Freedom of Will – The Five Samvay

First Steps To Jainism (Part-2)


Freedom of Will – The Five Samvay

s man free ? Is he a master of his fate ? Is he free to act the way he likes and blaze his own trail? In short has man got freedom of will ? Or is he a slave-slave of destiny, nature, time or any other force by whatever name it may be called ? Such questions have been haunting all thinking men from times immemorial. Even today the issue remains unresolved-whether destiny is supreme or man’s efforts have power to change the destiny. Expressed in simple terms this endless but interesting controversy is between Niyati and Purusharth-between Taqdeer and Tadbeer.

The reasons for this controversy are not far to seek. Two men sow, water and tend their crops in identical circumstances and manner-one reaps the golden grain, the other loses even the chaff. Two persons born as twins with same care from the same mother and training from the same father meet different fates-one becomes a successful policeman and another a criminal destined for the gallows.

No wonder man abjectly surrendered all his prowess and power-nay-himself-completely before an un-known force. Call it Ishwer or Allah or God. Indeed such an abdication-abject surrender was embellished as Bhakti-devotion-as one of the means of man’s salvation from misery, whereby, even a confirmed sinner like Ajamil could be resurrected, simply by uttering the name of the Lord.

Such a surrender, however, does not appeal to some brave souls-more strongly inclined towards knowledge-Gyan and Action-Karma. Such thinkers have been analysing the causes leading to the failure and success of the exercise of man’s free will. Indeed it was strange that inspite of complete and undivided exertion success deluded such efforts. It was realised that there are a number of other factors apart from human exertion-called Pursharth- which tend to matter in the success or failure of the efforts.

These are described by various names in different schools of thought; but in Jain thinking they are the five factors called (i) Kaal (time) (ii) Swabhav (nature or disposition) (iii) Purakrit (past karma) (iv) Niyati (destiny) and (v) Pursharth (human exertion). These are known as the five Samvay.

Emphasis of varying degree has been laid on each of these by different advocates and different schools from times immemorial. Thus we can trace discussions on these recorded in Sutrakritang- one of the oldest canons of Jainism which is supposed to contain the thoughts, if not words, of Lord Mahaveer himself, dating back to era before Christ. Shloka 30 of Sutrakritang declares a prevalent notion :

Read with reference to context it means that “some hold that whatever pain and pleasure individuals beget are not the results of their own acts or volition nor due to others-but it is due to destiny”.

In the next shloka 31 this belief is dispelled :

That is “those who brag thus are fools declaring themselves as learned; because they do not know that all pleasures or pains (or whatever happens) are not only due to destiny but they are due to destiny and also due to factors other than destiny”.

A brief description of each one of the five Samvaya can now be attempted in the subsequent paras.

Kaal or Time-

Time or Kaal is infinite, beginningless and endless. It pervades the whole of the universe. It contributes towards the birth and death, stability and change, growth and decay- every phenomena in the universe. The believers in supremacy of Time as the sole factor responsible for pleasure and pain or success and failure of all endeavour are known as Kaalvadies. They find mention in Mahabharat like Asur Raj Bali who held that:

In simpler terms Kaalvadies held that it is only when appropriate time comes the seeds will grow and trees will bear fruits inspite of all efforts made; thus holding supremacy of Time.

No, wonder, therefore, that Kaal or Time was defined as the supreme God of destruction as Mahakaal, which could not only annihilate everything but also hold everyone accountable after death in the form of Yamraj and his subordinates.


Swabhava or nature or disposition –

It was advocated by some that it is the inherent nature or disposition of the thing or its swabhav which produces the results. Just as only clay can be moulded into a pot and not cotton, which can produce cloth, all efforts aimed otherwise shall be in vain.

This school of thought known as Swabhavvadi claimed :

It follows that according to swabhavvadis like Prahlad (described in Mahabharat -Shanti Parva) only such of the seeds will grow which have the nature of fertility – infertile or dead seeds will not grow irrespective of watering, manuring etc. It was, therefore, held that disposition or swabhav was the determining factor in the success or failure or pain and pleasure in the world.


Niyati or Destiny –

Believers in destiny, pre-destination or Niyativadies have been quite common in the East or the West in the past and the present. They believe that everything is pre-destined and whatever has to happen-good or bad – will happen. Contrarily whatever is not pre-destined to happen will never happen All efforts to undo or oppose pre-destination will be in vain.

One of the greatest exponents of Niyati was Goshalak (and his Ajeevaka) who was a contemporary of Lord Mahaveer and who held that whatever has to happen in whatever form and method has to happen like that, no body can stop the destiny :

Further we find praise of Destiny or Niyati in a number of Sanskrit works; an example from Yogvashista is given below :

That is “Destiny always dispassionately and beautifully executes the dance drama of wordly affairs.


Purakrit or Past Karmas –

In the ordinary sense every act through mind, word or deed (mental, verbal or physical ) is known as Kriya or Karma or action. In Jain thought all the actions get recorded on the soul in the form of karman varganas, pudgals or waves due to the vibrations of the soul on account of the acts. If the acts are also accompanied by passions like anger, pride, deceit and greed, the attachment or bondage of soul is stronger. All such action have their reaction which are the karma fruits or Karmanphal.


It is generally believed that the past Karma were the reasons for the success or failure of one’s efforts, and whatever pleasure or pain was derived; was due to past Karma.

Scriptures are full of precepts and examples how past Karma-Purkarit determine the future course of the beings.

(Karma are the roots of birth and death. Birth and death are the roots of misery.)

(These is no escape (except facing the results) from past Karma).

