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The Doctrine of Karma in Buddhism & Jainism

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The Doctrine of Karma in Buddhism & Jainism

Ariyawansa Ranaweera -


Karma Doctrine is one of the boldest intellectual attempts made by humanity, to explain the phenomena of birth, existence, death and after - life. It also seeks for a logical answer to the inequality, misery prevalent in life, and also to the many vicissitudes faced by the human beings in their daily lives.

This attempt is to delve in to the interpretations given to this theory by, two of the noblest seekers after truth, among the humankind; that of Gautama Buddha and Jaina Mahaweera, both contemporaries, in an era of much soul searching and social upheaval in India. Both belonging to the Shramana tradition of India. Both of them Great teachers, who devoted their adult life to impart what they have discovered to their disciples.

The approach is to first describe their interpretations, and to compare and contrast them in order to understand the similarities and dissimilarites contained in them.

The General Significance of Karma Theory in the Indian Thought

Doctrine of Karma is not some thing unique either to Buddhism or Jainism, although these two doctrines have given their own interpretations, and individual stamp to this doctrine and enriched an expanded it; the idea of Karma or - the basic notion behind the Karma, that action begets result has been devel- oping in the Indian tradition right from the Vedic Era.

Even the rituals carried out by the Brahmanas, according to the tenets of Vedas, had the underlying idea that they were to  bring beneficial results, both during the present life and in the subsequent lives.

The Upanishads have taken this idea further and we find that in the Advanced stages of Upanishads, it is stated that the life transmigrates from one life to another, because of the senses clinging to worldly objects. To stop this endless roaming the indi- vidual has to shed his clingings in order to be one with the Atman.

There were two major reasons for advocating a doctrine like Karma, where the responsibility of ones actions were made the basic reasons for his predicament in subjecting one self to suffer- ing and wallowing in misery from one life after another. That is to refute the theories of theistic creation, and the materialistic interpretation of life that was prevailing during the fifth and sixth century B.C. in India.

The first belief stated that an omnipotent God created the universe, and human and other forms. The division of the human, animal, plant life was his will, the division among human beings with their myriads of differences was also his wish.

The materialists like Makkali Gosala, though they differed in minor points, propounded that universe and the beings inhab- iting it are made of matter and after death which is a natural occurrence, the elements that composed the corporeal body unites again with the basic matter.

Therefore they asserted there was no special significance in what form of action, the living beings indulge in their short span of life, whether good or bad, for there remains nothing after life.

Karma theory sprang up to refute these two major stands of opinion. Thus Surendranath Dasgupta in his - History of Indian Philosophy. states thus “All Indian systems agree in believing that what ever actions is done by individual leaves behind some sort of potency which has the power to ordain for him joy or sorrow in the future according as it is good or bad”1

Visvanath Prasad Varma in his ‘Early Buddhism and its Origins adds’ “Determinism (he calls karma doctrine a determin- istic one) serves to counter the tendency of explaining the facts in the universe and history in terms of random conglomeration of atoms or and arbitrary fiat of an omnipotent God who dispenses predestination. It pleads for acceptance of a law governed world and seeks to establish the determination of cosmic and historical operations it terms of mighty laws”2

The Buddhist Explanation of Karma

When observed carefully it appears that the basis of Buddhist Karma theory is actually one of cause and effect. An action (whether good, bad or neutral) performed by a human being, generates its attendant good or bad result. The action is the Karma, the result is the Karma Vipaka. The result or the conse- quence can bear fruit, sometimes during the present life or after- life. But Buddha very clearly stated that the action what ever it is has to be backed by volition. “Volition (Cetana) monks do I call Karma. Through volition one does Karma by means of body, speech or mind”

“In Buddhism no action is considered as Karma if that action is void of volition and like feeling and perception it is of six kinds. Volition directed to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, bod- ily contacts and mental objects.1

This brings us to a very important area in the elucidation of Karma theory in Buddhism. All Karmic action are performed by the senses. The senses are attracted to the objective world, and the worldly things, that lie before the particular being.

Two aspects have to be emphasized here. The existence of the external world (though it is also subjected to change) and the cetana or volitions that generate through the six senses. It is this second aspect that is more important to generate the Karmas.

