Doctrine of Karma Part -3

First Steps To Jainism (Part-2)


Some additional observations, conclusions and Summary
(The Doctrine of Karma Part -3)

These observations are supplementary to the above discussion of the doctrine of Karma. They also summarize some observations and throw additional light on some aspects-for these reasons these have been taken at the end.

Firstly, it must have become clear that Karma and the results thereof are strictly personal to the soul, responsible for and bound by them. No other soul or being can help or share in the result of one’s Karma as they travel with the particular soul from birth to birth. If any expiation or alleviation has to be done it has to be done by the soul itself. No other soul can bail out the responsible soul by agreeing to bear or share the fruits of its Karma. In short Karma bondage and Karma results are not transferable.

True to its analytical tradition Jainism has divided Karma into a number of groups in order to bring out their important features to enable a clearer understanding of this difficult but important subject. Accordingly Karma are divided into the following significant groups :

  1. Dravya Karma and Bhava Karma

  2. Shubh Karma and Ashubh Karma

  3. Iriyapathic Karma and Samprayik Karma

  4. Ghati Karma and Aghati Karma.

Though some of them have been discussed or mentioned in passing, they are highlighted below for the sake of comprehensiveness.

Dravya Karma and Bhava Karma (Material Karma and Thought Karma).

The Karma Pudgal or the Karma Vargana attached to the soul are the Dravya Karma and the Yoga and the four passions (which lead to bondage) are the Bhava Karma. The Bhava Karma being activities or attributes of the soul are spiritual in character while Dravya Karma being part of matter are material in character. The former are called defects (dosa) of the soul and the latter the cover (avarna) of the soul. The Dravya and Bhava Karma are mutually related as each other’s counterparts i.e. cause and effect, each of the other. The Bhava Karma i.e. Yoga and passions (Kashaya) attract Dravya Karma (Karma pudgal) and bind them to the soul, while the latter cause vibration in the soul leading to further Yoga and Kashaya or further Bhava Karma. This chain reaction continues as a vicious circle till broken by positive and deliberate efforts called Sanwar (Prevention) and Nirjara (Separation).

Shubh (Happy or Good) or Ashubha (Unhappy or Bad) Karma

Strictly speaking from the spiritual point of view all Karma Bondage is Ashubh, as it fetters the powers of the soul. However, from the worldly point of view some Karma Bondage makes for happiness and contentment in the embodied life while others lead to unhappiness and discontent. The former are the result of Shubh Yoga and the latter of Ashubh Yoga as discussed in the beginning of this chapter. These are loosely called Shubh and Ashubh Karma and are also described as Punya and Paap. As all the Karma bondage must involve passion or Kashaya i.e. Raag and Dvesh even Shubh Karma or Punya also imply Raag (attachment) or Kashaya of some type or other. However, such attachment may be of noble type which is called Prashast Raag. Further the control over the passions or making them dormant (upshama) may also result in Happy or auspicious Karma Bondage or Punya. The reason for terming such Karma as Shubh or Punya is that they provide further opportunity for emancipation of the soul from Karma through prevention (Sanwar) and separation (Nirjara). However, it may be reiterated that even the best of Shubh Karma or Punya even Teerthankar Naam Karma is inferior to Nirjara or destruction of Karma – strictly from the point of view of spiritual development.

Out of the approximately hundred varieties of nature Bondage or Prakriti Bandh some are considered as happy types or shubh or Punya Prakrities and some are termed as unhappy or Ashubh or Paap Prakrities. Though there are some minor differences in the exact classification the following examples will illustrate the two categories :


Kinds or Karma

or Happy nature

or Unhappy nature


Knowledge obscuring (Gyanavarnia)


All the five subtypes.


Perception obscuring (Darshanavarniya)


All the nine subtypes.


Feeling producing (Vedniya)

Pleasure producing (Asata Vedniya)

Displeasure producing (Asata Vedniya)


Deluding (Mohaneeya)

  1. Faith deluding (Samyaktava)

(b) Laughter (Hasya)

(c) Attraction (Rati)

(d) Masculine (Purushved)

All other twenty four sub-categories

(N.B. All 28 categories are considered unhappy by some authorities)


Life Span (Aayu)

  1. Godly life span

  2. Human life span

  3. Animal life span

Hell life span


Physique Determining (Naam)

