Neuroscience and Karma: Prologue I - Doctrine of Karman in Jain Philosophy

Published: 25.06.2015
Updated: 02.07.2015

Basic Principle

Rebirth is the most important presupposition and the 'Doctrine of Karman' is the central dogma of almost all Indian philosophies/religions, consistent with their spiritual outlook. The gist of the doctrine is: every action of a living organism—thought, speech and bodily action—is the cause of a transcendental effect; it generates a certain potential psycho-physical force which manifests itself under appropriate conditions in the worldly life in the form of happiness or misery and suffering. Just as a promissory note (a bond or an IOU) does not lose its validity until and unless the amount is repaid, so also the effect of the force generated by an action continues to exist long after!he disappearance of the cause itself. The effect, thus, does not confine itself to one life but continues for many lives beyond the present one. In other words, the entire gamut of the conditions and duration of the present life is the result of the actions in the preceding ones and those during the present life are the causes of the conditions and duration of the future existence. Since each life presupposes the actions of a preceding one, there is no beginning; and the migration of a soul continues without end, because actions which must be expiated in a future life are performed anew. However, the SOUL, pure in itself, has an innate ability to attain its pure state (nirvāṇa) by demolishing the power of karman and thus terminate the cycle of rebirths, after a course of moral discipline and spiritual enlightenment.

Metaphysical Basis

To properly understand the nature and function of karman it is necessary to briefly understand the metaphysical views of the Jains. According to Jains, the universe is neither created nor governed by a Supreme Being but is subject only to Universal Laws (Lokasthiti). It is eternal in its essential character, though its constituents undergo continuous change - change being as real as permanence. Jains find no contradiction between change and permanence as they do not believe in absolute permanence or total cessation. This is the doctrine of Non-absolutism (Anekāntavāda) which holds that truth/reality is free from absolutism. Six eternal/indestructible substances (dravyas) produce the infinite world-processes through their modifications and interactions. Each substance persists through its own modes. It is as well as becomes, as being and becoming are not mutually incompatible. In fact, becoming is not a derivative of being but is a necessary concomitant. These substances are:

  1. Ākāsāśtikāya - space, the container of all other substances, itself being self-contained.
  2. Dharmāstikāya - a kind of ether; it is the medium of motion of all mobile constituents of the universe.
  3. Adharmāstikāya - (counterpart of no. 2 above); it is the medium of rest, the concomitant cause of all resting constituents of the universe.
  4. Pudgalāstikāya - physical order of existence - matter and energy.
  5. Jivāstikāya - soul or psychical order of existence.
  6. Kāla - time.

In this thesis, we are mainly concerned with two substances: nos. 4 & 5 and we shall describe these a little more elaborately.

Physical substance (Pudgalāstikāya) exists in two forms (i) indivisible ultimate atoms (paramāṇu) and (ii) aggregates (skandha) produced by the union of two or more paramāṇus governed by certain laws. The entire infinitely heterogeneous phenomena of the physical order of existence is produced by the infinite variety of aggregates of this substace. Paramāṇu, i.e. an ultimate atom is the basic material cause of the physical world.

There are several groups (vargaṇās) of this substance and some of them are purely transcendental while some are empirically useful to living organisms. Bodies of all terrestrial organisms are made of Audārika group. Śwasochvāsa, Bhāsā and Manaḥ groups are used for the vital functions of breathing, speaking and thinking respectively. The subtle-most group is karmana group and the aggregates of this group are attracted and transformed by jīva and become karman, infecting and defiling the conscious substance - jīva.

