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Theory of Karma in Jainism

1. Karma

2. Kasaya

3. Lesya

Sramana Bhagvan Mahavira attained to absoulte knowledge and gave a religious discourse for the first time. In the beginning he said, ‘Uppannei va. vigamei va, dhuvei va (It comes into being, is destroyed and remains steady.)

Bhagvan Mahavira laid the foundation of the great and grand edifice of Jaina philosophy on these three word - utpata (creation), vyaya (destruction) and dhaurya (permanence).

He said : ‘The substance comes into being, the substance is destroyed, the substance remains steady’.

Daily and regular change takes place in every part of the substance. Every moment it comes into being, is destroyed and remains steady also. The original form of a substance remains intact and impartite, but its modes come into being and are destroyed. Creation, destruction and steadiness - this threefold position is called ‘sat (existent). What is ‘sat’ is a substance. For example, gold. The substance is not destroyed. the form of the substance changes but the original substance remains as it is.

We feel that the soul dies. In reality the soul never dies. The soul takes another birth. only its body changes. The soul remains steady as a substance. It is idestructible and eternal.

The word - Jiva, Atma, Cetana - are all synonymous. Jainism states that the soul has been bound by karma since times immemorial. Subtle, deep and detailed discussions about the soul and karma are found in Jainism.

The Nature of Jiva

That which has inborn and natural feelings and activity is Jiva (the soul). It is chetana (sentient). That which possesses the four chief instincts - the instinct of eating, the instinct of fear, the instinct of copulation and the instinct of possession (mine-ness) and related activities, is the Jiva (the soul).

When the soul appears one with the body and is joined to it, the soul has the aforesaid 4 natural instincts and activities. This is the external sign for recognizing the soul.

The soul has its internal beauty also. It is manifested through experience, This internal beauty of the soul is faultless and formless. It is free from karma. Essentially the soul is not a male, nor a female and nor neuter. The soul has infinite knowledge, infinite perception and unlimited happiness. These are its fundamental qualities. According to Jainism, the incomparable beauty of the soul is enveloped by the cover of karma. The soul reaps fruits of the karmas it accumulates. The soul experiences miseries of life and death because of karma. It enjoys various types of happiness on account of karma. Nobody gives or can give happiness or misery to the soul. It itself is the performer and the enjoyer or sufferer.

Nature of Karma

The relation between the soul and karma is beginingless but not endless. This beginning-less relation can be ended for ever. Karma is matter (Pudgala). The body is material. Its cause is karma.

Hence karma is also a matter. The inherent causes of a material effect are a material. The earth is a matter, It is elemental, so the object made from it must also be material/elemental.

Happiness is experienced by means of agreeable material like food, etc. and unhappiness is experienced by being hit by a weapon. Food and weapons are both material, so also karma; the cause of happiness and misery is material.

The soul is bound by fetters. It prattles, when liquor is consumed or becomes intoxicated. It becomes unconscious by smelling chloroform. The fetters, liquor, chloroform, etc. are material objects, inert objects. They affect the body, the mind and the soul. Similarly by coming into contract with karma, which is inert matter, the fundamental qualities like knowledge, perception, etc. of the soul are covered and it experiences happiness and misery

The Types of Karma

Karma is not of one type but of many types. There are 8 main types according to the effect produced. It is called ‘Prakrtibandha’. The original Prakrtis of Karma are eight. Prakrti means nature. Karma has nature of 8 types as follows :

1. Jnanavaraniya Karma (Karma that obstructs knowledge):
The matter that obstructs the quality - knowledge of the soul is called jnanavaraniya karma.

If there is a bandage over the eye, nothing can be seen even if the eye is there. There is infinite knowledge in the soul, but as long as this karma remains an obstruction over the soul, the soul cannot obtain knowledge. This karma becomes an obstruction in obtaining knowledge. This karma is of 5 types.

How is this Karma formed ?

Jnanavaraniya karma is formed in these six ways;
(1) by censuring knowledge and the learned.
(2) by showing hatred towards knowledge and the learned.
(3) by insulting knowledge and the learned.
(4) by forgetting the obligations of the learned.
(5) by quarrelling with the learned without any cause and
(6) by causing obstacles to the learner and the learned.

The Fruits of Karma

On account of this Jnanavaraniya karma, the soul become deaf, dumb, or of retarded mind. It may not have pure intellect and may not acquire the knowledge of the soul. Such are the fruits of this karma.

2. Darsanavaraniya karma (karma which obscures cognition) :
The matter which obscures the quality of infinte cognition of the soul, is called ‘Darsana-varaniya-karma’.

One cannot enter the area guarded by a watchman. Similiarly this karma obscures the cognition of the soul. This karma has nine types.

