Free Will and Karma

Posted: 19.01.2011
Updated on: 20.01.2011

1. Introduction

The Doctrine of Karma dictates that the actions of jiva (soul) are determined by his karmas, which are imprints of his past actions. This theory may appear not to grant any freedom to jiva to act independent of (rising) karma. This inference is not correct; the soul has freedom or free will, to act. However, the freedom is not absolute and the free will is relative, as the actions of the mundane soul are influenced by karma. We study below the relationship between karma and free will and their effect on the individuals.


2. The soul

The soul in Jainism is a non-physical substance, which is distinguished by its ability to know and perceive. The soul is distinguished by two main characteristics, consciousness and upayoga, manifestation of consciousness. The consciousness manifests in a large numbers of attributes, the two main attributes are intelligence and intuition. When defined in context with the external world intelligence is normally interpreted as knowledge and intuition as perception. Bliss and energy are other two important attributes of the soul.

The non-physical soul is eternal, beginning less, non-destructible and non-perceptible, except by the omniscient. A pure soul does not interact with the physical world and is, in fact, incapable of doing any physical action. The souls, like all other chemical elements, found in nature are impure; they are attached with karma from beginning less time. In this state the soul can be regarded as physical and it is able to interact with the physical world. It is because of karma that a soul is embodied and, though this body, it interacts with the external world. The type of body the soul has is determined by the state of karma; the bodies range from one sense beings to five sense beings. The physical actions of the soul are body dependent, in general the range of actions increase with the number of senses. The verbal and psychical actions of the soul need the power of mind, which is available only to five- sense beings.

Besides karma body (containing karma) the soul also has a fiery body, which is supposed to help in the management, control and regulation functions of the gross body. Both these bodies are subtle, made of karma vargana and tejas vargana respectively, which are four-touch matter imperceptible to common man. Both karma body and fiery body transit with the soul from one life to another, the fiery body exists only when the karma is present; both are absent in the pure state of the soul.


3. The Karma

The karmas are subtle physical entity that overshadows the innate nature of the soul. It contains the information of the actions performed by the soul. The karmas remain in existence for a period of certain length and then rise, the karma over power the soul in a large number of ways and curtail its freedom and abilities. As a result the soul is embodied and is made to experience the consequences of his past actions.

The karmas are bond to the soul on account of his actions, mental, physical and verbal, and the passions associated with those actions. The quantum, kind, duration and intensity of experience of karma depend on the actions and the passions. Jain philosophy divides the karma in eight types which are grouped in two divisions, physiological karma concerning the structure and functions of the gross body, and psychical karma that determines the psychological performance of the soul. The first class of karma includes the feeling producing karma, body-making karma, life-span determining karma and the inheritance karma. These karmas limit some innate abilities of the soul but do not affect its psychical powers. The psychical karmas include the intelligence covering karma, intuition covering karma, bliss-obstructing karma and the energy - obstructing karma. The intelligence, intuition, bliss and energy are the properties that determine the psychological performance of the soul. When these properties are not covered, that is when psychical karmas are absent; the soul experiences his powers of infinite intelligence, infinite intuition, infinite bliss and infinite energy. This is the state of omniscience of the soul. In the presence of psychical karma the intelligence, intuition, bliss and energy of the soul are limited; the actual experience of the soul is a function of the state of karma, which is distinct in every living being.

The doctrine of karma is universally applicable to all living beings but here we are shall confine our discussion to beings endowed with mind, a condition which is attained by five- sense beings.


4. The Mind

The mind is the product of psychical karma in existence. The functioning mind is not a permanent entity; it exists only when the soul is engaged in the functions of thinking, desire, emotions, will, and other mental process like, memory, recollection, etc. Minds are of two types, physical mind, made of subtle manovargana, and psychical mind, which is a part of consciousness of the soul. The thinking, etc, processes are performed by the psychical mind but when the soul is in such a state there are corresponding processes simultaneously taking place in the physical mind, which interacts with the gross body to carry out the functions assigned to it as above. The psychical mind, which is, in fact, perversion of the soul, exists so long as psychical karmas are in existence. On elimination of psychical karma, the psychical mind ceases to exist, that is the soul has no perversions now, put the physical mind as an entity continues to exist although it is rendered function less.

The place of the physical mind in the body system is not certain; the Jain literature describes various possible locations. The physical mind being subtle must be grouped with other subtle bodies. It cannot be a part of the karma body whose exclusive function is to store the karma records. In fact, it can be argued that the physical mind should be grouped with the fiery body as both of them are supposed to have similar functions.

The physical mind can be considered as the 'conscious' mind as the soul is aware of its contents. The soul is not aware of the contents of the karma body, the memory records of the past, and therefore this can be regarded as the 'unconscious' mind. The physical mind and the brain interact continuously and this provides a connection between the soul, karma, mind and the body. This model of soul-mind-body is explained in fig.5.1.

