Essentials of Jain philosophy

  • By Munisri Nyayavijayaji
  • February 2003

Auspicious Karma (Punya) and Inauspicious Karma (Papa)

The term ‘karma’ means mental, vocal or bodily act as also a trace or impression that the act leaves behind on the soul. In the present context, karma means the latter meaning ‘the karmic matters constituting the trace’. The impression bears fruit in this or the next life, gets attached to the soul when the act is performed and gets released from the soul when the soul bears the fruits of that impression.

The formation of the karma theory is the result of the Jaina thinker’s sincere efforts to find answers to questions like, All souls are equal by nature (sounds like Vedanta), what causes inequality between them? What explains the born diversity among different individuals? What is it that makes an individual behave differently and experience different states at different times?

The consistency of the life of a soul – the life stretched in the three divisions of time – depends on karma. The theory of rebirth is a natural corollary of the theory of karma. Every act must be followed by its consequences. Simply put we reap what we sow. Positive acts form and leave auspicious impressions on the soul and negative just the opposite. The former results in happiness and the latter in misery.

Karmic matters are classified into eight fundamental types. They are –
a) Knowledge covering (jnanavarana) karma.
b) Vision-covering (darsanavarana) karma.
c) Feeling-producing karma (vedaniya).
d) Deluding (mohaniya) karma.
e) Longevity-determining (gotra) karma.
f) Body-making karma.
g) Status-determining karma.
h) Obstructive (antaraya) karma.

Of these (a), (b), (d) & (h) are inauspicious because knowledge covering karma covers the faculty of knowledge, vision covering karma obscures the faculty of vision, deluding karma deludes and confuses the soul – i.e. obstructs right inclination and conduct and lastly obstructive karma obstructs our attainment of the desired objects. Each of the other karmas could be auspicious or inauspicious. For e.g. body making karmas causing bad & repulsive body-traits are inauspicious karmas and those causing good & attractive bodily traits are auspicious karmas.

Inflow of Karmic Matter (Asrava)
The entire universe is full of karmic matter. The inflow of karmic matter into a soul takes place on account of the soul’s activities. So, these activities themselves are also regarded as the inflow of karmic matter.

Through soul’s mental, vocal and bodily activities the karmic matter is attracted towards the soul, flows into it and gets bound with it. Positive activities like charity, donation, civilized speech, feeling happy for others cause positive karmas while negative activities like violence, theft cause negative karmas.

The auspicious or inauspicious character of bodily or vocal activities depends on the auspicious or inauspicious character of the accompanying mental operation or state. The main cause of bondage of auspicious or inauspicious karmic matter with soul is mental activity.

Stoppage of the Inflow of Karmic Matter (Samvara)
For the stoppage of the inflow of karmic matter into a soul, the Sanskrit word Samvara is used. It is formed from two words i.e. ‘sam’ and ‘vr’ meaning ‘to stop, to prevent’. Highly spiritual states of the soul, causing control & restraint of the mental, vocal and bodily activities, effect the stoppage of the inflow of karmic matter.

The Sanskrit term ‘asrava’ is derived from the verbal root ‘sr’ meaning ‘to ooze’, prefixed with the preposition ‘a’. Hence, it means the inflow of the karmic matter into the soul, or the activities through which this inflow takes place. And the prevention of the inflow is called ‘samvara’. The higher the spiritual stage, the thinner is the inflow of karmic matter. The greater the cessation of the inflow of karmic matter, the higher is the spiritual plane attained by the soul.

Bondage of the Karmic Matter with Soul (Bandha)
Bondage is of the nature of interpenetration of karmic matter and soul like the interpenetration of milk & water in a mixture of the two. The karmic matter gets stuck to the soul due to its unctuousness of attachment, aversion & delusion. Now arises a question: why must a naturally ‘dry’ i.e. pure soul come to acquire an adventitious unctuousness of the passions of attachment and aversion?

