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Jainism : The World of Conquerors: 4.4 ► Karma

Published: 03.12.2015

Attempts have been made by different philosophies to find an explanation for apparent inequalities and injustices in this world. Indian philosophies, such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, have presented the theory of karma as a possible explanation. Of these the Jain theory of karma is the most systematic, rational, realistic and scientific.

The Jains have made a substantial contribution to the literature of karma. We find many specialised texts on karma theory, besides abundant material scattered through the canonical and non-canonical literature. Jain literature on karma is vast and thought provoking. It dates from more than two thousand years ago up to the present and is written in Prakrit, Sanskrit and regional Indian languages, such as Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, and a number in English and other foreign languages.

It is difficult to say when and where the concept of karma originated in India. It looks to be a pre-Aryan doctrine prevalent in the sramana culture and later assimilated and developed by other later schools of thought. It was perceived as a form of natural law. Karma has been accepted by practically all systems of Indian philosophy.

The Nature of Karma

The Jains consider karma as material in nature consisting of fine particles of subtle matter, which are found throughout the universe and which cannot be perceived by the senses or by measurement. Mardia, in his book The Scientific Foundation of Jainism, has interpreted this in terms of modern physics, suggesting that the particles are made of 'karmons', dynamic high energy particles which permeate the universe (Mardia 1990: p.10). Their most important property is their ability to permeate the soul. The karmic particles that affect the soul are known as 'karmic-variforms'. Jains perceive the worldly soul as always associated with and 'stained' with karma.

The karma is the consequence of the activities of body, speech and mind that may be benevolent or malevolent. Through the vibrations caused by the activity, the soul attracts the karmic particles, which modify as karmic 'variforms' at a certain stage of aggregation and permeate the soul. Karmic particles envelop the soul and its space-points but do not destroy the essential nature of the soul; they merely obscure it and affect its different modes. Influx of karma precipitates the bondage of the soul. The effect is both very subtle and powerful.

The soul is non-material and is characterised by consciousness while karma is material and is characterised by non-consciousness. As a rule, it is the material that binds the material, hence it is but natural to be inquisitive as to how a non-material soul can be bound with material karma. The worldly soul has always some attached karmic material and this material facilitates the binding of further 'karmic variforms' which are material in nature. Of course the soul provides space for this karmic influx.

Modes of Karma

Jain texts classify karma on the basis of its structure, existence and consequences.

Structural types are physical and psychic: Physical karma comprises material particles, which attach themselves to the soul and pollute it. The psychic karma consists primarily of mental states (e.g. passions and perversions) arising from the activity of mind, body and speech. The psychic karma is in immediate proximity to the soul in comparison with the physical karma. The physical karma obscures the soul, while psychic karma causes imperfection. They mutually reinforce each other as cause and effect. They are psychologically distinguishable and mutually interactive with one another in a cyclical mode, like the tree and its seed. The physical karma generates psychic karma and vice-versa. Perfect souls such as the liberated are free from physical karma, and hence they have no psychic imperfection.

'Existence': Karma may be in existence with the worldly soul, having been earned in the past, even in previous lives, is called karma-in-existence (sattaa). Others are being earned in the present, and will be realised in future, are called karma-inbonding (bandha). Karma which was earned earlier, and of which the duration bond has been loosened, has begun to give results, is called karma-in-realisation (udaya). Thus, in this classification, we have in existence, bonding and realisation karma.

The consequential classification of karma is the most important and best known. It is specific to the Jains. It is based upon the deep knowledge of the inner (knowledge, faith, emotions) and outer (lifespan, status, body) nature of the living represented by its physical and psychological character. Each of these characteristics is clouded by karma. There are eight basic types of karma. They are subdivided into 158 types affecting the quality of the living (Arunvijay 1991: p.300). Jain texts describe the probable duration of each karma: The shortest duration may be less than forty-eight minutes, and the maximum may be many years. The basic types of karma are:

