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Karma in the Jain Philosophy

by Swami Sivananda

Karma in the Jain philosophy is divided into eight classes: those which act as an impediment to the knowledge of truth; those which act as an impediment to the right insight of various sorts; those which give one pleasure and pain; and those which produce bewilderment. The other four are again divided into other classes so minutely that a student of the Jain Karma philosophy can trace any effect to a particular Karma. Persons who by right faith, right knowledge, right conduct, destroy all Karmas and thus develop fully the nature of their soul, reach the highest perfection, become divine and are called Jainas. Those Jainas, who, in every stage, preach the law and establish the order, are called Tirthankaras.

Subject to the law of Karma man has to work out the effect of his previous actions. This Karma is a kind of force which holds the soul in bondage and prevents it knowing itself fully. There are many varieties of this force. The bondage of Karma arises on account of tendencies, and the most predominant of these determine the type of the body which the soul would make for itself in its future incarnation. The sum-total of these tendencies is what is called character, and this character contains in itself the well-digested and assimilated experience of the entire past of the soul. Now, if we would analyse the idea of tendency, we would not fail to observe that it is the modification of the mind in particular ways. The Jain books teach that the Karmic force is the product of a kind of matter, the particles of which have become combined with the soul. This explains the nature of the force which prevents the soul from realising its own blissful nature. It is obvious that all that the soul has to do is to get rid of the particles of matter which it has drawn to itself. As soon as this is accomplished the soul is freed from all kinds of bondage and acquires perfect knowledge and bliss.

Karma is an energy which an embodied being generates-be it vital, mental or moral-and which keeps him in the mundane world, the Samsara. Karma, in short, is the whole Samsaric make-up of an embodied being. It is perfectly divested of the idea of sacrifice. Karmas which keep the individual in a backward condition are known as Papa; those which help him in advancement are Punya. The Jain philosophy gives a detailed enumeration of Karmas, and explains how they are attracted (Ashrava), how they are assimilated with the individual (Bandha), how their inflow can be stopped (Samvara), how they can be entirely worked out (Nirjara), and what the ultimate state of the perfected individual is (Moksha). This particular branch of philosophy, therefore, includes topics like sensations, perceptions, consciousness, pains and pleasures, moralities of life, moral depravities, building of the body and all factors of the individuality.

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