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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.3 (c) ► Punya, Paapa, Aasrava, Bandha, Samvar, Nirjara and Moksa

Published: 02.12.2015

All moral systems teach ethics: 'good' or meritorious behaviour and the avoidance of 'wrong' actions, though judgement of what constitutes 'good' and 'bad' depend upon arbitrary rules. From the Jain spiritual point of view, these rules, found in scripture, define merit as punya and demerit as paapa.

Our own experience tells us that good activities create feelings of happiness, satisfaction and joy, and their opposite breed feelings of misery, dissatisfaction and sorrow. Good activities are meritorious and bad activities are not, and a worldly being experiences feelings of pleasure and pain, depending upon these activities. Let us make it clear at this point that merit and demerit are both independent categories, and their results are experienced separately. There can be no appropriation, no addition or subtraction between them. One cannot obliterate demerit (or 'sin') through meritorious behaviour. Whatever sins or demerit one incurs, one will have to experience its consequences, and the same with merit. Merit results in auspicious karma, and demerit results in inauspicious karma. Both forms of karma are fine particles of matter, according to Jain belief, and their operation is described below.

Nine causes of merit: Merit can be acquired by auspicious deeds: sympathy, kindness and service towards the poor and distressed, philanthropic deeds and appreciation of the nobility in individuals. Worldly beings can acquire merit by:

  1. food: giving food to the hungry, to ascetics and the deserving;
  2. water: giving drinking water to those who are thirsty;
  3. shelter: giving shelter and dwelling to the homeless and needy;
  4. bed: providing a bed or a place to sleep to those in need;
  5. clothes: giving clothes to the needy;
  6. thoughts: wishing for happiness for all and misery to no one;
  7. speech: speaking the truth; saying kind words beneficial to others;
  8. body: serving others with physical ailments;
  9. respect: respectful for elders and the virtuous, the meritorious, teachers, ascetics, the saintly, preceptors and tirthankaras.

Religious observances and ethical and moral behaviour are meritorious, while indulgence in excessive sensual pleasure and unethical behaviour is demeritorious. Jain scriptures describe two kinds of merit:

  • 'Merit-causing merit' (punyaanubandhi): this type of merit is virtuous in both realisation and result. It also paves the way to liberation.
  • 'Merit-causing demerit' (paapaanubandhi): this type of merit gives physical happiness at the time, but leads to immorality and, as a consequence, demerit

For example, individuals may acquire worldly luxuries in this life through their previously acquired merit. Then, in addition, by acting virtuously in this life, performing philanthropic deeds, and by observing the spiritual path leading to liberation, they may acquire further merit, while enjoying the consequences of their previously acquired merit. This is 'merit-causing merit'.

Conversely, individuals may acquire the utmost physical happiness in this world as a result of previously acquired merit, but if they then lead sinful lives and earn demerit as the result of their bad activities, it is called 'merit-causing demerit'. The consequences of this are transmigration and misery in future rebirths.

In Jain literature, 'merit-causing merit' is described as a guide, who leads the worldly being to its ultimate goal of liberation. 'Merit-causing demerit' is likened to that of a thief, who steals everything and turns the victims into beggars; robbing them of all previously earned merit and precipitating their downfall. Hence, 'merit-causing merit' is regarded as desirable and 'merit-causing demerit' as undesirable. Right Conduct, together with Right Faith and Right Knowledge, earns 'merit-causing merit' (punyaanubandhi punya), while austerities and moral conduct without Right Faith or Right Knowledge earn 'merit-causing demerit' (paapaanubhandi punya).


Demeritorious activities are sins. Jain scriptures describe eighteen categories of sin: violence, physical, mental and spoken; speaking an untruth; theft; indulging in carnal and sensual pleasures; hoarding material possessions with attachment; anger; egoism and pride; deceit; greed; infatuation; jealousy; making disputes or quarrels; making false accusations and malicious gossiping; rejoicing in happy circumstances and being miserable in unhappy circumstances; back-biting and speaking ill of others; deceitful lies; delusion and the desire to follow erroneous gods, gurus and religions. Similar to merit, demerit is also of two types:

  1. 'Demerit-causing demerit', this is demeritorious in both realisation and consequence. It allows individuals to indulge in sinful activities and earn demerit for the future.
  2. 'Demerit-causing merit', this is demeritorious in realisation but is meritorious as a consequence. It allows individuals to suffer the consequences with equanimity and to perform meritorious activities acquiring merit for the future.

The first kind of demerit is problematic both for the present and the future. As a result of this type of demerit worldly beings experience miseries in this life and also undertake sinful activities, acquiring sinful karma for the future. Examples of this would be those engaged in sinful trades, such as butchers or fishermen.

