Justice T.U.Mehta

Psychological Approach of Mahavira

By ‘action' Mahavira did not mean only those things which are physically and ostensibly done, but included even secret thoughts and tendencies entertained by you, for it is your secret thoughts and tendencies which make up your subconscious and which are mainly responsible for the actual actions which you ultimately take. Like modern psychologists, Mahavira believed that our sub-conscious is not something separate and apart from us. He, therefore, called it Bhava-karma and emphasised that outer manifestations of human actions are only the gross results of these Bhava-karmas which are lying in our sub-conscious-deep below the level of our thinking mind. Dr.Karl Jung, the great Swiss pioneer of the age of psychology, has called this the "personal unconscious where the individual stores rejected memories and emotional material." According to this great psychologist, this murky region stands between us and the deeper level of sub-conscious acting as sort of dictator in both directions. It contains, according to Dr.Jung, not only our heritage of instincts and patterns from entire race but the ability to act on suggestions made to it. In the words of the great Dr.Jung "man has only to realize that he is shut up inside his mind, and cannot step beyond it, even in insanity, and that the appearance of his world or his gods very much depends upon his own mental condition."

Dr.Jung's observations very much sound like the theory of Karma propounded by Mahavira two thousand and five hundred years ago, because like Dr. Jung, Lord Mahavira also thought that self is ‘shut up inside his mind and cannot step beyond it', if it does not make positive efforts to break open the closed doors behind which it is ‘shut up'. What Dr. Jung calls ‘deeper level of sub-conscious acting as a sort of dictator', Mahavira calls more simply, the Bhava-karmas, i.e., the thoughts and tendencies, entertained and encouraged by you before or without giving them shape by outer actions. The recognition of this great stream of sub-conscious which is an essential part of our personality, but of which we are mostly unaware, has given Jaina thinking about the theory of Karma, a psychological and scientific gloss which is almost modern.

Here, it would be interesting to note the great theoretical controversy which took place between Mahavira and one of his principal disciples Jamali, who was his son-in-law in his worldly relationship. Since Mahavira always emphasised. Bhava, i.e., intention or motive as the prime mover of an ostensible action, he evolved the principle known as ‘Kade-Mane Kade' which is a Prakrt expression meaning that an action which is started, but which is yet not finished, is as good as already done. This principle does not recognize any distinction between the action which, though started, has not yet fructified, and the action which is completed and which has borne fruits. The basis of this principle is the above referred theory of Bhava-karma.

Jamali, a very learned disciple of Mahavira could not agree to this principle, and pleaded the counter principle of ‘Kade Kade' meaning an action can be termed as action only when it is complete. In other words, according to Jamali an incomplete action is no action at all.

A modern psychologist would obviously disagree with Jamali. The venerable author of Srimadbhagavadgita seems to be in agreement with Mahavira when he pronounces :

‘Nehabhikramana' sosti pratyavayo na vidyate' meaning ‘The action just started (in Karma-yoga) is never destroyed, nor is it obstructed.' Then in the next line he says : ‘Sva-Ipamapyasya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat' meaning ‘Even a little performance of Dharma - duty (Karma-yoga) saves one from great calamity'.

Thus Mahavira's all inclusive definition of Karma (action) which emphasised the inner working of mind as the prime mover of all outward human manifestations, was of great importance in those days of ceremonial sacrifices which gave importance to only the outward rituals at the cost of moral and mental deterioration caused by violence on mute animals.

This theory of Karma brings in a causal law to explain various phenomena not only in human life but also in all lives found in the whole universe. All lives in the universe, mobile (Tras) as well as immobile (Sthavara), form as one well-knit family governed by the same cosmic law of causation.

Mahavira went further and propounded that since all Jivas (living things) are the parts of the same cosmic machine called universe, no one can isolate himself from the rest of life and violence by mind, speech or body (Manasa, Vaca or Karmana) is violence to one's own self, and every good or bad action done to others gathers Karmic forces which bind yourself and pollutes the purity of your own soul.

According to the teachings of Mahavira, therefore, the activities of mind, speech and body, lead to constant influx of karmic matter which forms a sort of karma-sarira (a karmic body) for the soul which moves through ‘Samsara' to experience the fruits of these karmas. It is said that the Karmic matter percolates and clings to the soul as does the heat to a red hot iron ball. Thus every soul is responsible for its own karma. It has either to suffer and enjoy these fruits or to shed these karmas by positive efforts, if it wants to avoid their fruits. How to do this, is the subject matter of a different discussion. However, the Jaina belief that this can be done, has led them to categorise and analyse the nature of different types of karmas, the nature of the intensity with which they bind the soul, the time when they fructify, the manner in which they fructify and the method by which these karmas may be destroyed or their effects modified.