THE NATURE OF KARMA (Karma ka swroop)




When Jesus of Nazareth propounded the proposition* (*See John, VII. 32) "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."


His interlocutors failed to understand the nature of freedom, which the knowledge of truth was to carry to their hearts. It was their ignorance of the nature of spiritual bondage, which prevented them from grasping the true sense of the messianic observation. They looked upon freedom from only the political point of view, and had never thought of the true or spiritual freedom with which religion mainly concerns itself. They had then to be told, that freedom signified emancipation from the bondage of sin, but it is not clear, whether they fully comprehended the messianic speech even then, for even today it is difficult to believe that the full significance of the terms freedom and bondage has been adequately grasped by the humanity at large. Be this as it may, the important question for us is not whether the interlocutors and followers of Jesus understood his purpose or not, but what is the true significance of the terms freedom and bondage in the science of religion?


It is obvious that there is no concrete substance or thing to correspond to the word sin when used as a noun; the word expresses a pure mental abstraction, and conveys the idea of wrong- doing. The bondage of sin, thus, is clearly the thralldom of actions, i.e., karmas (actions or deeds), which is to be shaken off in order to bring the state of natural freedom of the soul into manifestation.




It must be borne in mind that there can be no bondage to pure mental abstractions, or purely wordy concepts; the word signifies some kind of real fetters, not, indeed, consisting of chains of iron, but of a very subtle and invisible material. It is well to know that nothing but force, in some form or other, is capable of holding things in the condition of slavery, and that no kind of force can be conceived apart from a substance or material of some sort. The bondage of sin must, then, be a bondage of `matter, and the obtainment of freedom must consequently imply the destruction of bonds and the removal of the particles of foreign matter from the constitution of the soul.


This is precisely what is implied in the theory of transmigration, which undoubtedly, was well known to and accepted by every rational religion in the past. It is, however, in Jainism alone that we find it placed on a scientific foundation, and though the scriptures of other creeds contain allusions to it, these allusions are nearly always couched in mystic or unintelligible language and are never explained on lines of rational or scientific thought. This is one of the facts which explain the reason why the followers of certain religions, including Christianity, do not now accept the doctrine of re-birth, and range themselves against the creeds which preach it.


     That the theory of transmigration is a truth of philosophy will be readily acknowledged by any one who would study the nature of the soul and of the causes upon which depends its ensoulment in a body of matter. As regards to the former, that is the nature of the soul, it is sufficient to state that the qualities of feeling, willing and knowing, which are the special attributes of consciousness, are not to be found in matter, and must, for that reason be the property of a substance which differs in toto from it. The simplicity of the soul is proved by the fact that no one ever feels himself as many, which shows that the subject of knowledge, feeling, perception and memory is not a reality composed of many atoms or parts, but a simple individuality. Soul, then, is a reality, which is not indebted to any other substance for its existence, and as such must be deemed to be eternal and uncreated. This amounts to saying, that the line of existence of every soul merges in infinity both in the past and the future, so that each and every living being has a history of his own, however much he might be ignorant of the events of his earlier lives in his present incarnation.


In respect of the causes of the ensoulment of a Jiva in the body of matter, it is to be observed that in its natural purity the soul is the enjoyer of perfect wisdom, unlimited perception, infinite power and unbounded happiness, which, in the absence of a restraining force or body of some kind, must be deemed to be manifested in the fullest degree in its nature. The idea of such a perfect being descending to inhabit a body of flesh and thereby crippling its natural unlimited perfection, in a number of ways, is too absurd to be entertained for a moment. It follows from this that the soul did not exist in a condition of perfection prior to its present incarnation, and that the existence of some force capable of dragging Jivas into different wombs is a condition precedent to their birth in the several grades of life. But how shall we conceive force operation on soul and dragging it into an organism, if not as the action of some kind of matter? It is, therefore, clear that the soul must have been in union with some kind of matter prior to its birth in any given incarnation.


So far as the nature of matter which is found in union with the soul in its pre-natal state is concerned, it most obviously must be of a very sukshma(fine) quality, since the fertilized ovum, which roughly speaking, is the starting point of the life of an organism is itself a very minute, microscopic structure. The body of this fine material, called the Karman sartor (the body of karmic matter), in technical language of the Jaina Siddhanta, is the cause and instrument of transmigration, and, along with the one called `the taijasa* sarira (body of radiant wonder), (*The electric body taijasa arira is a necessary link between the other two bodies of the soul- the Karma and the audarika, the body of the gross matter. The necessity for a link of this kind is to be found in the fact that the matter of the Karman sarira is too sukshma fine and that of the audarika too gross to allow any direct or immediate interaction between them and that an intermediate type of matter is required to connect them with each other.) is a constant companion of the soul in all its different forms assumed in the course of its evolution in the samsara. Both these bodies undergo changes of form from time to time, there by leading to different kinds of births; they are destroyed only when Moksha is attained, which means perfect freedom of the soul from all kinds of matter.


