The Significance Of Adhyavasāya In Jain Karma Theory

Published: 15.03.2011
Updated: 02.07.2015

International Journal of Jaina Studies
(Online) Vol. 7, No. 3 (2011) 1-26


Kristi L. Wiley

An earlier version of this essay was presented at the 13th World Sanskrit Conference in Edinburgh, July 2006.


Various technical terms associated with the binding of karmic matter found in the Tattvārthasūtra have been incorporated into discussions of karma theory in survey texts on Jainism. According to these texts, the influx (āsrava) of karma is brought about by activity (yoga). It is bound with the soul for a certain period of time when the soul is under the influence of passions (kaṣāya). The variety (prakṛti) and the quantity  (pradeśa) of karmic matter are determined by yoga while its duration (sthiti) and intensity (anubhāga/anubhāva) are determined by kaṣāyas. However, in some sources, another term, adhyavasāya, is used in association with karmic bondage. This paper examines the use of adhyavasāya in various karma texts of the Śvetāmbara and Digambara sectarian traditions, including the Karmagranthas, Gommaṭasāra, and Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, and discusses its significance in karmic bondage.


The Significance Of Adhyavasāya In Jain Karma Theory

In discussions of the classical Jaina conceptions of the bondage of the soul (jīva) in the beginningless cycle of death and rebirth (saṃsāra), the centrality of mohanīya karma, which causes delusion or confusion regarding proper belief (samyak-darśana) and proper conduct (samyak-cāritra), has been emphasized. In the words of Paul Dundas (2002: 99), it is "the keystone of the whole structure in that its destruction paves the way for the elimination of the other varieties of karma." While the influx (āsrava) of karmic matter is caused by activities (yoga) of the body, speech, and mind (TS 6.1, 6.2), its binding with the soul is caused by a deluded view of reality (mithyā-darśana), which is produced through the operation of darśana-mohanīya karma, and by non-restraint (avirati), carelessness or inattentiveness (pramāda), and passions (kaṣāya), all of which are produced through the operation of the conduct-deluding (cāritra-mohanīya) karmas (TS 8.1). The most important of these is the four passions, namely, anger (krodha), pride (māna), deceit (māyā), and greed (lobha). The intensity of these passions is the determining factor for two of the four aspects of karmic bondage: duration bondage (sthiti-bandha), the length of time that karma can remain bound with the soul, and intensity bondage (rasa-, anubhāva-, or anubhāga-bandha), the strength of the effect produced when karmic matter comes to fruition (TS 8.4 = SS 8.3).[1]

Karmic matter is grouped into four rasas, or degrees of intensity. In the case of cāritra-mohanīya karma, these four intensities have special names, and they correspond with the fourteen stages of spiritual purity of the soul (guṇasthāna).[2] Passions of the strongest intensity, "pursuers from the limitless past" (anantānubandhī kaṣāya), are operative in the first guṇasthāna (mithyātva). A less intense degree of kaṣāya (apratyākhyānāvaraṇa) prevents a person from taking the lay vows of partial renunciation (aṇuvrata), and a lesser intensity (pratyākhyānāvaraṇa) prevents a person from taking the mendicant vows of complete renunciation (mahāvrata). They are associated with non-restraint (avirati) and are operative until the fifth and sixth guṇasthānas, respectively. Passions of the least intensity, called "smouldering" (saṃjvalana), are associated with apathy or carelessness regarding mendicant practices (pramāda). They are operative until the eleventh guṇasthāna, in which all mohanīya karmas are suppressed for a short period of time, or the twelfth guṇasthāna, in which all mohanīya karmas are destroyed.[3]

The relationship between the degree of intensity of the previously bound mohanīya karmas that have come to fruition and the degree of intensity of new karmic matter that is being bound depends on whether the new karma is an auspicious variety (puṇya-prakṛti) or an inauspicious variety (pāpa-prakṛti). For inauspicious varieties, the strongest passions (anantānubandhī kaṣāya) cause the binding of karma with the most intensity (fourth rasa), and the weakest passions (saṃjvalana kaṣāya) cause the binding of karma with the least intensity (first rasa). For auspicious varieties, there is an inverse relationship: the weakest passions cause the binding of karma with the most intensity (fourth rasa) and the strongest passions cause the binding of karma with the least intensity (first rasa) (Glasenapp 1942: 24).[4] For duration bondage, with the exception of the three varieties of life span (āyus) karma that are considered auspicious (puṇya),[5] the stronger the passions, the longer the duration of its bondage with the soul. Thus, stronger passions result in longer durations of āyus karma for hell-beings (nāraka-āyus) and most animals (tiryañc-āyus) while weaker passions result in longer durations of āyus karma for heavenly beings (deva-āyus), human beings (manuṣya-āyus), and five-sensed rational animals (Glasenapp 1942: 23).[6]