In the booklet called “Fundamentals of Buddhism” Nayanatiloka Mahathera’s explanation throws light on this matter 54 further “Pali Kamma comes from the root Kar, to do, to make, to act, and thus means deed, action etc. As a Buddhist technical term Kamma is a name for wholesome, and unwholesome volition or will (Kusala and Akusala Cetana)2

These volitional activities are performed by the mind, word and deed. The three modes of operation.

The senses coming in to contact with the objects of the out- side world develop desires, to cling to them. They are called Tanha or craving. This craving is powered by the consciousness that each organ develops with the help of the mind. “Thus con- sciousness originates through a stimulus arising in the five sense doors and the mind door the sixth”3 says Ven. Piyadassi.

According to Buddhism tanha or craving are of three kinds. Craving for sense pleasures (Kãma tanha) for continued existence (Bhava Tanha) and for non-existence, sense annihilation (vibha- va tanha)

 “Having willed man acts through body, speech and mind and actions bring about re-actions. Craving gives rise to deed, deed produces results in turn bring about new desires, new craving. This process of cause and effect, action and re-action is natural law” 4

As is clear from this elaboration the three types of clinging described about causes volitional actions some of wholesome nature and others of unwholesome nature (Kusala Kamma and Akusala Kamma)

The senses that come in to contact with the objective world with volition behind it produces six kinds of re-actions. Those are

1. Generosity and greedlessness (Alobha)
2. Amity and good will (Adosha)
3. Wisdom or without self-allusion (Amoha) 55

These re-actions produce wholesome Kammas. They are according to Buddhism:-

1. Generosity (Dana)
2. Morality (Sila)
3. Meditation (Bãrana)
4. Reverence (Apachayana)
5. Service (Veyyavachcha)
6. Transference of merit (Pattidana)
7. Rejoicing in others merit (Pattanu Modana)
8. Hearing the Dhamma (Damma savana)
9. Expounding the Dhamma (Damma Desana)
10. Straightening one’s views (Dittaju Damma)

Unwholesome Kamma are generated Through

1. Greed (Lobha)
2. Illwill (Dosa)
3. Delusion (Moha)

The Ten unwholesome Kammas are:-

Through Deed

1. Destroying of a sentient being (Panati Patha)

2. Theft and misappropriation (Adinnadana)

3. Adultery and sexual misconduct (Kamesu Michchachara)

Through Speech

4. Lying (musawada)

5. Slandering (pisuna vacha)

6. Harsh Speech (Parusa Vacha)

7. Frivolous talk (Samprappalapa)

Through Thought

8. Covetousness (Abijja)

9. Ill - will (Viyapada)

10. False Views (Michcha ditti) 56

Karma and Rebirth

Buddhist doctrine of Karma is inextricably bound with the theory of rebirth (punabbava) It is these wholesome or unwhole- some deeds which produce the nature and quality of a being. And it also emphasizes that these Karma’s are criterion that keeps a being in perpetual circulation in sansara. It also implies that pre- venting the occurrence of Karma results in the deliverance of a being from sansara.

In Majjima Nikaya 135 a brahmin raises the problem “There are found people who are short lived, and those that are long lived; There are found people who are very sick, and those that are healthy, there are found people who are hideous and those that are beautiful, there are found people who are powerless, and those that are powerful. There are found people who are poor, and those that are rich, there are found people who are of low family, and those that are of high family, there are found people who are stupid and those that are intelligent. What then master Gotama is the reason among human beings such inferiority and superiority are found?”

It is quite clear this question encompasses almost all the variations in human beings. The Buddha’s reply was “Beings are owners of their Kamma, Kamma is their friend and refuge. thus Kamma divides people in to high and low”

Another quotation from Anguttara Nikaya is sufficient to explain the pre-deterministic nature of Karma. Anguttara Nikaya III, 40 says “killing, stealing, adultery, lying, backbiting, harsh speech and empty prattling, practiced, cultivated and frequently engaged will lead to hell, the animal world or the realm of ghosts. Who so kills and is cruel will either go to hell or if reborn as a human, will be short - lived. Who so tortures other beings, will be afflicted with disease. The hater will be hideous, the envious will be with out influence. The stubborn will be of low rank, the indo- lent will be ignorant”

In the reverse case a person will be reborn in a heavenly world or if reborn as a human being will be endowed with health, beauty, influence, riches, noble rank and intelligence.

