Bhagwaan Mahaveer Evam Jain Darshan: The Doctrine of Karma in Jain Philosophy

Published: 09.03.2014
Updated: 30.07.2015

भगवान महावीर एवं जैन दर्शन

Chapter 3

Pages: 167-179

The Doctrine of Karma in Jain Philosophy
Karma means action, work or deed. "Karma: Sanskrit word meaning action and the consequences of action."

(The Encyclopedia of World Religions, Robert Ellwood & Gregory Ales,
 ISBN 978-0-8160-6141-9, pp 253)

In general terms good or bad actions of a person are called ‘karma’. A person is suggested to do good karma. In Jain philosophy, the term karma has been used in this sense also. Lord Mahāvīra has also stated that -

सुचिण्णा कम्मा सुचिण्ण फला भवंति।
दुचिण्णा कम्मा दुचिण्ण फला भवंति।।

Suciṇṇā kammā suciṇṇa falā bhavanti.
Duciṇṇā kammā duciṇṇa falā bhavanti...

(Aupapatik Sutra, 56)

(Good karmas bring good fruits, bad karmas bring evil fruits)

In the context of the principle of karma or the karma theory or the law of karma, it has different philosophical concepts. "Karma meaning deed or action; in addition, it also has philosophical and technical meaning, denoting a person's deeds as determining his future lot."[

(Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 15, New York, pp 679-680)
(Karl Potter: The Naturalistic Principle of Karma, Philosophy East and West,
Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 39-49 (Apr., 1964)

In different Indian religious traditions, karma theory as a concept, shares certain common themes.

Karma and Effect:

The doctrine of karma teaches us that similar actions will lead to similar results; teaches us that impact of one’s action on the Self is inevitable.  There can be on result without a cause.  It teaches us that good or bad actions have their consequences. In common parlance, it is said:

“Whatever deed he does, that he will reap.”
(जो जैसा करेगा, वो वैसा भोगेगा अथवा जैसा बोओगे वैसा काटोगे)।

Thus good karma produces good effect or results on the actor, while bad karma produces bad effect or results. Executed actions and the intentions of an individual effects the individual and the life he or she lives. The ‘Rāmacarita-mānasa’ expresses this phenomenon in these words -

कर्म प्रधान विश्व करि राखा, जो जस करहि सो तस फल चाखा
(Karma pradhāna viśva kari rākhā, jo jasa karahi so tasa phala cākhā).

There are some religions and philosophies who propound that God is the creator and sustainer of this universe and whatever takes place in the universe is the play of his will. From this point of view, God is the Creator of man's destiny also. Question arise that if a man does not do good deeds can God give good fruits to him because of his grace? Some believe that all is pre-determined. The concept of god is that He is very kindhearted.  If the destiny of a person is predetermined by God himself, than why is it that there is misery and suffering in this world? Certainly anyone would not like to say that God is sadistic. Therefore, it is very logical to propound that karma provides fruits. There exists relation between the deeds of a person and his destiny.  Because of this, there is the relevance of efforts, conduct, sacrifice and penance. A man can change his destiny by his own will and conduct. I would like to mention here with that amongst all the Indian religions and philosophies, Jainism emphatically asserts that no divine grace can save a person from the karmic consequences because they are definite, certain and inescapable. Whenever a soul experiences this or that mental state at the very time it gets bound by corresponding good or evil karmas.  Only the practice of austerities and self-control can modify or mitigate or alleviate the consequences of karma.

“There is nothing mightier in the world than karma; karma tramples down all powers, as an elephant a clump of lotuses.”

Bhagavati Ārādhanā (verse no. 1616)

Karma and Concept of Soul Substance & Rebirth:

All those spiritualistic philosophies, who have propounded the concept of soul substance, deem soul to be eternal (anādi-nidhana). The science assumes that the physical entity (an atom) never destroys but can be transformed.  Similarly, the spiritualistic philosophies also believe that soul never annihilated or destroyed. In the worldly condition previous-birth, present-birth and re-birth are only the different forms of the mundane-soul.

They also believe in the cycle of birth and death. As long as the soul is in the mundane state, forgetting itself, bound with the karmas, it keeps on taking birth and death repeatedly. Because of very this reason, the spiritualistic philosophies believe in rebirth of the soul. The mundane-soul keeps acquiring new bodies.  This world-cycle of birth and death keeps going on and on.  Karmas are accepted as the main cause of rebirth. “Rebirth is a necessary corollary of karma.”

 (M. Hiriyana: Essentials of Indian Philosophy, George Allen Unwin, London, pp 47 (1949)

Though the Buddha himself declined to answer the entity of a permanent soul, as is non-expressible in his views, even then believes in rebirth in subsequent existences as the continuation of an ever-changing process of “dependent arising” (प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद). A sentient being with form (rūpa), feeling (vedanā), discernment (vij̃nāna), perception or cognition (saṁjñā) and sacraments (saṁskāra), keeps on taking birth and rebirth due to these five skandhas.

