The Jaina Doctrine of Karma And The Science Of Genetics ► [6.2] Eradication Of Karma - Nirjarā ► Nirjarā

Posted: 26.08.2009

The word Nirjarā is made up of two words i.e. "Nir" and "Jarā". Nir is prefix while Jarā means to fall off. Hence, in the Jaina Philosophy Nirjarā means falling of, destruction, or removal of karmas from the soul. In the chapter of āsrava and saṁvara, we gave the illustration of boating. Let us go again to that example which also explains how nirjarā works. Let us suppose, as if we went for boating. We were having a good time and suddenly noticed the water rising on the floor of boat. We immediately felt that the boat had a hole and if leak was not sealed the boat would sink. So the first thing we did was to find a hole and then sealed it so that more water stoped coming in. Then, we started pouring out the collected water so that the boat would be dry again. This removal of water is called Nirjarā, karmas are accumulated in the soul through āsrava. These karmas cover the attributes of our soul, and the removal or destruction of these karmas is called Nirjarā.

The more effective the nirjarā, the faster the attributes of the soul will shine. Once all the karmas are shed, the soul will get salvation and then, it will be able to exhibit all its attributes in full capacity. In fact, as we are constantly accumulating and stopping karmas, we are also to some extent shedding karmas too. In respect to quantitative shedding, nirjara is grouped into two kinds:

  • Deś (limited) Nirjarā,
  • Sarva (total) Nirjarā.

In Deś Nirjarā there is limited shedding of karmas, this is experienced by all while suffering from adversity or performing austerities, or prayers etc. This sheding is done during all the stages of guṇasthānakas.

Sarva Nirjarā is the total shedding of karmas and occurs right before the soul is liberated. Whenever the soul becomes a Kevalī, it has shed off all ghāti karmas forever, but still has to shed aghāti karmas. The rest of the aghāti karmas are shed off forever right before the soul is liberated and achieves salvation. These souls are called siddhas.

When karmas mature they give rise to their results and once these results and experienced completely the karmas are considered shed off. Nirjarā can also be divided into two kinds by the process of shedding karmas. They are:

  • Akāma Nirjarā.
  • Sakāma Nirjara.[12]

When karmas mature automatically at their due time they cause suffering accordingly. Thus we have no control on the timing of such suffering and we have not put any special effort or shown special desire or intention to suffer on our side. Once the supposed suffering is over then those karmas which caused this suffering are considered shed off. This natural process of maturity and shed off the karmas is called Akāma Nirjarā. Example as follow: When someone suffers from hunger not voluntarily or willingly but due to unavailability of the food then those karmas which caused these suffering will be shed off passively.

On the other-side when karmas are brought to maturity ahead of their due time by special efforts voluntarily or willingly to give their results then those karmas will be shed off sooner then expected. Thus we have a control on this process and this active process to shed off the karmas prematurely is called Sakāma Nirjarā. Example as follow: When we perform fasting (not eating) voluntarily and willingly even though the food was in abundance then we brought out suffering actively ahead of the time, which in turn will shed off the karmas prematurely.

Therefore in akāma Nirjara, condition for shedding off karmas are ripe, and karmas exhaust themselves after producing their results. When karmas lose their bondage in this way, it is called swata, (self destruction). In sakāma nirjarā, the destruction of karmas occurring ahead of their natural time by special efforts, by means of tapas (austerity), is called Upāyanirjarā, initiated destruction.

Our life is a live drama consisting of accumulating karmas and shedding of karmas. This drama never stops until we reach salvation. Depending upon what kind and with what intensity we commit sinful activities (pāpa), nirjarā may be easier or harder. In order to simulate the process of nirjarā, different examples are given to show how hard it would be to remove dust or a stain from an article of clothing.

  1. The easiest one is compared with how easily dust, which becomes stuck to dry clothes can be removed.
  2. It becomes a bit harder to remove the dust if the dust is stick to clothes, which are wet.
  3. It becomes still harder to remove the dust if the dust is stuck to clothes, which are oily.
  4. It would be ever more harder to remove a stain from the clothes of those who work at a gas station.
  5. It would be almost impossible to remove a stain when it is from coal-tar. 
  6. There are times when you cannot remove a stain and just have to throw the clothes away.

From these examples, you can imagine how simple process or how complicated a process nirjarā can be. In some instances, one would have no choice but to bear the results of one's karmas. This last kind of karmas are called nikācita karmas. At this time, it would be wide to remind us that nirjara is done most effectively by humans only, because other destinies have their own limitation. But for humans, the limitations are set by humans only.

The special efforts to destroy karma is done through Tapas or austerities. Austerity means restrain, which is done willingly by giving away some of the bodily comforts to discipline our mind from passions and pleasures. Austerities are performed at various occasions uniqueness. Austerities may be performed at two levels:

(a) Physical manner,
(b) Psychic manner.

      • Physical Manner:
        In the physical manner the person performs the austerity, but does not have the inner desires to change his or her life and therefore, it is just a physical act.

      • Psychic Manner:
        While in the psychic austerity the person controls his or her inner desires along with performing a physical act.
        Unless the austerities are performed in psychic manner, they don't produce the much needed results. After all, the whole purpose of austerities is not just to simply make the body suffer, but to change our desires. Once that happens the person will be on the path to spiritual uplift. Austerity is part of right conduct.

Austerities are categorized into two groups[13]:

(i) External Austerity.
(ii) Internal Austerity.

(i) External Austerity—External austerities are noticed by others because they have a greater component of physical than psychic manner. This austerity is further divided in six types as follow:

(i) Fasting completely (anaśana)
(ii) Partial fasting (uṇodarī)
(iii) Limiting the number of items of food (vṛti sañkṣepa)
(iv) Limiting desired tasty food (rasa parityāga)
(v) Bodily endurance (kāyakaleśa)
(vi) Controlling of the senses (pratisañlīnatā).

(ii) Internal Austerity—Internal austerities are not noticed by others because they have a greater component of psychic than physical manner. Internal austerity is further divided in six types:

(i) Atonement (prayāścita)
(ii) Politeness (vinaya)
(iii) Serving others (vaiyāvacca)
(iv) Giving away (Vyutsarga)[14]
(v) Spiritual study (swādhyāya)
(vi) Meditation (dhyāna).[15]

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