Jain Books


Doctrine of Karma

Doctrine of Nayavada

Doctrine of Syadvada


Importance of the Doctrine

The doctrine of karma occupies a more significant position in the Jaina philosophy than it does in the other systems of philosophy. The supreme importance of the doctrine of karma lies in providing a rational and satisfying explanation to the apparently inexplicable phenomena of birth and death, of happiness and misery, of inequalities in mental and physical attainments and of the existence of different species of living beings.

It will not be out of place to recapitulate here whether we have already discussed that every Jiva or soul is possessed of consciousness and of upayoga comprising the powers of perception and knowledge; it has no form but it is the doer of all actions; it has the capacity to occupy the full dimensions of the body which embodies it; it is the enjoyer of the fruits of its actions and is located in the changing universe; it has an inherent tendency to move upwards and is a Siddha or liberated in its state of perfection.

If these are the characteristics of jiva or soul, how is it that a jiva finds itself entangled in the samsara, i.e., cycle of transmigration, suffering birth and death, happiness and misery? In the world, only a few souls are in a state of comparative development and the rest of them are encaged in forms and bodies which make them blind to their nature.

The answer to this enigma is to be found in the doctrine of karma which explains the operation of karmic matter which draws a veil over the natural qualities of the soul crippling their powers in varying degrees. Jainism starts with the premise that the soul is found entangled with karma since eternity. It is the primary function of religion to stop the influx and mitigate the presence of karma with the soul and to show the path of the liberation and the methods through which the soul could achieve perfection.

Nature of Karma

In ordinary parlance karma means action, deed or work. Sometimes it means acts of ritualistic nature enjoined by the scriptures. In Jaina philosophy, it means a form of matter or pudgala. It is inert and lifeless. It is very fine and subtle. It cannot be perceived or discerned by any of our senses. It cannot be seen even with the most sensitive microscope, and with the maximum magnifying capacity. It baffles all analysis at the hands of the chemist or physicist who can neither identify or analyze it. It is millions of times finer and subtler than the waves of sound, light or electricity, or the electrons or the protons conceived by modern science. Yet the matter is ever surrounding us on all sides and permeating the entire space and atmosphere. It is the primary cause which keeps the universe going. Every phenomenon in the universe is the manifestation of the karmic energy.

Bondage of Karma

As already noted, the basic principle of Jainism states that mundane souls exist in the world from time eternal in association with matter. Of course, the character of the bondage is freely and constantly being changed; but the fact and condition of the bondage of the soul by matter persists through all changes. This association leads to further bondage and so the cycle goes on till the association is severed in such a manner as to avoid any fresh contact.

As regards the process of bondage of karma with soul, it is maintained that the contact takes place in the following way:

  1. The soul is surrounded by a large volume of fine matter called karma.
  2. The vibration of the soul is called Yoga or activity and the activity may be due to the body, speech or thought. Hence vibrations in the soul occur as a result of activity of any kind.
  3. When the soul tries to do anything, instantly the surrounding particles of matter cling to it just as the particles of dust stick to the body besmeared with oil.
  4. Like water in milk these particles of matter get completely assimilated with soul.
  5. This assimilation of matter with the soul remains throughout life as well as in its migration from one body to another through the process of birth and death.
  6. This connection of soul and matter is real; otherwise in a pure state the soul would have flown to the highest point in the universe, as it is the innate quality of the soul.
  7. As this connection or bondage is effected by the karma or deed or activity of the soul, the subtle matter which combines with the soul is termed as karma.
  8. This bondage of karmas with soul produces in the soul certain conditions, just as a pill of medicine which when introduced into the body, produces therein manifold effects.
  9. This bondage of karmas with soul, obscures the innate qualities of the soul in the manner in which the light of the sun is obscured by thick clouds or blinding dust.
  10. Karma may result in or cause the inflow of punya, i.e., merit, or papa, i.e., demerit or sin, according as the activity is subha, i.e., virtuous, or asubha, i.e., wicked. The intention underlying an activity and its consequences are both taken into account. That is why, subha karma, i.e. merit, produces happiness and an asubha karma, i.e. demerit or sin, produces misery, pain or uneasiness.
  11. The karmic matter remains with the soul and binds it in the circle of birth as gods, men, denizens of hell and sub-human beings.