As stated earlier Happy Physique Karma includes those categories (out of 93 sub-categories of this Karma) which makes for happiness and satisfaction of the being,

and the others are unhappy or Ashubh categories



Example of happy Naam Karma are celestial and human states of existence

while animal and inferior states fall into unhappy group of Naam Karma categories


Status (Gotra)

High staus (Ucha)

Low status (Neech)


Obstructing (Antraya)


All five types

It may be added that when the Karma Bondage occurs it is not compartmentalised in purely happy or purely unhappy types of Bondage. It is a combined accrual of Karma into the soul but the categorisation in happy (Shubh or Punya) or unhappy (Ashubh or Paap) types of Bondage is determined by the predominant nature of the Karma bondage which in turn depends on the degree of Yoga and Kashaya in the soul at that time. If the yoga is shubh or good and Kashay is also subdued the Bondage occurring will be of a happy or shubh category of Karma, while in the opposite conditions it will be unhappy or Ashubh Bondage.

This distinction and discussion is important as misunderstanding of this subject has resulted in confusion, controversies and even schism in the Jain church. The happy or shubh Karma or Punya, though a bondage of the soul, cannot be shunned, but is preferable to the unhappy or Ashubh Karma or paap in the conduct of the beings generally. These shubh Karma can be avoided only after reaching a certain stage when they become a burden. They can be compared with a ladder, which has to be carried and used for going up, though once the top is reached the ladder need not be carried and may be discarded; but only after the higher level is reached. It may be concluded that the saints and nuns who follow the five major vows and who are at an advanced stage of spiritual conduct need not care much for shubh or happy Karma. However, the laymen and lay-women should not adjure and do not abjure the shubh Karma. This can be seen in daily life, when the Jain laymen are seen engaged in acts of pity and charity ranging from building hospitals and shelters (for men and animals alike) to feeding them in times of need. It is hoped the above clarification will, to some extent, neutralize or invalidate the charge against Jainism that it teaches selfishness and makes a man self-centered, caring for one’s own salvation only without any social commitment.

To fully appreciate the implications and practical aspects of the Happy and Unhappy or Shubh (Punya) and Ashubh (Paap) Karma, the salient items of these two are listed below and the four combinations thereof are discussed later. There are eighteen categories of Karmas which are accepted as Ashubh or Paap or unhappy as given below :

(i) Violence (ii) Falsehood (iii) Theft (iv) Sex (v) Covetousness (vi) Anger (vii) Pride (viii) Deceit (ix) Greed (x) Attachment (xi) Hatred (xii) Quarrelsomeness (xiii) Allegation (False) (xiv) Complaint (False) (xv) Backbiting (xvi) Exultation or grief (xvii) Duplicity and (xviii) False faith.

The nine types of Happy Karma or the Shubh or Punyas are as under –

(i) Providing others with food (ii) Drink (iii) Shelter (iv) Bedding (v) Clothing (vi) Wishing well (vii) Happy speech (viii) bodily service (ix) Respectfulness.

The four combination of Happy or Shubh Karma (Punya) and Unhappy or Ashubh Karma (Paap) which offer practical guidance in every day life are given in the next Para.

Happy present and Happy future (Punyanubandhi Punya)

This combination covers those lives who lead a happy life due to Shubh Karma in the past (i.e. past Punya) and also further engage in happy or Shubh (Punya) Karma which result in a happy future. This is the best example of a happy life which may result in salvation ultimately besides happy life in this world.

Unhappy present but happy future (Punyabandhi Pap)

Inspite of unhappiness in present existence due to past Ashubh Karma (Paap) those practising good or happy or Shubh Karma are in this category. They ensure a happy existence for themselves in future inspite of misery in the present existence. This is also a desirable course of life.

Happy Present but Unhappy future (Paapanubandhi Punya)

These are beings who presently have a happy existence due to past. Happy Shubh (Punya) Karma but who indulge in bad or Ashubh Karma (Paap) thus earning a miserable life for themselves in future. Though they are apparently happy, inspite of their sinful life, which may create an impression that sin brings happiness. However, the happiness is due to their past Shubh Karma, which when exhausted lead to unhappiness and misery. Such conduct is therefore to be guarded against or avoided.

Unhappy present and unhappy future (Paapanubandhi Paap)

This is the worst combination wherein a being has to suffer due to past Ashubh Karma or Paap, and who further indulges in similar acts and earns Ashubh Karma, which lead him to future unhappiness and misery. Obviously this type of course of action has to be avoided at all costs.