How does this process of rebirth take place? What is the linkage between a person’s Karma and the re-becoming process. “According to Buddhism there is no life after death or before birth which is independent of karma or acts of will. Karma and rebirth go arm in arm. Karma being the corollary of rebirth and vice-versa”1

According to Buddhism three factors are necessary for the rebirth of a human being. They are the female ovum, the male sperm and the kamma energy (kamma - Vega) This Kamma Energy is passed on by the dying individual at the moment of his death. The last thought of the individual called, the death - prox- imate thought causes in many cases the next birth. The karma vegha carries the linkage, incorporating what the individual had done during the previous birth, to give shape and form to his new birth. Buddhism further says that if the three conditions do not prevail a birth does not take place.

This process is like a cycle. Past actions give rise to present name and form and other aggregates of a man, and what is per- formed by the human being with his five aggregates determine his future life.

“Hence we may say that the present life processes (Uppathi- bhava) is the objectification of the corresponding pre-natal kamma process (Kamma Bava) and that the future life process is the objectification of the corresponding present kamma process.”2

The way of deliverance advocated by the Buddha is to get rid of all the kammas both wholesome and unwholesome which are the result of craving, and which keeps a being perpetually in the sansara.

This aspect is not dealt with in this essay in detail as it falls beyond the pale of the main theme. But it has to be mentioned  both Buddhism and Jainism advocate, the removal of kamma in order to achieve liberation.

Two more aspects of the Buddhist theory of Karma should however be emphasized. One is that the Buddhist theory of kamma is not deterministic or fatalistic in its nature. Although a man’s birth is determined largely by his previous kammas over which he has no control, he with his perceptions, consciousness and diligence can mitigate the powers of past kamma, formulate a better future by performing good kamma, and most of all can annihilate all the kammas, by following the path prescribed by the Buddha. So in the Buddhist theory of kamma, it leaves ample room for the person to exercise his personal freedom to control his destiny.

This situation is explained quite lucidly by Ven. Piyadassi thus “However we must understand that the Buddhist doctrine of kamma is not fatalism, is not a philosophical doctrime that human action is not free but determined by motives which are regarded as external forces acting upon the will or pre determined by God. The Buddha neither subscribed to the theory that all things are unalterably fixed, that they happened by inevitable necessity - that is strict determinism (niyati - vada) nor did he uphold the the- ory of complete indeterminism (adhicca-samuppana)”1

Besides these points it should be mentioned that Buddhism does not attribute every physical and mental phenomena merely to kamma. Buddhism mentions four other factors, namely - Utu- niyama (Physical inorganic order), Bija - Niyama (Physical organic order) Chitta Niyama (order of the mind or psyche) Damma Niyama (order of phenomena.)

The other important aspect of the kamma theory in Buddhism is that, in the process of rebrith, there is no permanent soul that passes from one birth to another. According to Buddhism it is difficult to conceive any thing that continues with- out change. The five aggregates which constitute the visible form of the being is subject to constant change. There is no element 59 that binds these aggregates to a one whole. All are in a flux. They are never the same for two consecutive moments, and in the flux of the mind and body we do not see any thing permanent. But this conglomeration of mind and body which generates mental and physical energy is not lost at death. But it undergoes change and that energy which carries the reminicenses of the past life resets and reforms in new conditions. It is a process in which nothing concrete transmigrates from one birth to another. It is a sequence in which the psycho physic energy takes a new from.

“Disbelieving in the permanane of the individual soul He (Buddha) could not accept the Hindu doctrine of karma implying the transmigration, of the soul at death to a new body; But believ- ing fully in moral responsibility and the consequences of acts words and thoughts, he fully accepted the doctrine of Karma in another sense, implying the transmission of effects of actions from one generation of men to all succeeding generations”

Doctrine of Karma in Jainism

Karma is the mainstay of the Jainism, around which the explanation of the world reality and the liberation from the woes of the world is founded. On the one hand it is an explanation of the organic world and also the ladder, which leads to the achieve- ment of inorganic bliss, that it advocates. In Jainism Karma is conceived as some thing essentially material which gets attached to the soul just as dust gets attached to a cloth. Hence the highest goal of the Jainas is to get rid of all old kammas and to stop the influx of any new ones.

Karma doctrine of the Jainas are closely linked to their explanation of the objective world, and the being that inhabit this world. According to them all that exist in the world can be divid- ed in to two major groups, called Jiva (living) and Ajiva (Non- Living). When looking closely in to their doctrine this division is strictly based on the existence of soul or not. Jainas believe that the principle of life is entirely distinct from the body, and it is 60 entirely wrong to think that life is either, the product of property of the body. It is only because of this life principle that the body appears to be living. This life principle is what they call-soul. This life principle appears in all living things. Ranging from plants, worms, ants, bees to that of man, who is at the top of the ladder because he possesses, besides the five sense organs, an inner sense organ called-manas.

The soul has to be understood in much more detail, because their karma theory is basically built on cleansing the soul from its defilements called karmas and rediscovering its pristine purity, and achieving ultimate bliss.

Soul in pure state is possessed of infinite perception (Ananta - Darsana) infinite bliss (Ananta - Suka) infinite knowl- edge (Ananta - Jnana) infinite power (Ananta - viriya). It is all perfect.

Jainas describe the ãjiva (non-living) by the term Pudgala. Pudgala means matter. This matter is made up of atoms. Atoms are with out size and they are eternal. These atoms they divide in to two sub-categories. They are gross (such as things we see around us) and subtle (which are so minute, which can’t be seen through the naked eye. They are super sensuous. It is these subtle matter that creeps in to the pure soul, due to peoples pious and impious actions, and sullies it with Karmas. And those Karma bind beings to Sansara and the purging of which is the way to lib- eration, according to Jainism.

This is very general description of the Jaina doctrine of Karma. But since this theory is the very back bone of their doc- trine, they go in to very subtle details, as to how this whole process takes place. Comparatively speaking Jaina Doctrines, takes much more pains to dissect and analyze the Karma phe- nomena than Buddhism.

The defilement of soul takes place in the following way. Subtle matter ready to be transformed in to karma pours in to the 61 soul. This is called influx (Asrava). There is a basic factor behind the retention of these asravas in the soul. Because soul in its impure state, through the sense organs produce passions (khasayas) Khayasas consist of four sins; anger (krodha) conceit (Mana) intrigue (maya) and greed (lobha).Each of these four sins is taken in to account from four view points. Anantanubandi (when the sin is cherished throughout the life) Apratyakyana (when it is cherished for a year) pratykyana (when it is cherished for half and year.) besides these there are other kasayas con- tributing to this grasping. There are laughter (hãsya) pleasure (rati) disgust (arati) fear (Bhaya) grief (soka). The subtle matter thus caught by the soul enters as it were, in to a chemical combi- nation with it called bhande or binding of karma matter. The soul so bound by subtle matter is transformed in to eight kinds of Karma.

They are those which obscure right knowledge of details (Jnanvaraniya), those which obscure right perceptions (bharsanavaraniya) those which obcure bliss nature of the soul and thus produce pleasure and pain (vedaniya), those that obscure right attitude of the soul to words faith and right conduct (mohaniya).

In addition to these four kinds of karma there are four other kinds of kamma which are of a qualitative nature. Whereas the above four kammas are more of an intuitive nature. Those four karmas are

1. which determines the length of life in any birth (ayuska karma),

2. The features of the body a being will possess with his spe- cial qualities and faculties (nama karma)

3. That which determines the nationality, caste family, social standing (gotra karma)

4. The karma that obstructs the energy of the soul from per- forming good deeds (antaraya Karma) 

There is another concept brought in to distinguish good and bad karma. The soul gets it self coloured by different kinds of karma. The good kamma gives the colours golden, lotus-pink, white and bad kammas give the colours - black, blue and grey. These colours are called lesyas.

Accordingly any karma matter that has penetrated by good bad or indifferent actions it gives us pleasure, pain or feeling of indifference. Even the perception and inferences we get from time to time is the work of the karma according to the jainas. We get these perceptions, whenever the veil that obscures a particu- lar knowledge is removed, we get the particular kind of knowl- edge. This proves that knowledge and perceptions have to be gen- erated from within, and the external objects are stimuli for them.

