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Jain Karma Philosophy - Punya (Meritorious) and Päp (Sinful) Karma_V10

In Jain philosophy, karma are classified in many different ways.  They are classified as Ghäti or Aghäti karma depending upon whether they subdue the qualities or innate nature of the soul or create the physical environment of a living being.  The same karma are also classified in a different way into Punya and Päp karma categories.  Also, in Jain literature we come across other types of Karma like Dravya Karma, Bhava Karma, and Nokarma.  However this article does not discuss these three types of karma.

Acquiring Karma and their Consequences
Jain philosophy explains that Karma is a matter which is made up of very fine and subtle particles that one cannot see or feel by any physical means.  The entire universe is filled with such particles (we need to believe this by faith only).

When these karma particles attach (bond) to the soul it is called the bondage of karma.  In general the bondage of karma occurs due to the soul's Mithyätva (illusion or ignorance), Avirati (vowlessness), Pramäda (spiritual laziness), Kashäya (anger, ego, deceit, greed etc.) and Yoga (activities of the mind, body, and speech). In other words bondage occurs only due to the presence of Mohaniya karma.

Such bondage occurs for a certain duration only.  We do not have any karma attached to us forever.  When the time of the attachment of karma is over then these karma will create an environment surrounding the soul and they will immediately separate from the soul.  The soul that is surrounded by such an environment may feel pleasure or pain based on the surroundings created by these various types of karma and hence we acquire new karma.  This process occurs at every moment in our life.  This way under normal circumstances we will never be free of karma because at every moment we remove some old karma and acquire some new karma.

Jain philosophy states that the following karma related events occur in the life of every living being:

·         At every moment all 8 categories of karma (4 Ghäti karma and 4 Aghäti karma) together produce results and then they get separated from the soul.

·         At every moment 7 of 8 categories of new karma are attached to the soul and only once in a life time a soul acquires all 8 categories of karma.  Äyu karma of the next life is acquired only once in a current life time.

·         Only the Mohaniya karma (Mithyätva and Kashäya together) is responsible for the bondage of new karma of all 8 categories.

·         In the absence of Mohaniya karma, no new karma are attached to the soul even though the other karma; Jnänävaraniya, Darshanävaraniya, Antaräya, Vedaniya, näma, Gotra, and Äyu Karma are present.

Types of Karma

Ghäti Karma
Ghäti karma subdue the innate qualities of a soul namely; infinite happiness (faith and conduct), infinite knowledge, infinite perception or vision, and infinite power or energy. They are divided into four categories.

Mohaniya Karma
Deluding Karma obscures blissful nature or happiness (faith and conduct) of the soul

Jnänävaraniya Karma
Obscures infinite Knowledge of the soul

Darshanävaraniya Karma
Obscures infinite Perception of the soul

Antaräya karma
Obstructs  infinite Power and Energy of the soul


Aghäti karma
Aghäti karma are non-destructive to the innate qualities of the soul but are responsible for the creation of the physical body, physical mind, social environment, and life span for the soul.  They are also divided into four categories.

Vedaniya Karma
Creates Favorable or Unfavorable Physical Environment for the Soul (healthy body or unhealthy body)

Näm karma
Physical Body and Physique Determining Karma

Gotra karma
Status Determining Karma

Äyu karma
Life Span Determining Karma

The above 8 categories of karma are divided into many (from 96 to 157) sub-categories. The same sub-categories are also categorized differently into Punya and Pap karma categories.

Punya or Pious Karma
We acquire Punya or pious karma when we perform or reflect upon virtuous activity with or without a feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment.  When Punya karma matures they produce a favorable environment conducive to spiritual life such as human life, healthy body, comfort, moral family etc.

A person may use such circumstances to progress himself spiritually or a person may use it to increase his power, fame, luxury, and/or comfort.  This depends upon the person's free will or self determination (Purushärtha).  However, if a person decides to progress further spiritually his Punya karma have created a proper environment for him to do so. All Tirthankars fall into this category.  In contrast however a few Chakravarti kings used this type of environment to increase their power throughout their life and went to hell to suffer.