JĪVA, the soul (or spirit) the only conscious substance out of the six, is distinct from all the above substances which are devoid of consciousness. Jains believe in the multiplicity of souls, each quite independent from anoher (and not a part and parcel of a super consciousness - Brahman). Each jīva possesses innumerable qualities. In its purest natural state each jīva is exactly like another and is endowed with eight qualities:

  1. Kevalajñāna (omniscience) - Pure and perfect knowledge - the faculty of instantly cognising, by direct experience, the content of the whole Universe which contains all reality and nothing but reality, without any contradiction or discrepancy.
  2. Kevaladarśana - Pure and perfect intuition (darśana) - the faculty of instantly apprehending, by direct experience, the whole of real existence, without separation of contents, as a system with total internal consistency and structure but without reference to anything beyond.
  3. Ātmika Sukha—Self-generated blissfulness which transcends pleasure/pain and joy/grief and which has no reference to anything outside the self.
  4. Ananta Vīrya - Unfettered and unrestricted spiritual energy.
  5. Kṣāyaka Samyaktva - Possession of complete truth.
  6. Aṭala-avagāhanā - Eternal unchanging existence—freedom from migration.
  7. Amūrtatva - Total formlessness.
  8. Agurulaghutva - Total parity with other pure souls.

On the other hand, all living organisms, with their souls defiled by karman, have piecemeal and fragmented knowledge, intuition and energy; possess perverted faith and embodied existence; experience joy and grief and have a limited life-span and are therefore, subject to cycles of birth and death. Karman, the alien physical substance, infects and defiles all worldly organisms and veils, vitiates or obstructs the above mentioned eight qualitites (gums) of a pure soul and keeps it away from its supreme state of existence.

Modus Operandi of Karman

Bondage (Bandha) - Here karman does not mean activity but the unification of a soul with material aggregates of kārmaṇa vargaṇā (group) as a result of the activities of the soul. Subtle-most matter of kārmaṇa vargaṇā fills the entire cosmos. The defiled mundane soul, under the influence of passions and emotions, is always engaged in some action. Any activity - mental, vocal or physical - produces vibrations in the soul and attracts these aggregates of matter which are then transformed into a transcendental psycho-physical force called karman.[1]

This union of jīva and karman is like that of milk and water. The resultant state is bandha (bondage). The karman may remain latent/ supine for a time and then it rises (fructifies), manifests and gives its fruit - karmaphala. The duration and intensity of fruition depends upon the emotional state at the moment of bondage. Once the karman has delivered its fruit, it loses its potency and it ceases to be karman i.e. separates from the soul.

The Species of Karman

Since there are eight innate qualities of the soul, there are eight primary types (múla-prakṛti) of karman.

  1. Knowledge-obscuring (Jñānavaraṇa) karman obscures the pure and perfect knowledge.
  2. Intuition-obscuring (Darśanāvarṇa} karman obscures the pure and perfect intuition.
  3. Feeling-producing (Vednīya) karman holds up the self-generated bliss and produces pleasure and pain, joy and grief (in worldly life).
  4.  Deluding (Mohanīya) karman produces delusion - metaphysical and ethical - and:
    - prevents the innate ability of belief in truth,
    - destroys equanimity of conduct.
  5. Life-span-determining (Āyuṣya) karman determines the biological species as well as the duration of life-span.
  6. Body-making (Nāma) karman embodies the bodiless soul and determines the diversities and individual traits.
  7. Status-determining(Gotra) karman determines the status and family conditions.
  8. Energy-obstructing (Antarāya) karman obstructs/suppresses the spiritual energy.

Each of these primary species is divided into several sub-species which could be further subdivided into a large number. The total number of subspecies is 148. (See p. xiii)

Groups and Sub-species of Karman

It is obvious from the above that karman obscures, obstructs, cripples and distorts the innate characteristic qualities of the pure soul. But all the eight main species described above do not possess the same degree of potency of defilement. The eight species are thus divided into two groups:

  1. Destroying (Ghātin) karman and
  2. Non-destroying (Aghātin) karman.

The former group cripples and distorts the innate qualities of the soul while the latter one, though unable to obscure any fundamental quality of the soul, compels it to continue its wordly existence.