Helmuth von Glasenapp, however, mentions another term, adhyavasāya (Pkt. ajjhavasāya), in association with duration and intensity bondage. In the Doctrine of Karman in Jaina Philosophy, he states that "the duration and intensity of the effect of a karman depends upon the state of mind (adhyavasāya) at the moment of assimilation" (Glasenapp 1942: 3) and "the duration of the karmans of a jīva is dependent on the tenure of his mind (adhyavasāya), and, therefore, on the strength of the kaṣāyas" (Glasenapp 1942: 23). Unfortunately, although he provides a comprehensive examination of mohanīya karma and the four kaṣāyas, he does not elaborate further on these assertions nor does he cite any references.[7] Nathmal Tatia (1951) does not mention adhyavasāya in his Studies in Jaina Philosophy, which contains one of the more detailed explanations in a western language of the mechanics of karmic bondage. Therefore, there is a need to investigate the contexts in which adhyavasāya and related terms such as adhyavasāna are used in Jain karma literature in order to understand its significance in karmic bondage and to determine whether its role is restricted to duration and intensity bondage or whether it is also a factor in other aspects of karmic bondage.

Definitions of Adhyavasāya and Related Terms

In the Sanskrit-English dictionaries of Apte and Monier-Williams, the masculine noun adhyavasāya is associated with the verb adhi-ava-so, "to determine, resolve, mean to do"; "to attempt, exert, undertake"; "to grapple with"; and "to conceive, apprehend, think."[8] Among the definitions given by Apte for adhyavasāya are "determination, resolution" and "mental effort or apprehension."[9] According to Monier-Williams, adhyavasāya is a philosophical term meaning "mental effort or apprehension."[10] Another word derived from this verb is adhyavasāna, a neuter noun meaning "effort, determination, and so forth," which is cross-referenced with adhyavasāya.[11] Adhyavasāya is used in the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali (ca. second century B.C.E.) in the sense of "determination to begin an activity with a view to getting its fruit."[12] As will be seen, some of these definitions are relevant in the context of Jain karma theory, especially "determination, resolution," "mental effort," and "determination to begin an activity with a view to getting its fruit."

Adhyavasāya is used as a technical term in philosophical texts of other religious traditions For example, in the Nyāya Sūtra of Gautama (third century C. E.), it is used in the sense of "ascertainment."[13] It is also a technical term in the Sāṃkhya Kārikā (SK) of Īśvarakṛṣṇa (550 C.E.).[14] At SK 5, he says, "perception is the non-doubting awareness (adhyavasāya) of each [faculty's] respective sense-content (viṣaya) (prativiṣayādhyavasāyo dṛṣṭam)" (Clear 1990: 311). In the Yuktidīpika,[15] adhyavasāya is explained as "that which follows the functioning of the sense faculties appropriating their [respective] sense-contents" (Clear, ib.). In the Sāṃkhyatattvakaumundi, Vācaspati Miśra (ca. 850–950) describes adhyavasāya as "ascertainment or determinate knowledge as consequent upon the manifestation of the essence of the intellect, when the inertia of the intellect is overcome by the operation of the sense organs in apprehending their objects" (Sinha 1934: 121). At SK 23, adhyavasāya is associated with intellect (buddhi). According to Larsen (1979: 181), "buddhi [is characterized by] ascertainment or determination (adhyavasāya)."[16] He states that "in the Kārikā itself, buddhi is characterized as being adhyavasāya. The term is from the root or si, meaning 'to bind' together with the prefixes adhi and ava. It can mean 'attempt,' 'effort,' 'exertion,' 'perseverance,' etc." (ib., p. 182). Commenting on SK 23 in his Kārikā Bhāṣya, Gauḍapāda explains this term as "intellectual determination of the object of perception as belonging to a definite class, such as this is a jar, this is a cloth"[17] (Sinha 1934: 121). Yuktidīpika 92.7 states that "adhyavasāya is sensory cognition (grahaṇa) in the sense of non-doubting awareness (niścaya) and mental construct (pratyaya) that this is a cow, this is a man."[18] A variant of this word, vyavasāya, is found at Bhagavad Gītā 2.41, also with reference to buddhi, in the sense of one whose buddhi is controlled or properly directed. It is contrasted with one whose buddhi is avyavasāya, "not controlled" or "not resolute."[19] Thus, adhyavasāya was used in a technical sense as early as the second century B. C. E. in the Mahābhāṣya and is found in seminal texts of other traditions, namely, the Nyāya Sūtra and the Sāṃkhya Kārikā, in the early centuries of the common era in the sense of ascertainment or determination.