Pap Karma
We acquire Pap or sinful karma when we perform or reflect on any non-virtuous work associated with violence, dishonesty, stealing, not behaving chastely, attachment to worldly objects, anger, conceit, deceit, lust, revenge, and having impure thoughts. When the Päp karma mature and the results come to fruition, they will create an unfavorable environment which may bring misery, discomfort, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction to the living being.  Under such an environment, one rarely progresses spiritually.

Muni Kuragudu's life is one example that comes close to this situation. Due to Punya karma, he attained human life and became monk.  However due to some Pap karma he could not fast (Upaväs) even on Samvatsari day.  Yet he attained Keval-Jnän and liberation because he remained equanimous under very adverse circumstances.

Relationship among Ghäti, Aghäti, Punya and Pap karma
All Ghäti karma subdue the innate qualities of the soul and hence all four categories of Ghäti karma and all their sub-categories are classified as Päp or sinful karma.

Only Aghäti karma that are responsible for the physical environment of a living being are classified as the result of Punya karma or Pap karma.

·         Certain sub-categories of Aghäti karma that produce a human life, a healthy body, high social status, and a longer life span are considered the result of Punya or virtuous karma.

·         Certain sub-categories of Aghäti karma produce an unhealthy body, a shorter life span, low social status, poverty, birth in hell, or as an animal, insect, or in a vegetative state or similar categories.  These are considered the result of Päp or sinful karma.

In summary all Punya Karma are Aghäti karma while Pap karma belongs to both Ghäti and Aghäti karma.

Discussion on Ghäti, Aghäti, Punya and Pap karma
Under normal circumstances, the environment created by Päp or sinful karma are not conducive to the spiritual progress of a soul because it produces an unhealthy body, a shorter life span, low social status, poverty, birth in hell, or as insects, animals etc.

Only the environment created by Punya karma are conducive to attain a higher spiritual state because they can result in human birth, healthy body, spiritual education, a longer life span and so on.  Without a human life and spiritual environment one cannot attain a Vitaräga state (a spiritual state beyond attachment and aversion) and hence Keval jnän (infinite knowledge).

Also Jain philosophy states that all worldly souls (except very high spiritual state souls - Vitaräga state and Keval-Jnäni) are under the influence of Mohaniya karma meaning under Mithyätva and Kashäya.  Since we are under this influence at every moment, we always acquire some Pap karma at every moment.

Now if we think in terms of Punya and Pap karma, we can conclude that at every moment a person, who is always under the influence of Mohaniya karma, may acquire either all Pap karma or both Punya and Pap karma by reflecting and doing non-virtuous or virtuous activities.  Under no circumstances, will a person acquire only Punya karma and no Pap karma. 

This process occurs at every moment until one attains a very high spiritual state known as Vitaräga state and higher (Spiritual state of 12th Gunasthänak).

Therefore; at every moment, we should be very alert and try our best to acquire maximum Punya karma and minimum Pap karma.  Under such effort a net reduction in Ghäti karma will occur because all Ghäti karma are Pap karma only.

This can be accomplished by continuously reflecting on to the reduction of our Mithyätva and Kashäya (reduce Karta Bhava or ego) while continuously reflecting and doing pious and virtuous activities of body, speech and mind.

The highest pious activities of body, speech and mind are the six Abhyantar Tapa (internal austerities): Präyashchitta (repentance for bad deeds), Vinay (humility towards all living beings), Vaiyävruttya (rendering selfless service to all living beings), Swädhyäy (study of the spiritual literature), Dhyäna (meditation on the nature of the soul), and Käyotsarga or Vyutsarga (remain in a complete state of equanimity).

In practicing these activities one eliminates all Ghäti karma and attains Vitaräga state and Keval-jnän.  After the attainment of Keval-jnan, a person will have only Aghäti Punya karma and Aghäti Pap karma left to shed.  This will happen at the end of current life and results in the person attaining liberation.