The necessity for the existence of the shuttle body Karman sarira would also become clear by taking into consideration the effect its absence would have on the soul of a dead man, i.e. a disembodied spirit. Obviously the absence of all kinds of limiting and crippling influences would at once enable such a disembodied soul to manifest its natural perfection in the fullest degree, making it the equal of Gods and the enjoying of the supreme status of Paramatma (god) at a stroke. Death, then, instead of being the dreaded foe, as it is considered now, would be the greatest benefactor of all kind of living beings, and the attainment of supreme bliss, to say nothing of omniscience, omnipotence, and all those other divine qualities and powers which men associate with their gods, would be possible with the greatest ease, not only to every virtuous Jiva, but to every rogue, rascal and sinner as well. Even the act of murdering a fellow being would have to be regarded as a highly meritorious deed, and suicide acclaimed as the shortest cut to the heaven of the highest divinity. Dogs and cats and the whole host of creeping things and the like would also, on such a supposition, find their differences of development abolished at a stroke. The path of salvation, too, would no longer consist in Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct, but would lie on the point of the butcher's knife or through the friendly grave of a cannibal's stomach.


The absurdity of the proposition need not be dilated upon any further; it is a sufficient refutation of the notion that death effects a complete severance between spirit and matter, and shows that the Karman sarira never leaves the soul till perfection is attained. The question, when was the Karman shareer formed for the first time does not arise; it could only arise on the supposition that a perfectly pure spirit had descended or condescended to enter into bondage, but this has been already seen to be an non- entertainable hypothesis. It follows from this that all the souls now involved in bond --and their number is infinite-- have always been in an impure and imperfect state. There is nothing surprising in this conclusion, `for just as gold is found in a mine in an impure condition without any one having ever deposited the pure metal there, so are souls to be taken as having existed in a condition of impurity from all eternity.


The only possible counter-hypothesis of the renewal of bondage by the order of any extra-supreme God is met by the argument that there can be no possible ground for distinction between one pure spirit and another. Since the qualities of substances do not vary to suit individual whims, all pure spirits must possess the same attributes. Hence, there can be no such thing as a God of Gods. On the other hand, if it be said that the Supposed extra supreme body is a pure spirit plus some thing else, that would make his being a compounded organism which experience and observation prove to be liable to disintegration and decay. Furthermore, a perfect God must be presumed to be above longings of every kind, and cannot, therefore, be credited with the unholy desire of imposing fetters of pain and misery on his brethren.


Lastly, when we look into the nature of this extra- supreme deity of modern theology we only discover him to be personification of karmic energy and power. It has been made clear in 'the key of Knowledge' that the gods and goddesses of the several systems of theology which are flourishing in our midst today are only the personifications* certain mental abstractions and forces of a psychic or occult type. (*See also 'The Permanent History of Bharata Varsha', by K. Narayana Iyer.) If the reader has read that book, he would not find it difficult to understand that the following passages disclose the attributes of the karmic force, the regulator of the destinies of all kind of beings involved in the samsara, rather that the qualities of a perfectly blissful being such as a Siddha Atma (perfect Soul) must necessarily be:


(1) "I create ....evil." --Isaiah, XLV. 7.


(2) "Wherefore I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live." --Ezekiel, XX.25.


(3) "It repented the Lord that he had made man on earth and it grieved him at his heart." --Genesis, VI 6.


(4) "Whosoever slayeth Cain vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." --Genesis, IV,15.


(5) "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me.' --Deut. V.9


We could cite many other similar passages from the scriptures, but it would serve no useful purpose to multiply authorities. So far as the Vedas are concerned, they are intelligible only on the hypothesis of a wholesale personification of occult powers and metaphysical abstractions. The Hindu Puranas even attribute deception to their godhead, such as his appearing in the form of a beautiful female at the churning of the ocean, where he not only prevented the Asura from drinking the nectar of immortality by making them fall in love with his female form, but also immediately slew Rahu, who, perceiving the fraud that was being practiced, had managed to secure a drop of the life-giving amrita (nectar of life).


None of these attributes are appropriate to the godhead, but they are fully in harmony with the personification of karma, as the lord or master of the destinies of living beings. The word Ishvara, the popular name of the deity in Hinduism, only signifies, in its literal sense, powerful, able, capable, hence, a lord or master.


The truth of the matter is that the moderns have completely lost sight of the fact that the theological god, or Ishvara, is a pure impersonation of karma, and, therefore, feel baffled in the presence of such statements as those already quoted from the Bible and the Quran. It is this impersonation of karmic power, as the ruler of the world, which stands in the way of progress by demoralizing the hearts of men with unholy superstition and awe of his supreme sway, irresistible might and vindictive unforgiving nature.


To revert to the point under consideration, it is now clear that a pure spirit cannot possibly be compelled to re- enter the bondage of 'sin' when once it has attained to perfection, and that the condition of none of the souls now involved in the samsara has ever been that of perfect purity at any time in the past.