After the effect of a certan kamma is extinguished or purged, it becomes non-existant. This is called - (Nirjara). But even if such a kamma is extinguished countless other kammas enter the soul and sully it. They come constantly pouring in. It is a cycle. This pouring and flowing in, of kamma keeps the soul transmi- grating from one birth to another until the kammas are ultimately purged in their totality for good. But until then what happens after the death of the person is that the soul together with his karmic body (karmanasarira) goes in a few moments to the place of its new birth and there assumes a new body.

Another important facet of the Jaina Karma theory is that like Buddhists they say, the karmas are produced by the humans through their body mind and speech. Actually it is here that the clue to the type of moral conduct that the Jainas advocate could be found. The purging of the karma (nirjara) by deliberate action can only be accomplished by preventing this influx of karmas through these channels.

Jainas call these channels Asravas. Asravas represent the channel or modes through which the karmas enter the soul just like the channels through which water enters a pond.

The Jainas divide the asravas into two kinds; Bhavasravas and Karmasravas. Bhavasravas are the thought activities of the soul, through which, or on account of which the karma particles enter the soul. Bhavasrava are the kind of change that are effect- ed in the soul, and Karmasravas are the actual entrance of karma in to the soul. Sital Prasad in his book ‘Comparative Study of Jainism and Buddhism’ seems to be alluding to the effect of bawasrava on a human being when he say “Anger, passions etc can never be the nature of the real self, because when anger arise, body trembles, eyes become red. body is matter and some matter has made material effect on it, therefore that which has made the body tremble must be a material thing. It proves that anger is a material poison or dirt.

Delusion is divided in to five kinds again.

1. A false belief unknowingly accepted and uncritically believed (Ekanta)

2. Uncertainty as to the exact nature of truth (viparietha)

3. Retention of a belief knowing that is false, but due to old habit (Vinaya).

4. Doubt as to right or wrong (Samsaya)

5. Want of any belief due to the want of application of reason- ing powers (Ajanana)

Avirairi is also divided into five sub categories. Injury (himsa), false hood (anarta) stealing (cauryya) incontinence (abrahma) and desire to have things which one does not already possess (parigrahakanksa). Pramadha is also of five kinds, name- ly bad conversation (vikatha) passion (kasaya) bad use of five senses (indrya) Sleep (Nidra) attachment (Raga).

The dravyasrava is the actual entrance and solidifying the karma inside the soul. It affects the soul in eight different man- ners as explained earlier; namely Jnnaveraniya, Darsanana Varaniya, Vedaniya, Mohaniya, Ayu, Nama, Gotra, and Antaraya.

  The state of thought that accentuates the karma and pours through the channels is called Bhava banda and the actual bondage of the soul is called Dravyabanda. It is because of bhavabanda that the karma materials pour into the soul and besmears it, like dust, or like dust sticking to a person who has applied oil all over his body.

This bondage can be categorized in two ways. One is by the nature of the acts. whether they are punyakarmas or papa karmas. A second way of looking at these karmas are by their special qual- ities. Thus they can be divided in to four kinds.

1. According to the nature of the karma (Prakariti)

2. Duration of the bondage (stithi)

3.Intensity (anubhava)

4. Extension (pradesa)

The nature of the kamma is determined by the eight classes of kamma already mentioned, which ultimately constitute the dravyasravas. The duration of kammas or how long a kamma lasts is meant by stithi, the differing intensity of the kamma, whether grave, middling, or mild is meant by anubagga. Pradesa means the different part of the soul where karma gets attached.

Two modes to control kammas are advocated, both for bhavasravas and dravysravas One way is to generate thoughts of contrary nature to that of on rushing bad thoughts. The Second way is to actually stop the inrush of Karma particles. This way of escaping from Karma particles is called Samvara.

Actually this Samvara contain the good moral conduct pro- posed by Mahaveera. To summarise them :-

1.  Vows of Non-Injury, Truthfulness, abstinence from stealing, Sex Control and Non acceptance of objects of desire

2.  Use of trodden tracts in order not to harm insects (Irya)

3.  Gentle and holy talk (Bhasa) receiving proper alms (Esana)

4. Restraints of body speech and mind (Guptis) 

5.Forgiveness, Humility, Straight forwardness, Truth, Cleanliness, restraint, penance, indifference to any kind of gain or loss, supreme Sex-control

6.Meditation about the nature of the world and also about the thoughts, deeds of one self (Annpreksha)  

7.Conquring all kinds of physical troubles of heat, cold etc. (Parisahajaya)

8.Right Conduct (Charita).