In the Jain tradition, Kundakunda (ca. second–third centuries C.E.) understands the terms vyavasāya, adhyavasāna, and buddhi to be synonymous. "Buddhi (understanding), vyavasāya (resolving), adhyavasāna (conative activity), mati (thinking), vijñāna (knowing), citta (consciousness), bhāva (conscious mode), and pariṇāma (conscious manifestation) all have the same meaning."[20] He emphasizes the role of adhyavasāna as a determining factor in karmic bondage by raising the question, "If adhyavasāna is the efficient cause (nimitta) through which souls, standing on the path of liberation (mokṣa-mārga), are bound by karma or are released, what can you not do?"[21] Although Glasenapp (1942: 94) defines adhyavasāya as "the tenor of the mind, the attitude of the mind, the mood of the mind,"[22] J. L. Jaini (1918: 8f.) explicitly links it with mohanīya karma in his definition "impure (from the point of view of the soul's own nature) thought activity, as love, hatred, delusion, and so forth." This agrees with Devendrasūri's definition in his commentary on Karmagrantha 4.82.[23] Kundakunda suggests this association by mentioning that "munis who do not have these thought activities (adhyavasāya) are not stained with either auspicious or inauspicious karmas."[24] However, Kundakunda understands that adhyavasāya has a broader sphere of influence than on duration and intensity bondage when he states that "by its own thought activity (adhyavasāya), the soul creates [for itself] all [states of embodiment], animals and hellbeings, heavenly beings and human beings, as well as various types of auspiciousness and inauspiciousness. Likewise, by its thought activity, a soul identifies itself with [categories of existents] such as motion and rest (dharma-adharma), soul and non-soul (jīva-ajīva), and the unoccupied and occupied universe (aloka-loka)."[25] In these passages, Kundakunda implies that there is an association between adhyavasāya and type bondage (prakṛti-bandha) because different sub-varieties of karma are responsible for rebirth and embodiment in the four states of existence, as well as auspiciousness or inauspiciousness in each life as characterized by factors such as attractive or unattractive bodies (subvarieties of śarīra-nāma karma), high or low status (sub-varieties of gotra karma), and so forth.[26] On the other hand, confusion regarding the nature of the soul and its identification with existents that are non-soul are caused by darśana-mohanīya karma. This broader sphere of influence is supported by passages in Jain karma literature.

Adhyavasāya and Type Bondage

It is said in the Tattvārtha-sūtra of Umāsvāti/Umāsvāmī (ca. fourth–fifth centuries C.E.) that type bondage (prakṛti-bandha) and quantity bondage (pradeśa-bandha) are caused by activity (yoga) and duration bondage (sthiti-bandha) and intensity bondage (anubhāga-bandha) by passions (kaṣāya) (TS 8.4 = SS 8.3; KG 5.96). However, as Nathmal Tatia (1951: 238) has pointed out, the varieties of karmic matter that are bound are determined by the nature of the activity, which, in turn, is determined by the various passions.[27]

An association between adhyavasāya and both activity (yoga) and type bondage (prakṛti-bandha) is found in Maladhārī Hemacandra's commentary on the Gaṇadharavāda of Ācārya Jinabhadra entitled in Solomon's (1966) translation "Acalabhrātā Regarding the Reality of Puṇya-Pāpa (Good-Evil)."[28] Here a question is raised regarding the coexistence of good and evil. In denying this possibility, there is a discussion about whether karma can be a mixture of good and bad:

"Karma cannot be of a mixed nature as there is no cause of such a karma. Yoga (activity) is the cause of karma. Yoga can be either good or bad at one time, but not of a mixed good-cum-bad nature; its effect too should be good, viz. puṇya or bad, viz. pāpa, but not of a mixed form, puṇya-cum-pāpa. Perverted attitude, non-abstinence, spiritual inertia, passion, and activity (yoga) are the causes of bondage; of these yoga alone is such that it is invariably connected with karma-bondage; that is to say, karma-bondage is not possible without yoga. Hence, yoga alone of all the causes has been mentioned here. Yoga is three-fold according as it [sic] pertains to mind, speech, or body."[29]

In further clarifying the nature of yoga, it is stated:

"[Y]oga is two-fold, dravya (physical) and bhāva (psychical). The material substances inspiring the activities of the minds, etc., are dravya-yoga and so also all the vibrations of the mind, etc. Adhyavasāya (determination, motive, intention) is the cause of both these kinds of dravya-yoga. Dravya-yoga may be of a mixed nature both good and bad. But the cause of it viz. adhyavasāya can be at a time either good or bad, but can never be of a mixed nature. Dravya-yoga too is said to be of a mixed nature only from the vyavahāra-naya, i.e. the empirical point of view; but from the ultimate point of view (niścaya-naya), it can be only good or bad at a time.... In the case of bhāva-yoga, the mixed state is not possible from any point of view. Adhyavasāya can be either good or bad; in no scripture do we find a reference to a third type of adhyavasāya of a mixed nature good-cum-bad. When the adhyavasāya is good, there is the binding of puṇya karma, and when the adhyavasāya is bad, there is the binding of pāpa karma, but there being no adhyavasāya of a mixed nature, good-cum-bad, there can never be any karma which is of a mixed nature, puṇya-cum-pāpa. Hence, puṇya and pāpa should be regarded as independent and not of a mixed nature."[30]