Kinds of karma

The karmas are divided into eight main divisions and 148 sub-divisions according to the nature of karmic matter. The main eight karmas are :

  1. Jnanavaraniya, i.e., the Knowledge-obscuring karma. It obscures the right knowledge of the soul and thereby produces different degrees of knowledge.
  2. Darsanavaraniya, i.e., the Contation-obscuring karma. It obscures the conation attribute of the soul.
  3. Vedaniya, i.e. the Feeling karma. It produces pleasure and pain and thereby obscures the nature of the soul.
  4. Mohaniya, i.e., the Deluding karma. it distorts the right attitudes of the soul with regard to faith and conduct, etc. and produces passions and a variety of mental states.
  5. Ayuh, i.e., the Age karma. It determines the length of life of an individual.
  6. Nama, i.e., the Body-making karma. It determines everything that is associated with personality, that is, the kind of body, senses, health and complexion and the like.
  7. Gotra, i.e., the Family determining karma. It determines the nationality, caste, family, social standing, etc. of an individual.
  8. Antaraya, i.e., the Obstructive karma. it obstructs the inborn energy of the soul and thereby the doing of an action, good or bad, when there is the desire to do it.

Further, these Karmas fall into two broad categories, viz., (A) the ghatiya, the destructive karmas, that is, those which have a directly negative effect upon the soul; and (B) the aghatiya, the non-destructive karmas, that is those which bring about the state and particular conditions of the embodiment. Each category includes four kinds of karmas as given below:

The Ghatiya, i.e. the destructive Karmas comprise:

  1. Jnanavaraniya, i.e. the knowledge-obscuring karma
  2. Darsanavaraniya, i.e. the Conation (darsana)- obscuring karma.
  3. Mohaniya, i.e., the Deluding Karma, and
  4. Antaraya, i.e. the Obstructive karma.

The Aghatiya i.e. the non-destructive karmas comprise the remaining four kinds of karmas, viz.,

  1. Vedaniya, i.e. the Feeling karma
  2. Ayu i.e. the Age karma.
  3. Nama i.e. the Body-making karma and
  4. Gotra i.e. the Family-determining karma.

The reason for distinction in these two categories lies in the fact that while ghatiya karmas destroy the manifestations of the essential attributes of the soul, the aghatiya karmas are mainly concerned with environments, surroundings and bodies.

Destruction of Karma

Since the presence of karmic matter in the soul is the cause of the cycle of births and deaths and of all conditions of life, the soul must be freed from the karmic matter. For this the influx or inflow of karmic matter into the soul must be stopped by cultivating pure thoughts and actions, and the stock of existing karmic matter must be consumed by the practice of religious austerities.

In this way when the karmas are completely destroyed, the soul becomes liberated with all its potential qualities fully developed. This liberated and perfect soul is the embodiment of infinite perception, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss and infinite power. It should, therefore, be the aim of every individual to achieve this perfect and natural condition of soul by one's own efforts.

In regard to the question of the destruction of karmas. Jainism clearly asserts that the attainment of the freedom of the soul from the karma matter entirely depends on one's own proper deeds or actions and not on the favors of human or divine beings. Just as the interacting eternal substances, viz., the dravyas, postulated in Jainism, admit no Creator, so also the inviolable law of karma makes the man the master of his destiny and dispenses away with the favorite theistic idea that some divinity bestows on man various favors and frowns.

The doctrine of karma is not the doctrine of fatalism. It is the law of cause and effect. It is the moral law of causation which shows that man is the maker of his fortunes or misfortunes. If a man enjoys or suffers, he does so as a consequence of his actions, thought or speech.


