Karma philosophy

  • By Munisri Nyayavijayaji
  • October 2002

This includes intention of activity, renunciation of activity, two meanings of karma, causes of bondage and about life span.

Seven       Intention of Activity 
People say that by undertaking activities like donation, worship service etc a man earns merit (punya) or binds auspicious karmas and by torturing others or doing something against their will he accumulates demerit (papa) or binds inauspicious karmas. External activity is not the determining factor whether karma is auspicious or inauspicious. It is because even in causing pain to others man can earn merit or inspite of making donations man can earn demerit.  When a surgeon performs an operation on a patient he is causing pain to the other person but since it is for the betterment of the patient auspicious and not inauspicious karmas get bound to the surgeon’s soul.

So what matters is the intention behind any activity. Whatever is done with good intention binds auspicious karmas (punya). But it is also possible that the activity of a thoughtless person, though performed with good intention, is idiotic, evil and hence the cause of the bondage of inauspicious karma. Therefore, even in activity performed with good intention, one should be vigilant & discreet. Dharma (good conduct) consists on vigilance & carefulness. And it is said that Viveka (power of discretion) is the tenth treasure.

Eight       Renunciation of Activity 
Ordinary people believe that if one renounces all activities, then one remain untouched by punya or paap. They think that wholesome activities cause the bondage of auspicious karmas, which are likened to a golden cage while unwholesome activities cause the bondage of inauspicious karmas, which are likened to an iron chain. That is whatever may be the type of activity it is bound to cause bondage. On this premise many people refrain from all activity except that what is essential and sit idle waiting for liberation to happen. Idle man’s devils workshop. Sometimes a man may be outwardly inactive but his mind is active at that time. So outward display of renunciation is all hypocrisy.

One should however give up all evil activities but is that possible? That is possible only when one employ’s one’s mind fully in all-good activities. We must not renounce good activities so long as our tendency to do evil activity is not totally exterminated. Friends it is like positive and negative attitude. If one has only a positive approach there is no question of having a negative approach. To be free from the bondage of auspicious activities, what is needed is the transformation of auspicious intention into pure intention, and not the renunciation of auspicious activities. Of course this is a very difficult spiritual process. But do difficult things come easily?

The crux of the above discussion is that we cannot renounce activity on our own. But when it gets useless & unnecessary, it stops by itself naturally. Man should renounce evil activities and indulge in good activities, so long as the state of life is naturally prone to activity. Untimely renunciation of activity means the deviation from the natural & right path of duty. It is not conducive to spiritual development but is rather a mockery of life.

Transition from one type of activity to another type serves also one’s needs of inactivity (nivrtti). In this way, the uninterrupted flow of activities can keep one’s life cheerful & happy. Of course the field of activity is different for different individuals according to their different activities. It is needless to say that to make an activity brilliant, it is necessary to take proper rest and to have peace at regular levels.

Nine        Two meanings of Karma
The word karma has two meanings, one is ‘any activity’ and the other is ‘fine particles that get attracted & stick to the soul on account of its activity’. That which is being done is ‘karma’ is the etymology of the term karma. Both these meanings are appropriate in the context. The whole universe is packed with fine karmic particles. But when these articles get attracted to the soul & stick to it and bind it through its activity, then only they are designated by the term Karma.

The karmic particles bound with the soul are called ‘dravya-karma’ or physical karma while internal states of attachment, aversion are called ‘bhava-karma’ or mental karma. In other words Jainas distinguish between material and spiritual karma. The soul (in its impure state) is the doer of both these karmas. They are mutually related as cause & effect, just as a seed and a sprout. Friends simply put, when I am attached to something I would do inauspicious karmas, the karmic particles associated with this karma would then get bound with my soul and make me experience the fruits of my actions later.

In the non Jaina systems of philosophy the following words are employed for karma: in Vedanta it is maya, avidya & prakrti, in Mimamsa it is apurva, in Buddhist & Yoga it is vasana, in Samkhya & Yoga it is asaya, in Nyaya & Vaisesika it is dharmadharma, adrsta & samskara.

Ten        Causes of Bondage 
The karmic material particles are first attracted to the soul & then bound by it. The function of attracting them to the soul is performed by the activity of mind, speech & body. So the activity is called asrava (influx), rather cause of the influx. And the function of binding the karmic particles with the soul is performed by mithyatva (unwholesome inclination or faith or conviction), avirati (non-restraint), pramada (lethargy) & kasaya (passion). So they are called the causeway of bondage. Every activity that is there with these four acts as a cause of bondage. Yoga or activity alone is called asrava, the remaining four like kasaya are not asrava or influx but the causes of asrava. From this we can understand that yoga (activity) is the cause of both the influx & the bondage.

What type of activity causes the bondage of a particular karma?
1. Knowledge-obscuring (jnanavaraniya) karma - insulting the learned, harassing him, neglecting & disrespecting the means of knowledge, obstructing others in their endeavor to acquire knowledge, refusing to impart knowledge inspite of having them on account of one’s mental impurities & defects, imparting unwholesome teaching, remaining idle are the causes of this karma.

2. Darsana – obscuring karma - When the above- enumerated features pertain to darsana (vision or indeterminate cognition) to a possessor of darsana, or to a means of darsana, they cause the bondage of darsana-obscuring karma.

3. Satadedaniya - Compassion, service, forgiveness, love, forbearance, donation, self-control – these are the causes of this bondage. Even childish austerity causes this bondage. This is that karma the result of which is pleasant experience or feeling.

4. Asatavedaniya karma - Pain, sorrow, heart burning, crying, killing, bewailing, each causes to oneself, to someone else or both – these are the causes of this karma. This is that karma the result of which is painful experience or feeling.

5. Darsana-mohaniya karma - preaching & propagating unwholesome path, denigrating the whole-some one, ill-treating saints & good persons and adopting adverse attitude / behavior towards the means of spiritual welfare are the causes of bondage of this karma. This karma deludes our love for truth or our inclination towards truth.

6. Caritra-mohaniya karma - the acutely unwholesome mental state resulting from the manifestation of passions causes bondage of conduct-dealing karma.

7. Narakayus-karma -  too much inclination for hurting, too much accumulation of possessions, killing of the five sensed beings, cruel mental states are the causes of bondage of this karma) infernal-lifespan-determining karma).

8. Tiryagayus-karma – deceit is the cause of bondage (animal life span determining karma).

9. Manusyayus-karma - minimum infliction of injury, minimum accumulation of possessions, softness & simplicity of nature are the causes of bondage of this karma (human life-span determining karma).

10. Subha-nama –karma - straightforwardness, softness, truthfulness, healing dissensions – these are the causes of bondage of auspicious personality determining karma.

11. Devayus-karma - self-control of moderate degree, self-control accompanied with attachment, childish austerity, refraining from evil acts out of compulsion are the causes of this bondage (celestial life spanning karma).

12. Asubha-nama-karma - the opposite of the just mentioned features i.e. crookedness, untruthfulness, treachery etc are the causes of bondage of this inauspicious personality determining karma.

13. Ucca-gotra karma - condemning oneself, praising others, turning a blind eye towards one’s own merits, displaying one’s own shortcomings, humility & non-arrogance, these are the causes of bondage of the high-status determined karma.

14. Nica-gotra-karma - condemning others, praising oneself, turning a blind eye towards the merit of others, displaying even the non-existing merits in oneself, pride of family  - these are the causes of the bondage of low-status determining karma.

15. Antaraya-karma - to cause obstruction to others engaged in the task of donation, reception is the cause of the bondage of obstructive karma.

This enumeration of the causes of bondage of the different type of karmas is not exhaustive but indicatory.

What is the purpose behind enumerating separate causes-of bondage for the separate karma types?
The separate mention of causes-of-bondage that we find here must be understood as referring to bondage is respect of flavor. (The capacity to give good or bad fruits of different degrees of intensity is also generated at the same time, is called bondage in respect of flavor). The idea is that the scriptural rule to the effect that at the time of experiencing the cause-of-bondage appropriate to one karma-type there is also a bondage of the other karma-types should be understood as referring to bondage in respect of karmic particles, and not to mention that in respect of flavor. So, the net conclusion is that the separate mention of the cause of bondage refers not to the bondage in respect of karmic particles but to that in respect of flavor. So, on conceding that experiencing bondage in respect of karmic particles is simultaneously possible for a number of karma-types, there remains no difficulty about the just quoted scriptural rule. On the other hand, the different causes of bondage enumerated in connection with the different karma-types are responsible only for the bondage in respect of flavor pertaining to those karma-types, so the separate mention of causes of bondage that we find here remains equally free from difficulty.