How is this karma formed ?

Darsanavaraniya karma is formed by censuring virtuous people, by showing contempt towards the virtuous and learned people, by being ungrateful, by doubting the word of god and by creating obstructions in religious practices.

The Fruits of this Karma

Because of darsanavarniya karma the soul cannot see properly, can become blind, may be a victim of insomnia, may sleep while sitting or moving, cannot see god, etc. These are the fruits of this karma.

3. Vedaniya Karma :

The matter which makes you experience happiness and unhappiness, is called ‘Vedaniya karma’. This karma resembles the edge of a sword. It honey is applies to the edge of a sword and if somebody licks it, he experiences sweetness in the beginning but later on feels pain and misery on account of the cut caused by the edge. If one licks the edge of a sword to which opium is applied, he experiences bitterness first and pain later on.

One experiences happiness and unhappiness also by this karma. This Karma has two varieties.

How is this Karma formed ?

Satavedaniya karma is accumulated by showing mercy to all living beings, by sharing the unhappiness of unhappy people and reducing their misery.

Asatavendaniya karma is accmulated by troubling and harming living beings and by becoming happy in their misery.

The Fruits of this Karma

Satavendaniya karma gives pleasing and likeable enjoyments.

Asatavedaniya karma gives miseries like poverty, disease, etc. in return.

4. Mohaniya Karma :
The matter which makes the soul passionate and deluded is called ‘Mohaniya karma’.

A man taking narcotics cannot have any sort of discretion. Similiarly on account of this karma, the soul forgets itself and becomes attached to transient enjoyments.This karma has 28 varieties.

How is this Karma formed ?

Mohaniya karma is accumulated by outburst of too much anger, pride, deceit and greed; by practising irreligion in the name of religion, by following bad conduct, by committing adultery etc.

Fruits of this Karma

Because of this karma, the soul becomes deluded, excessively attached and passionate. It becomes jealous, quarrelsome, deceitful and hypocritial. It becomes frightened without reason or with reason and full of sorrow, etc.

5. Ayusya Karma :

The matter which creates life is called Ayusya Karma. This karma resembles a prison. A man imprisoned in a jail cannot go or come according to his desire. Similiarly, the soul remains imprisoned in the prison in the form of the body on account of this karma.

This karma has 4 types.

How is this Karma formed ?

1. By taking those professions wherein living beings are killed every moment; 2. By hoarding; 3. By meat-eating; 4. A soul goes to the hell by killing a living being having 5. Senses.

2. A living being goes to the tiryanca birth i.e. gets the birth of an animal or a bird by 1. telling lies deceitfully 2. by treachery 3. by telling lies; 4. by using wrong scales.

3. A living being, who is (1) naturally free from fraud, (2) who is courteous by nature, (3) merciful and free from jealousy, gets the birth of a human being.

4. A living being gets the birth of a god i.e. he becomes a god, a goddess, an Indra or an Indrani by 1. observing self-control after initiation, 2. by observing the 12 vows as a house holder, 3. by performing penances and 4. by enduring pain with quanimity.

The fruits of this karma

With the accmulation of karma as said above, the soul enjoys various kinds of fruits.

6. Namakarma :
That matter (pudgala) on account of which various materials of life become available, is called ‘Namakaram’. This karma is like a painter. Just as a painter paints various types of pictures with a pencil or a brush, so the soul assumes bodies of various forms and shapes.This karma has 103 varieties.

How is this Karma formed ?

Good ‘Namakarmas’ are accmulated by keeping the mind, speech and body straightforward and pure and by behaving with love and friendliness with all. Bad ‘namakarmas’ are formed by keeping the mind, words and body crooked and by quarrelling.

The Fruits of this Karma

By good namakarma, one gets desired enjoyments, fame, beauty, happiness, health, etc.

By bad namakarma, scarcity, bad feelings and pain are suffered. It also results in ill-fame, diseases, etc.

7. Gotra Karma :
This Karma has two types - higher and lower.

That pudgala (matter) by the power of which, one attains to a higher family is higher ‘gotra karma’ and that pudgala (matter) by the power of which, one is condemned to a lower family is called lower ‘gotra karma’.

This Karma is like a potter. Just as a potter makes utensils of various types from the same lump of clay, similarly only one body (i.e. the same body) has experience of various types on account of this karma.

How is this Karma formed ?

Lower ‘Gotra Karma’ is bound by showing pride and vanity in any one or more of these eight - caste, fruit, stength, beauty, penances, knowledge, gain and lordliness.

By not showing pride in all these things, higher ‘Gotra Karma’ is formed.