  1. Knowledge-obscuring karma (jnaanaavaraniya): 5 subdivisions
  2. Faith-obscuring karma (darsanaavaraniya): 9 subdivisions
  3. Deluding karma (mohaniya): 28 subdivisions
  4. Will-obstructing karma (antaraaya): 5 subdivisions
  5. Lifespan determining karma (aayu): 4 subdivisions
  6. Body-producing karma (naama): 103 subdivisions
  7. Status-determining karma (gotra): 2 subdivisions
  8. Feeling-producing karma (vedaniya): 2 subdivisions

Of the above eight the first four are the destructive or harmful to the soul (ghaati-karma), as they obscure the soul's characteristics of knowledge and faith, lead the self-astray and obstruct its inherent energy. Some of them are totally obscuring and others are only partially obscuring. The other four are called non-destructive (aghaati) karma, as they do not obscure the essential nature of the self. Destructive karma can only be shed with great effort, whereas non-destructive karma can be easily shed. After the four destructive karma are completely shed, one attains omniscience. One cannot attain final liberation unless the other four non-destructive karma are shed. The self does not lose its essential characteristics of consciousness totally even if it is obscured by karma.

Figure 4.6 The eight types of karma.

There are infinite permutations for the attachment of karma to the soul. However, they are classified into 8 basic types, which are described below.

Knowledge-obscuring karma obscures Right Knowledge and has five subdivisions: sensory knowledge-obscuring karma; vocal, verbal or scriptural knowledge obscuring karma; clairvoyant knowledge-obscuring karma; mind-reading knowledgeobscuring karma; and omniscience-obscuring karma.

Faith-obscuring karma obscures Right Faith and has nine sub-divisions: four types of obscurities such as perception through sight, through the other senses and mind, through clairvoyance and through omniscience; and five types of sleep.

Deluding karma is the major karma responsible for obscuring the inherent nature of the soul. It overpowers Right Faith and Right Conduct, obscures the power of discrimination, produces delusions and makes the soul to become confused and desirous. Once it is shed, it is easy to shed other forms of karma. It is of two types:

  • Faith-deluding (darsana mohaniya) prevents a soul's insight into its own nature and engenders false views (mithyaatva). It makes one see things other than as they really are and makes a worldly being develop erroneous views such as extremism (ekaanta), contradictory to the thing's nature (viparita), doubt (sansaya), indiscriminate belief that other religious paths have the same goal (vainayika) and ignorance (ajnaan). Darsana mohaniya is of three types: false views regarding the teachings of the Jinas, ambivalent views of right belief and false belief, and right belief clouded with slight false belief.
  • conduct-deluding (caritra-mohaniya) obstructs Right Conduct through the four passions of anger, pride, deceit and greed, and is of twenty-five types. The four main are:
  1. 'pursuers through endless time' (anantaanubandhi), which produce severe passions and last through a series of lives;
  2. 'obstructers of partial renunciation' (apratyaakhyaanaavarana), which produce nonpreventable emotions of any of the passions and which may last up to one month;
  3. 'obstructers of complete renunciation' (pratyaakhyaanaavarana), which produce preventable or controllable passions and may last up to four months;
  4. 'producers of apathy and attachment' (sanjvalana), which induce passionate emotions and may last up to fifteen days.

Other conduct deluding are subsidiary passions or sentiment-deluding karma including laughter, pleasure, displeasure, sorrow, fear, disgust, sexual craving for males, females and hermaphrodites. They lead to spurious faith and hinder spiritual development. Conduct-deluding karma is also of collective type and can produce results in various permutations and combinations.

Will-obstructing karma (antaraaya) restricts the individual's enjoyment of physical things and hinders spiritual advancement in five ways:

  • hinders giving donations (daana-antaraaya);
  • hinders obtaining gains (laabha-antaray);
  • hinders the enjoyment of wealth (bhoga-antaraaya);
  • hinders the enjoyment of consumables used only once such as food and drink, and used repeatedly such as furniture and clothing (upbhoga-antaraaya);
  • hinders utilising willpower and energy (virya-antaraaya).