Can we say that the soul has got this attachment at a certain point of time? If yes, it would mean that the soul was pure and pristine state earlier. If we accept that a pure soul began to assume impure states then why must even the liberated souls not be infected the impurities of attachment? Absence of clear answers proves that the impure states have not started at some point of time but are beginning less. The impure states of attachment & aversion are not natural to the soul in the sense that they depend on karma. This is because they rise in the soul bound with karmic matter. And this state of bondage is also beginning less. Interesting na.

How can that which has no beginning have an end? Karmas covering the soul are like dust covering the glass. When the dust is removed the glass shines so also when karmic impurities are removed from the soul, it shines with pure light of sentience.

From this we cannot say that first the soul was alone and only afterwards karma came into existence. Neither can we say that first karma was alone and afterwards the soul came into existence. This is impossible because it would imply that the soul is destructible and also because the existence of karma is impossible without the soul. Thus the only alternative is that both the soul and karma are bound together from the beginning less time.

Types of soul’s activities govern the types of karmas (karmic matter). In the Jaina scriptures eight basic type of karmas as enumerated above. Soul in its real nature is the pure Existence, the pure Sentience and the pure Bliss. But on account of the coverings of these eight types of karmas, its original nature is not manifested. 8 basic types of karma:

1. Knowledge-covering karma - cover’s souls faculty of knowledge. The lesser this karma the more developed is the intellect and vice sa versa. Thus, intellectual diversity noticed in the world is due to the different degrees of subsidence or elimination of the karmic matter of this type. When the karmic matter of this type is eliminated from the soul, the faculty of knowledge manifests in perfection – is called omniscience.
2. Vision-covering karma - covers the soul’s faculty of vision. There is not much of a difference between knowledge & vision. The initial cognition that grasps the object concerned in a generic form is given the name vision (darsana). It is like cognition that a man has an object when he sees it from a distance. And the cognition, which, arising in the wake of the vision, grasps that very object in a specific form is given the name of knowledge (jnana). Sleep, blindness are the fruits of this karma.
3. Feeling-producing karma, producing ever-changing experiences of happiness & unhappiness through sense organs and mind.
4. Deluding karma generates delusion in the soul with regard to wife, son, friend and the things it likes. This karma generates attachment and aversion towards worldly objects. Blinded by this karma it looses its buddhi or intellect meaning the power to discriminate between the right and the wrong. It is like a drunken man under the influence of liquor. Of the eight karmas, this plays a leading role in blurring and perverting all knowing all seeing pure nature of the soul. This karma is of two types – one that obstructs soul’s natural inclination towards what is real & good, and the other that hampers its good and wholesome conduct.
5. Longevity-determining karma has four types according to the longevity of celestial beings, of human beings, of animal beings and of internal beings. A man whose legs are bound in chains cannot move to another place. So also a soul who is bound with a particular longevity-karma cannot transmigrate to another birth till it has not fully enjoyed that determined longevity of the present birth.

6. Body-making karma has many types & sub-types. In short, on this karma depends the beauty or ugliness of the body, good or bad bodily structure, fair or dark complexion etc. Again on account of this karma, the soul is born in one of the four main species i.e. gods, humans, animals and hell-beings and in one of the five classes of beings referred to earlier. On account of auspicious karmas the soul acquires god body and vice sa versa.
7. Status-determining karma is divided into two sub-types i.e. higher and lower status determining.
8. Obstructive karma puts obstacles in soul’s efforts to achieve various objectives. Though one is rich and has all the means of pleasure at this disposal, one cannot enjoy those objects on account of this karma. Though one intelligently makes various attempts, one cannot succeed in this business or incur losses on account of this karma.

This was karma in brief. The degree of passion with which an activity is performed determines the degree of stickiness of bondage of the karmic material atoms with the soul. At the time of formation of such bondage, the duration that is how long this karmic matter will remain stuck to the soul is also bound. There is nor rule as to after how much time would a particular karma bear fruit because the bound duration changes according to the changes in the mental states.

