From Religious Books:

Some Aspects of The Jain Theory of Karma

by Acharya Shri Atmaram (1)

Acharya Shri Atmaram was a great scholarly monk of recent times. He had an extensive and profound knowledge of Shwetambar as well as Digambar scriptures, which have been effectively quoted in his celebrated work, 'Jain Tattva Kalika' - A Treatise On Jainism. Acharya Shri possessed a deep insight into the soul of Jainism which is evident from the following selection. - D.C.J.

What is karma?

In Jain philosophy, the word 'karma' is employed to convey a unique and special import, which conforms to psychological concepts. 'Karma' is defined as the acquisition of material karmic particles attracted like a magnet by a worldly soul through auspicious and inauspicious activities of mind, speech and body, impelled by attachment (RAAG) and aversion (DWESH). In other words, the material particles acquired by a worldly soul through various activities of body, speech and mind conjoined with irrationalism (MITHYAATVA), indulgence (AVIRATI), indolence (PRAMAAD), passion (KASHAAYA) and, physical and mental deeds (YOGA) constitute karma.(2)

There are a variety of material particles, including the ultra fine particles that are capable of being transformed into karmas. These are called karmic particles (KAARMAAN VARGANA). On account of irrationalism, indulgence, indolence, passion and, physical and mental deeds, these material particles become associated with worldly souls and become physical karmas (DRAVYA KARMA). Essentially, the ultra fine material particles attracted by a worldly soul through its auspicious and inauspicious dispositions constitute karmas.

How can material karma particles become associated with abstract soul?

The karma particles are material, tangible (MOORT or ROOPI), while soul is abstract, intangible (AMOORT or AROOPI). Thus the question arises: How can the tangible karma unite with intangible soul? It should be remarked that air and fire are both tangible and therefore they do not influence space, which is intangible. Similarly, material karmas should not influence soul, which is abstract. However, Jainism enunciates that karmas impact the lives of worldly beings.

The answer to this question is: the concept that a tangible entity cannot influence an intangible entity is not absolute. For example, knowledge and cognizance are intrinsic attributes of soul and thus they are intangible. Substances like wine and drugs are tangible. When an individual is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is observed that his/her knowledge and cognizance are obscured. Just as material alcohol can influence intangible knowledge, similarly abstract soul can be affected by material karma.

The Jain philosophy propounds the multiplicity of viewpoints (ANEKAANTAVAAD). [From the realistic viewpoint], soul is abstract. However, [from the experiential viewpoint], worldly souls have been associated with karmic matter since time immemorial. Material karmic particles have been eclipsing pristine soul like particles of dirt on a piece of pure gold. From this viewpoint, a worldly soul is not absolutely intangible.(3) On each iota of a worldly soul an infinite number of karma particles have been attached since time immemorial. These comprise the karmic body of a worldly soul.(4) In fact, the bondage of fresh karmic particles takes place in the presence of material karmas only. SIDDHAs have no karmic body as they have shed all karmas associated with their souls. Thus no new karmas can bind to them.

How and when did karmas become associated with soul?

From the realistic viewpoint (NISHCHAYA NAYA), the Jain philosophy considers that soul is pure - free from the bondage of karma particles. Now the question arises, how did a pure soul become contaminated with karmic dirt? Further, if a pure soul can become contaminated then the cycle of acquiring and shedding karmic matter will go on forever and ever. The only logical response to this question provided by eminent Jain philosophers is that the association of karmas with the worldly souls is without any beginning.(5) The question of which came first does not arise. It is similar to 'the chicken and the egg'.

Now the question arises: How can the association that has no beginning be broken? The answer to this question is that an association of a soul with a particular group of karma particles is not eternal. A worldly soul continually sheds karmas in its possession and acquires new karmas. Thus the stream of karmic inflow and outflow continues. The stream is without any beginning while the individual karmas are transient. Therefore, the association of karmic material with a soul can be dissolved by practices such as penance, renunciation and self-restraint.(6) It should be remarked that from the point of view of bondage, soul and karma are one and the same, while from the point of view of attributes, they are distinct. These facts indicate that the process of binding of karma with soul and shedding of karma by the soul is logical and reasonable.

Who is more powerful, soul or karma?