Body-producing karma (naama) is responsible for the diversity of worldly beings for differing size, shape, status, etc. It determines the nature of the individual in a future rebirth. It has four varieties: celestial life-determining karma; human life-determining karma; animal and plant life-determining karma; and infernal life-determining karma. Body-producing karma has four main groups and ninety-three sub-groups

Table 4.7 The four main groups of body-producing karma

Type Number of sub-groups
collective types 65
individual types 8
mobile types 10
immobile types 10

Collective forms have:

  • Four states of existence: heavenly, human, animal and plant, and hellish;
  • Five types of being: depending upon the number of physical senses;
  • Five types of body: gross, transformable, translocational, luminous, and karmic;
  • Five types of bindings (stickiness) according to the five kinds of bodies;
  • Five types of unification according to the five types of bodies;
  • Six types of configurations of bodies: symmetrical, upper parts symmetrical; lower parts symmetrical, totally asymmetrical, hunchback, and dwarf;
  • Six types of bone joints: very strong, like stones, unbreakable, semi-breakable, riveted, fragile (present humans have mostly fragile joints);
  • Five main colours (skin, plumage): black, green, yellow, red and white;
  • Two odours: pleasant, unpleasant;
  • Five tastes: pungent, bitter, salty, sour and sweet;
  • Eight characteristics: light, heavy, soft, hard, rough, smooth, cold and hot;
  • Three types of bodies with limbs: gross, transformable and translocational;
  • Four destinies of transmigration: heavenly, human, animal or plant, infernal;
  • Two types of mobility of living beings: elegant, and awkward/clumsy.

Individual types have bodies: neither heavy nor light, self-destructive; destructive towards others, heat emanating, illuminating, respiratory, fully formed and complete, and potential tirthankaras.

Mobile types have ten kinds of bodies: with more than one sense, 'completioned' body, individual body; beautiful body; firm body; fine voice; sweet and impressive speech; respectful body; lustrous body and a body which can evoke fame.

Immobile-types of bodies are: one-sensed; subtle body; undeveloped body; common body; flexible body; ugly body; illuminating body; ill-sounding voice; unimpressive speech; and evoking dislike.

Status-determining karma (gotra) bestows upon individuals a family lineage, an environment of high or low status, conducive or detrimental to leading a spiritual life.

Lifespan determining karma (aayu) determines the longevity or the precise duration of the coming existence. Aayu karma determines the framework of the next existence, whether human, celestial, animal (plants) or infernal or sets the limitations within which naama, gotra and vedaniya can operate. It is bound to the soul only once in a lifetime and that too usually on every third day only at any moment during the last third of the lifetime up to the moment of death, and the individual is unaware of its occurrence (Jinendra Siddhanta Kosa, vol. 1: pp.270-274). Nobody knows one's lifespan, hence this belief has practical implications in the Jain community. Jains observe every third day Right Conduct, taking special care in their dietary needs and other consumption so as not to harm any living being including plant life, and utilising their time in spiritual activities, in the belief that if aayu karma is bound during such observance, it would be of auspicious type.

Feeling-producing karma (vedaniya) affects the psychic condition and is of two types: pleasant feeling-producing (saataa-vedaniya), and pain or unpleasant feelingproducing (asaataa-vedaniya). The feeling of delight or anguish is due to the realisation of the above karma; an external object or event acts as a prop and creates the conditions to reinforce the feelings of 'happiness' or 'unhappiness' produced by the realisation of the specific karma at that moment. For example when one is in the process of realisation of saataa-vedaniya karma, there are favourable conditions for gaining objects such as wealth, friends, relations or the occurrence of events such as success or winning which reinforce the feelings. The reverse is the case when one realises the asaataa-vedaniya karma.

Causes of Karmic Bondage

Karmic bondage is due to activities of mind, speech and body; passions; spurious faith; indulgence; and negligence. The rise of deluding karma produces attachment and aversion, resulting in the influx of inauspicious karma. Activities that promote spiritual advancement lead to the influx of auspicious karma. Conscious and sub-conscious desires attract karmic particles and further karmic bondage. Fresh karmic bondage is not dependent on earlier karma, but is dependent on our own psychic and physical activities. Restraint prevents fresh influx and can transform the effects of previous karma.