These are the ways of samvara.

Next mode is the Destruction of Karma which is called-nir- jira. Nirjira is divided in to Bhava-nirjara an Dravynirjara. Bringing in a change in the soul is what is called Bhava-nirjara. Dravyanirjara is the actual destruction of karma, either by suc- cumbing to them, an allowing them to get exhausted by them- selves, or deliberately destroying before their time of fruition by strict penances (Tapa) Theas two ways are called Savipaka and Avipaka. When all kammas are destroyed automatically Moksha or Liberation is effected.

“As the nature of pure sky in not affected by matter, so the nature of pure Liberated soul cannot be affected by kammas. in the mundane. Life, this soul is from beginingless time totally obscured by Karmic Matter. It is why it experiences its fruits good of bad”

This is a brief summary of the main ingredients of the doc- trine of Karma in Jainism. In the Jaina texts all what was given briefly here are being examined in minute details. For instance, the eight major kinds of kammas given earlier (Jnavarenya etc) are divided in to One Hundred an Forty five Sub classes This same situation is applicable to all other major factors mentioned 66 here. But the motive was to give major characteristics of the Kamma theory of the Jainas which is adequate for our purpose.


After discussing the two theories of Karma, it is intended to compare some of the major aspects of these two approaches to this common theme. It is apparent that there are similarities, and dissimilarities between the two, even to a superficial observer. However it is important to look at some of these rather closely.


Both Buddha and Mahaveera did not believe in a first cause, or an Omnipotent creator, who determines the world order. Both believed that it is the actions of men, that will ultimately decide there destiny. Their kamma theory agree on this point.

Further more they did not agree with the materialists of the day, who enunciated either, everything is matter including the sentient beings who will be reduced to the same matter after death, or with the Akiriyavadins who said the human beings have no power, or ability to reformulate their destiny but allow the nature to take it’s due course. Infact it is interesting to note that both Lord Buddha and Mahavira called the champion of these sects, Makkaligosala, a foolish man (Mõga Purisa). Both these personages introduced kamma as the main engineering cause of the destiny of man.

When one looks at the path of liberation advocated, both of them pointed out that the extinguishing of kamma is what leads to liberation. And both of them agreed kamma is caused by thirst or craving (Klesha) produced by the contact of sense organs with the external objects. Mahavira called this by the world/kasaya. One difference here should be noted. While Buddhists believed that the external world is also something impermanent, Jainas were of the belief that while changes take place in the external world, there is some kernel, which does not change. Some-Guna (Quality) that does not change.

 Both teachers expressed that kammas are created by the human beings by the way they exercise their body, speech and mind. They both said there exist good deeds and bad deeds. Good deeds resulting in bringing happiness, prosperity, health, beauty, high birth to the person. Bad kammas cause unhappiness, pover- ty, diseases, ugliness, low birth etc.

The causes pointed out by the two teachers for good and bad kammas are almost the same. While Buddha said, Greed (Lobha) ill will (Dosa) an delusion (Moha) cause bad kammas. Mahavira said anger (Krodha) conceit (Mana) intrigue (Maya) and greed causes bad kammas. And both said the reverse of these feelings cause good kammas.

The question of volition for which the Buddha attributes a very important part in his kamma doctrine, is also apparent in Jainsism. Because according to Jainism the kamma bearing parti- cles do not cling to the soul of a persona automatically. They pour in because of eight kinds of actions by the recipient as explained earlier.

The Buddha advocated the eight fold path, in order to over- come, the craving which causes the kammas and Jaina Mahavira also advocated a similar moral conduct for this purpose with Right faith, Right knowledge, and Right conduct as the main steps. Non-Violence (Ahimsa) Truthfulness (Satya) Non-Stealing (Asteya), Celibacy (Bramachariya) Non-Possesion and Non- Attachment (Aparigraha) are the main features of Right conduct


One of the main differences, between the two doctrines regarding the kamma theory is the degree of determinism behind the two. While neither is fatalistic, because both doctrines, cate- gorically state that a human being, through his personal effort and endeavour can conquer the effect of kamma, Jainaism seems to attribute, all what happens to sentient being is purely due to kam- mas. With it’s firm belief in a soul, and the soul getting 68 besmirched in defilements, that perpuates the sansaric journey, this doctrine cannot think of any other cause to substantiate this situation. While Buddhism giving due weightage to kamma, in formulation the behavior of the sentient beings allows other rea- sons also for happenings in the human nature as well as in the external world.