In Maladhārī Hemacandra's commentary on this same section of the Gaṇadharavāda, adhyavasāya is also mentioned in the context of transforming generic karmic matter into auspicious or inauspicious sub-varieties:

"As long as karma-pudgala is not bound by the jīva, it is neither auspicious nor inauspicious, but as soon as jīva binds it, it transforms it into auspicious or inauspicious by virtue of the peculiarity of the transformation in the form of adhyavasāya (determination) and also of the support, as in the case of food. That is to say, the jīva while binding karman produces in it auspiciousness or inauspiciousness in accordance with the transformation of the jīva into auspicious or inauspicious adhyavasāya; again, the jīva, which is the support of karman, has such a peculiar nature on account of which it can transform karma even while binding it; the karma too has such a nature that it is thus transformed even while being bound by the jīva with auspicious or inauspicious adhyavasāya."[31]

The passage continues with the analogy of karma with food. "Even if a cow and a serpent are given the same food, the cow's food turns into milk and that of the serpent into poison." This is attributed to the particular nature of food as well as to the particular nature of the receptacle of that food, i.e., the body that has consumed it:

"Karma, similarly, has the energy or capacity to undergo an auspicious or inauspicious transformation on resorting to a jīva with an auspicious or inauspicious adhyavasāya (resolution); and the supporting jīva, too, has the capacity to bind karman and to transform it into auspicious or inauspicious, i.e., into puṇya (merit) or pāpa (sin)."[32]

Modern commentators also associate adhyavasāya with the binding of different varieties of karmic matter. In his commentary on Tattvārtha-sūtra 8.5, which lists the eight main varieties (mūla-prakṛti) of karma, Pandit Sukhlāl Saṅghvī (1952: 274) states that when the bundle of karmic matter (karma-pudgala-rāśi) is being grasped as a unit at one time by a soul with a particular mental determination (adhyavasāya-viśeṣa), changes of various types (svabhāva) take place that are in conformity with the particular type of mental power (adhyavasāya śakti) present at this time.

Adhyavasāya and the Binding of Āyus Karma

In his commentary on the Paṇṇavaṇā (Prajñāpanā) in which he discusses the parameters regarding the binding of life span (āyus) karma, Malayagiri (twelfth century) states that adhyavasāya determines the manner in which this karma is bound. Unlike the other seven main varieties (mūla-prakṛti), āyus karma is bound only once in each life. It remains inactive until the moment of death, when āyus karma for the present life has been exhausted. At this time, āyus karma for the next life begins its operation, determining the soul's state of embodiment as well as its life span, or length of time in that embodiment.[33]

The binding of āyus karma does not take place in an instant (samaya), as is the case with most other varieties, but may continue for an antarmuhūrta (forty-eight minutes). Malayagiri does not explain the reason for this, but he states that during the antarmuhūrta in which āyus karma is being bound, there can be multiple attractions (ākarṣa), with the binding stopping and starting again for a total of eight times. Using the analogy of a cow drinking, he states:

"For example, some cows finish taking a drink of water in only one gulp; some, on account of fear, having repeatedly stopped, drink water in two, three or four, or seven or eight gulps. In this way, some souls with strong [mental] effort or will (adhyavasāya) grasp in only one slow attraction the pudgalas of āyus.... For others, with two or three attractions, there is a slower attraction; and with six, seven, or eight, an extremely slow attraction."[34]

He also mentions that the fewest number of souls bind āyus with a maximum of eight ākarṣas and the largest number bind with one ākarṣa.[35]