Karmic bondage is characterised by four factors:

  • the amount (pradesa) of karmic particles engulfing the soul, which depends upon the degree of will with which the activity is performed;
  • the nature (prakriti) of the karmic particles which depends upon the type of activity;
  • the duration (sthiti) of karmic attachment which depends upon the degree of passions attached to the activity;
  • the result (anubhava) which depends upon the passion with which the activities are carried out.

Each passion - anger, pride, deceit and greed has four degrees: intense, great, moderate and mild. This makes sixteen types of passion. Some texts enunciate a further nine 'quasi-passions' which are: laughter, pleasure, pain, grief, fear, hatred, and three forms of sexual relations; thus making a total of twenty-five passions.

The root cause of passions is delusion, bringing attraction (raaga) and aversion (dvesa). The intensity of passions clouds discrimination and understanding, bringing perversity of outlook, lack of self-control, and the negligence.

Spurious faith (mithyaatva) means not believing in the true precepts and practices of the faith, and acting wrongly due to perversity of outlook or ignorance. It may be inherent or acquired. It has five varieties: absolutism, doubt, ignorance, indifferent belief and opposing belief, which are instrumental for karmic bondage. Restraint and the observance of Right Conduct reduce karmic bondage. Negligence and observance of the wrong conduct leads to sinful activities. Negligence (pramaada) has fifteen varieties resulting in increased karmic bondage: four types of idle talk relating to women (or men), food, politics and unnecessary activities; four passions; misuse of the five sensory organs; sleep; and attachment.

Limits of Karma

Karma is intimately associated with the body, the mind and the psyche of the individual, and operates within limits dependent upon the nature of the karmic particles.

Knowledge-obscuring, faith-obscuring, deluding and will-obstructing karma are considered as destructive, because they affect the essential characteristics of the soul: knowledge, contentment, bliss and spiritual energy. The feeling-producing, life span determining, body-producing and status-determining karma produce differing states of the body and they are called non-destructive or harmless karma.

Karma is the result of the individual's actions alone. One person's karma cannot be transferred to another, either by direct transmission or by any divine agency. The possession of wealth, possessions, family and such like, or the loss of these through crime, accident or natural calamities, are not, in the strictest sense, directly due to karma, but they are the circumstances of pleasure and pain created by both auspicious and inauspicious deluding and feeling-producing karma. External objects, such as wealth, human relations or animal contacts may precipitate experiences of pleasure and pain, but they are not the karma.

The realisation of karma engenders experiences for the soul. Attachment to 'externals' creates mental states, good or bad, leading to pleasure or pain. The activities of the body, mind and speech of an individual self-determine the operation of karma, the rise, subsiding and shedding of karma.

Realisation of Karma

Karmic particles bound to the soul 'mature' and express themselves. When this happens, it is referred to as the 'rise' (udaya) of karma. It is possible for karma to express itself before it matures. If an immature karma expresses itself it is called 'untimely', a mature expression is termed 'timely'. Premature death, through accident, suicide or the effect of a 'self-inflicted' action such as heavy smoking or drug abuse, are regarded as 'untimely' experiences of karma.

An individual may 'force the pace' of karmic maturity, for example through austerities. By practising austerities it is possible to transform the effects of past (bound) karma that is yet to mature, causing its 'untimely rise'.

Karma has what is termed its 'time span', avasthaana kaala. This period can be divided into two durations: the period during which karma is attached to the soul, but is 'dormant' or yet to mature, abaadha kaala, and the period during which it expresses itelf in experience, called anubhava kaala or niseka kaala.

The realisation of karma may happen 'naturally' or it may be willed. For example, one may get angry without apparent reason. This is caused by the rise of the feeling-producing karma, and is regarded as 'natural' maturity. The anger itself then causes a further influx of karma. By contrast, a 'willed' maturity would be when one practises equanimity. By doing this and, for example, refusing to be provoked into anger by external event, the karma attached to the soul is transformed and shed.

Experiences of laughter, fear and other forms of emotional upset may give rise to an influx of karmic particles. Some karmic particles may develop in the soul without effort e.g. pain-producing karma and perversity of outlook in infernals, at the moment of intense realisation of deluding karma, and negligence in human beings and animals.