A Word of Caution with Regards to Punya Karma
While doing virtuous activities, many times, due to our ignorance of reality (Mithyätva) and ego (Kashäya), a person feels (reflects) that because of his good effort or action people are being helped or that because he is a big donor, a temple or hospital was able to be built.  In doing such deeds, he receives a high social status and he takes great pride of this status.

But in acquiring these valid Punya or virtuous karma for his good deeds, he at the same time acquires maximum Pap karma because he has done the good work under the very high influence of Mohaniya karma to gain power and fame (Karta Bhava).

Hence Jainism warns that any virtuous activity done under Mithyätva and Kashäya state ultimately results in a sinful activity to that person even though other people and animals, and environment are being helped.

Only Ghäti karma and in particular Mohaniya karma hinders the soul in acquiring the Vitaräga State.  Once one attains a state of Vitaräga by removing all Mohaniya karma, the other three Ghäti karma become powerless and they are destroyed within 48 minutes without any effort and a person attains Keval-jnän.  A Keval-Jnäni person attains liberation at the end of the current life and no fallback occurs during this time.

In the absence of Mohaniya karma, all other karma become totally powerless even though their presence exist.  None of them can provide any obstacle in the attainment of the soul's liberation.  Now theoretically one can say that any karma is a hindrance to the attainment of liberation, but it has no spiritual value.

Are We Capable of Removing Aghäti Karma before their Maturity?
Human being is capable of removing only Ghäti Karma before their maturity by performing Nirjarä.  No human being is capable of removing any Aghäti karma before their maturity.  At the most we can modify them from one sub-category to another sub-category within the same major category.  Hence everyone has to complete these karma.  Even after the attainment of Keval-jnän, a person is not capable of removing such karma.  They all have to wait until the completion of Äyu karma, because Äyu karma is the only karma cannot be even modified in the last life.

In case of a kevali person (which is his last life), if his time of Äyu karma is less than the maturity time of the remaining three Aghäti karma, then the kevali performs Samudghat near the end of his life.  He expands his soul and spreads it across the entire universe (spreads throughout the 14 Rajlok area).  This way he forces the remaining three Aghäti karma to mature earlier and produce their result in a very short time.  After the completion of the three Aghäti karma, he withdraws his soul into his body.  Then he withdraws his activities of body, speech, and mind.  Now his spiritual state is considered 14th Gunasthänak.  He stays in this state for a few seconds and attains Nirvana.

In conclusion, we can say that we have to complete the maturity cycle of all Aghäti karma.  Only Kevali can force the Aghati karma to mature earlier to coincide with the maturity time of the Ayu karma.  However no one can force Ayu Karma of the last life to mature earlier.

Discussion of Two Important Questions
1.     Sometimes people argue that "pap karma is an iron chain and punya karma is a golden chain for the soul”. Since both are ‘matter’, neither can liberate the soul. The soul is liberated by becoming free of ‘matter’; both punya and pap.

Spiritually the above logic is not correct because when a person removes all his Ghäti Pap Karma he attains Keval-jnän.  All his Punya Aghäti karma and Aghäti Pap karma are still attached to him, but those karma cannot stop him in the attainment of liberation.

However, the above logic has created an incorrect perception in our community’s mind that Jainism is a selfish religion and hinders the people from doing virtuous work.

2.     In my teaching of Jain religion, I generally ask the following question:

Mahävir swämi attained Keval-jnän at the age of 42 and then he travelled for 30 years to preach the truth he had realized to the people. At the age of 72 he attained nirvana or liberation.

Why did he travel for 30 years to preach?  He could have stayed at one of the caves in meditation and still attained liberation.

I get only one answer - Because of Tirthankar Näma Karma

In my opinion this is an incorrect statement, and here is my logical explanation:

Keval-Jnäni possesses "Yathäkhyäta Chäritra"; meaning his conduct is natural and according to the innate nature of the soul.   In this state no karma can influence him.  Karma has maximum influence on the people who are at Mithyätva state (1st Gunasthänak) and have no influence on those who are in a Keval-Jnäni state (13th Gunasthänak).  So the answer does not fit the Jain philosophy of logic at all.

The correct answer is that the Tirthankar possesses unconditional compassion towards every living being of the entire universe.  This unconditional compassion is the innate nature of the soul and hence Mahävir Swami preached two or three times a day every day and travelled for 30 years.  To indicate that "because of näma karma" he traveled and preached does not fit into the definition of what is natural conduct for a Keval-Jnäni.

Spiritually Jainism is a very simple religion to understand and practice.

The Mohaniya karma is the single most dangerous karma because due to this karma we acquire all 8 types of karma and hence we cannot attain Vitaräga state and in result, Keval-jnän.

Hence in order to attain liberation, initially we need to attain the followings:

1.     Human life, spiritual education, and healthy body. (These are the fruits of Punya karma)

2.     Continuous effort to reduce and ultimately to remove Mohaniya karma meaning Mithyätva (illusionary knowledge of soul and its association with matter) and Kashäya (vices such as anger, ego, deceit, and greed) from our human life.

In other words, in order to attain liberation we continuously need to do virtuous activities like helping others, showing compassion to all beings, following a strict vegetarian (Vegan) diet, studying and discussing of religion (Svädhyäya), and protecting the environment.  Such activities will assure us a human life in next birth.

However, while doing virtuous activities, we should remain very alert and should not get trapped by fame, power, high social status or frustration of not accomplishing the result.  In other words, do not expect any fruits of our virtuous work.  Such reflection will reduce and at the end will eliminate our Mohaniya karma.

Without the presence of Mohaniya karma, all other karma become powerless and person attains liberation at the end of current life.

Never think that Jainism teaches that Punya is a karma that hinders the soul in attaining liberation.  Punya is a good Aghäti karma and no Aghäti karma hinders any innate qualities of the soul and hence Vitaräga state and Keval-jnäna.  On the contrary Punya karma provide a human life and spiritual education for the soul in the next life to attain Keval-jnän.   It is our free will or determination (Purushärtha) that determines our use of the favorable environment.


Pravin K Shah

Jaina Education Committee

Raleigh, NC USA

February 20, 2011





Aarti is peformed as a symbol of veneration to our Jinas and is believed to help to prevent malicious and vindictive thoughts. By doing Aarti and Mangal-divo one get rids of mental and physical tensions and it gives peace to the soul and mind. Aarti leads to the experience of supreme love and compassion.

Aarti is a word which is composed of the word “A” – meaning “all sides” and “Rati” which means spiritual joy, so Aarti is an expression of spiritual joy. We do Aarti to express our spiritual joy at the conclusion of a successful religious activity.

The Aarti sung and performed celebrates and sings the praises of Adinath Bhagwan. Adinath was the first Tirthankar of our present declining era and is also known as Adishwar and Rushabhadev Bhagwan. He was born in Ayodhya and attained Moksha on Mount Kailasa in Ashtapad. His Lanchhan is a “bull”

The Aarti was written by Sheth Mulchand of Dhudeva – Kesaryaji in Rajasthan, India. Kesaryaji is a auspicious Jain pilgrimage place, where the Mulnayak –the main murti is that of Adishwar Bhagwan in black marble. Sheth Mulchand was a very pious and devoted merchant who performed pooja and aarti daily.

He was greatly devoted to Adishwar Bhagwan, and so when in his old age he had to move to another village to be with relatives who could take care of him, he could not bear to be separated from his Bhagwan. It is believed that at that time, Devs protecting the temple gave him a small piece of the actual murti which he could take with him to pray.


In singing the aarti, we pay respect to the remarkable faith & bhakti of Sheth Mulchand and hope we can emulate the same in our own life.