From the spiritual point of view, merits and demerits are both forms of bondage. To achieve liberation, both must be abandoned. From a pragmatic point of view, however, Jainism considers merit as advance on sin as it leads to improving rebirths and better facilitates the path of purification.

Influx of Karma

The influx of karma is known as aasrava. Karmic matter permeates the soul and obscures its capacities for knowledge, intuition and activity. There are two forms of karmic influx: psychic influx affects the character of the soul and an individual's mental states; and physical influx attracts the particles of karmic matter towards the soul through the activities of an individual.

There are five sources through which karmic matter infiltrates:

  • Perversity of outlook, which may be inherent or acquired. Perversity of attitude is the root cause of all evil.
  • Absence of self-control, lack of control over the senses, indulging in sensual pleasures, losing the path and goal of self-realisation, and performing unacceptable and demeritorious acts.
  • Negligence or indifference, indulging in sensual pleasures leads to spiritual neglect, which in turn leads to the objects of sensual pleasures and worldly attachments.
  • Passions such as anger, egoism, infatuation and greed, create mental states that lead individuals to perform sinful activities and attract a greater influx of karma.
  • Yoga The word yoga has various meanings. In our present context it is the physical, mental and spoken activities of the individual. All activities cause the influx of karma, merit or demerit as appropriate.

Bondage of Karma

Bondage of the soul by karma is known as bandha. It keeps worldly beings embedded in the cycle of transmigration. Bondage may be considered as either: physical, due to the influx of karmic particles into the soul, and psychic, referring to the psychic states that enmesh one in the cycle of transmigration.

These two forms of karmic bondage are complementary and intimately connected to one another. Just as dust particles settle securely on a piece of cloth soaked in oil, karmic particles attach themselves to the soul as a result of passions and actions.

Jain scriptures describe the bondage of karma in terms of the quantity of particles, its intensity, its duration and its consequences. The technical terms are: pradesa, the extent of karmic particles attached to the soul; prakriti, the nature and intensity of karmic bondage; sthiti, the duration of karmic particles; and anubhava, the consequences of karmic particles associated with the soul.

The scriptures also describe further technical terms for karmic bondage such as: sattaa, the dormant stage of karmic bondage; udaya, ('rise' resulting in realisation is called phalodaya, while the rise exhausted without expressing realisation is called pradesodaya); upasama, suppression of karma; nidhatti, neither the rise nor the transformation of karma; nikaacita, inescapable realisation of karma; and abaadha kaala, a state in which karmic particles are dormant.

Stoppage of Karma

Samvara is the stoppage of the influx of karma. If one wishes to empty a water tank one first stops the inflow of water and then drains the tank. So with the soul, one first stops the influx of karma and then sheds the attached karma. For spiritual advancement, the stoppage of the influx of karma is the first step.

Stoppage is of two forms: physical, referring to the stoppage of the influx of particles of karmic matter; and psychic, referring to the attachment of karmic particles to the soul. The process of stoppage is possible in various ways, primarily consisting of ethical and moral discipline as described in chapter 4.10

Prevention of the influx of karma can be achieved in five ways: undertaking vows, diligence, right attitude of mind and right knowledge, avoiding the passions, and restraining activity.

Shedding of Karma

The shedding of karma is known as nirjaraa. It is the removal of karma attached to the soul. The process of shedding is a gradual purification of the soul. It is of two types: volitional shedding, referring to removal through the observance of austerities and penance; and natural shedding, referring to gradual removal due to realisation and exhaustion. As karma produces its effects or reaches its zenith, it is exhausted and shed from the soul. The shedding of karma leads to liberation. Both samvara and nirjaraa are attained by Right Conduct.


When karmic particles are shed, the soul becomes free from karmic bondage and attains liberation (moksa). The pure soul has the perfect characteristics of infinite knowledge, faith, spiritual energy and bliss. As there is no 'gravitational force' on the karmic body to retain it within the worldly cycle, it moves upward to the apex of occupied space and remains in its pure form on the siddha silaa. It cannot progress further because there is no medium of motion in unoccupied space. The attainment of moksa is possible only for human beings in the 'land of action' (karmabhumi). Even celestials have to be reborn as human beings if they are to attain liberation. The Jain concept of moksa does not obliterate the individuality of the soul. It is neither merged nor is identical with anything higher than itself. There is a permanent personality of the soul even in the state of perfection.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anger
  2. Bandha
  3. Body
  4. Deceit
  5. Discipline
  6. Equanimity
  7. Greed
  8. Jainism
  9. Kaala
  10. Karma
  11. Karmic Body
  12. Karmic matter
  13. Moksa
  14. Paapa
  15. Pradesa
  16. Prakriti
  17. Pride
  18. Punya
  19. Samvara
  20. Siddha
  21. Soul
  22. Space
  23. Sthiti
  24. Tirthankaras
  25. Udaya
  26. Violence
  27. Yoga
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