Note the interactions between various components of the body system. The karma body continuously radiates adhyavasaya waves (rise of karma), which is the primary motive force for other bodies to act and function. The life-span determining karma is supposed to attract prana from cosmos and supply this essential vital energy to the gross body. The body making karma may directly interact with the body cells most probably as bio photons and control the cells, body structure and functions. The feeling producing karma may interact with the sensory nerves and tissue fibers etc. to produce pain and

pleasure sensation in the brain. The inheritance karma makes us choose our parents and inherit their qualities to some extent through the donor cells. The rising psychical karmas interact with the conscious mind to produce lesya waves, which interact with the brain and the endocrine gland system. One part of the deluding karma (perception deluding) is responsible for perversion of the soul and is expected to interact with the endocrine glands and produce hormonal secretions. The other part of deluding karma (conduct deluding) is expected to regulate manifestation of consciousness of the soul and control our conduct. The intelligence covering and intuition covering karma control the cognitive functions of the soul and neurological functions of the brain. The energy - obstructing karma obstructs the manifestation of energy of the soul. In general, the karma in existence decide the structure of the body systems and the rising karma determine their operation.


5. Our Actions

How do we act? To what extent the karmas effect our actions? It should be clear from above that the karmas influence our physiological, psychological, cognitive and other body functions. Jain philosophy states that the soul acts under the influence of karma but also has the freedom to undertake purushartha or initiative. The initiative to perform an act is not, barring some exception, entrusted to karma. The initiative is made by the soul and the karmas provide a background in which the body and mind act to execute the task as per the initiative of the soul. Karma cannot initiate an action. The soul is free to act but is not free to produce the results as they are influenced by the karma. The results are heavily karma dependent; the soul cannot produce any physical result without the aid of karma. However, the role of karma in the performance of the act is determined by the very state of karma. The soul through control on mind and body can influence the rise of karma and thus exercise his power to restrict the effect of karma. This generally requires preventing the soul from indulging in the external attractions of mind and body by applying restraints on senses.

The soul can also exercise control on karma by maintaining equilibrium when experiencing the effect of rising karma. Through such an initiative the soul is able to fight and ultimately eliminate the karma and to produce results which conform to the real power of the soul.


6. The Free will

What is free will? Is free will initiative of the soul without the interference of karma? We have noted above that the transformation of the initiative of the soul into results takes place with the help of karma. In fact the initiative itself is karma dependent. The soul initiative is of two types (1) the initiative made under the influence of the rising psychical karma, and (2) the initiative made under the influence of psychical karma in existence, ignoring the effect of rising karma. The first type is the action taken by the soul through the mind and the second type is the action taken by the soul bypassing the mind. This type of actions qualifies for the “free will”. The initiative made by the soul (impure) depends on the state of the rising karma. On the other hand the rise of karma also depends on the initiative of the soul. Thus in this case the soul initiative and karma rise are interdependent and are not free. When the mind is bypassed in the second case the initiative of the soul still depends on the existing karma and hence we experience only the relative free will. The major affect on the initiative is by the psychic karma, particularly the deluding karma. When the psychic karmas are eliminated in the omniscient state the free will can be assumed to be the absolute. The relative free will normally entails some desires and action with respect to the external world, under the influence of psychic karma. The absolute free will, in the absence of psychic karma, concerns only with the soul, the interaction with the external world being desire less.

The mind is normally instrumental in whatever we do. The initiative of the mind may be auspicious or inauspicious depending on whether the auspicious or inauspicious karma are on the rise. When auspicious karmas are on rise we commit auspicious acts and when inauspicious karmas are on raise we engage ourselves in inauspicious activities. This kind of behaviour is common in individuals who follow the dictates of the mind.

Wise and spiritual persons distinguish between the inner call of the soul and the wishes of the mind and judiciously decide their actions. Persons of weak will power submit to the wishes of the mind, as these are expected to lead to immediate body pleasures and some physical gains. They ignore the call of the soul that may result in displeasures and / or deprivation of the gains and / or entail some losses. Persons of strong will power, like spiritual personalities and ethical individuals, muster enough courage to forego bodily pleasures and short term gains and decide in favour of the call of the inner self that always shows the right path and act in the second way. Such individuals are the real strength of the society as they set good examples for others to emulate.

The omniscient has eliminated all psychical karma and has no mind. He has no worldly desires and his spiritual (psychic) powers are fully uncovered. His perception and knowledge are perfect and he is always in the state of bliss. His will power is so strong that no worldly allurement can detract him from the right path. All his passions are eliminated and his words speak only the truth. He has attained the highest state possible in the mundane existence and his soul is in the purest form. His soul desires nothing for himself but guides the souls of the truth seekers. His soul is 'free' and 'will' does not exist as desires. This is the state of absolute 'free will', a desire less state where the soul is 'free' not to 'will'


7. Concluding Remarks

The concept of free will is important in our life. The will, in the common case, is the power of the soul that is exercised under the influence of karma. The non-physical soul uses mind for actions in the physical world. The mind is generally biased by the rising karma and we engage in auspicious or inauspicious activities depending on the karma that rises. Free will means initiating actions bypassing the rising karma, but it is still not free from karma in existence and is therefore relative. The omniscient on elimination of all psychical karma has no desires and enjoys the absolute free will.


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