrations and Yoga and this is termed as Influx or Asrava.

This Asrava or Influx due to the three types can be good and beneficent (Shubh or Punya) or bad and sinful (Ashubh or Paap). This is determined by the intention behind the activity of body, speech or mind. If the intention is bad being coloured by the four passions, viz., Anger, Pride, Deceit and Greed, it shall lead to sinful or bad (Ashubh) Yoga and Asrava and if the intent is good marked by restraint over these passions it will be good or beneficent. As examples we give the following acts which are called good or shubh or Punya Ashrava or beneficent Influx :

  1. Good body yoga – Charity, restraint, service.

  2. Good speech yoga – Truthful, sweet conversation.

  3. Good mind yoga – Wishing well of others in thought, good meditation.

The following are the examples of bad or Ashubh Yoga or Pap Asharava :

  1. Bad body yoga – Violence, theft etc.

  2. Bad speech yoga – Falsehood or harsh or hurtful talk.

  3. Bad mind yoga – Thinking ill of others.

Viewed from another angle it is the attachment or hatred and otherwise involvement with things worldly i.e. Raga (attraction) or Dwesha (aversion) that are the villains of the piece as they lead to the four passions. It is due to the presence of these that Yoga or Asrava of Karma becomes bondage and without these it does not. When it does not result in Bondage it is called Iryapathic Asrava i.e. non-affecting Karma which go out of the soul as they come in. The Karma influx accompanied by attraction or aversion is called Samprayik Asrava or affecting influx which attach the Karma pudgal with the soul body and that results in bondage of the soul. The causes of such connecting Influx-Samprayiak Asrava is given as under though they are all covered in the broader scope of Raag and Dwesh activities :

  1. Three Yoga – Activities of Thought, Word and Body

  2. Five Avirati – Non-observance of vows of Non-violence, truth, non-theft, sexual restraint and non-covetousness.

  3. Four Kashaya – Anger, Pride, Deceit & Greed.

  4. Five senses – (& their actions) Sense of touch, taste, smell, sight & hearing.

  5. Twenty five types of activities – Including acts of false faith, negligence, attachment etc.

To summarise, a soul which is acting through thought, word or deed under the influence of Raga and Dwesh or Passions (Kashya) will attract Karma (Ashrava) which will stick to it just like dust blown by wind sticks to a wet or oily piece of cloth, and will become bondage (Bundh). This type of Ashrava is of the nature of affecting or Samprayik Karma ashrava. Another soul which is also so acting but without Raag-Dwesh or Passions (Kashaya) may attract Karma but they will not stick to the soul just as a wooden ball striking against a dry wall does not stick to it but falls apart, and are known as Non-affecting or Iryapathic Karma. To some extent this touches upon the second and main part of our enquiry i.e. “How does karma matter gets attached and retained by the soul” which we can take up now in detail.


Attachment proper or retention of Karma by the soul

To put the record straight it might appear incorrect to say that Karma get attached or retained by the soul as the Karma as we have seen are non-conscious, non-living matter and, therefore, the passive agent. Actually, it is the living soul that is the conscious and active agent which by its vibrations through the acts of body, speech and mind attracts and retains the Karma and binds itself. However, it has to be remembered, that the soul is not a completely free agent (though at times it is) and is acting under the influence of past Karma with which it has beginningless attachment, and which are in turn guiding its activities as they come to fruition. Further, though the Karma are considered lifeless and non-conscious, due to their attachment with the soul they acquire conscious character and give results. Similarly, though the soul is invisible shape-less entity, due to the close association with Karma it acquires a Karmic body which is with shape and form and which is its constant companion.

It has been noted above that due to Yoga-activities of the soul of three types (body, speech and mind), disturbance is caused in the material world or Pudgal which are attracted to the soul and which get converted into Karma. It has also been mentioned that these Pudgal or Karma-vargana get attached to the soul due to presence of the four passions, kashyas i.e. Anger, Pride, Deceit and Greed along with Yoga activities, otherwise they leave the soul simultaneously with their influx (Ashrava). As such it is clear that it is with passions that the influx (Ashrava) becomes bondage-bandh of the soul. Thus the passions or Kashayas are the principal causes of Bandh or Bondage of soul and its transmigration in the world, though Yoga are a precondition.

Thus we have seen that YOGA and KASHAYA are the two causes of Bondage or Bandh. According to other tradition false vision (Mithya Darshan), un-diciplined life (Avirati) and Negligence (Pramad), are also considered causes leading to Bondage (Bandh) of the soul (in addition to the YOGA and KASHYA). However, an in-depth look will reveal that these three causes are covered by Yoga and Kashaya in their broader meaning.

False vision or faith (Mithya Darshan) implies want of true belief or indulgence in false belief. Undisciplined life (Aviriti) is not following the five vows (Vratas) i.e. Indulgence in violence, untruth etc. and Negligence (Pramad) is carelessness or recklessness in thought, word or deed and all these ultimately result in four Kashayas, the four passions i.e. Anger (Krodh), Pride (Maan), Deceit (Maya) and Greed (Lobh). Also these are the prime agents of bondage and therefore, are rightly considered so along with Yogas (cause of influx). However, in higher stages of the development of the soul (Gunasthan), where finer distinction and detailed appraisal has to be made, all the other causes are also mentioned so as to put them in proper perspective.