Four ghātin karman are:

  1. Knowledge-obscuring
  2. Intuition obscuring
  3. Deluding
  4. Energy-obstructing.

These are further sub-divided into

  1. Sarva-ghātin - fully destroying
  2. Desa-ghātin - partially destroying
  1. Sarva-ghātin:
    There are five categories of knowledge and hence there are five sub-types of knowledge-obscuring Karman that veils them. Omniscience (kevala-jñāna) is an innate quality of pure soul which remains completely obscured by one of them. The remaining four sub-types are partially obscuring because they obscure only those categories of knowledge which are left uncovered by the fifth which covers the pure and perfect knowledge. Similarly the full intuition of the truth (kevala-darśana) remains obscured by one sub-type only of darśanāvaraṇa karman, while three sub-types partially cover the intuition. Five types of sleep-producing karman are also sub-species of this main type and they obscure the intuition fully.

    The deluding karman is primarily divided into two types:
    1. delusion of the truth and
    2. delusion of conduct.
      Predilection for and faith in truth (samyaktva), which is, like omniscience, the innate characteristic of the soul, is destroyed by the sarva-ghātin truth-deluding karman (mithyatva).[2] Three strong types of passions (totaling twelve) also fully cover their objects. Thus there are twenty sub-types which are completely obscuring, that is, they obscure in full their respective objects. But this does not mean that there is absolute lack of predilection for truth or the capacity to cognise it. If that were the case, the soul would lose its soulness and become a non-soul. Even as the densest and darkest cloud cannot completely obfuscate the sun, exactly so the karman cannot obscure the total ability of knowledge and truth.
  2. Deśa-ghātin:
    Partially obscuring (Deśa-ghātin) sub-species are twenty-five viz. the remaining four knowledge-covering, three sub-types of intuition-covering, mildest type of four passions, nine types of quasi-passion2 and all the five sub-types of the obstructions (antarāya) karman.

Four aghāti karman are:

  1. Feeling-producing
  2. Body-making
  3. Status-determining
  4. Life-span-determining.

They do not obscure any fundamental quality of the soul, but force the soul to continue its worly existence and prevent emancipation.

The feeling-producing karman has two sub-types (a) Sātāvednīya or pleasure-producing and (b) Asātāvednīya or pc in-producing

Nāma karman is concerned with body-making and causes the individual diversities. It has the largest number of sub-types (93) accounting for various forms of embodied existence. Thus, four gati-nāma-karman determine the species of the living organisms viz.

  1. Sub-animal (such as plants) and animal world;
  2. human beings;
  3. celestial beings; and
  4. denizens of hell.

In the same way various functions of organ building, joint-building, structure building commensurate with the species of the organism are allotted to other sub-types of this karman.

Gotra karman determines the diversities of racial, social and genealogical status and has two sub-types

  1. high status
  2. low status.

Lastly, the āyusya (life-span) determining karman has four subtypes which are identical to gati-nāma-karman above viz.

  1. sub-animal and animal life
  2. human life
  3. celestial life
  4. hellish life.

Auspicious and Inauspiscious Karman

The four aghātī karman are also classified as

  1. auspicious type (puṇya)
  2. inauspicious type (pāpa).

Those types whose fruition leads to enjoyment of pleasure and other blessings of worldly life are auspicious while those whose fruition leads to various types of suffering and misery are inauspicious. Whether a karman will be auspicious or inauspicious will depend upon the nature of the activities at the time of their bondage which may be moral/virtuous or immoral/sinful. It can be easily seen that sātā vedniya karman is type (a), while asātā vedniya karman is type (b). Similarly, high status, celetial and human life are auspicious while low status, hellish and sub-human life are inauspicious. Some of the subtypes of nāma karman are auspicious while some are in-auspicious.

The number of sub-species are as follows:

1 Jñānavaraṇa karman 5
2 Darśanavarṇa karman 9
3 Vednīya karman 2
4 Mohanīya karman 28
5 Nāma karman 93
6 Gotra karman 2
7 Āyuṣya karman 4
8 Antarāya karman 5
Total =148

The States and Processes of Karman

One of the most fundamental principles of the doctrine of karman is that every change in the soul synchronizes with a corresponding change in the state of karman and vice versa. Thus kārmic matter undergoes various processes due to the changes in the sates of the soul. We shall briefly describe some of the important processes here.

