A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

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

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

Part 16 - Karma, Āsrava and Nirjarā

It is on account of karma that the souls have to suffer all the experiences of this world process, including births and rebirths in diverse spheres of life as gods, men or animals, or insects. The karmas are certain sorts of infra-atomic particles of matter (karma-vargaṇā). The influx of these karma particles into the soul is called āsrava in Jainism. These karmas are produced by body, mind, and speech. The āsravas represent the channels or modes through which the karmas enter the soul, just like the channels through which water enters into a pond. But the Jains distinguish between the channels and the karmas which actually enter through those channels. Thus they distinguish two kinds of āsravas, bhāvāsrava and karmāsrava. Bhāvāsrava means the thought activities of the soul through which or on account of which the karma particles enter the soul[1]. Thus Nemicandra says that bhāvāsrava is that kind of change in the soul (which is the contrary to what can destroy the karmāsrava), by which the karmas enter the soul[2]. Karmāsrava, however, means the actual entrance of the karma matter into the soul.

These bhāvāsravas are in general of five kinds, namely

  1. delusion (mithyātva),
  2. want of control (avirati),
  3. inadvertence (pramāda),
  4. the activities of body, mind and speech (yoga)
  5. and the passions (kaṣāyas).

Delusion again is of five kinds, namely

  1. ekānta (a false belief unknowingly accepted and uncritically followed),
  2. viparīta (uncertainty as to the exact nature of truth),
  3. vinaya (retention of a belief knowing it to be false, due to old habit),
  4. saṃśaya (doubt as to right or wrong)
  5. and ajñāna (want of any belief due to the want of application of reasoning powers).

Avirati is again of five kinds,

  1. injury (hiṃsa),
  2. falsehood (anrta),
  3. stealing (cauryya),
  4. incontinence (abrahma),
  5. and desire to have things which one does not already possess (parigrahākāṅkṣā).

Pramāda or inadvertence is again of five kinds, namely

  1. bad conversation (vikatha),
  2. passions (kasāya),
  3. bad use of the five senses (indriya),
  4. sleep (nidra),
  5. attachment (rāga)[3].

Coming to dravyāsrava we find that it means that actual influx of karma which affects the soul in eight different manners in accordance with which these karmas are classed into eight different kinds, namely

  1. jñānāvaraṇīya,
  2. darśanāvaranlya,
  3. vedanīya,
  4. mohanlya,
  5. āyu,
  6. nāma,
  7. gotra
  8. and antarāya.

These actual influxes take place only as a result of the bhāvāsrava or the reprehensible thought activities, or changes (pariṇāma) of the soul. The states of thought which condition the coming in of the karmas is called bhāvabandha and the actual bondage of the soul by the actual impure connections of the karmas is technically called dravyabandha. It is on account of bhāvabandha that the actual connection between the karmas and the soul can take place[4]. The actual connections of the karmas with the soul are like the sticking of dust on the body of a person who is besmeared all over with oil.

Thus Guṇaratna says:

“The influx of karma means the contact of the particles of karma matter, in accordance with the particular kind of karma, with the soul, just like the sticking of dust on the body of a person besmeared with oil. In all parts of the soul there being infinite number of karma atoms it becomes so completely covered with them that in some sense when looked at from that point of view the soul is sometimes regarded as a material body during its saṃsāra stage[5].”

From one point of view the bondage of karma is only of pimya and pāpa (good and bad karmas)[6]. From another this bondage is of four kinds, according to the nature of karma (prakṛti), duration of bondage (sthiti), intensity (anubhāga) and extension (pradeśa). The nature of karma refers to the eight classes of karma already mentioned, namely the jñānāvaraṇlya karma which obscures the infinite knowledge of the soul of all things in detail, darśanā-varaṇlya karma which obscures the infinite general knowledge of the soul, vedanlya karma which produces the feelings of pleasure and pain in the soul, mohanīya karma, which so infatuates souls that they fail to distinguish what is right from what is wrong, āyu karma, which determines the tenure of any particular life, nāma karma which gives them personalities, gotra karma which brings about a particular kind of social surrounding for the soul and antarāya karma which tends to oppose the performance of right actions by the soul.

The duration of the stay of any karma in the soul is called sthiti. Again a karma may be intense, middling or mild, and this indicates the third principle of division, anubhāga. Pradeśa refers to the different parts of the soul to which the karma particles attach themselves. The duration of stay of any karma and its varying intensity are due to the nature of the kaṣāyas or passions of the soul, whereas the different classification of karmas as jñānāvaraṇīya, etc., are due to the nature of specific contact of the soul with karma matter[7].

Corresponding to the two modes of inrush of karmas (bhāvāsrava and dravyāsrava) are two kinds of control opposing this inrush, by actual thought modification of a contrary nature and by the actual stoppage of the inrush of karma particles, and these are respectively called bhāvasaṃvara and dravyasaṃvara[8].

The bhāvasaṃvaras are

  1. the vows of non-injury, truthfulness, abstinence from stealing, sex-con trol, and non-acceptance of objects of desire,
  2. samitis consisting of the use of trodden tracks in order to avoid injury to insects (īryā), gentle and holy talk (bhāṣā), receiving proper alms (eṣaṇā), etc.,
  3. guptis or restraints of body, speech and mind,
  4. dharmas consisting of habits of forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, truth, cleanliness, restraint, penance, abandonment, indifference to any kind of gain or loss, and supreme sex-control[9],
  5. anuprekṣā consisting of meditation about the transient character of the world, about our helplessness without the truth, about the cycles of world-existence, about our own responsibilities for our good and bad actions, about the difference between the soul and the non-soul, about the uncleanliness of our body and all that is associated with it, about the influx of karma and its stoppage and the destruction of those karmas which have already entered the soul, about soul, matter and the substance of the universe, about the difficulty of attaining true knowledge, faith, and conduct, and about the essential principles of the world[10],
  6. the parīṣahajaya consisting of the conquering of all kinds of physical troubles of heat, cold, etc., and of feelings of discomforts of various kinds,
  7. cāritra or right conduct.

Next to this we come to nirjarā or the purging off of the karmas or rather their destruction. This nirjarā also is of two kinds, bhāvanirjarā and dravyanirjarā. Bhāvanirjarā means that change in the soul by virtue of which the karma particles are destroyed. Dravyanirjarā means the actual destruction of these karma particles either by the reaping of their effects or by penances before their time of fruition, called savipāka and avipāka nirjarās respectively. When all the karmas are destroyed mokṣa or liberation is effected.

Footnotes and references:


Dravyasamgraha, Śl. 29.


Nemicandra’s commentary on Dravyasamgraha, Śl. 29, edited by S. C. Ghoṣal, Arrah, 1917.


See Nemicandra’s commentary on Śl. 30.


Nemicandra on 31, and Vardhatnānapurāṇa XVI. 44, quoted by Ghoṣal.


See Guṇaratna, p. 181.




Nemicandra, 33.


Varddhamānapurāṇa , XVI. 67-68, and Dravyasamgrahavṛtti , SI. 35.





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