Some karma is bound very tight while some loose. The former is called ‘nikacita’ in Jaina scriptures; mostly one cannot escape from the enjoyment of the fruits of this karma. W.r.t. to the latter we can free ourselves from the fruits of these karmas by practice of meditation and spiritual discipline.

Let us think somewhat more clearly about the bondage following the inflow. There are numerous groupings of material atoms. From among them the grouping that possesses the capacity to undergo transformation of the form of karma is received into itself by a soul and is bound by it to its constituents in a particular fashion. That is to say, even while being non-physical (amurta) by nature a soul has become akin to something physical since it has been associated with physical karma from beginingless time.

The physical karmic atoms are attracted towards the soul thru its mental, vocal and bodily activities, they are stuck to it like dust particles stick to wet leather. There takes an interpretation of the karmic material atoms and the units of soul like the interpretation of milk & water in a mixture of the two. This is called Bondage. That the karmic material atoms received by the soul undergo transformation of the form of karma means that at that time four characteristics are produced by them, namely nature, duration, intensity & quantity. Friends simply put every time an activity is performed, its impressions get registered on the soul, and these impressions are then interpreted.

It is these characteristics that constitute the types of bondage, which are four. Bondage in respect of nature, duration, intensity and quantity. The nature of the karmic atoms – the nature to cover knowledge, the nature to cover vision, the nature to cause the experience of pleasure & pain etc- is generated in them in accordance with the nature of the activity undertaken by the soul. The nature of the karmic atoms are invisible, but they can be known & enumerated simply on the basis of the observable effects produced by them. The natures that produced these effects are innumerable, yet on the basis of the summary classification they have been divided into eight types as referred to above like knowledge covering karma.

Along with the nature characteristic is produced the duration characteristic too. That is, a limitation as to time-period up to which the karmic atoms in question obstruct the concerned quality of the soul is produced in those atoms as soon as they are bound. The third one produced is the effect-intensity characteristic. Meaning what would be the intensity of the karma on the concerned soul i.e. strong, moderate or mild. Fourthly all karmic atoms that are being received by the soul get transferred into diverse natures and hence undergo a corresponding quantitative distribution under each nature.

As already stated, the nature-characteristic is governed by the nature of activity; the quantity of karmic atoms depends on intensity of activity. This is so because even passion free souls bind karmic atoms to itself due to activities. On the other hand duration of karmas & intensity of their fruits depends on passions. Thus activity and passion are the two causes of bondage.

Going into details, there are 5 causes of bondage namely mithyatva (pervert inclination or faith meaning absence of spiritual reflection), avirati (non-restraint meaning not to desist from vices, violence etc), pramada (carelessness) meaning spiritual-lethargy, self-forgetfulness etc, kasaya (passions) meaning anger, greed etc and yoga (activities) meaning activity of mind, speech & body.

Water enters a boat thru holes and when those holes are filled with some proper substance water stops entering the boat. So also activities of mind, speech and body are the entrances through which karmic matter enters the soul, and when these entrances are shut, the karmic matter stops entering the soul. When the activities that result in impressions on the soul are arrested, then no karmic matter enters the soul and sticks to it. This event takes place in the life of the liberated-while-living in the world at the last moment when he enters the disembodied state of liberation. This happens when the liberated soul becomes free from passions. And when he is completely free from passions; the bondage of karmas that takes place due to activities only, has almost nil duration and no fruit.

The removal of the causes of bondage is achieved by the cultivation of their opposite qualities. Mithyatva is removed samyagdarsana, i.e. true viewing regarding soul, avirati by virati i.e. refrainment from vicious acts, pramada by apramada i.e. spiritual alertness in the performance of acts one should perform, anger, pride, deceit and greed. Activities (yoga) of mind, speech and body turn auspicious and pure thru restraint & culture. Thus to remove the causes of bondage is called Samvara. And the partial dissociation of the bound karmas from the soul is called Nirjara.

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