Shree Charukeerthi Bhattaraka Swamiji: Karma in Jainism

Swamiji began his talk by first stressing the importance of human birth, as it is only in this form a soul has an opportunity to get liberated. His talk was centred on the concept of karma in Jainism. According to the Jaina philosophy, karma is actual physical matter, called karmapudgaḷa. They are so fine that they cannot be seen even by the modern microscopes. These particles get attracted to the soul (jīva) through actions like anger, egoism, deceit etc. The seven reals which constitute the sapta tattva of Jainism are jīva, ajīva, āsrava, bandha, saṃvara, nirjarā and mokṣa. Jīva refers to all the living beings, and similarly the non-living matter are grouped under ajīva. The aforementioned karmic matter exists in ajiva state. Āsrava is the inflow of the karmic matter, and bandha is the bondage of the soul with the in-flowed karmic matter. Saṃvara refers the protection of soul against the inflow of the karmic matter. Nirjarā is the partial dissociation of the bound karmic matter from the soul. Mokṣa is a total and absolute dissociation of the karmic matter from the soul permanently. He stressed that, in Jainism, even good deeds can cause bondage, along with the bad ones. He referred to two kinds of karma: dravya karma and bhāva karma. Here, dravya karma is caused by the physical actions, while the latter is caused by thoughts. In Jainism, all activities can be grouped under mental, verbal, and physical entities. Various factors like intensity of desires, their duration etc. all impact the strength of bondage.

According to Swamiji, there are eight fundamental kinds of karma: jῆānāvaraṇa karma (knowledge-covering), darśanāvaraṇa karma (vision-covering), vedanīya karma (feeling-producing), mohanīya karma (deluding), āyuḥ karma (longevity-determining), nāma karma (body-making), gotra karma (status-determining), and antarāya karma (obstructive). Some of these karma are destructive (gati), the others are non-destructive (agati).

Micro non-violence as a way of life is the central core of the Jainism, which is incorporated into both the householder vows and the big vows (mahāparimāṇa) of monks He also spoke about the rationale of the use of the peacock feathers by monks; for they innocuously protect invisible nigodas from the hostility of the human touch and activities. As the sole aim of the monks is to get out of the cycles of births and deaths, they do not listen to the stories that dwell on wars, heroes, desires or beauty. The monks eat only during the day time, i.e., after sunrise and before sunset, with an intention to control the fire in the body. The Jaina way of life incorporates three types of aṇukampa: dharmāṇukampa (includes good karmas like worship and meditation), sarvāṇukampa (includes all human beings), and viswāṇukampa (includes all the universal life forms). Sarvajῆā is the one who is considered to be the perfect soul.

To a question from the audience, he replied that Jainism has no concept like Bodhisattva or Jīvanmukti, to physically guide the followers. Instead, the monks can only influence, but ultimately karma has to be individually worked out. For another query, on the logical inconsistency of the beginning-less nature of karma, he replied that this knowledge on karma is available only to the higher souls. He reiterated that the practice of the principles of Jainism is more important than being born into a Jain family. In other words, anyone who follows the cardinal principles of Jainism is considered to be a Jain. Regarding a question on caste system, he underlined the principle of equality of all souls and said that Jainism does not recognize the Ṣūdra caste but only the three other castes. On Dr Sundar Sarukkai’s question regarding the role of Jainism when the Hindu-Right is appropriating karma theory for its own political purposes, Swamiji replied that Jainism considers all human beings as equals irrespective of the present day power-play. Regarding Dr Nikhil Govind’s question on the difference between secular and spiritual prescriptions for anger, passions, etc., Swamiji said that the spiritual path, in addition, also reveals one’s true nature.

Photography: Karthik H.
Report by: Bhavya Suresh and Venugopal Kolli


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