However the main difference of opinion between the two doctrine is about the constitution of the human beings. While Jainasm believes in a concrete element, within sentient beings, called a soul, the very foundation of Buddhism is the belief that the constitution of a sentient being is nothing but a conglomera- tion of five Skandas, which change at every moment. There is no permanent, unchanging element called a soul, dwelling within these Skandas or aggregates. All life be it corporeal, conscious or sub-conscious is a flowing continous process of becoming, change and transformation. No persistent element is there to be discovered in this process. Hence there is no permanent ego(Sakkaya Ditti) or personality, to be found but merely this transitory formula.

According to Jainism it is this prescient soul - embedded in a sentient being that trans migrates from one birth to another and dwells in another body after re-birth due to Karmic forces. Infact Jaina Mahavira called the Buddhists fools in one of his texts, for not believing in a permanent soul that transmigrate.

In Suyagada, he has said “some fools say that there are five Skandas of momentary experience. They do not admit that the soul is not different from, nor identical with the elements, that is produced from a cause, nor that it is without a cause (i.e. that it is eternal)’

Vissuddimagga (Chapter xvii) describes the Buddhist point of view, regarding this matter quite clearly and lucidly. “Whoever has no clear idea about death does not know that death consists in the dissolution of the five Groups of existence (i.e corporeality, 69 feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness) he thinks that he is a person, or being that dies and transmigrates to a new body. And whosoever has no clear idea about re-birth and does not know re-birth consist of arising of the five groups of exis- tence, he thinks that it is a person, or being that is reborn, or that the person appears in a new body. An whosoever has no clear idea about Sansara, the round of re-births he thinks that real person wanders from this world to another world, comes from that world. And whosoever has no clear idea about the phenomena of existence, he thinks that the phenomena are his ego or some thing permanent joyful or pleasant. And whosoever has no clear idea about the conditional arising of Karmic volitions, conditioned through ignorance, he thinks that it is the ego that understands or fails to understand, that acts or causes to act, that enters in to new existence at birth (One can substitute soul, to the word ego and this statement perfectly refutes the jaina soul idea) or he thinks that the atoms or the creator etc with the help of the embryonic process, shapes the body, provide it with various faculties; that it is the ego that receives the sensuous impression that feels, that desires, that becomes attached, in another world, or he thinks that all beings come to life through fate or chance.

A mere phenomena it is a thing conditioned

That rises in the following existence

But not forms previous life it transmigrates there

And yet it cannot rise without a previous cause

When this conditionally arisen body-mental phenomena (the fetus) arises, one says that it has entered into the next existence. However no being (Satta) or life principal (Jiva)has transmigrat- ed from the previous existence, and yet this embryo could not have come into existence without a previous cause”

This quotation amply clarifies the fundamental difference between Jainism and Buddhism regarding kamma and re-birth. The mention of - Jiva-in the last sentence has to be particularly noted.


This effort was to study the salient points of a very impor- tant, world view of two great seekers after truth, who lived in the fifth century B.C. and who were contemporaries, and bequeathed their doctrines to their disciples and to the posterity.

Although there are similarities and fundamental differences in their approaches one has to give credit to both these great per- sonalities for their noble effort to illustrate the predicament of the human beings and to find a solution in order to bring ultimate sal- vation to them.


1. The Buddhas Ancient Path - Ven. Piyadassai Thera.

2. Early Buddhism and it’s Origins - Vishwanath Pasad Varma 

3.Fundamentals of Buddhism - Nyanatiloka Mahathera

4. Dimensions of Buddhist Thought - Francis Story

5.Path to Enlightenment - A.D. Wijethunga.

6.Comparative Religions - Kedarnath Tiwari

7.Jain Philosophy - M.N. Bhatattachari ya

8.History of Indian Philosophy (Vol-1) - Surandranath Dasgupta

9. Comparative Study of Jainism and Buddhism - Sital Prashad

10. Philosophy of Religion -Jhon H.Hick Ariyawansa Ranaweera, 43/9, D2 Nugagaha Pedesa, Piliyandala Road, Maharagama. 0112851067

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