Premature karmic realisation may also be due to external causes (e.g. accident or injury, anger, heavy eating, intoxicating liquor etc.), causing pain or ill effect.

Additional processes of karmic attachment, depending upon the degree of passions, may effect the mechanism for the realisation of karma:

  • 'incapacitation' (nikaacita), in which bondage is caused by the srongest passions, the maturation of the karmic process takes its pre-determined course. There is no alternative except to experience the realisation of nikaacita karma, but the soul possessed with the Right Faith, because of living in equanimity, can reduce the results of psychic suffering.
  • 'capacitated' (anikaacita), in which maturation of the karmic process may be modified by individual efforts and may be realised in different ways. If the bondage (sithila) is due to mild passions, repentance can shed such karma. If it is due to strong passions (gaadha), confession and penance are required to shed such karma. If the karmic bondage is due to stronger passions, severe austerities are required.

How karma works

Karmic particles replenish and disintegrate, leading to the continuous existence of the subtle body from beginningless time. On maturity, karmic particles attached to the soul, in a way similar to the process of radioactivity, undergo disintegration of their own accord and discharge continuously until they exhaust themselves. But the worldly soul does not become free of bondage, as replenishments of karma are an ongoing process due to its activities. The process of karmic separation and replenishment carries on, the worldly soul remains enmeshed. Each type of karmic particles produces a specific abnormal special wave motion that lead to a disturbance in the soul's special stationary wave motion, which affect the activities of the soul.

The rise in the activity of deluding karma makes the soul's special stationary wave motion abnormal and thwarts the natural knowledge and perception (upayoga) of the soul. The activity of energy-obscuring karma impairs the soul's infinite energy. As a result, the special stationary wave motion of the soul is unable to overcome the deluding karma. The rise of knowledge-obscuring karma and the perception-obscuring karma obstruct the information-bringing energy waves and hinder the soul's tuning faculty. These disturbances make the soul seek the help of the sense organs and material energy waves. They may provide the worldly soul with limited knowledge and perception for a short period, but soon they lead to delusion and imperfect knowledge, and ignorance about the self and its true nature. The individual identifies itself with its organic body. Worldly souls, for the sake of comfort, safety and the survival of their organic bodies, hold onto their possessions through time, and desire to keep them. Because of greed and the fear of losing them, they desire to acquire more and more possessions.

Other worldly souls have a similar ambition to possess such artefacts, and hence they are envious and competitive. Whenever worldly beings fail to obtain a desired artefact, they become envious, which precipitates violence, either by thought, speech or physical gesture, towards the people who they feel opposed to.

Delusion, desire and aversion produce abnormal vibrations or quivering in worldly souls. Quivering does more harm to the stationary wave motion of the soul than that done by all the obscuring karma collectively. This engenders violence to one's own self. The quivering creates an artificial binding force or stickiness in the soul, similar to that of matter and enables the worldly soul to attract fresh karmic molecules. The natural adhesion of karmic matter and the acquired stickiness, due to delusion, desire, aversion and attraction promote bondage and this process carries on to form the karmic body.

With austerities and meditation, the passions subside and there is no acquired stickiness, and the influx of fresh karma is prevented. The worldly soul experiences unprecedented calmness and glimpses of the truth, but normally this experience does not last longer than forty-eight minutes. This fleeting experience makes the aspirant toil harder towards the spiritual path, and results in Right Faith or Right Belief leading to the path of liberation. The activities connected with samvara and nirjaraa eliminate delusion and desire and produce Right Conduct.

Steady posture, meditation on the soul's true attributes, and silence lead to stoppage and the gradual shedding of karma. These austerities release latent energy, which was obscured, and which was under the influence of passionate activity of the body, mind and speech. This released energy encourages the special stationary wave motion of the soul to obtain momentum and overcome the disturbance being created by the faith-deluding karma. The individual acquires equanimity and calm. The soul's quivering and artificial stickiness vanish, no new influx of karma occurs, and the shedding of karma accelerates. On the complete shedding of the fourfold obscuring karma, the worldly being becomes omniscient. After the expiry of the lifespandetermining karma, the omniscient syncronises the other three non-obscuring karma, sheds them and attains liberation.

