A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of karma theory: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifteenth part in the series called the “the jaina philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 15 - Karma Theory

It is on account of their merits or demerits that the jīvas are born as gods, men, animals, or denizens of hell. We have already noticed in Chapter III that the cause of the embodiment of soul is the presence in it of karma matter. The natural perfections of the pure soul are sullied by the different kinds of karma matter.

  1. Those which obscure right knowledge of details (jñāna) are called jñānāvaraṇīya,
  2. those which obscure right perception (darśana) as in sleep are called darśanāvaraṇīya,
  3. those which obscure the bliss-nature of the soul and thus produce pleasure and pain are vedanīya , and those which obscure the right attitude of the soul towards faith and right conduct mohanīya[1].

In addition to these four kinds of karma there are other four kinds of karma which determine

  1. the length of life in any birth,
  2. the peculiar body with its general and special qualities and faculties,
  3. the nationality, caste, family, social standing, etc.,
  4. the inborn energy of the soul by the obstruction of which it prevents the doing of a good action when there is a desire to do it.

These are respectively called

  1. āyuṣka karma,
  2. nāma karma,
  3. gotra karma,
  4. antarāya karma.

By our actions of mind, speech and body, we are continually producing certain subtle karma matter which in the first instance is called bhāva karma , which transforms itself into dravya karma and pours itself into the soul and sticks there by coming into contact with the passions (kaṣāya) of the soul. These act like viscous substances in retaining the inpouring karma matter. This matter acts in eight different ways and it is accordingly divided into eight classes, as we have already noticed. This karma is the cause of bondage and sorrow. According as good or bad karma matter sticks to the soul it gets itself coloured respectively as golden, lotus-pink, white and black, blue and grey and they are called the leśyās. The feelings generated by the accumulation of the karma-matter are called bhāva-leśyā and the actual coloration of the soul by it is called dravya-leśyā.

According as any karma matter has been generated by good, bad, or indifferent actions, it gives us pleasure, pain, or feeling of indifference. Even the knowledge that we are constantly getting by perception, inference, etc., is but the result of the effect of karmas in accordance with which the particular kind of veil which was obscuring any particular kind of knowledge is removed at any time and we have a knowledge of a corresponding nature. By our own karmas the veils over our knowledge, feeling, etc., are so removed that we have just that kind of knowledge and feeling that we deserved to have. All knowledge, feeling, etc., are thus in one sense generated from within, the external objects which are ordinarily said to be generating them all being but mere coexistent external conditions.

After the effect of a particular karma matter (karma-varganā) is once produced, it is discharged and purged from off the soul. This process of purging off the karmas is called nirjarā. If no new karma matter should accumulate then, the gradual purging off of the karmas might make the soul free of karma matter, but as it is, while some karma matter is being purged off, other karma matter is continually pouring in, and thus the purging and binding processes continuing simultaneously force the soul to continue its mundane cycle of existence, transmigration, and rebirth. After the death of each individual his soul, together with its karmic body (kārmanaśarīra), goes in a few moments to the place of its new birth and there assumes a new body, expanding or contracting in accordance with the dimensions of the latter.

In the ordinary course karma takes effect and produces its proper results, and at such a stage the soul is said to be in the audayika state. By proper efforts karma may however be prevented from taking effect, though it still continues to exist, and this is said to be the aupaśamika state of the soul. When karma is not only prevented from operating but is annihilated, the soul is said to be in the kṣāyika state, and it is from this state that Mokṣa is attained. There is, however, a fourth state of ordinary good men with whom some karma is annihilated, some neutralized, and some active (kṣāyopaśamika)[2].

Footnotes and references:


The Jains acknowledge five kinds of knowledge:

  1. matijñāna (ordinary cognition),
  2. śruti (testimony),
  3. avadhi (supernatural cognition),
  4. manoḥparyāya (thought-reading),
  5. kevala-jñāna (omniscience).


The stages through which a developing soul passes are technically called guṇa-sthānas which are fourteen in number. The first three stages represent the growth of faith in Jainism, the next five stages are those in which all the passions are controlled, in the next four stages the ascetic practises yoga and destroys all his karmas, at the thirteenth stage he is divested of all karmas but he still practises yoga and at the fourteenth stage he attains liberation (see Dravyasarngmhavṛtti, 13th verse).

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