The above references are from Jain Agam- Uttaradhyayan. However, most of the other schools of thought like Sankhya, Nyaya, Meemansa, Vedanta and Budddha have accepted the importance of Karma in the lives of all living beings. Looking for the cause of manifestation of life in different forms, its variations in capacity, behaviour, pleasure and pain, the Indian thinkers universally concluded that these were due to the past Karmas (purakrita) of the individual soul which follow it in successive lives just as a calf follows the mother.


Pursharth or Efforts –

As the name implies those who believe in Pursharth or efforts as the determining factor in world affairs hold that whatever pain or pleasure, success or failure – exist in the world is the result of one’s efforts, there being no outside agency interfering in it. In other words such schools accept complete freedom of will as its base, and maintain that it is no use putting the blame on other factors like time, nature etc., the main reason being intelligent or un-intelligent effort leading to success or failure respectively. We shall come back to Pursharth again in subsequent paragraphs.

Apart from these five Samvay discussed above there are other factors found in different philosophies like Brahamvad, which treats God, the Supreme Being, solely responsible for everything. On the other extreme is Bhootwad which takes a purely materialistic view of he world; and “accidentalism” akasmatvad holding that everything in the world is accidental or by chance. We find such numerous schools described in Sutrakritang mentioned earlier.

What is the Jain view on this subject ? It is well-known that the bedrock of Jain Philosophy is theory of Non-absolutism or Anekantwad whereby different viewpoints are considered as valid in judging every phenomena. True to this approach Jain thinkers have considered that all the five Samvay jointly are responsible for the world phenomena. All these together contribute to the success and failure, or pain or pleasure. None of these five viz.;, time, disposition fate, past karmas, and exertion are individually effective. It is only when all the five come into play that – to take an example – crop shall grow in the field. Time for seeding, watering, cutting etc. should be appropriate. There should be timely rain and sunshine. The seeds and soil and water should be such that they have the capability to germinate, grow and ripen. If seeds or soil are infertile there shall be no crop, inspite of all watering and tending. Again it should be destined that there will be crop. Similarly past karma of the farmer should entitle him to reap a satisfactory harvest. Lastly proper exertion of efforts should be put in for tilling the soil, manuring, seeding, watering, deweeding, cutting, winnowing and so on.

Jain thinkers have laid great emphasis on this composite or non-absolutist -anekantwadi view -as much as that Acharya Siddhsen Diwakar has declared in his monumental work “Sanmati Tarka” :

This is “to hold time, disposition, fate, past karma and exertion as valid severally or individually is false faith (mithyatva). To hold them jointly or relatively valid is right faith (samyakatva).”

However, exertion or Pursharth has been given the prime place, amongst the five samvya. It is the first amongst the five equals. The reasons are not far to seek.

Firstly, exertion is the only active agent. While time, fate, etc. are non-living and, therefore, inactive and dormant, exertion is the result of active efforts of the living soul, and therefore, full of life. Again exertion attracts responsibility. The soul which exerts is responsible for the result of its efforts. There is no such responsibility attached to time, fate, and others.

Further at least partly, if not fully, proper exertion can even change the course of time etc. Thus it is scientifically possible to grow crops out of season and the course of time can be modified. Similarly science can improve infertile soil, and purakrit is nothing but exertion or Purshart done in the past. Here also we find that effect of some type of Karma e.g. Niddhat Karma can be changed by proper exertion e.g. tapasya. Similarly, it should be possible to adjust the course of fate by proper exertion.

This brings us to the subject under discussion and we find that though the living being is partly a free agent in as much as it is free to exert or do Purshart, it is also a slave of or bound by time, fate, disposition etc. However, to the extent that exertion or Purshart is the active and responsible agent, it is free to act and, therefore, has complete freedom of will. Following this one should do Purshart without bothering about the result that may be the outcome of play of the five samvay. No wonder same message is given in the book of books Bhagwad Geeta “Karmanye-Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachan.” If the exertion is right exertion, known as Samyog Charitra in Jain terminology, guided and inspired by Samyag Darshan and Samyag Gyan, there is no reason why the result should be different from the desired one.

Incidentally Vedanta also gives the same answer to the question of freedom of will of the individual. It clarifies that as long as the individual is under the control of Avidya, he has no freedom of will, but as soon as he is able to throw away the yoke of Avidya he is a completely free agent, the other factors dance to his tune. However, to get rid of Avidya one has to make efforts or Purusharth, which makes it the prime factor or the prime mover to use a scientific term. Taking another example, if life is a game of cards, the way cards are distributed is determined by Destiny, Time Swabhava etc. but it is Purusharth which decided how the cards are played. It is well known that much depends on the way cards are played, the best hand being thrown away by poor play and an ordinary hand scores if the play is well managed. This again establishes the primacy of Purusharth.

To summarise, it is stated that amongst the five factors which are equally important in the affairs of men (and all living beings) namely Time, Disposition, Past karma, Destiny and exercise of free will, the one known as Purusharth is the first among the five equals. This leads to an optimistic approach and gives confidence to the beings that they can mould their present and future in a manner as they will. This is true about matters temporal as well as spiritual. Indeed, many men have progressed on the spiritual path by the exercise of their will in the right manner. In matters temporal the progress made by men in scientific sphere is for every one to see.

Finally, it will be appropriate to conclude this article with quotations from the Geeta and sacred texts of Jainism and Buddhism which identically lay emphasis on Purusharth or Freedom of will and exhort human beings on the path of progress through efforts of their own i.e. Purusharth :

Geeta (6 : 5) says :

The soul should attain one’s own progress, and soul should not digress by grief-because the soul is his own friend and his own enemy,

Buddhist scriptures prescribe :

The soul is the ruler of the soul, none except the soul can help. Just as a merchant regulates his horse, one should regulate his soul.

Jain agam (Uttaradhyayan) says similarly :

Soul is the creator and destroyer of happiness and misery. Soul is the friend and the enemy (if it is) on the wrong path or the right path.