To understand the doctrine of Karma we must first know about the soul and its characteristics. The soul is different from the body. It is the soul which is providing the vitality and knowledge required to make the body functional. Some people do not believe in the existence of the soul. They must ask the question why a dead body which has all the physical parts and components does not function? The answer is because the soul has left the body. It is the soul which experiences the pleasure and pain, receives signals from the outside world through the sense organs, thinks and takes decisions and provides vitality and knowledge for functioning of a machine as complex as the body. The “life” in the body is due to the soul.
According to Jaina philosophy the soul is one of the six realities that constitute this universe. The other important reality is the physical matter, both subtle and aggregate. The Jainas regarded energy also as matter, pudgala, more than two and half thousand years back, the science came to the same conclusion only in the twentieth century. A reality or a substance has three properties. (1) It undergoes transformation and changes its form. Each form is called a paryaya. (2) It has the property of destruction, that is one form is destroyed and the other originates and (3) In the process of transformation and destruction the intrinsic nature of the reality is preserved that is its basic characteristic is permanent and is not altered. Such properties are easily evident in physical matter. For example when a substance changes its form from solid to liquid and to gas the chemical composition does not change. So is the case with the soul. The soul leaves one body on “death” and enters another body according to some well-defined rules. Here “death” only implies that the soul leaves the present body, the soul in fact does not die. The soul is immortal and only changes its form when it enters from one body to another. In this process the Karmas of the soul are carried forward to the next body and the soul lives a life in accordance with these Karmas. The Karmas are the impressions of the actions performed by the soul. We shall talk more about it later.
The soul according to Jainas has the following characteristics.
- It is beginningless and endless. Its origin cannot be known. It is immortal and cannot be destroyed by any means whatsoever, not even by a hydrogen bomb.
- It occupies the body like oil in a seed. That is why people confuse body with the soul, but indeed they are different.
- The soul contracts or expands according to the size of the body. In this process of contraction and expansion the number of space points called pradesas of the soul remain unchanged.
- The soul is a non-physical entity, it is known only through its ability of knowing. The soul is the knower. All the knowledge that exists in the world to day is due to the soul’s power of knowing. For example, the discovery of the law of Relativity by Einstein was because of the power of knowing of his soul.
- The soul is the basis of knowledge, perception, power and pleasure experienced by a living organism.
- The soul is the source of innumerable kinds of power. The main powers are – power of knowledge, power of vitality or potential, and power of determination.
- The invisible soul is known by its ability of knowing. The soul is also known by functions of the body like laughter, dancing, pleasure and pain, speech, movement, etc. Without the soul these functions cannot be performed by the body.
- The fine subtle matter, known as Karma Varganas (Variform) attracted by the soul from the surroundings is converted into Karma.
- The thoughts and actions of a person leave an impression on the soul. The impressions are recorded on the Karma Varganas attracted by the soul. These Karma Varganas constitute a material body known as Karma sarira or Karma body. This Karma body containing the impressions accompanies the soul when it transcends from one body to another.
- The soul and the Karma body are always held together. The question who came in existence first is meaningless like the question of the egg and hen.
- The soul is a non-physical entity but behaves somewhat like a physical body so long as the material Karma body is attached to it. On liberation the Karma body is dissociated and separated and the soul comes in its pure state.
- All souls are alike except for the Karma body which differs. This means that every soul is at a different stage of development. Full development means liberation or emancipation of the soul.
The souls are of two kinds the mundane soul (Jiva) and the liberated soul. The mundane soul has Karma body attached to it and takes rebirth. The liberated soul has no Karma body and does not take rebirth; it is free from the cycle of birth and death. Henceforth, by soul we shall mean the mundane soul (Jiva).
In the absolute sense the soul has only one characteristic cetna or consciousness. The levels of development of consciousness of souls are different and so each individual in the world is different from others. Consciousness is the exclusive property of the soul and is not found in any other substance. All liberated souls are alike but they preserve their individuality. The liberated souls continue to have the power of knowledge and perception which, in fact, now assumes infinite proportions. That is the knowledge, vitality, pleasure, perception of a liberated soul are infinite. It has knowledge and perception of the entire universe and all its states, present, past and future simultaneously. Each liberated soul is omniscient, omnipotent and experiences infinite bliss. A liberated soul is perfect and independent and is not dependent on any other agency for any thing. The Jainas, therefore, do not believe in God, in fact, each liberated soul is God or parmatma.