Philosophy of Karma

Published: 07.01.2011
Updated: 04.03.2011

The Philosophy of Karma

The essay was published in The Jaina Gazette, Vol. XLII, Number 2, February 1945, pp. 8-9.

Notes of a paper read by Mr. Ajit Prasada at the religious section of the Indian Philosophical Congress at Lucknow in December, 1944.

The word Karma, as commonly understood, means and signifies "action". It has been used in this sense in the Gita and in the often-quoted verse: "कर्मएयेवधिकारस्ते माफलेषु कदाचन".

In Jaina philosophy the word has been used in a special, technical and peculiar sense also. Karma is a kind of very fine subtle matter. It is not cognisable by the senses in any form whatsoever, atomic, molecular, or gross. It can be perceived only by an omniscient. In quantity it is infinite. It pervades the universe, and the infinite space through and through; and is present everywhere, in all vacant spaces, and in combination, in the minutest particles of every living body, celestial, human, subhuman or hellish class of existence.

All living beings in the universe have among other bodies a karmic body. It is called karmana sharira; and its final and eternal separation from the living being, the ego, the soul, the living principle, life, or jiva as it is termed in Jainism, brings about the condition of liberation, called moksha or nirvana in Jainism, which is the attainment of perfection, omniscience, infinite blissfulness, infinite might, godhood, eternal and everlasting.

The life principle in every living being in the universe has been from time without beginning, covered up with karmic particles homogenously through and through as if the two, life and matter, jiva and ajiva were chemically combined, like oxygen and hydrogen forming water, to form a samsari jiva, the embodied soul. The only difference is that this combination of jiva and ajiva has no beginning, but is terminable and once the two are separated; no power, no agency, no circumstances can possibly bring them into a combination again. The embodied soul or samsari jiva however is constantly, every moment of time, assimilating to and taking in combination with itself, as well as throwing off itself karmic particles, beyond calculation in number. This process of assimilation and disintegration is ceaselessly going on and all cosmic phenomena is the result of the interaction between karmic particles and embodied souls. The embodied souls and liberated souls are infinite in number at both ends. An infinity is not affected by the four rules of arithmetic, addition, subtraction, division or multiplication. An infinity is a constant quantity. The cosmic phenomena also are therefore constant. The world has ever been and shall ever be. It never came into existence, and it never shall cease to exist. It was never created, and it shall never be annihilated. Soul and matter, jiva and ajiva are both eternal and indestructible, uncreate and everlasting. Their forms in combination are ever changing, every moment of time and this constant change is the panorama of the universe. This is the basis and explanation of the trinity, called creation or origination, destruction or cessation, and constant existence of the reality - creation, destruction and preservation. Embodied soul is swayed by desires and passions, caused by karmic contact and evidenced by the vibratory activity of mind, speech or body, and being so swayed it influences such particles of matter as have the capacity or susceptibility of doing so to assume karmic forms and to become combined with the embodied soul.

Such combination varies in four ways: in the kind or nature of the karmic particles, in the quantity in which, the intensity with which, and the duration for which the combination takes place.

Karmas have, from a practical point of view, been divided into eight main classes and 148 sub-classes and further sub-divisions are beyond reckoning. These divisions and sub-divisions are with reference to the virtuous and vicious activities of mind, speech or body. Those have been analysed with an astonishing detail and a marvellous mathematical calculation of immensely large and minutely small numbers denoted by indices, and logarithms, and technical expressions. 216 = 65536 is denoted by the word pannathi, and 264 = 1,84,46,74,40,73,70,95,51,616 is expressed as ekatthi.

Some idea of the intellectual heights to which Jaina homeless sages, living in uninhabited places, in the garb of nature, without any belongings, climbed, without the aid of pen, paper and mathematical tables, can be had from an introductory article entitled Mathematics of Dhavala  by Dr. A. N. Singh of the Lucknow University, published in Vol. IV of Shat Khandagama, a voluminous work on Jaina Philosophy, edited by Dr. Hira Lai Professor of Sanskrit and Prakrit Nagpur University and which is expected to be completed in ten volumes. Shat Khandagama was written sometime between the first and second centuries of the christian era.

The permutations and combinations of thoughts are dealt with in two big volumes No. VI and X of the Sacred Books of the Jainas Series called Gommatsara Karma Kanda edited by Mr. J. L. Jaini, M.A. (Oxen) sometime chief justice of the Indore High Court, who passed away in 1927.

We shall discuss the subject of karma in further detail in another paper.


The Jaina Gazette

Compiled by PK

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  1. Ajit Prasada
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