Introduction To Jainism ► [04] Karma ► Introduction

Posted: 21.09.2008

All that we are is the result of our thinking
Mahāvīra, ca. 500 BC

Karma is the universal law of cause and effect. That law applies to all regions and levels of the cosmos, the material as well as the conscious and spiritual side of nature. In fact, all laws of physics and chemistry are part of that universal law of karma as well. Experts in these fields, just like ourselves in so many things of daily life, know many of these lawful regularities of nature from their own experience and we blindly rely on them. Nobody expects that you get cauliflower by cooking squash or that by mixing soda and hydrochloric acid you get sugar. Only salt and carbon dioxide gas will be produced. By sowing wheat no one can get peas.

But karma embraces much more than this. The Sanskrit word karma literally means “work” and work can only be done by conscious creatures. Every action is preceded by an impulse of the mind or feelings and emotions, and it requires the energy of will power. Thus, karma always originates in the soul of a living being, i.e. that part of a living being that is conscious, that perceives, that can make choices - and that consciousness may be very limited by our standards, or very large. Even a one-celled organism has it. Minerals, water, air, fire and invisible beings also have a soul, a consciousness, according to Jainism. This means that every creature has a measure of responsibility for itself, and consequently the energy of their conscious activities creates bondage to karma. For every single creature the biblical saying “as one sows so shall one reap” applies. The Bible has summarized the doctrine of karma in this one line. “Do as you would be done by others” (even without thinking of any result for oneself) and “give as you would want to receive” are the popular sayings, which actually mean nothing else than to practice karma. However, the result may not show itself quickly - perhaps karma will not into fruition until a future embodiment. Karma is like a seed and its flower, where the seed is an act of consciousness. Some seeds lay in wait for years or centuries to germinate. Others germinate immediately and grow and bloom. Still others germinate, but the sapling remains small until the environmental circumstances are suitable for its growth. Then it may grow and bloom very quickly and unexpectedly. According to Jainism bad karmas manifest themselves first, thus testing the stamina and tolerance of a person. Thereafter good results come. Karmic results may present themselves to us in various ways, as we can easily recognize in daily life. Some karmas manifest almost unnoticed in the beginning, and then slowly increase to their highest effect level, thus bringing more and more joy or trouble, as the case may be. Then suddenly it comes to an end. We may experience periods of increasing luck in our lives which we can not explain, but that period seems to be over at once, and we can not explain that either. But it is one of the ways in which karma manifests. Another possibility is that a particular karmic effect suddenly appears in full bloom, as is the case in an accident, but after the accident recovery takes place slowly, until finally the karma is completely exhausted. A third possibility is that it grows slowly to its highest manifestation and then slowly subsides. Many diseases run this course. Also important is that one seed may bring forth many other seeds, which will each have its own way, but are still linked with you. Imagine that you say something on television that is not true; at once you deceive perhaps millions of people, and they will in their turn, in their confidence and honesty perhaps, act on what you have said. You are karmically responsible and the result will turn on you in the form perhaps of unpleasant circumstances or even in an unpleasant rebirth due to the deceit you have committed. Therefore Jains take great care in what they say and do.

As we will show further on in this chapter, Jains have elaborated the concept of karma in greater detail than any other thought system on earth.

Share this page on:



Prakrit Bharti Academy
Society for Scientific & Ethical Living
13-A, Main Malviya Nagar, Jaipur-302017
Phone: 0141 -2524827, 2520230

First Edition, 2006
ISBN No. 81-89698-09-5

Translated and revised edition of:
" Jainisme - Een introductie"