The first process is bondage (bandha) - attraction of kārmic matter from the space and its assimilation by the soul and its division into various types of karman. The karman does not yield fruit as soon as it is bound but remains inactive for some time, depending upon the duration of karman (sthiti-bandha). This period of inactivity is called a abādhākāla and the karman is said to be in the state of satta. After the period of non-production is over, the karman comes into rise (udaya) and begins to give it's fruit and this continues uninterrupted till the end of the duration (sthiti-bandha).

Processes of Non-fruition

Premature fruition of karman (Udīraṇā) is a process in which karman is forced to yield its fruit prematurely by a strong effort of the soul, through a special kind of potency (karaṇa). The forced premature fruition of deluding (mohanīya) karman produces a gap of non-fruition in the otherwise uninterrupted chain of fruition. This is called subsidence (upaśama)[3] or temporary non-fruition. Again, there is the process of destruction-cum-subsidence (kśayopaśama) of ghātin karman wherein some portion of karman is subsided, some is destroyed while some is in the process of rise. It is this state of kṣayopaśama of the knowledge-covering karman that permits perceptual cognition (matijñāna). The process of ultimate non-fruition is, of course, total demolition (kṣaya) which means final and total dissociation of the karmic matter from the soul.

Processes of Change in Fruition

By the application and manifestation of the process of a particular type of potency, the soul is able to change the nature (prakṛti), duration (sthiti) intensity (anubhāga) and numerical strength (pradeśa) of the bonded karman. Transformation (saṁkramaṇa) is a process whereby one sub-type (uttarprakṛti) of a karman is transformed into another sub-type of the same main species. The process of increased realization (udvartanā) and decreased realization (apavartanā) are the transformations of the duration (sthiti) and intensity of fruition (anubhāga) respectively, of a karman. Finally there is a state of karman which is so irrefrangibly bound with the soul that it is not amenable to any of the above changes. This is the state of nikācanā in which all parameters are unalterably fixed and course of fruition is predetermined from the very time of bondage.


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Jump to occurrence in text


Title: Neuroscience and Karma
Jain Vishwa Bharati, Ladnun, India
Editor: Muni Mahendra Kumar
Edition: Second Edition, 1994

Get this book at

Share this page on:
Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abādhākāla
  2. Adharmāstikāya
  3. Aghāti
  4. Agurulaghutva
  5. Amūrtatva
  6. Ananta
  7. Anekāntavāda
  8. Antarāya
  9. Anubhāga
  10. Apavartanā
  11. Aṭala-avagāhanā
  12. Bandha
  13. Body
  14. Brahman
  15. Consciousness
  16. Darśana
  17. Darśanāvaraṇa
  18. Dharmāstikāya
  19. Discipline
  20. Dravyas
  21. Equanimity
  22. Ether
  23. Ghātin
  24. Gotra
  25. Gotra karman
  26. Jivāstikāya
  27. Jīva
  28. Karaṇa
  29. Karman
  30. Karmic matter
  31. Kevala-jñāna
  32. Kevaladarśana
  33. Kevalajñāna
  34. Kāla
  35. Kārmaṇa vargaṇā
  36. Kṣaya
  37. Kṣayopaśama
  38. Kṣāyaka Samyaktva
  39. Manaḥ
  40. Matijñāna
  41. Mithyatva
  42. Mohanīya
  43. Nikācanā
  44. Nirvāṇa
  45. Non-absolutism
  46. Nāma
  47. Paramāṇu
  48. Paramāṇus
  49. Pradeśa
  50. Prakṛti
  51. Pudgalāstikāya
  52. Puṇya
  53. Pāpa
  54. Samyaktva
  55. Sarva-ghātin
  56. Satta
  57. Saṁkramaṇa
  58. Skandha
  59. Soul
  60. Space
  61. Sthiti
  62. Sukha
  63. Udaya
  64. Udvartanā
  65. Udīraṇā
  66. Upaśama
  67. Vargaṇā
  68. Vednīya
  69. Vīrya
  70. Ātmika Sukha
  71. Āyuṣya Karman
Page statistics
This page has been viewed 727 times.
© 1997-2020 HereNow4U, Version 4.02
Contact us
Social Networking

HN4U Deutsche Version
Today's Counter: