Jainworld
Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions

Jivaraja Jaina Granthmala, No. 20

General Editorial
Preface to The First Edition
Preface to The Second Edition
Synoptic Philosophy
  Approach to Reality
  The Jaina Theory of the Soul
  Critique of Knowledge
  The Doctrine of Karma in Jaina Philosophy
  The Pathway to Perfection
  In this Our Life
  Men and Gods

THE DOCTRINE OF KARMA IN JAINA PHILOSOPHY

 

 

The Jaina philosopher bases his stand on experience and avoids absolute conceptions of soul and karma. He admits concrete relation between the soul and Karma. Soul is affected by the influx of Karma. The change effected in the soul is determined by the nature of the Karmic matter, and the nature of Karma is  in turn determined by the passions. Similarly, the nature of passion is determined by the nature of Karma. This is a reciprocal relation affecting the soul and matter. In this conception, the distinction between the material karma (dravya-karman) and psychic Karma (bhavakarman) is very significant. The former is associated with avarana; the latter is associated dosa (defect).[31] Every act brings with it the after-effects in physical and psychic aspects. The physical aspects of the traces is Dravya-Karma; while the psychic traces are the Bhava Karma. The material Karma and the psychic counterpart are related as cause and effect. [32] In a passage in the Karmagrantha, a question regarding the cause of the Karmic influx has been raised. How is it possible that particular particles of Karmic matter-entering the soul can transform the selves into various forms of Karma? And we are told that this is possible through the mysterious power of the soul and through the peculiar quality of matter itself. We find matter of one form is transformed into another; water is transformed into clouds and rain again. Why, then, cannot matter of Karma besmearing the Jiva be transformed into different types of Karma? We are then told that all further discussions would not be necessary.[33]

 

The discarding of rational argument, in this connection, is justified, because Jainism does not pretend to have attained this doctrine by human rational means.[34] It is not through the limited comprehension of an average man that the view has been presented but by revelation or on the authority of a Kevalin.

 

lV. Karma theory has been found by some to be an inadequate explanation for the prevalent inequalities in life. It is suggested that the theory suffers from serious defects.

 

1. Karma leads to the damping of the spirit and men suffer the ills of life with helpless equanimity of attitude simply because they get the awareness that it is beyond their power to change the course of their life as it is determined by Karma. Karma leads to fatalism. It does not give any incentive to social service. The general apathy of an Indian towards the natural, social and political evils is mentioned as an example of the impact of Karma on our life.  The famous temple of Somanatha was destroyed; and there was no visible resistance because the common man in India was over powered by the belief that everything that happens is the result of Karma.

 

But this is more an over-statement of a fact, if not a misstatement. It is not true to say that the Karma theory does not give any incentive to social service. The Upanisads enjoin social service. The Jaina ethics is based on service and sacrifice, although on the highest level one has to transcend social morality. The five vows to be observed by an ascetic and the layman (sravaka) imply the recognition of dignity and equality of life. Schweitzer maintains that the attitude in the ancient Indian thought was that of world and life negation. Still the problem of deliverance in the Jaina and the Buddhist thought is not raised beyond ethics.  In fact it was the-supreme ethic. The deliverance from reincarnation is possible through the purity of conduct, and the soul cleanses itself from the besmirching it has suffered and altogether frees itself from it; What is new then, in Jainism is the importance attained by ethics.[35] -- an event full of significance for the thought of India.[36] And Karma is not a mechanical principle, but a spiritual necessity.' It is the counterpart in the moral world of the physical law of uniformity.[37] Unfortunately the theory of Karma became confused with fatality in India when man himself grew feeble and was disinclined to do his work.[38]   Still the importance of Karma as after effects of our action and determining the course of life cannot be easily underestimated. Karma has to be looked at as a principle involving explanation of action and reaction. Fatalistic theories of life was presented by Makkhali Gosala, a contemporary of Mahavira. He considered himself a rival of Mahavira. He said that happiness and misery are measured to one as it were in bushels. The duration of life and the transmigration of souls have their fixed forms. No human effort can change them. Mahavira and the Buddha opposed Gosala most vigorously.

 

2. It is also said that the Karma theory is inconsistent with individual freedom of the will. It does not guarantee true freedom to the individual which is essential to his moral progress. [39] Karma works as the inexorable law of causation, in its essential mechanical way. And in the background of caste system, the boon of individual inequality becomes a curse; if Karma had not to work with caste, a varnasrama-dharma, a wrong idea of the self and transmigration, we might reconcile Karma with freedom.  But as it is, it is not possible. The theory in entirety cannot escape the charge of 'determinism' from the point of view of higher morality.[40] Older Buddhism and Jainism were much concerned to defend self-regulative character of Karma; salvation was essentially through self-reliance: and there was fear of the antinomian tendencies of the notion of reliance on others (e.g. the Lord).[41] The answer to the charge of fatalism was that by our own efforts we can annihilate the existing Karma and neutralise its effects.

 

But it is difficult to determine the nature of this objection. We are told that from the point of view of higher morality Karma theory cannot escape the charge of determinism. Yet, the objection is determined by and based on the individual's status in a particular caste. It is more a sting against caste system than a criticism of Karma theory. The objector appears to confuse the essential from the accidental. It is a fallacy of Ignoratio Elenchi.  Caste system is a sociological problem, and it is not essential for understanding the nature and operation of Karma. In fact determinism is, here, interpreted in a narrow sense as a mechanical operation of Karma to produce its effects, as does the law of gravitation. The present condition and nature of an individual is determined by the past Karma, yet the individual is free to act in such a way as to mould his own future by reducing or destroying the existing Karma. The present is determined, but the future is only conditioned.[42] In general, the principle of Karma reckons with the material in the context in which each individual is born.[43] 'But the spiritual element in man allows him freedom within the limits of his own nature.[44] There is room for the lowliest of men even of animals to rise higher and purify his self.  Attempts were made to reconcile the law of Karma with freedom of man. Karma is compared to a fire which we can, by our effort, fan into a flame or modify it. Human effort can modify Karma. For the Jaina,  such a saving of the soul is possible by one's own efforts. Grace of God has no place in Jaina ethics. Self-effort in the direction of purification of the soul is the one way towards perfection. A thief, for instance, undermines his own character and being every time he commits theft. No amount of prayer and worship will erase the effect that has been accumulated,  although it may create a mental atmosphere for eliminating such future possibilities. Jainas have, therefore  given a detailed theory of conduct distinguishing it: into two grades as that of the muni, an ascetic, and of a sravaka -- a householder.

 

3. It has been objected that the Karma theory connects actions and its consequences in a rather mechanical way. In its mechanical aspect, it mistakes the means for the end. In this it is presumed that repentence is the end and paying the due penalty-is only a means. It is said that Karma theory overemphasises the retributive aspect of punishment.

 

But, here again, we find a confusion between ends and meansRepentence has its place in life. but it is not the end to be achieved.  Repentence does purify the mind and has the effect of a catharsis.  This would be a means for the future development of an individual. Even as a means it is not all. The Jaina theory of Karma emphasises that by individual efforts at moral and spiritual development, we can reduce the intensity of karma, suppress its effects or even annihilate. We have seen that one can, by suitable efforts.  transform the energy of one form of Karma into that of another,[45] as we can transform electrical energy into that of heat or light.  Repentence is not to be taken as the final end. It only creates an atmosphere for moral efforts towards selfrealization. It is at best a powerful psychological means which would help us in the attainment of spiritual perfection. If repentence were sufficient to lead to purification, the after-effects of past action cannot be accounted for, nor can they be explained away, as that would be contrary to the laws of physical and moral nature.

 

4. Karma doctrine implies that sin is a finite offence that can be made good by private temporary punishment. It presupposes that we can make good our sin which is entirely beyond our power.

 

It is also said that the dominant impression that one gets of the Karma doctrine is that the individual is in the grip of power,  which, heedless of his own wishes, is working out a burden of an immemorial past. [46]

 

Pringle-pattison shows that the whole emphasis of the Karma theory is on retribution. There is nothing redemptive in its operation, and the process becomes an endless one, leading to no goal of ultimate release. He quotes Deussen and says that expiation involves further action which in turn involves expiation and thus the process is endless. The clock work of requital. in running down  always winds itself up again, and so in perpetuity.[47] Accumulation of merit may ease a future life, but it would not suffice to effect a release from the wheel of life. Even when a new world follows after the deluge in the cycle of worlds, it does not start with a clean balance-sheet, as the operation of will proceeds from the point where it was suspended.[48] Karma only perpetuates the curse of existence.[49] So, the Karma doctorine seems open to the criticism to which the vindictive theory of punishment has been subjected in modern times '[50] To conceive this universe as primarily a place for doling out punishment is to degrade it to the level of a glorified police-court.[51]

 

The dominant note in the objection is that to make good our sin is beyond our powe; and the emphasis on the retributive element in the doctrine of Karma makes this world frightful and miserable, 'as a glorified police-court'. But this is far from truth.  It is not beyond our power, as we said earlier, to improve our states of existence. The Jainas have shown that self-effort can shape the future. The present is with us and the future is in our hands.

 

Retributive theory is a more consistent theory of action and reaction and not merely of punishment, than Reformative theory.  Man gets what he merits to get; and to with-hold it would be injustice to him, unless he makes his own efforts to modify the effects of his actions. Reformative theory may be full of noble and soft sentiments, it may be comforting to be told that by the grace of God, we would be better. But that destroys the individuality and dignity of an individual and he would become a tool in the hands of a Higher Power or his agent in this world.  We refuse to be treated as things. Moreover, it is good to te men, though it is unpleasant to do so, that they are alone responsible for their present state To put the responsibility on the individual is hard truth. And Radhakrishnansays that Karma ls not so much a princip]e of retribution as one of continuity.[52]

 

5. Some have said that the doctrine of Karma leads to unbridled individualism;, It fails to see that we all belong to a community, that there is what is called joint Karma corporate sin or guilt. It allows the fortunate  ones to boast of their 'self-merited happiness'. [53] Explanation for the inequality is referred to the 'vicarious suffering'.  The ethical justice is to be found in the crucification of Christ; and the Cross is a symbol of taking over the sufferings of men upon oneself so as to lighten the sufferings of men.

 

But according to the Jainas, as also in other Indian thought, except in the Carvaka, self realization is to be attained through a moral effect which is essentially social in its content. We have seen that the Jaina ethics is essentially social in its significance.  Moksa is to be attained through the practice of goodness, charity, compassion and humility, although the Moksa is attained by one who practices the virtues and the three-fold noble path. It is, therefore, more accurate to say that Karma theory awakens a man to his responsibilities to himself and to others, and does not make him isolated and self-centred.

 

We may also add that Karma does not imply a hedonistic outlook on life. Reward for pleasure is not a life of pleasure nor is the punishment for sin, pain. The theory is not to be confused with hedonistic or a judicial theory of rewards and punishments.:[54] Pleasure and pain are determinants of animal experience, but for human life the end to be attained is nohing short of perfection.  His efforts are to be directed to the attaimnent of this highest end. The universe is, in the words of Tennyson. 'a vale of soulmaking' and not a pleasure garden.