Modification of karma

An individual's own efforts play an important part in the intensity and experience of karmic bondage, and can affect its outcome. If present efforts are less than the effects of past actions, then present exertions will have less impact on the experience of karma. If present efforts are greater than in the past, it may modify the intensity and experience of past karmic bondage. The modifications of karmic realisation and experiences are classified in Jain scriptures as:

  • 'attenuation' (apvartanaa), the karmic intensity and duration may be decreased in experience;
  • 'augmentation' (udvartanaa), the intensity and duration of the karmic experience may be increased;
  • 'prematuration' (udiranaa), the karmic states which are to be realised later more intensely, may be realised and experienced prematurely and less intensely;
  • 'transition' (sankramana), is the transformation of karma in its different intensities of experiences.

All these processes refer to the 'rise' and experience of karma. The karmic matter that is yet to be realised, can be positively transformed by austerities and penance. This prospect makes Jain karma theory dynamic and optimistic rather than fatalistic. The individual soul is responsible for creating its own future either by increasing its karmic bondage or by shedding its own karma through self-effort.

We know that auspicious karma brings auspicious results and inauspicious karma yields inauspicious results. The individual soul is free in the sense that it can act and bind karma according to its actions. However, individuals are not free in experiencing the realisation of bonded karma that has to be experienced, whether willed or not. They are free to transform the intensity of the karmic effect by their own efforts (such as through self-control, austerities and penance).

Some common themes and Karma Theory

The influx of karma is due to the activities of the body, speech and mind. The virtuous activity creates merit and the sin demerit. The persons with passions extend the process of transmigration and those free from passions shorten or prevent it (Jain S. tr. Pujypada's Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.1-3). The living and the non-living are the substrata of karma. The substratum of the living is of 108 (3x3x3x4) kinds: planning for action (samrambha), preparation (samaarambha), and commencement (aarambha); by activities of body, speech and mind; actions, motivating others to act or approval of it; and by four passions of anger, pride, deceit and greed. The substratum of the non-living is production, placement, mixing and urging and their subdivisions (Jain S. tr. Pujypada's Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.8-9).

Spite against knowledge, concealment of knowledge, non-imparting the knowledge out of envy, creating impediments to the acquisition of knowledge, disregard of knowledge and its sources, and disparagement of Right Knowledge lead to the influx of karma which obscure knowledge and perception (Jain S. tr. Pujypada's Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.10).

Attributing faults to the omniscients, the scriptures, the congregation of ascetics, the true religion and the celestials, leads to the influx of faith- deluding karma. Intense feelings induced by the rise of the passions lead to the influx of the conduct-deluding karma (Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.13-14).

Creating obstacles for good activities such as charity, spirtual acitivities and welfare of others cause the attraction of obstructive karma. (Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.27).

Criminal and unethical activities, and the deception lead to the influx of inauspicious physique-making karma. Straighforwardness, honesty and frankness create an influx of auspicious physique-making karma (Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.22-23).

Censuring others and praising oneself, concealing others' virtues and proclaiming absent virtues in oneself lead to influx of karma that creates low status. Appreciation of others, and obsevation of humility and modesty attract karma that determines high status (Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.25-26).

Suffering, sorrow, agony, moaning, injury and lamentation, in oneself or others or in both, lead to the influx of karma that creates unpleasantness. Compassion towards all in general and the devout in particular, charity, self-restraint, austerities, devotional worship, contemplation, equanimity and control over the passions attract karma that leads to pleasantness. (Sarvarthasiddhi 1960: 6.11-12).

Observance of the Right Faith, reverence of the five vows including supplementary vows without transgression, the six essential duties, and love and friendship to co-religionists, promotion of the teachings of the Jina, pursuit for knowledge, desire for liberation from the worldly cycle, charity, austerities according to one's capacity, service to the ascetics and the meritorious and facilitating their spiritual activities, devotion to the Jinas, the spiritual leaders, preceptors and the scriptures are the determinates for the influx of the tirthankara-nama-karma (Sarvathasiddhi 1960: 6.24).

