Karmic Idealism of the Jainas

A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion

Karmic Idealism of the Jainas

Prof. Ramjee Singh

Karma is the matrix of the universe which undergoes evolution due to karma. Karma is not only the ground-mass of individual’s destiny but also the mould in which anything and everything takes shape.

(1) Karma is generally regarded as the principle of determination of the individual’s destiny, his well-being and suffering. But a careful study will show that karma is also the ultimate determinant of the various courses of events. There are three reasons for this : first, the problem of individual happiness and suffering is not an isolated affair, because it is somehow related to the entire universe. The past karma puts a world before the individual which brings appropriate pleasure and pain to him. In short, karma determines both his heredity and environment. Secondly, even Time, Nature, Matter, etc., are not outside the scope of karma and they are merely the different expressions of the working of the universal law of karma. Thirdly, karma is the principle of determination of the world. the variation in matter and time can only be ascribed to karma if we are to avoid the defects of Temporalism (Kalavada), Naturalism (Syabhavavada), Determinism (Niyativada), Accidentalism (Yadrcchavada), Materialism (Bhautikavada), Scepticism and Agnosticism (Samsayavada and Ajnanavada), etc.

(2) According to the popular and traditional scheme of Jaina classification of Karmas, they are of eight fundamental types. The different karmas determine our faith (darsana), knowledge (jnana), feeling (vedana), delusion (moha), age knowledge (jnana), feeling (vedana) status (gotra) and power (antaraya). In short, the karmas determine the entire personal-social set-up of the individual, and they also condition a world set-up for him. Of course, in the Leibnitzian manner, the set-up is different for everybody. The Jainas also believe that the effects of karma are different upon different individuals in accordance with the nature (prakrti), duration (sthiti), intensity of fruition (anubhaga) and quantity (pradesa) of karmas. It is true that in the list of enumeration of various types and sub-types of karmas, we do not find a satisfactory explanation as to why any of this is this and not otherwise. But the Jaina thinkers try to uphold the relevance of karma-theory to the minutest details of life. For instance, the nama-karma is said to be of forty-two kinds with sub-classes of ninety-three kinds as they bring about their respective effects. This demonstrates the anxiety of the Jainas to ascribe anything and everything to some or other form of Karma. In other words, this is assert the doctrine of universal causation known as Karmavada.

(3) I think, this may be interpreted as a sort of Idealism, known as Karmic Idealism, which will be distinct and different from both Subjective and Objective Idealism. A rough comparison, however, may be made with Kantian Idealism, where there is a construction of categories. But here the categories are not created by the understanding. They are only related to the understanding. That way, even the Nyaya-Vaisesikas have said that generality and particularity are relative to our understanding. In fact, samanya and visesa are pure objective categories but they only point out that there is some sort of relativity, but this relativity is objective and not subjective. Hence, we can conclude that Karmic Idealism is not a form of subjective Idealism. Nor is it eternal co-existence of matter and mind as independent principles of reality. The union of soul and matter is regarded as self-proved and hence the eternal bondage of soul and karmic matter is described as its very nature, as dirt in golden ore. This is the starting point of Jainism.

(4) However, in the ordinary sense of the term, we cannot speak of karmic idealism because karma, in the Jaina philosophy, is not an `idea’. It is an aggregate of very fine imperceptible material particles. It is the foreign element that infects the purity and perfection of the soul, which has consciousness as its distinguishing feature. This is the doctrine of the material nature of karma, which is peculiar to Jainism. With other systems of Indian philosophy, karma is formless. But the Jainas regard karma as the crystallized effect of the past activities or energies. They say that “in order to act and react and thereby to produce changes in things on which they work, the energies must have to be metamorphosed into form or centers of forces.” Like begets like. The cause is like the effect. The effect, i.e., the body is physical, hence the cause, i.e., karma has indeed a physical form.