The darkness symbolizes negativity, fear, and ignorance, whereas the light symbolizes divinity. The light of aarti dispels darkness, signifying the overcoming of negativity through virtue, fear through courage and ignorance through knowledge.


The five “divas” which make up the Aarti are thought to symbolize:- 

· Panch Parmesthi namely Arihanta, Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyay and Sadhu


· Five types of knowledge namely Matijnana, Shrutjnana, Avadhijnana, Manah Paryayjnana and Kevaljnan


· Five great vows – the “mahavratas” namely Ahimsa, Non-stealing, Truthfulness, Celibacy and Non-possession


Aarti and Mangal Divo should be done in a circular movement, from up left to down right, taking care to avoid taking them above the level of one’s nose or below the level of one’s navel.



With this lightened lamp (Aarti), I pray that Lord Adinath, Beloved son of King Nabhi and Queen Marudevi, be victorious.

With the first aarti puja, I am participating in this auspicious activity in this human life.

With this second aarti, I pray to Lord Adinath, who was merciful to all and whose virtues enlightened the entire world.

With this third aarti, I pray to Adinath, Lord of the three universes, who is worshipped by celestial beings, humans, deities and kings.

With this fourth aarti, I pray that Lord Adinath helps me eliminate my wanderings in the four life forms – Human, Animal & plants, Heavenly beings and Hellish being – and to be able to obtain eternal happiness of Moksha.

With this fifth aarti, according to Sheth Mulchand, by praising the virtues of Lord Rushabhadev (Adinath), the worshipper accumulates Punya (good karma).


Mangal Divo 



The ritual of Aarti and Mangal Divo in the Jain community started around the 12th Century AD, about 900 years ago. It was inspired by Acharya Hemchandraji, who was born in 1088 AD in Gujarat and died at the age of 84 in 1173 AD. The Acharya was very influential in the Kings court due to his religious strength and immense knowledge and political wisdom.

Although a Jain monk, he was sympathetic towards other religions. He said the following as a prayer : “ I am bowing down to that God, who has destroyed the passions like attachment (raag) and hatred (dwesh), which are the cause of worldly life, whether he is a Brahma, Vishnu or Jina”. He thus explained the true meaning of religion.

Acharya Hemchandraji inspired the then King Kumarpal of Gujarat with his teachings of non-violence and explaining the true meaning of religion. King Kumarpal accepted the tenets of the Jain faith and became a Jain shravak. During his reign, he had many Jain temples restored and built, including the Taranga Temple, said to be one of the five main pilgrimage places for Jains. He also made laws in his Kingdom of Gujarat to uphold Ahimsa and is said to have started the practice of aarti and mangal divo.

The mangal divo lyrics mention Raja Kumarpal. Therefore the mangal divo is performed to re–enact the dedication and faith of Raja Kumarpal. The divo is also a prayer for the welfare of all living beings, wishing bliss for everyone.


Raja Kumarpal become renowned for his very devoted and focussed performance of aarti. He felt that if one divo could be so beautiful, how beautiful would 108 divas be. During Paryushan, a special Raja Kumarpal aarti and mangal divo is performed which keeps alive this story of his devotion and bhakti.

On auspicious days and during major rituals, the mangal divo consist of 108 divas. The 108 divas represent the 108 attributes of Pancha Parmesthis, that is 12 attributes of Arihants ; 8 attributes of Siddhas ; 36 attributes of Acharyas ; 25 attributes of Upadhyays and 27 attributes of Sadhus and Sadhvis. Also the sum of 108 is nine, which is considered auspicious.




Oh Lord! This is the auspicious lamp Long live the performer of aarti

On the occasion of Diwali, the houses are decorated, Goddesses rejoice in heavens

“Dipal” says by this the family is blessed and obstacles are overcome by worship and devotion

“Dipal” says that in our times – Kaliyug – King Kumarpal performed the aarti

Let there be bliss in our house, your house and in the entire Chaturvidh Sangh (the four fold Jain community)