Feeling or Experience: Feelings of pleasure and pain rise eventually out of the accrued karmic bondage. The karmic particles attracted to the soul do not produce immediate experiences or feelings.

Duration and Intensity of Karma: The duration of each type of karma differs according to its nature and gravity. The Jain texts distinguish three periods of duration: minimum, maximum and intermediate. The period after which the results of karma may be attained could be less than forty-eight minutes or could be thousands of years. The duration and intensity of karma are correlated, determined by the severity of the passions and feelings. The stronger passions and actions of demerit engender a greater intensity and the longer duration of bad karma; the weaker passions and actions of demerit mean less intensity and duration. The meritorious actions associated with strong internal feeling lead to a greater degree of intensity and duration of auspicious karma. Without internal feelings of virtue and compassion, obviously looking meritorious actions are not beneficial. The Quantity of Karmic Particles: The universe is filled with karmic particles. Through the vibrations caused by activities and passions, the soul attracts karmic matter pertinent to its behaviour. The quantity of karmic particles varies according to the passionate activity of the soul, and generates eight types of basic karma. If the vibrations are strong, more karmic matter will be attracted, and low vibrations will attract less. Different karma requires the attraction of differing quantities of karmic particles. Life span determining karma attracts the smallest quantity of karmic particles, while bodyproducing karma will attract more. Other forms of karma attract more karmic particles than either of these two. The deluding karma receives more particles than the abovementioned karma. The largest numbers of particles are attracted to feeling-producing and status-determining karma.

The Fruits of Karma: Worldly beings experience the fruits of karma as auspicious and good, or inauspicious and evil. Karma conducive to spiritual realisation gives rise to auspicious results. Karma conducive to material realisation gives rise to inauspicious results. One has to experience the effects of both forms. The karmic bondage already acquired has to be experienced and exhausted in this life or future lives. There is no escape. One has the choice of acting or refraining from acting, but no choice on bearing the consequences. Even the Buddha and Mahavira had to bear the consequences of their previous karma: The Buddha once had his foot pricked by a thorn. He said to his disciples, 'I am suffering the fruits of karmic bondage created by me earlier in my past ninety-first life, when I injured a person with my sharp weapon' (Devendra Muni 1983: p.456). Mahavira had to suffer great physical and mental torture during his last life of perfect spiritual progress (saadhanaa), the effects of karma acquired in his previous lives.

God and Karma: The Jain theory of karma does not accept the possibility of the dispensation of karma by any divine agency such as Isvara (God), a personal god or Supreme Being. The individual soul is free. It is only by its own activity that it earns karmic bondage. This individual soul is the begetter of its own karma and the beneficiary of the fruits of karma. The realisation of karma is automatic and runs its own course. The effects of passions and inauspicious deeds such as violence, lies and theft may appear pleasant in the beginning, but on its maturity karma is always unpleasant. The reverse is true for auspicious behaviour. There is no Supreme Being dispensing justice in respect of our deeds. The outcome is due to natural karmic consequences.

Transmigration and Rebirth: The theory of karma is inseparably connected with that of transmigration, rebirth and liberation. Jains believe in rebirth untill the soul is liberated. The soul in bondage is reborn and its course in the world is determined by the past karmic particles adhering to it.

The soul has been in the world from beginningless time. Each stage in the process of transmigration begins with death. The Jain view asserts that at death the soul leaves the physical body behind, takes luminous and karmic bodies with it and transmigrates to a new physical body. This usually takes a minimum of one moment (samaya) and a maximum of five moments, and according to its karma, the soul acquires a new embodiment in one of the four possible destinies: celestial (deva); human (manusya); animal or plant (tiryanca); infernal (naraka).

Jain scriptures state that celestials may be reborn into two destinies, as humans or as animals, plants etc. Humans may be reborn in any one of the four destinies or achieve liberation. Animals and plants are also reborn in any one of the four destinies. Infernals can be reborn in two destinies as animals, plants etc. or as human beings.

Rebirth as a heavenly being or a human being is known as sadgati, while rebirth as an animal or plant or hellish being is known as durgati. The soul may be born in durgati as a result of demerit, but if the sufferings are observed with equanimity, and when the realisation of bad karma is exhausted, the rebirth could be into a better destiny.