One of the intrinsic attributes of soul is infinite power (ANANT VEERYA) - potentiality, initiative and the will to act. But a worldly soul has the bondage of karmas. Consequently, it undergoes the cycles of birth and death, and experiences worldly pleasures and suffering. Now the questions arises: Who is more powerful? Who wins, soul or karma?

On the surface, karma appears to be more powerful. However, if we look inward, we perceive the will and determination of soul. A piece of iron seems to be tougher than water, but water causes iron to rust and eventually the piece of iron falls apart and it is reduced to dust. By adopting rational perception, rational knowledge and rational conduct, a worldly being indulges in practices such as penance, renunciation and self-restraint, and eventually removes all karmic blemish. This is a real triumph, the victory of soul over karma. A rational worldly soul succeeds in overcoming karmas through self-endeavor.

A worldly soul conquers karmas only when it realizes its full potentiality - when it has the realization that its worldly existence and sufferings are the consequences of its own irrationalism and delusion. An aspirant understands that the inanimate karmas have an adverse impact on an individual only because he/she has attachment and aversion, which steer him/her to experience sensual pleasures and pain. Such realization is the first step towards spiritual uplift and ultimate victory over karmas.

Two types of karma:

On the basis of bondage (BANDH), karmas are of two types: physical (DRAVYA) karma and abstract (BHAAV) karma. Physical karmas are transformations of ultra fine particles of matter while abstract karmas are thoughts and feelings of attachment and aversion of a worldly soul. Physical karmas are the results of abstract karmas and abstract karmas may be provoked by physical karmas. In fact, when physical karmas come to fruition, abstract karmas, that is, thoughts and feelings of pleasure and pain are generated in a living being. These feelings constitute abstract karmas, which, in turn, cause the influx of fresh physical karmas. This process of seed and seedling has been in operation since time immemorial.(7)

Who is the doer of karma and who suffers their consequences?

There are two main philosophies in regard to the process of generation and fruition of karma. One school of thought believes that a worldly soul is not free in 'doing' karmas and suffering their consequences, but it is dependent on God or some supernatural entity regarding these processes. The other school of thought believes that one is free to 'do' the karmas and one can escape the undesirable consequences of past karmas by performing certain rituals to please some demigods and goddesses.

Both these schools of thought do not seem to be reasonable and they infringe upon the freedom of the soul to depend on self-endeavor. Instead of adopting self-restraint and penance to modify their karmas, some individuals indulge in praise and worship of imaginary gods and goddesses. If superman and supernatural entities could fend off the unpleasant consequences of karma, then no undesirable and unfortunate events would occur in the world. This is never the case. The logical conclusion is that the self is responsible for one's karmas and their consequences.

It should be pointed out that the Jain philosophy investigates each issue from two viewpoints: realistic (NISHCHAYA) and experiential (VYAVAHAAR). From the experiential viewpoint, a soul having passions and yoga (activities tainted with attachment and aversion) is the doer of karmas. The self is the doer and undoer of misery as well as of happiness. The self involved in auspicious activities is a friend of the soul, while the self, indulging in inauspicious activities, is an enemy.(8) A soul free from attachment and aversion does not bring about any karmic influx. In no instance, can karmic matter transform itself into karmas because it is insentient. In plain words, from the experiential viewpoint, a worldly soul can be said to be the doer of karma only as long as it is associated with karmic matter.

From the realistic viewpoint, the transformations in a soul occur according to the intrinsic attributes of the soul, while the transformations in karmic particles are brought about by their own intrinsic nature. Thus a soul is not the doer of karma and karma is not the doer of the mental states of a worldly soul.(9)

Does a soul control karmas or do karmas control the soul?