“O Bhikṣus! If anyone says that the origin, sustenance and destruction of vijñāna-chitta and mana are possible without form (rūpa), without feeling (vedanā), without discernment (vij̃nāna), without perception or cognition (saṁjñā) and without sacrament (saṁskāra), it will be quite impossible”.  

(Majjhim-nikaya, 20)

The rebirths and consequent life may be in different realm, condition or form. “The karma theories suggest that the realm, condition and form depends on the quality and quantity of karma.”

(James Lochtefeld: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism,
Volume 2, Rosen Publishing, New York, pp 589 (2002))

The Karma theories assert that karma is the root cause which determines the worldly life categories of the soul. Cruel actions lead to the accumulation of heavy karmas while results of good deeds are different. Based on its karmas, a soul reincarnates in various states of existence - like heavens or hells or as humans or animals. There are innumerable beings in the universe. Their different bodies, senses, minds, vitality, longevity etc. can be explained in accordance with the doctrine of karma.

What happens after death?

The Karma theories that believe in rebirth, also have a firm conviction that every living being's soul transmigrates (recycles) after death, carrying the seeds of Karmic impulses from life just completed, into another life and lifetime of karmas.  This cycle continues indefinitely, except for those who consciously break this cycle by reaching salvation or moksha. Those who are unable to break this cycle, continue in the cycle. Death is the separation of gross body and living being's soul plus the seeds of Karmic impulses which can be termed as subtle body. Had subtle body not accompanied the soul, the conception of the world would not have been possible and explanation of the world could not have been done. All spiritual philosophies have the concept of subtle body. The terminology to denote this subtle body is not identical and various schools of "karma and rebirth" theory have their own formulations. For example, some philosophies say that done works leave its sacrament in its subtle form while some other philosophies say that the total accumulation of karmas of all the past births are accumulated (saṅcita) karma and accumulated are promoted to be prārabḍha. Whatever karmas the man accumulates throughout present life is called kriyamāṇa (present actions). Some where it is stated as adṛṣta, somewhere it is stated as apūrva. Yoga school considers karma from past lives to be secondary, one's behavior and psychology in the current life is what has consequences and leads to entanglements.

(William Mahoney: Karman: Hindu and Jain Concepts, in Editor: Mircea Eliade,
Encyclopedia of Religion, Collier Macmillan, New York (1987))

In Buddhism, karma is strictly distinguished from vipāaka, meaning "fruit" or "result".  Karma is categorized within the group or groups of cause in the chain of cause and effect, where it comprises the elements of "volitional activities" and "action". Any action is understood as creating "seeds" in the mind that will sprout into the appropriate result when met with the right conditions.

Karmic Doctrine: Differences & Interaction:

It is a reality that various schools of "karma and rebirth" theory have their own formulations and have differences on various points but it is also a fact that there was constant interaction between scholars of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and they were sharing ideas, debating, evolving and forming their own conclusions on appropriate Karmic doctrine over a period of Indian history.

What is the root cause of bondage? The various schools of "karma and rebirth" theory have their own terminology and concept to denote the root cause of the mundane soul. Some of the philosophies deem attachment and aversion (kaṣāya) as the root cause of bondage, some accept passions (vāsanā), some deem ignorance (avidyā), some deem conceit (māyā), and some deem desire (tṛṣṇā).  As Yoga philosophy assumes that passions like ego etc. causes the re-birth to consume fruits of the actions done in previous-birth.  Sāṁkhya philosophy assumes that, who consumes the fruits of the actions, is the soul. The fruits of the karmas do not come abruptly but come in due course of time. At the time when a person renounces the body, the knowledge earned in this life, karma, wisdom and passions accompany the soul. New birth is taken by soul according to knowledge and karmas earned in its previous life. Vaiśeṣika philosophy asserts the perceptions of the mind remain stuck to the soul in the forms of atom. The other body is recovered through this body. Vedānta philosophy admits that soul (jīva), because of not being free from behavioral or illusive beliefs, take other birth. "There was such constant interaction between Vedism and Buddhism in the early period that it is fruitless to attempt to sort out the earlier source of many doctrines; they lived in one another's pockets,”)

Wendy D. O'Flaherty: Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions,
University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520039230, pp xvii-xviii (1980)

In this way, all philosophies who believe in soul and who are silent on the entity of soul, like Buddhist philosophy, accept the dynamism, creation and karmic tendency of the soul or the cycle of suffering and rebirth of each being. I agree that the connotation of the term “Karma” is not identical in all the philosophies. For example, in Buddhist philosophy, it signifies volitional actions while in Jain philosophy, it is the end product of actions, which clings on or get associated to the soul in a material form.

It is necessary to indicate here that who deems mundane- soul as the cause of the karmic bondage, accepts continuity in world cycle and keeps faith in the theory of rebirth, also believes in cessation of the cycle of bondage of the karma. This is the reason, they believe in mukti (मुक्ति) or mokṣa (मोक्ष) or nirvāṇa (निर्वाण) meaning the salvation or emancipation of the soul.