Rebirth as a heavenly being: Restraint with desires, restraint-cum–non-restraint, the involuntary dissociation of karma and the austerities accompanied by a perverted faith or 'childish austerities' (baala tapa), lead to the influx of karma that leads to a celestial life. Right Faith leads to rebirth in a higher celestial life (Sarvathasiddhi 1960: 6.20-21).

Rebirth as a human being: An individual with a humble character, compassionate, partially restrained, detached attitude towards possessions and relationship, honest, straightforward, free from evil activities, and sorrowful meditation, and natural mildness attracts karma that leads to human rebirth (Sarvathasiddhi 1960: 6.17-18).

Rebirth as animal, bird, fish, insect, plant, bacteria or virus: Unethical behaviour, sorrowful meditation on health, diseases, possessions and relationship, engrossment in sensory pleasures and activities are the causes of the influx of karma that leads to rebirth as an animal or plant (tiryanca). Individuals in this group have little restraint and are engrossed in behaviour concerned with attraction, aversion and infatuation. Deception, passions, falsehood, fraud and non-restraint lead to rebirth in this destiny. One is free to alter this destiny through personal effort for a better rebirth. Mahavira was a lion in an earlier birth, but by self-effort he became a tirthankara.

Rebirth as an infernal being: Behaviour and thoughts about sin, violence, falsehood, theft, preservation of artefacts of enjoyment and possessions at any cost, excessive infliction of pain and attachment cause the karma that leads to rebirth in the infernal regions.

Volitional states and karma: Jain texts describe five types of volitional states or the true nature of living beings, which affect the shedding of karma. They are dependent upon austerities and resultant lesyaas (aura). They are:

  • 'suppressed' (aupasamika): the karmic matter is not extirpated but is still present. This is due to austerities undertaken without knowledge or understanding. 160
  • 'destructive' (ksayika): the effects of karma are destroyed. This will involve the most auspicious volitions.
  • 'suppressed and destructive' (ksayopasamika): in this state some karma is destroyed, some is neutralised and some is still retained. Most living beings, which live moral lives, fall into this category.
  • 'realisation' (audayijya): in the usual course of events, karmic particles attached to the self-produce their intrinsic effects, and resultant volitions gradually become more pure.
  • 'inherent' (paarinlaamika) is the essential nature of the self-representing consciousness, with the potential to be liberated or otherwise.

Karma is a positive theory, taught by omniscient and enlightened individuals, which promotes independence, righteousness, optimism, and a sense of dignity, equality, and the will to achieve the highest spiritual goal, and has helped Jains to develop the acts of compassion, philanthropy, friendship to all, universal forgiveness, austerity and penance. The enlightened ones and their teachings do not require logical or rational proof. Where some scientists offer explanations for human behaviour and worldly situations in terms of genetics, Jains explain the same phenomena in terms of karma.


Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998
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  1. Aayu
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  8. Clairvoyance
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  10. Contemplation
  11. Darsana
  12. Deceit
  13. Deva
  14. Devendra
  15. Durgati
  16. Environment
  17. Equanimity
  18. Fear
  19. Genetics
  20. Gotra
  21. Greed
  22. Hinduism
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  24. Jina
  25. Jinendra
  26. Kaala
  27. Karma
  28. Karmic Body
  29. Karmic matter
  30. Mahavira
  31. Manusya
  32. Mardia
  33. Meditation
  34. Mohaniya
  35. Muni
  36. Naraka
  37. Omniscient
  38. Omniscients
  39. Pradesa
  40. Prakrit
  41. Prakriti
  42. Pride
  43. Samaya
  44. Samvara
  45. Sankramana
  46. Sanskrit
  47. Soul
  48. Space
  49. Sramana
  50. Sthiti
  51. Tamil
  52. Tapa
  53. Tirthankara
  54. Tirthankaras
  55. Tiryanca
  56. Udaya
  57. Upayoga
  58. Vedaniya
  59. Vedaniya Karma
  60. Violence
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