The furits of this Karma are as follows :

By higher ‘Gotra Karma’ one reaps good things. He gets birth in a happy, properous and cultured family. He acquires beauty, strength and wealth. By lower ‘Gotra Karma’, he gets the opposite of the above, viz., he gets birth in a lower caste and family. He also suffers poverty, disease, ugliness etc.

8. Antaraya Karma :
The pudgala (matter) creating obstruction to active power is called ‘Antaraya’ (Obstacle) Karma’. This Karma is like a treasurer. The institution or the owner may have sanctioned the amount to be given, but that amount can be collected only when the treasurer gives it. Similarly, the soul has infinite powers and qualities, but they are obstructed by this karma. This karma has 5 varieties.

How is this Karma formed ?

This Antaraya Karma is bound (1) by becoming an obstacle, when somebody is giving charitable gifts, (2) by coming in the way of somebody’s gain; (3) by stopping somebody’s food and drink; and (4) by stopping somebody from performance of religious mediation, etc.

The fruits of this karma

On account of this Karma, the person cannot give charitable gifts, cannot make gains, cannot enjoy various enjoyments and cannot worship god.

As long as the soul is concerned and connected with these eight karmas and their sub-divisions, the rebirth connected with these eight karmas and their sub-divisions, the rebirth of the soul goes on.

Rebirth means constant movement of the cycle of life and death.

"Liberation/Emancipation is possible."

Man can free his soul from karmas also. He can make his soul pure and unselfish by performing religious practices like penances, renunciation detachment, knowledge, meditation, chanting of mantras, etc. The soul can be liberated and enlightenced by destroying all karmas through ardent and severe religious practices.

When the soul destroys all karmas, it becomes god.

Kasaya (Passion)

The karmic matter (Karma Pudgala) which produces attachment and hatred is ‘Kasaya’. Kasaya is the main reason for the boundage of Karma.

There are two words : Kasaya-Kasa and Aya. Kasa means the cycle of births (and deaths) and Aya means ‘that which brings that about’.

That which brings about the cycle or birth (and death) to the soul is called ‘Kasaya’.

There are two main Kasayas-Raga (attachment) and Dvesa (hatred).

There are four types of Kasaya in all.

This Kasaya is a mental activity - a sort of excitement. Likes, dislikes, fear, sorrow, disgust, contempt, laughter, etc. give rise to Kasayas.

The soul becomes sinful, polluted by this Kasaya and is bound by Karma.

Subdivisions  of Kasayas

Kasayas have 4 subdivisions by way of gradation.

1. Anantanubandhi - The excitement which is produced regularly and continuously and which is endlessly produced is called anantanubandhi. In simple word this Kasaya is the most intense.

This anatanubandhi or most powerful excitement is like a line on a stone. This line, once etched, remains there. It cannot be erased. When Kasya is more intense, truth does not dawn on the mind of the person. The person loses the desire for truth.

Because of this Kasaya, right perception cannot be achieved.

2. Apratyakhyani - This is the second stage of excitement. It is more intense. Man knows that he should not submit to passion but he cannot help submitting to it. He submits to its intensity.

This Apratyakhyani or more intense Kasaya is like a line drawn on the earth. A line drawn on the earth can be erased with effort. Similiarly, more intense Kasaya can be conquered, subdued by great will-power.

As long as a man is under the influence of this more intense passion, he cannot observe properly the twelve vratas.

3. Pratyakhyani - This is the third stage of excitement of Kasya. This excitement is mild. When the more intense Kasayas become powerless and thin, this third stage, is reached.

So long as man has mild kasayas, he cannot be an ascetic in reality. A mild kasaya is like a line drawn on sand. The line drawn on sand can be erased with less effort than that required in erasing a line drawn on earth. Similarly, a man can save himself from Kasaya with a little more discretion and watchfulness.

4. Samjivalana - The excitement in this Kasaya, is very mild. It is called ‘Samjvalana’. This is the fourth stage of the Kasaya.

This Kasaya is like a line drawn on water. The line gets erased before it is completely drawn.

As long as this very mild Kasaya is there, non-attachment cannot be achieved.

When the Kasayas of these four types become completely annihilated, then only one can become detached.

Control of the Kasayas

Sramana Bhagvan Mahavir has shown three methods of controlling the Kasayas.

1. Upasamana (Subsidence)
2. Ksayopasama (Destruction cum-subsidence)
3. Ksayikarana (Destruction)

The excitement should be so suppressed, crushed and destroyed that it would not arise again.

This ‘upasamana’ is the method of supperession : to suppress partly and to destroy partly. To suppress and destroy simultaneously is called ‘Kasayopasama’. In simple terms the path of the Kasaya should be changed, e.g. anger should be conquered by pardon. Thus one should be liberal. This is the method of change of course.