Apart from this two categories of Shub or Ashubh Karma there is a third group of Karma which do not strictly bind the soul as they are not accompanied by Passions which are the binding agents. These may be termed as pure Karma or Shudh Karma or Akarma (as mentioned in Geeta) and are known as iryapathic Karma which brings us to the next group of Karma.

Iryapathic or Non-effecting Karma and Samprayik or effecting Karma.

Brief mention of these has come earlier in this chapter under the heading `Introduction of Karma into the soul’. Further to that discussion, it may now be clarified that both the happy or Unhappy (Shubh or Ashubh) Karma or Paap and Punya fall in the Samparyik group or Karma, as they are results of activity coloured with passions or Kashaya and they bind the soul. However, all such Karma which arise due to passionless activity are in the Iryapathic group of Karma and they do not contaminate the soul. They are, therefore, termed as Shudha or pure Karma. The pilgrim on the path of spiritual progress has, therefore, to try to adjure the unhappy or Ashubh Karma or Paap completely and direct his efforts towards happy or Shubh Karma or Punya, even which is not his ultimate destination. He should aim at Pure or Shudha Karma to avoid further bondage or further contamination of the soul, which only can lead to Moksha or liberation.

Ghati Karma (Vitiating Karma) and Aghati Karma (Nonvitiating Karma)

  1. It has been noted above that the eight attributes or qualities of the soul are distorted by the eight types of Karmas, which have to be destroyed for full realisation of its qualities by the soul. Out of the eight attributes of the soul four are innate attributes or fundamental qualities viz., Perfect Rationalism (Samyaktva) Perfect Perception (Darshan), Perfect Knowledge or Wisdom (Gyan) and Perfect Bliss or Prowess (Virya). Unless all these are realised the soul cannot be considered pure or perfect as elements of impurity or imperfection remain,, which vitiate the capacity of the soul. The four Karma that so vitiate or impair the soul are called Ghati Karma or Vitiating Karma. These are Deluding (Mohaneeya), Perception obscuring (Darshanavarniya) Knowledge Obscuring (Gyanavarniya ) and Obstructing (Antraya) Karma which vitiate the four innate qualities of the soul mentioned above respectively. These vitiating or Ghati Karma may be divided into two sub-types i.e. (i) completely vitiating or Sarvaghati and (ii) Partially vitiating or Desh Ghati depending upon the extent to which they vitiate the innate qualities of the soul. Thus the omniscience obscuring or Keval Gyanavarnia Karma is completely vitiating (Saravaghati) while the other four sub-types of knowledge obscuring Karma are partially obscuring Karma i.e. Desh Ghati.

  2. The remaining four categories of Karma viz., Status (Gotra), Age (Aayu), Physique (Naam) and Feeling producing (Vedniya) determine the physical or worldly existence of the soul in respect of level of family, duration of life, types of body and happy/unhappy states respectively, that the soul will encounter in the Physical existence. They do not vitiate or damage the innate characteristics of the soul and are, therefore, termed as Non-vitiating or Aghati Karma.

No-Karma –

We come across this term, which is not very important or relevant to the subject under discussion. It is also interpreted in various ways. Some consider the Bodies other than Karma Bodies as No-Karma. It is also meant to signify the Karma Bodies after they have given results and have separated from the soul.

Vindication of the Doctrine of Karma –

After endless argument about God, it has been concluded, that “for those who do not believe in God, no arguments are possible, for those who believe in God, no arguments are necessary”. Same thing may be said about the concept of Karma and no proof is possible or necessary for this theory. Nor can it be proved in a laboratory. However, it is a universally accepted postulate which was not required to be proved. It was the revealed word out of the teachings of the enlightened ones with all the authority of their perfect knowledge, insight and experience.

  1. Moreover, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Karma concept provides a satisfactory explanation for otherwise inexplicable divergence in existence, as stated in the beginning of this chapter. The other explanations for the divergence are the extremely materialist theory of thinkers like Charvak who considers the creation as a lifeless interplay of elements. This is generally not acceptable. Or at the other end is the theory that a super-natural phenomena called God is responsible for the creation with all the diversity and aberrations. The institution of the supreme God though solving a number of problems creates many more and leaves a large number of questions like “who created the creator God” and “why should He put man to sin only to forgive him” which has been aptly put in a rubai by the famous Omar Khayam –

  2. “Oh, Thou who man of baser earth didst make.