Jain Philosophy and the concept of soul:

There are infinite independent souls. These are categorized into two:

  1. Embodied (badḍha)
  2. Liberated (mukta).

Infinite knowledge, perception and bliss are the intrinsic qualities of a soul. These qualities are fully enjoyed unhindered by liberated souls, but obscured by Karma in the case of non-liberated souls resulting in karmic bondage.

The souls that are hundred percent free from karmic bondage are known to be liberated soul. Liberated soul turns to be perfect soul. It acquires the highest place on the cosmos being free from all kinds of karmic bondage. Liberated souls never come back to the earth. While soul attains omniscience, destroys all karmas and ultimately resides on the Sidḍhaśilā (the apex of the Loka), it becomes to be Paramātmā.

ज्ञानं केवल संज्ञं, योग निरोधः समग्रकर्महतिः।
सिद्धि निवासश्च यदा, परमात्मा स्यात्तदा व्यक्तः।।

Jñānaṁ keval saṁjñaṁ, yoga nirodhaḥ samagrakarmahatiḥ.
Sidḍhi nivāsaśca yadā, paramātmā syāttadā vyaktaḥ.

(Upadhyaya Yashivijaya: Adhyatmasar, 20/24)

Jain Philosophy and the concept of Embodied (badḍha) soul:

In Jain texts, the bondage of the soul with karma is explained by analogy with gold ore. As the gold in gold ore is always found unrefined, similarly mundane-soul has always been associated with the impurities of karma. In other words, the being has been bound in the bonds of karma since time immemorial. As the unrefined gold can be refined so purification of the soul can also be achieved. Until that, mundane-soul, being bound with karmas, keeps on taking birth in different categories of lives. At the time of death gross body is left but subtle body is not left. The soul having with subtle body achieves another body. Jain philosophers believe that from the immemorial time, every living being (soul) due to its ignorance is in bondage of karmic particles known as karma.

जीवहं कम्मु अणाइ जिय-जणिय उ कम्मु ण तेण।
कम्मे जीउ वि जणिउ णवि, दोहिं वि आइ ण जेण।।

Jīvahaṁ kammu aṇāi jiya jāṇya u kammu ṇa teṇa.
Kamme jīu vi jaṇiu ṇavi, dohiṃ vi āi ṇa jeṇa.

(Acharya Yogendu Dev/Acharya Yogindra Dev (Joindu):
Parmatma Prakash, 1/57)

(The karmas of the jīva are eternal.
Neither jīva has generated karmas nor have karmas generated jīva.
There is no starting point of both the jīva and karmas.)

A living being is free in accumulating the karmas but once accumulated it is beyond his or her power to control their fruition.

(The Concept Of Embodied Soul And Liberated Soul In Jain Philosophy (10.03.2009))

Jain Philosophy and the concept of physical substance (Pudgala):

Some philosophies deem the origin of matter (unconscious substance) from the consciousness. Science believes the origin of conscious from unconscious only. Jain philosophy believes in the existence of the jīva and the ajīva. It accepts the difference between soul and matter. Both have different nature. One is conscious and other is unconscious. One is abstract other is concrete.

"Matter" or Physical-substance consists of infinite number of Pudgala-indivisible particles of matter-very much smaller than the atom. They are so fine that in each part of space infinite number of combinations of the Pudgals or Skandhas can be contained in their subtle (Sūkṣama) form. Each of these Pudgals has at least four qualities i.e. touch, taste, smell and color. There are many categories of clusters of these Pudgals called varganas.

(Concept of Physical Substance (Pudgala) in Jain Philosophy)

Original Title:
भगवान महावीर एवं जैन दर्शन
Bhagwaan Mahaveer Evam Jain Darshan
English Translation:
Dr. Pradyumna Shah Singh
Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, India
HN4U Online Edition:
in progress
showing the available English renderings.

Share this page on:
Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Ajīva
  3. Avidyā
  4. Body
  5. Buddha
  6. Buddhism
  7. Conceit
  8. Concept of Soul
  9. Consciousness
  10. Hinduism
  11. Jain Philosophy
  12. Jainism
  13. Jīva
  14. Karma
  15. Karman
  16. Karmas
  17. Kaṣāya
  18. Loka
  19. London
  20. Mahāvīra
  21. Mana
  22. Moksha
  23. Mokṣa
  24. Mukti
  25. Nirvāṇa
  26. Paramātmā
  27. Parmatma
  28. Pudgala
  29. Sanskrit
  30. Science
  31. Soul
  32. Space
  33. Sutra
  34. Upadhyaya
  35. Vaiśeṣika
  36. Varganas
  37. Yoga
  38. दर्शन
  39. महावीर
  40. मुक्ति
Page statistics
This page has been viewed 4577 times.
© 1997-2024 HereNow4U, Version 4.56
Contact us
Social Networking

HN4U Deutsche Version
Today's Counter: