Jainism / Karma and Principles

Karma and Principles

What is Karma? How does it affect the soul?

The Jains consider karma as dynamic high energy fine particles of subtle matter that has ability to permeate the soul. They are found throughout the universe and cannot be perceived by the senses or by measurement. The worldly soul is always associated with and ‘stained’ with karma.

Through the vibrations caused by the activity of body, speech and mind, the soul attracts the karmic particles that may be benevolent or malevolent depending upon the activity. Karmic particles envelop the soul and its space-points but do not destroy the essential nature of the soul; they merely obscure it and affect its different modes. Influx of karma precipitates the bondage of the soul. The quantity, size, type and the density of karmic particles determine the severity of karmic bondage and a form that the soul will assume in forthcoming births and its inherent passions.

What is so special about the study of karma in Jainism?

Jain theory of karma explains the puzzling questions of life such as inequality, injustice, the varied appearances of our bodies and the relation between body and soul.  Jains believe the present stage of any human being is due to one’s own past karma.  The results of karma can be diluted or annihilated only by our own efforts.  We are our own masters; our future is in our own hands.
Jains have developed vast literature for the study of karma that describes its types based on structure, existence and consequences.

The structural types are physical and psychic; the physical (material particles) obscure the soul and pollute it, while psychic (mental states such as passions and perversions) cause imperfection. They mutually reinforce each other as cause and effect. Perfect souls such as the liberated are free from physical karma, and hence they have no psychic karma or imperfection. Karma are in existence with the worldly soul, having been earned in the past, even in previous lives, called ‘karma-in-existence’ (satta). Karma being earned in the present, which will be realised in future, are called ‘karma-in-bonding’ (bandha). Karma which were earned earlier, and whose time of realization has come and  has begun to give results, is called ‘karma-in-realisation’ (udaya). 

Based upon the deep study of the inner (knowledge, faith, emotions) and outer (lifespan, status, body) nature of the living being, Jains have developed a consequential classification of karma of eight basic types with 158 sub-types with their effects on the soul for knowledge, faith, delusion, will, lifespan, body, status and feeling such as pain and pleasure.

What helps to understand the principles of Jainism?

Jains speak of nine fundamentals which sum up the principles of Jainism as follows:

The make-up of the universe:
        (1) living souls (jiva)
        (2) non-living substances (ajiva)

The principles of behaviour:
        (3) merit, good results in karma  (punya)
        (4) demerit, bad results in karma  (paapa)

The development of karma:  
        (5) inflow into the soul (asrava)
        (6) binding the karma (bandha)
        (7) stopping the inflow (samvara)
        (8) shedding the karma (nirjara)

The final goal:
        (9) complete liberation of the soul  (moksa)

What is the aim of human life?

Living beings may be ‘worldly’ or liberated. The aim of human life is to shed the karma and attain liberation of the soul from the karmic bondage so as to make it free from the cycle of rebirth and death, and manifest its true characteristics: infinite bliss, infinite knowledge, amity and equanimity, and dwell in siddha silaa at the apex of the universe along with other liberated souls.

By following the co-ordinated path of Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct, humans can attain liberation and live in total bliss in the abode of the liberated souls, which is beautifully shown in the Jain symbol. Right Faith is the belief in the ‘Realities’ as they exist in the universe; Right Knowledge is the knowledge in all aspects of the ‘Realities’; and the Right Conduct is the action that leads one to the path of liberation.

What is Right Conduct?

Mahavira advocated all to observe :     

  • Ahimsa (non-violence and reverence for all life)
  • Satya (truthfulness, communication in a pleasant and non-hurtful manner that is free from falsehood)
  • Asteya (not stealing or taking anything which belongs to others, including states or nations, without their permission) 
  • Brahmacharya (chastity and control over senses; for the ascetics total celibacy and for the laity faithfulness to one’s spouse) 
  • Aparigraha (non-attachment to material things)

The ascetics observe the above totally as far as humanly possible, while the laypersons observe them partially giving allowance to their worldly duties, will avoid all intentional violence, violence to mobile beings and are always vigilant in avoiding harm to any living being, including immobile beings with one sense.  Jains observe restraint for the prevention of inflow of karma, and austerities for the shedding of the attached karma.

Mahavira’s teachings included involvement in the welfare of others and care for the natural world; equality and pluralism, and the life of equanimity and simplicity. He was a great reformer and addressed the various problems of the day, such as the caste system, slavery, equality of women, carnal desires, killing or harming life for religious rituals or pleasure of the senses.  (anekaantavada) and qualifying dogmatic assertions - relative pluralism (syaadavaada) to understand multiple facets of the truth; it was a spiritual democracy that made his followers tolerant to the views of others.

Have Jains any dietary restrictions?

Jains take non-violent food as far as possible. They are lacto-vegetarians, do not take root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic; they are forbidden to take meat, alcohol, honey, butter, cheese and eggs. The Jains consider that different foods vary according to the quality and quantity of violence involved in consuming them, and consume the foods, where there is least possible violence, such as grains, pulses, vegetables, fruit, milk and its products. Some Jains avoid milk and its products because of their concerns with the present methods used in the dairy industry.  Surprisingly, Jain dishes are nutritionally well balanced, delicious, with lot of varieties. To avoid harm even to one sense creatures, on their sacred days they do not take green vegetables. Jains avoid eating between sunset and sunrise, as they believe some tiny creatures, which cannot be seen by the eye, are developed after sunset and could be consumed by them along with their food.