To make the Kasyas completely weak, to destroy them, to dissolve them till they are completely wiped away is called (Kasayikarana) or destruction.

This is the method of dissolving or ‘destroying’.

The kasayas can be subsided, subsideed-cum-detroyed or destroyed. To do this, the help of the antidotes of Kasayas should be adopted. Bhavanas (reflections) are the antidotes of Kasyas. Kasayas can be dissolved by making the Bhavanas strong and firm.

The antidote of anger is peace.

The antidote or mana (pride) is humility.

The antidote of deceit is straightforwardness.

The antidote of greed is contentment.

By strengthening the samskaras (impressions) of peace, humility, straightforwardness and contentment, the Kasayas are destroyed.

When the Kasayas are completely destroyed, then and only then an aspirant becomes detached.


"For more information and study, please read the six Karagranthas, Panca-Sangraha, Tattvarthasutra, etc.


Karmic stain or aura.

Three words are very well-known is religious literature - Rajoguna, Sattvguna and Tamoguna. While discussing these words, it is said that the Rajoguna delights the mind by its charm and attractive nature, its colour is therefore red; the mind becomes pure by the Sattvaguna, its colour is therefore white. Knowledge is obscured by the Tamoguna, therefore its colour is black.

Indian thinkers have made thought-provoking discussions about the conditions of the soul on the basis of the colour of the Karmas.

The theory propounded by Sramana Bhagvan Mahavira in this connection is known as the ‘Lesya theory’.

The feeling or thought which arises in the mind of a soul by contact with material substance (pudgal-dravya) is called ‘Lesya’. Lesyas are material and therefore they have colour, smell, taste and touch. There are 6 Lesyas. They have been named on the basis of their colour.

The Nature and Form of Lesyas

1. Black Lesya
Colour darker than that of collirium, taste more bitter than that of neeem levaves; smell many times worse than that of a dead serpent; touch harsher than that of the tougue of a cow.

Characteristics - A man overcome with this lesyaa (mental feeling) would have the most intense kasaya; would live promiscuous and uncontrolled amorous life; would commit violence and killing, without being afraid of this or the other world; would eat meat.

Fruit - It a man dies with such black feelings and thoughts, he would go to the fifth, the sixth or the seventh hell by gradation.

2. Nila Lesya
Its colour is greenish like that of an emerald, taste bitter than that of a wild thorn; its smell and touch are like those of the black Lesya.

Characteristics - Man overcome with this Lesya (mental feeling) would be jealous and mean-minded, would himself not study and would not allow others to study, he is given to worldly and sensual happiness.

Fruit - If a man dies with such green thoughts and feelings, he would go to the third, the fourth or the fifth hell by gradation.

3. Kapota Lesya
Its colour is like that of the neck of a pigeon, taste more sour than that of an unripe mango; its smell and touch are similar to those of the black lesya.

Characteristics - A man under influence of this lesya (mental feeling) is a fault-finder; he is bitter, harsh in speech; discloses of faults of others and covers his own faults; he is a thief and an adulterer.

Fruit - If a man dies with such feelings and thoughts, he goes to the first, the second or the third hell by gradation.

4. Tejo Lesya
Its colour is red like that of red lead, its taste sour-sweet like that of a half - ripe mango, smell fragrant like that of a flower and touch soft like that of butter.

Characteristics - A man under influence of this Lesya (mental feeling) would be simple, afraid of sins, religious, firm of mind, humble and just.

Fruit - If a man dies with such feelings and thoughts, he would be born in the first or the second heaven by gradation.

5. Padma Lesya
Its colour is yellow like that of turmeric, taste sweet like that of honey, smell fragrant like that of a flower and touch soft like that of butter.

Characteristics - A man under influence of this Lesya (mental feeling) would make his Kasayas mild; would be moderate in speech, would speak agreeable words and would be self-controlled.

Fruit - A man dying with these feelings and these thoughts would be born in the fifth heaven.

6. Sukla Lesya
Its colour is white like that of a conch, taste sweet like that of sugar, smell fragrant like that of a rose and touch many times softer than that of butter.

Characteristics - A man under influence of this Lesya would be busy with religious practice, would make attachment and hatred milder, would be self-controlled and have a mind, full of equipoise.

Fruit - A man dying with these thoughts and feelings would be born in the sarvartha-siddha-vimana. (the highest heaven).

Out of these 6 Lesyas, the first three are bad. They lead to evil results. They should be given up. The last three lesyas are good and lead to good results. These three should be used more and more, gradually and regularly.


Please read ‘Prajanapanasutra’ and ‘Uttardhyayana sutra’ for more information on Lesyas.



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