The separate mention of the causes of bondage of the auspicious & inauspicious sub-types of each karma type clearly help man understand as to which set of good activities leads to the bondage of a particular auspicious karma type as also which set of evil activities leads to the bondage of a particular inauspicious karma type. This urges him to undertake good activities & to refrain from evil activities. This is the obvious purpose behind the separate mention of the causes of bondage of different karma types.
Eleven        About Life – Span 

We have already mentioned four sub-divisions of the life-span-determining karma i.e. human-life-span determining karma, animal-life-span-determining karma, celestial-life-span determining karma and infernal-life-span-determining karma.

The clock, which has been wound, moves for a definite period of time and after that it automatically stops. And if it’s obstructed by something, it stops even before the end of that period. So also soul’s association with a physical body in any of the four forms referred to in the above para continues till the end of the fixed duration of time, provided it is not confronted with any obstruction. And the soul does not inhabit the physical body even for a moment more than the fixed duration. However when certain obstructive causes like poison, fear happen a person dies before the due date, in such cases it is called an ‘untimely death’.

A long rope spread out takes a long time to burn out when it is set to fire at one end. But the same rope, folded burns to ashes at once when it is set on fire. So also material karmic particles of the life-span determining karma are experienced gradually, then they are worked out at the end of the fixed duration but if they are experienced together at once on account of a calamity like floods then they are worked out before the completion of the fixed duration i.e. untimely death occurs. When the quantum of karmic particles of a life span of seventy years is experienced gradually, death occurs at the end of seventy years. But instead, if at the age of 25 years, some deadly accident takes place as a result of which the remaining karmic articles of forty five years are experienced together all at once in a moment or two, then death will take place at that very time.

The life-quantum is of two types i.e. apvartaniya (one whose temporal duration is reducible) & anapavartaniya (one whose temporal duration is irreducible). In the former the life quantum’s period of enjoyment is less than the period that was due at the time of the concerned karmic bondage, while in the latter life quantum’s period of enjoyment is equivalent to this latter period.

Whether the life quantum earned by way of karmic bondage will be earned in the former or latter form referred to above is not something that happens automatically, but it depends on the intensity or mildness of the mental perturbation of the time concerned. Thus life quantum for the immediately next birth is earned by way of a karmic bondage some time during this birth. Friends as I move along the spiritual path I get a feeling that my professional aspirations, as they exist now, will nowhere near get fulfilled in this birth, a lot of the knowledge that I am gaining would be more proficiently used in the next birth. This feeling is substantiated on the premise that my current spiritual path has no relation with the karmas of this birth i.e. the first 36 years of my life.

And if at this time, the prevailing mental perturbation happens to be mild, the resulting bondage of the life-quantum is loose – so that when an occasion is available, the period that was its due at the time of bondage can well be reduced. On the other hand if the prevailing mental perturbation happens to be intense, the resulting bondage of life quantum is tight, so that even when an occasion is available, the period that was its due at the time of bondage is never reduced not is it possible to enjoy it away at one go.

The logic of these two concepts is that some beings are possessed of the life quantum not open to time reduction never meet untimely death however powerful might be the means of hastening death that they possibly encounter. Conversely beings possessed of the life quantum open to time reduction do happen to encounter means like weapons etc that hastens death.

Soul is an eternal, indestructible substance. In its pure state, it is beyond birth & death. But in its impure mundane state, it manifests itself in any of the life-species (yoni) by assuming a physical body; this manifestation of soul through a physical body is called ‘birth’. Thus every new association with a new body is its new birth. And its separation from a physical body is called ‘death’.

Please note that the fixed duration of life can never be increased even by one moment in any way by any attempt. Under the chief influence of the deluding karma-life quantum of the immediately next birth is bound in the present birth. Thus, the series of successive births and consequently the wandering in the transmigratory existence continue so long as the soul is under the influence of the deluding karma.

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