Is a worldly soul dependent on karmas? Can karmas be contained by a worldly being? These questions can be answered on the basis of the Jain doctrine of the multiplicity of viewpoints (ANEKAANTAVAAD). From one viewpoint, a living being has the freedom to acquire karmas. By the same token, a worldly soul is free to prevent the influx of karmas (SAMVAR), to convert inauspicious karmas into auspicious karmas, to reduce the duration of association of karmas, and to break the association of karmas (NIRJARA).(10)

According to Jain scriptures, an individual can triumph over his/her karmas through consonant endeavor (LABDHI), except for invariant (NIKAACHIT) karmas. Even in the case of invariant karmas [and in general], during the fruition of karma, if the individual does not have feelings of attachment and aversion, and maintains equanimity, tolerance, courage and peace of mind, then the karmas are shed upon fruition and they do not succeed in overpowering the soul. In this respect, the self is responsible for acquiring as well as for suffering the consequences of karmas. Nobody else can suffer the consequences of the karmas acquired by any individual. No one can share the pleasure or pain that results from the karmas acquired by any individual.(11)

Looking from another angle, a worldly being is found to be subjugated by karma. A soul preoccupied in attachment and aversion is totally in the grasp of karmas. Such an individual is helpless and he/she is completely at the mercy of karmas. As a person who appears to enjoy the freedom to consume intoxicating substances loses control of his senses, similarly, one who is irrational and indulgent acquires karmas that take hold of the course of one's life. In such instances, karmas control the worldly soul.

To summarize, in certain instances a worldly soul is dependent on karmas and in certain other cases, the soul triumphs over karma.

Footnotes:

1. English adaptation of selections from 'JAIN TATTVA KALIKA', published by Atma Jnaanapeeth, Manasa Mandi (Punjab), sixth chapter, pages 154-163.

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2. KEERAI JEEAENA HEUMHI JENAM TU BHANNAE KAMMAM

- KARMA GRANTH, first part, couplet 1.

PARINAMDI JADA APPA SUHAMMI ASUHAMMI RAAGADOSAJUDO|

TAM PAVISADI KAMMARAYAM NAANAAVARANAADI BHAAVEHIM || - PRAVACHAN SAAR

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3. JAMHA KAMMASSA FALAM VISAYAM FAASEHIM BHUNJADE NIYADAM |

JEEVEN SUHAM DUKKHAM TAMHA KAMMANI MUTTANI |133|

MUTTO FAASADI MUTTAM MUTTO MUTTEN BNDHAMANUBHAVADI |

JEEVO MUTTI VIRAHIDO GAAHADI TE TEHIM UGGAHADI |134| PANCHAASTIKAYA SAAR

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4. For details, please see 'Quotations from Scriptures', Jain Study Circular, July-October 2005, pages 3-8.

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5. YATHAANAADI SA JEEVATMA YATHAANAADISCHA PUDGALAH |

DWAYORBANDHOAPYANAADIH SYAAT SAMBANDHO JEEVAKARMANO |2-35|

PANCHAADHYAAYI

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6. KHAVITTA PUVVA KAMMAAIM SANJAMEN TAVEN YA |

SAVVADUKKHAPAHEENATTHA PAKKAMANTI MAHESINE |25-45|

- UTTARAADHYAYAN SUTRA

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7. JEEVAPARIPAAKAHEUN KAMMATTA POGGALA PARINAMAMTI |

POGGALAKAMMANIMITTAM JEEVO VI TAHEV PARINAMIE |

- PRAVACHAN SAAR VRITTI, page 455

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8. APPA KATTA VIKATTA YA DUHAAN YA SUHAAN YA |

APPA MITTAMAMITTAM CHA DUPPATTHIYA SUPATTHIO |20-37|

- UTTARAADHYAYAN SUTRA

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9. KAMMAM PI SAGAM KUVVADI SEN SAHAAVEN SAMMAMAPPAANAM |

JEEVO VI YA TAARISAO KAMMASAHAAVEN BHAAVEN |62| PANCHAASTIKAYA SAAR

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10. For details, please see 'Scriptural View of the Jain Theory of Karma', Studies In Jainism, Reader 2, pages 121-126.

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11. SAVVE SAYA KAMMA KAPPIYA |1-2-3-18|

SAKAMMUNA VIPPARIYAASAMUVEAI |1-7-15|

SAYAMEV KADEHIM GAAHAI , NO TASSA MUCHCHEJJ APUTTHAYAM |1-2-1-4|

- SUTRA KRITAANG

NA TASSA DUKKHAM VIBHAYANTI NAAEO |

NA MITTA VAGGAM NA SUYA NA BANDHAVA |

AEGO SAYAM PACHCHANU HOI DUKKHAM |

KATTARAMEVAM ANUJAAI KAMMAM |13-23| - UTTARAADHYAYAN SUTRA

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