Adhyavasāya is also mentioned in association with the binding of āyus karma by some editors and translators of printed editions of karma texts. For example, in discussing the karmas that are operative in the third guṇasthāna, Muni Miśrīmal states that ānupūrvī nāma karma, which functions during transmigration of the soul from the place of death to its place of rebirth, does not come into rise here because death cannot occur due to the fact that āyus karma cannot be bound "because the adhyavasāya of that sort does not exist."[36] Perhaps Glasenapp also may have been thinking of adhyavasāya in the association with the third guṇasthāna, although he does not use this term here. He states that while the soul is in the third guṇasthāna, which is characterized by indifference, "the two still remaining āyus [deva and manuṣya] cannot be bound, because the jīva cannot die on this stage, and because, also, a clear 'tendency of will [adhyavasāya?],' which could be decisive for the binding of a certain āyus, is not existing" (Glasenapp 1942: 79). Āyus karma also cannot be bound in the guṇasthānas above the seventh, namely, those attained by the soul as it ascends either the ladder of suppression (upaśamika śreṇi), culminating in the eleventh guṇasthāna, or the ladder of destruction (kṣāyika śreṇi), culminating in the state of the omniscient kevalin (thirteenth and fourteenth guṇasthānas). Here, adhyavasāya may be a factor as well because in his comments on the Karmagranthas of Devendrasūri, Muni Miśrīmal states that beginning in the ninth guṇasthāna, the purity of the various adhyavasāyas keeps on increasing.[37]

Mendicant-scholars and paṇḍits with whom I have discussed the binding of āyus karma were familiar with this term. Some thought that adhyavasāya was the reason that binding stopped and then started again. However, some Śvetāmbara scholars used this term in association with other aspects of its binding. One mentioned that adhyavasāya, or "mental attitude," determines the specific sub-variety (uttara-prakṛti) of āyus that is bound, which is supported by its association with type bondage, as discussed above. Another stated that when adhyavasāya is very intense or very weak (the worst adhyavasāya or the best adhyavasāya), āyus karma does not bind.

Adhyavasāya and Leśyā

The term adhyavasāya is also mentioned in conjunction with leśyā (Pkt. lessā), or "karmic stain of the soul." The concept that mental activities produce colours (leśyā) associated with either the mind or the soul itself is found at an early date in other religious traditions of South Asia, and scholars have speculated that this idea may have originated with the Ājīvikas or was shared knowledge within mendicant communities. The question of what causes leśyā has been a subject of considerable debate among Jain commentators.[38] In his commentary on the Uttarajjhayaṇa (Uttarādhyayana), chapter 34, verse 1, Lakṣmīvallabhagaṇi (eighteenth century) states that "leśyās are specific types of mental effort (adhyavasāya-viśeṣāḥ), and the leśyās of karma are six."[39] For this same verse in the Jināgama Granthamālā edition of the Uttarādhyayana, Muni Rājendra Śāstrī states in his Hindi explanation that leśyā is a transformation of the soul, a type of mental effort (adhyavasāya-viśeṣa). In support of this, he provides a note in Sanskrit: "adhyavasāye, ātmanaḥ pariṇāmaviśeṣe, antaḥkaraṇavṛtti".[40] From his citation for this quotation, it would appear that these terms are found as a unit in the Āyārāṅga (Ācārāṅga). However, apparently he is providing a listing of three separate meanings for the word leśyā, one of which is adhyavasāya.[41] The association of adhyavasāya with leśyā here is based on Śīlāṅka's (ninth century) commentary on AS The sūtra, which lists various characteristics of a great muni (mahā-muni), includes the term abahillese (Skt. abahir-leśyā). Śīlāṅka glosses leśyā with adhyavasāya, but does not provide a definition for adhyavasāya. He defines the term abahir with its opposite, bahir, as "one who has departed from (nirgata) restraint (saṃyama)" and says that a mahā-muni is one who does not have this; he is one whose has a mental effort (leśyā) that is characterized by restraint (abahir-leśyā).[42] Śīlāṅka also mentions adhyavasāya along with leśyā elsewhere when he talks about very pure mental effort (ativiśuddhādhyavasāya) and mental effort associated with anger and so forth (krodhādyadhyavasāya).[43]

This definition, however, is not reflected in other sources. The term adhyavasāya is not mentioned in association with leśyā in Malayagiri's commentary on the Prajñāpanā or Abhayadevasūri's (eleventh century) commentaries on the Viyāhapannatti (Vyākhyāprajñapti = Bhagavatī) or the Ṭhāṇaṅga (Sthānāṅga).[44] Nor is it used by Muni Miśrīmal or Pandit Sukhlāl Saṅghvī in their discussions of leśyā in the fourth Karmagrantha. I have not found adhyavasāya mentioned in Digambara commentaries in passages on leśyā in Gommaṭasāra, in Vīrasena's commentary on the Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, nor in any of the passages for leśyā in Jainendra Siddhānta Kośa or Jaina Lakṣaṇāvalī. No mendicant-scholar or paṇḍit with whom I discussed this topic equated adhyavasāya with leśyā. Instead, all maintained that in the absence of the rise of mohanīya karma, there is no adhyavasāya, but there is still leśyā as long as there is activity of the body, speech, or mind. Thus, there is leśyā in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth guṇasthānas whereas adhyavasāya does not exist beyond the tenth guṇasthāna.

Adhyavasāya and Transformation of Karmic Matter (Saṃkramaṇa)

For a soul to attain final liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, it must be devoid of all karmic matter. However, this does not mean that karma is always experienced in the same form in which it was bound. Sometimes it is possible for the soul to decrease or increase the intensity with which specific karmas produce their effects or to increase or decrease the length of time that it remains bound. It is also possible to transform certain sub-varieties (uttara-prakṛti) of karmic matter bound at an earlier time into a corresponding sub-variety that is in the process of being bound. For example, it is possible to transform the karma that causes unpleasant feelings (asātā-vedanīya) into the variety that causes pleasant feelings (sātā-vedanīya) and vice-versa.[45]

One of the varieties of karma that may be transformed is mithyātva-darśanamohanīya, the karma that causes a deluded view of reality. Under certain circumstances, it may be transformed into a less virulent variety called "mixed" darśana-mohanīya karma. In support of the statement in Maladhārī Hemacandra's commentary on the Gaṇadharavāda section of the Viśeṣāvaśyakabhāṣya that it is impossible for karma to be of a mixed nature, this transformation has been examined:

"[T]his previously bound karma prakṛti [mithyātva-darśana-mohanīya] can be turned by the force of adhyavasāya (determination) from good into bad and from bad into good. The formerly bound aśubha karman of the nature of perverted attitude can be transformed into the nature of right attitude by purifying it by good adhyavasāya (determination). Similarly bad or impure adhyavasāya can transform the good pudgalas of (karma of) right attitude into the nature of perverted attitude, and some karma-pudgalas of perverted attitude can be half-purified. Thus, from the point of view of the existing karman (persisting after being bound), mixed [miśra] mohanīya karma is possible; but at the time of binding, there is never the binding of mixed mohanīya karma."[46]

Pandit Sukhlāl Saṅghvī also mentions adhyavasāya in the context of karmic transformation:

"There is a rule regarding the fruition of karma that it must give its effect only in accordance with its inherent nature in its own mūla-prakṛtis (main varieties), but not in the same uttara-prakṛtis (sub-varieties). This is because later on, it is possible for one uttara-prakṛti of a certain karma to be changed into the form of another uttara-prakṛti by the force of adhyavasāya, and it gives its fruits, mild or strong, in accordance with the inherent nature of the uttara-prakṛti into which it was transformed rather than its previous form."[47]

Adhyavasāya and Duration and Intensity Bondage

From the passages discussed above, we know that adhyavasāya is a determining factor in which sub-varieties of karmic matter are bound (auspicious or inauspicious) and in the transformation of karmic matter from one sub-variety into another. It also plays a role in the binding of āyus karma, and several commentators have associated it with leśyā. However, these sources do not shed any light on Glasenapp's assertion that the duration (sthiti) and intensity (anubhāga) of karmas depend upon the state of mind (adhyavasāya) at the moment of assimilation and, therefore, on the strength of the kaṣāyas. However, there are instances in the karma literature where the term adhyavasāya is used in a technical sense in terminology used to describe the mechanics of karmic bondage. These terms are found in what I understand to be "expansion passages" because they expand upon, or flesh-out, the basic form of karma theory, with its one hundred twenty varieties and four degrees of intensity.[48] In doing so, karma theory is transformed from a set of concepts that, with a little effort, can be comprehended, into a complex system of operations that is much more difficult to understand. Such expansion passages are found in a number of texts, including the Śvetāmbara Karmagranthas and Karmaprakṛti and the Digambara Gommaṭasāra and Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama, as well as commentaries on the Tattvārtha-sūtra.

In the Rājavārtika of Akalaṅka (eighth century), a Digambara commentary on the Tattvārtha-sūtra, there is an expansion passage following sūtras 8.4 and 8.5 (= SS 8.3, 8.4), where the four aspects of karmic bondage, namely, type (prakṛti), duration (sthiti), intensity (anubhāva), and quantity (pradeśa), are mentioned and the eight main varieties (mūla-prakṛti) of karmic matter are listed. Here the question is raised, "is this the extent of karmic bondage or are there more types (vikalpa)?" Akalaṅka uses the technical term adhyavasāya-sthāna in his discussion of the complexities of karmic bondage. He explains that there are, in fact, many different types, from one to numerable (saṃkheya). For example, there are two types from the perspective of the differentiation of auspicious (puṇya) and inauspicious (pāpa), three in accordance with beginningless/ending, beginningless/endless; and with a beginning and ending; four from the perspective of type (prakṛti), duration (sthiti), intensity (anubhāva), and quantity (pradeśa), and so on. After stating that there are eight types from the perspective of different varieties, beginning with knowledge-obscuring (jñānāvaraṇa) karma, he concludes that karma is numerable with respect to words (śabda) such as these. However, the types are uncountable (asaṃkheya) from the perspective of the types of mental states (adhyavasāya-sthāna). And there are infinite (ananta) types in accordance with the rules regarding the transformation of infinite times infinite (ananta-ananta) molecules (pradeśa) of matter. It is also infinite from the perspective of the degrees of indivisible units that are a measure of intensity (avibhāga-praticcheda) of knowledge-obscuring (jñānāvaraṇa) karma, and so forth.[49]

Similar passages are found elsewhere in the karma literature. For example, at the end of the section on bondage in Gommaṭasāra Karmakāṇḍa of Nemicandra (tenth century), prior to introducing the subject of fruition bondage, gāthā 257 summarizes the main concepts of karmic bondage presented thus far, namely, that prakṛti- and pradeśabandha are caused by yoga, and sthiti- and anubhāga-bandha by kaṣāyas; and although there is quantity bondage (pradeśa-bandha), there is no cause for duration bondage (sthiti-bandha) in the eleventh guṇasthāna and above. Gāthās 258, 259, and 260 are expansion passages that, in essence, answer four questions: (1) How many different degrees of vibratory activity (yoga) and varieties of karmic matter are there? "All vibratory divisions (yoga-sthāna) are an uncountable or innumerable (asaṃkhyāta) part of the base line of the universe (śreṇi), and the collection (saṃgraha) of varieties (prakṛti) is innumerable times (asaṃkheya-guṇa) these" [258] (J. L. Jaini 1927: 149). (2) How many different degrees of duration are there? "The different varieties of duration (sthiti-viśeṣa) are an uncountable part of these (ultimate prakṛtis). And the (different) degrees or states of thought activity that are the cause of, or are associated with, duration bondage (sthiti-bandha-adhyavasāya-sthāna) are innumerable times these" [259].[50] (3) How many different degrees of intensity are there? "And this number [sthiti-bandhaadhyavasāya-sthāna] multiplied by innumerable times the spatial units of the universe is the number of divisions of thought activity that is the cause of fruition bondage (anubhāga-bandha-adhyavasāya-sthāna)" [260].[51] (4) How many molecules of karma are there? "And one should known that the number of karma pradeśas is infinite times this number" [260]. Here, one should keep in mind, as J. L. Jaini (1927: 147) has noted, that in these passages "innumerables" are not the same, because there are different degrees of innumerable, just as there are different degrees of infinite.[52] Thus, from these passages, one can ascertain that there is not a one-to-one correspondence of a degree of mental activity (sthiti-bandha-adhyavasāya-sthāna) and a specific degree of duration bondage because the number of different degrees of mental activities exceeds those of duration bondage.

Further details regarding the technical aspects of adhyavasāya are found at the end of the Karmakāṇḍa, where the method of calculating the incremental increase of the degrees of thought activity associated with duration bondage is described. "The degree of thought activity that causes the minimum duration bondage (avara-sthiti-bandhaadhyavasāya-sthāna) are innumerable times (the space-points of) the universe. As a rule, (they are) gradually increasing... until the passionate-thought-activity place causing maximum duration is reached."[53] At GKK 947 and 948, adhyavasāya is subdivided in accordance with the specific durations (sthiti) associated with each main variety (mūlaprakṛti) of karmic matter and their relative frequency is calculated. As one could surmise from the fact that āyus karma is bound only once in each life, that adhyavasāya which is associated with the duration of āyus karma is the least, while those that cause the durations of feeling (vedanīya), deluding (mohanīya), and obstructing (āvaraṇa) karmas are the greatest. Combining these two parameters are gāthās that describe the incremental increase in degrees of the thought activity that causes the binding of the minimum duration of āyus to that which causes the greatest duration (953) and also the method of calculating the incremental increase in other adhyavasāyas associated with duration of the other seven varieties.[54]

Since Glasenapp based his study of karma theory on Śvetāmbara sources, primarily the Karmagranthas, it is likely that his statements about adhyavasāya are based on two similar expansion passages at the end of the sections on duration bondage (5.55) and type bondage (5.95), and perhaps on a gāthā (4.82) regarding countable, uncountable, and infinite numbers (saṃkhya, asaṃkhya, and ananta).[55] In his explanation of KG 5.55, Pandit Kailāśacandra Siddhāntaśāstrī (1942: 147) states:

"[I]n the previous gāthās the various degrees (sthāna) of duration were explained. Here it is explained that there are innumerable degrees of adhyavasāya that are the cause of individual degrees of duration. Adhyavasāya-sthāna means a certain type of rise, strong, stronger, strongest, or mild, milder, mildest, of kaṣāya. In other words, a transformation of the ātman that is produced or caused by kaṣāyas that is the cause of duration bondage is called adhyavasāya. Thus, there is not one specific degree of adhyavasāya that is the cause of one specific degree of duration bondage, but various (different) adhyavasāya-sthānas, and from different adhyavasāya-sthānas one duration may be bound. For example, if ten humans bind deva-āyus of two sāgar [opama] in length, then it is not necessarily the case that the transformation [in the souls] of these ten humans is exactly the same. Adhyavasāya-sthānas, which are the extent of an uncountable loka, may be the cause of just one individual sthiti."

The Significance of Adhyavasāya

Based on these representative samples from Jain karma literature, it is evident that adhyavasāya is used in both a general and a technical sense. However, two fundamental questions remain unanswered. First, why is kaṣāya not sufficient to explain karmic bondage? It is insufficient, I believe, because it does not adequately explain how a single main variety of karmic matter, namely mohanīya karma, which generates one of the four passions in a specific degree of intensity when coming to fruition, ultimately results in modifications to generic karmic matter that is in the process of being bound and being transformed into the numerous sub-varieties, infusing it with different durations and different degrees of intensity, each of which is appropriate for each individual sub-variety of karmic matter. In other words, the rise of one type of karma, namely, one of the subvarieties of cāritra-mohanīya karma, which contains within it a specific degree of intensity, is capable of generating a type of mental resolve or determination (adhyavasāya), which is the efficient cause (nimitta) for modifications in the inherent nature of the soul. These modifications, in turn, are capable of causing multiple transformations in generic karmic matter while it is being bound, infusing each individual molecule (pradeśa) with a specific duration (sthiti) and intensity (anubhāga) that is appropriate for each variety.[56]

A second question should be addressed as well. Why is this level of detail regarding duration and intensity necessary? Here one should consider how karmic matter is arranged at the time of bondage. When we think of karmic bondage, we usually understand that a mass of karmic matter is bound, which, following a period of quiescence (abādhā-kāla), rises, producing its effect and detaching from the soul. However, this entire mass of karma does not come to fruition at precisely the same time. Instead, there is a range of time over which it rises. This is best illustrated by āyus karma, which is bound only once in each life but produces its effects over an entire life span. In order for there to be an uninterrupted rise over this range, at the time that karma is being bound, it is grouped into bundles of karmic particles that have the same duration. Furthermore, these bundles are arranged so that those particles of karmic matter that have been infused with the least duration are first in line to come to fruition, to be followed by those with a duration of one moment more, and so forth.[57] Therefore, it is possible that this level of detail is necessary because of the intricate nature of the physical mechanics of karmic bondage.

Adhyavasāya thus plays a role in several aspects of karmic bondage. It is a determining factor in the way in which āyus karma is bound, and it informs the actions associated with the binding of either auspicious or inauspicious varieties of karma. It is directly responsible for the intensities and durations of each individual sub-variety (uttara-prakṛti) of karmic matter, and it is necessary for the transformation of karmic matter from one sub-variety into another (saṃkramaṇa). In this role, it probably has its greatest impact on karmic bondage, for without this process of energy (karaṇa), it would be impossible to transform mohanīya karma into less virulent varieties, thereby enabling the soul to progress on the path of purification and ultimately attain liberation (mokṣa) from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Perhaps adhyavasāya is not commonly mentioned in discussions of karma theory because, as is the case with leśyā, it is possible to adequately explain the basic concepts of bondage, which constitute the surface structure of karma theory, without it. However, as illustrated in the "expansion passages" mentioned above, adhyavasāya is a vital part of the deep structure of karma theory in which the mechanics associated with its binding, arrangement, and realization are described in minute detail. There are, of course, a number of other technical terms that are found at these deeper levels of karma theory. However, one seldom becomes aware of them because the same term is not used in a non-technical sense in the surface structure of karma theory, as is the case with adhyavasāya.


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  135. Samiti
  136. Samyaktva
  137. Sangha
  138. Sanskrit
  139. Saṃsāra
  140. Saṅgha
  141. Solapur
  142. Soul
  143. Space
  144. Sthiti
  145. Surat
  146. Svabhāva
  147. Sāṃkhya
  148. Sūtra
  149. Tattva
  150. Tattvārtha Sūtra
  151. The Jaina Path of Purification
  152. Toronto
  153. Udaya
  154. Umāsvāti
  155. Uttarādhyayana
  156. Varanasi
  157. Vedanīya
  158. Vedanīya karma
  159. Vidya
  160. Vyākhyāprajñapti
  161. World Sanskrit Conference
  162. Yoga
  163. kaṣāyas
  164. Ācārya
  165. Ācārāṅga
  166. Ādināth
  167. Āgama
  168. Āyu Karma
  169. Śreṇika
  170. Śvetāmbara
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