    And with Eden didst devise the snake,

    For all the sin, wherewith the face of man,

    Is blackened, man’s forgiveness, give and take”

  3. As stated earlier Karma theory steers clear of such problems, and makes the being self-reliant and responsible for its deeds, at the same time enforcing an ethical behaviour and highly moral conduct by willing common consent, which ultimately makes the world a better place to live. It provides a satisfactory key to the riddle of the creation and its complications and the key is in the hands of a real living being i.e. the Man, who is the central piece in the Karma scheme.

  4. Not that Karma theory and materiel nature of Karma has not faced its share of criticism. It has been considered fatalistic, individualistic and rather mechanical and too emphatic on punishment and retribution. The student of detailed aspects of Karma may like to go through the learned dissertations on the subject, where arguments are marshalled to counter such unmerited criticism. Here it may be briefly stated, on the basis of earlier discussions, that the Karma theory is neither fatalistic nor individualistic, nor mechanical nor retributive. A deeper understanding of the subject will reveal that belief in Karma leads to voluntary healthy effort, alongwith acceptance of the inevitable and inescapable results of Karma which avoids unnecessary discontentment. There is a deep social commitment in auspicious or Shubh Karma as already noticed above. There being scope for alteration or transformation in the results of Karma there is no question of its being called mechanical. Lastly, belief in Karma lays emphasis not so much on punishment or retribution but on the continuous efforts for moral regeneration and upliftment of the beings and this results in a better social order-a utopia visualised by all philosophers and prophets alike.

The discussion of the Theory of Karma may be appropriately closed with the reproduction of the following remarks of the great German Scholar Dr. Hermann Jacobi on this subject, as extracted from his essay on “Jainism” in the Encyclopaedia of Religions and Ethics – “We have seen the cause of soul’s embodiment is the presence in it of Karma matter. The theory of Karma is the keystone of the Jain system; it is necessary therefore, to explain this theory in more detail. The natural qualities of soul are perfect knowledge (Jnana) intution or faith (Darshan), highest bliss, and all sorts of perfections; but these inborn qualities of the soul are weakened or obscured in mundane souls by the presence of Karma. From this point of view the division of Karma will be understood. When karma matter has penetrated the soul, it is transformed into eight kinds (Prakrti) or Karma singly or severally, which form the karmanasarira, just as food, is by digestion, transformed into the various fluids necessary for the support and growth of the body. The eight kinds of Karma are as follows :-

Gyanavarniya, that which obscures the inborn right knowledge (i.e. omniscience) of the soul and thereby produces different degrees of knowledge and ignorance (2) Darsanavaraniya that which obscures right intution i.e. sleep. (3) Vedaniya that which obscures the blissful nature of the soul and thereby produces pleasure and pain, (4) Mohaniya, that which disturbs the right attitude of the soul with regard to faith, conduct, passions, and other emotions, and produces, doubt, error, right or wrong conduct, passions, and various mental states. The following 4 kinds of Karma concern more the individual status of a being (5) Ayuska that which determines the length of life of an individual in one birth as hell-being, animal, man or god (6) Nama that which produces the various circumstances or elements which collectively make up an individual existence e.g. the peculiar body with its general and special qualities, faculties etc. (7) Gotra that which determines the nationality, caste, family social standing, etc. of an individual (8) Antaraya that which obstructs the inborn energy of the soul and thereby prevents the doing of a good action when there is a desire to do it.

We shall now consider the application of the Karma theory to ethics. The highest goal is to get rid of all Karma (Nirjara) and meanwhile to acquire no new Karma – technically speaking, to stop the influx (Asrava) of the Karma, which is called Samvara, or the covering of the channels through which Karma finds entrance into the soul. All actions produce Karma and in the majority of cases entail on the doer continuance of worldly existence (Samparayika) but when a man is free from passions and acts in strict compliance with the rules of right conduct, his actions produce Karma which lasts but for a moment and is then annihilated (iryapatha). Therefore the whole apparatus of monastic conduct is required to prevent the formation of new karma; the same purpose is served by austerities (tapas) which moreover, annihilate the old Karma speedily than would happen in the common course of things.

It is evident from the preceding remarks that the ethics and asceticism of the Jains are to be regarded as the logical consequence of the theory of Karma. But from a historical point of view many of their ethical principles, monastic institutions and ascetic practices have been inherited from older religious classes of Indian society, since Brahmanical ascetics and Buddhists resemble them in many of their precepts and institutions (See SBE xxii (1884) Introd. p xxii ff)”.