The karmic-matter is one of the six kinds of matter or pudgala. It is very fine and imperceptible, but it is capable of becoming matter. The material molecules or varganas are molecule-groups of the same kind of matter. There are twenty three kinds of such varganas of which the thirteenth is the karmic-molecule or karma-varganas. There is an intricate arithmetic about the number of karmic molecules. The material nature of karma is quite evident.

(5) But even if karma is considered to be physical in nature, it has a tendency to determine psychic characteristics. “It has the peculiar property of developing the effects of merit and demerits.” Then karmas are of two kinds, physical or dravya-karma and ideal or bhava-karma. The thought of the spiritual activity is bhava-karma whereas the actual matter flowing into the soul and binding it is called dravya-karma. The bhava-karmas may be compared with the samskaras or latent tendencies of other systems. The Nyaya view of pravrtti (activity) and the Yoga concept of vrtti (modifications) are very near to it. As our samskaras or latent tendencies determines our overt actions, life and personality, so bhava-karmas also affect our physical side of personality. The dravya-karma is also characterized as cover (avarana) and bhava-karma as faults (dosa). Both of them, however, are related to each other as cause and effect. The material aggregate of karmic molecules is dravya-karma; its power to operate is bhava-karma. Bhava-karmas will condition our bhavas or emotional states, which may be either pleasant or unpleasant. Now, if these states of emotion (bhava) are really brought about by karmic matter, how can Atman be said to be the cause of these bhavas ? But the soul’s agency is such that while giving up its own state, it can effect entirely alien or non-mental changes (i.e., it is the cause of its own mental states which are also indirectly conditioned by karmic matter). To this, we can say that emotional states (bhavas) are conditioned by dravya-karma and karma in its turn is conditioned by karmic-thought or bhava. Jiva is not the essential cause, in that case and still without essential cause, these changes cannot happen. The soul which brings about changes in itself is the upadana-karana (material cause) of such mental states but not of the changes in karmic matter, which are distinctly material in nature. This means that there is a psycho-physical parallelism. Jiva brings changes in consciousness, and matter in the case of material things, and yet the two series are interrelated in a parallel pattern. This implies that neither can matter become mind nor can mind become matter. Jiva is the agent of its own bhavas, as it causes its own resultants. But it is not the agent of pudgala-karmas.

(6) However, much of these difficulties will be got over, if we adopt the Jaina doctrine of standpoints or naya. According to the practical point of view, the soul is the doer of material-karmas (dravya-karmas), but according to the real point of view, it is the doer of ideal karmas (bhava-karmas). For example, in making a pot, the existence of the idea of pot in the mind of the potter is the ideal karma (bhava-karma). The potter is directly the cause of the bhava-karma and the bhava-karma again is the cause of dravya-karma. Therefore from the real standpoint the `potter having the idea of the pot’ is the agent but according to the practical standpoint, he is the agent of dravya-karma. Really, a jiva is neither the material nor the efficient cause of the material-karmas but only the agent of its own emotional states or bhavas. Therefore, it is only from the practical standpoint that the jivas are described as enjoying happiness and misery which are the fruits of material karma. In fact, the jiva is the possessor of consciousness only. Atman or jiva is the agent of its own bhavas, as it causes its own resultants.

(7) In an important sense, science of karma has been described as the science of spirituality. Spirituality aims at unfolding the real nature of spirit or self. This is self-knowledge or self-realization. But to know the self is also to know that it is different from the non-self, with which it is in beginningless conjunction. Karma is the material basis of bondage and nescience of the soul. The beginningless relation between soul and non-soul is due to mithyatva (nescience) which is responsible for the worldly existence. This is determined by the nature, duration, intensity and quantity of karmas. Jivas take matter in accordance with their own karmas because of self-possession (kasaya). It is therefore clear that the science of karma is a necessary part of the science of spirituality. Unless we have a thorough knowledge of the karmas, we cannot know about the true nature of spirit or self. The knowledge of karma removes the false notion of identity between the body and the self, and so on. This is nothing other than the science of spirituality.