Thus the doctrine of karma is the key-stone in the arch of Jaina ideology. It tries to explain the reasons lying behind or causes leading to effects. It maintains that every happening is the result of antecedent causes. As the soul is regarded as the doer of actions, really the soul is made responsible for all differences in people's conditions. Whatever actions are performed by the soul, it must bear the consequences thereof sooner or later. There is no way out of it. The responsibility of consequences cannot be shifted, nor exemption from the consequences be given. The soul has to enjoy the fruits of the karmas in this life or in subsequent lives.

Further, it is clear that according to the doctrine of karma, there is no salvation until the soul stops the influx or inflow of karmas and gets rid of the existing karmas and that the soul will have to activate itself by its own deliberate efforts without expecting any help from an outside agency. There is no use in asking the favor of God or His representatives because Jainism never invests God with the power of determining the consequences of the karmas nor bestows on them the authority to forgive people from future consequences of past actions.

It may be noted that Jainism denies both inter-mediation and forgiveness on the part of God; of what we have done we must bear the consequences. It is not fate, nor even predestination, but it is the ceaseless effect of recording of the different accounts that we keep with the forces of life. The karmas constitute the karmic body bids good-bye to the soul.

This doctrine or theory of karma is an original and integral part of the Jaina system. As it lays full stress on individual action and completely denies the existence of divine dispensation, it is clear that the ethics and asceticism of the Jainas are the logical consequences of this doctrine of karma.

In this connection Dr. C. Krause, in her book Heritage of Last Arhat, has rightly said that, "Jainism does not fortify its followers by the terrors of karma nor does it make them languish in unhealthy, effeminate fatalism, as many people think all oriental religions do, but on the contrary, it trains the individuals to become a true hero on the battlefield of self-conquest".


Meaning of a Naya

According to Jaina Philosophy the object of knowledge is a huge complexity because (i) it is constituted of substances, qualities and modifications, (ii) it is extended over past, present and future times, (iii) it is extended over infinite space, and (iv) it is simultaneously subjected to origination, destruction and permanence.

It is obvious that such an object can be fully comprehended only in omniscience, which is not manifested in the case of worldly beings who perceive through their organs of senses. But the senses are the indirect means of knowledge, and whatever they apprehend is partial like the proverbial perception of an elephant and concludes that the elephant is like a log of wood, like a fan, like a well, etc.

In view of these conditions we find that the ordinary human being cannot rise above the limitations of his senses; so his apprehension of reality is partial and it is valid only from a particular point of view known as Naya.

In other words, according to Jainism, reality is a complex not merely in the sense of constituting aneka, i.e., manyness but also because of its nature of anekanta, i.e., manifoldness of view-points. That is why Jainism points to the fact that reality may be comprehended from different angles. The attempt at comprehending anything from a particular standpoint is known as Naya and the system of describing reality from different points of view is termed as Nayavada, i.e., the doctrine of Nayas. This is based on the fact that Jainism regards all things as anekanta (or na- eikanta). In other words it regards all things as anekanta (or na-eikanta). In other words it is held only under certain conditions.

In view of this, a naya is defined as a particular opinion framed with a view-point, a view-point which does not rule out other different view-points, and is, therefore, expressive of a partial truth about an object, as entertained by a knowing agent.

Classification of Nayas

As nayas are modes of expressing things, there can be a number of nayas through which reality could be expressed.

Paryaya-naya and Dravya-naya

To take an example, when different kinds of gold ornaments are described from the point of view of the modes or modifications of gold, it is termed the paryaya-naya or the paryayarthika-naya, i.e., the modal point of view.

Similarly, when gold ornaments are described with regard to their substance, i.e., gold, and its inherent qualities, it is termed the dravya-naya or the dravyarthika-naya, i.e., the substantial point of view.

Vyavahara-naya and Nischaya-naya

On the same lines, in spiritual discussion, the things could be described both from a practical point of view and from a realistic point of view. Thus when things are described from the common sense or practical point of view, it is termed the vyavahara-naya; and when things are described from the pure or realistic point of view, it is termed the nischaya-naya.

Seven Nayas

Since naya is the device which is capable of determining truly one of the several characteristics of an object(without contradiction) from a particular point of view, the Jaina philosophers formulated seven nayas. These nayas are:

  1. Naigama naya, i.e., universal-particular, or teleological point of view.
  2. Sangraha naya, i.e., the class point of view.
  3. Vyavahara naya, i.e., the standpoint of the particular.
  4. Rjusutra naya, i.e., the standpoint of momentariness.
  5. Sabda naya, i.e., the standpoint of synonymous.
  6. Samabhirudha naya, i.e., the etymological standpoint.
  7. Evambhuta naya, i.e., the `Such-likes" standpoint

It is also maintained that these seven nayas could be considered as sub-divisions of dravyarthika and paryayarthika nayas. Thus, the first three nayas, viz.,

  1. the naigama naya,
  2. the sangraha naya, and
  3. the vyavahara naya

are the sub-divisions of dravyarthika naya as they deal with objects.

Similarly, the last four nayas, viz.,

  1. the rjusutra naya,
  2. the sabda naya,
  3. the samabhirudha naya, and
  4. the evvambhuta naya

are the sub-divisions of paryayarthika naya as they are concerned with modification of substances.

Similarly, the first four nayas are called artha nayas in as much as they deal with objects of knowledge, whereas the remaining three nayas are called sabda nayas in as much as they pertain to terms and their meanings.

Further, each one of these nayas is considered to have one hundred sub-divisions. Thus, according to this view, there are seven hundred nayas.

We find that two other views are also expressed, viz.,

  1. that there are only six nayas, i.e., the nayas (the seven mentioned above) with the exclusion of the first naya, i.e., the naigama naya, and
  2. that there are only five nayas, in the sense that the last two nayas (of the above-mentioned seven nayas), viz., the samabhirudha naya and the evambhuta naya are included in the fifth (of the above mentioned seven nayas) naya, viz., the sabda naya.

Significance of Nayavada

Nayavada is a warning to those philosophers who assert that their system is absolute and all-comprehensive. It shows the way to a reconciliation of conflicting view-points and harmonization of all stand-points by appreciating the relativity of the different aspects of reality.

But it is pertinent to note that nayas reveal only a part of the totality and that they should not be mistaken for the whole. Because of this infinite-fold constitution of a thing, there can be infinite nayas and they can be classified into various categories. As naya is defined by Saint Acharya Akalanka, the reputed philosopher-author, as Nayo jnatur abhiprayah, i.e., naya is a particular approach of the knower, a synthesis of these different view-points is a practical necessity; therein every view-point must be able to retain its relative importance and this is fulfilled by the doctrine of syadvada, i.e., the doctrine of qualified assertion.


Term syadvada

The doctrine of nayavada provides the framework for the doctrine of Syadvada, since it clearly points out that reality can be looked at from many different standpoints, and that no standpoint can be claimed as the only valid one. The term Syadvada is derived from the term syat meaning `in some respect'. If the aim of philosophical inquiry is to comprehend reality, the Jaina philosophers point out that it cannot be achieved by merely formulating certain simple, categorical propositions. Reality being complex any one simple proposition cannot express the nature of reality fully. That is the reason why the term syat, i.e., 'in some respect', is appended to the various propositions concerning reality by the Jaina philosophers without any absolute affirmation whatsoever in regard to any one of them. That is why each affirmation is preceded by the phrase `syat', i.e., `in some respect'. This indicates that the affirmation is only relative, made somehow, from some point of view and under some reservations and is not in any sense absolute.

Meaning of Syadvada

It is not enough if various problems about reality are merely understood from different points of view. What one knows one must be able to state truly and correctly. This need is met by the doctrine of Syadvada or Anekantavada, i.e., many-sided view-point.

It is a fact that the object of knowledge is a vast complexity covering infinite modes, that human mind is of limited understanding, and that human speech has its imperfections in expressing the whole range of experience. Under these circumstances all our statements are conditionally or relatively true. Hence every statement must be qualified with the term syat, i.e., `in some respect', or `somehow', or `in a way', with a view to emphasize its conditional or relative character.

Statements of Syadvada

In this way, on the basis of Anekantavada or Syadvada, while describing a thing seven possible statements or propositions or assertions, seemingly contradictory but perfectly true can be made in the following manner :

  1. Syad-asti, i.e., in some respects, it is;
  2. Syad-nasti, i.e., in some respect, it is not;
  3. Syad-asti-nasti, i.e., in some respect, it is and it is not;
  4. Syad-avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is indescribable;
  5. Syad-asti, avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is not and is indescribable;
  6. Syad-nasti, avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is not and is indescribable, and
  7. Syad-asti-nasti, avaktavya, i.e., in some respect, it is and is not and is indescribable.

These seven propositions are formulated by the three expressions, viz., asti, nasti and avaktavya, the word syat being common to all of them, and their combinations.

These propositions will be clear with the help of an illustration. For example, a man is the father and is not the father and is both -are perfectly intelligible statements, if one understands the point of view from which they are made. In relation to a particular boy he is the father; in relation to another boy he is not the father; in relation to both the boys taken together he is the father and is not the father. Since both the ideas cannot be conveyed in words at the same time, he may be called indescribable: still he is father and is indescribable; and so on.

Further, it may be noted that the seven propositions can be formulated in regard to the eternality, identity and difference, etc., of any object. The Jaina philosophers believe that these seven modes of predication together give us an adequate description of reality.

Moreover, it is obvious that the combinations of points of view cannot be more than seven as reality is open to seven statements and not to more. The reason why the number of modes is neither more nor less than seven is because it is believed that any complex situation is amenable to treatment by this seven-fold technique if one is adept in using it. Any attempt to add or subtract a mode will be found to be impossible since addition finds the mode already there among the existing seven modes, and subtraction will mutilate the essential limit from the scheme.

Thus the doctrine of Anekantavada, comprising these seven propositions, is neither self-contradictory nor vague or indefinite; on the contrary, it represents a very sensible view of things in a systematized form.

Further, this doctrine of anekantavada is also called the doctrine of saptabhangi, i.e., the doctrine of seven-fold predication, because these seven possible modes of expression can be used while describing a thing.

Syadvada and Nayavada

From the above propositions it is obvious that Syadvada complements the Nayavada. Whereas the emphasis in Nayavada is on an analytical approach to reality, on pointing out that different standpoints can be taken, the stress in Syadvada is on the synthetic approach to reality, on reiterating that the different view-points together help us in comprehending the reality. As analysis and synthesis are not unrelated to each other we find elements of analysis even in a synthetic view of reality.

In more concrete terms : in nayavada there is the recognition that over-emphasizing any one view would lead to a fallacy that different views have their value, that each one of them reflects reality and, therefore, that they together alone can give a sweep into reality. Similarly, in Syadvada the systematic character of the modes of predictions, is highlighted with a clear understanding that various propositions have, each one of them, something to convey about reality itself.

Significance of Syadvada

From the discussion of Syadvada it is clear that Syadvada aims to unify, coordinate, harmonize and synthesize the individual view points into a predictable whole. In other words, the Syadvada, like music, blends discordant notes so as to make a perfect harmony.

Further, Syadvada is not a doctrine of mere speculative interest, one intended to solve not only ontological problems, but has a bearing upon man's psychological and spiritual life.

Moreover, the doctrine of Syadvada has supplied the philosopher with cosmopolitanism of thought convincing him that truth is not anybody's monopoly with tariff walls of denominational religions and it has again supplied the religious aspirant with 'intellectual toleration' which is quite on par with ahimsa for which Jainism has eminently stood for the last two thousand years and more.

The essence of this doctrine of Syadvada, keeping off scholastic terminology, seems just that as to matters of experience it is impossible to formulate the whole and complete truth, and as to matters which transcend experience, language is inadequate.

Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that apart from the pains the Jaina philosophers have taken to describe reality, their doctrine of Syadvada brings out the comprehensiveness of approach of the Jaina Philosophers to these problems.