Article: Soul

Contributed by Jasmine Kelly

Attachment and karma

A variety of animals is shown in this painting from a manuscript as examples of five-sensed beings. Throughout the cycle of birth, a soul is born in different types of body according to the karma it has collected from previous lives.

Five-sensed animals
Image by British Library © CC0 1.0 (Creative Commons Public Domain)

Karma is generated by activities, caused by attachments – kaṣāyas – to the world, which may be either negative or positive. Both types of attachments create karmas, which bind to the soul, weighing it down and obscuring its inherent attributes.

Karmas created in one lifetime or birth influence the later lives of the soul, such as:

Thus lots of negative karma will result in birth as a creature in hell, an animal or a being with limited senses, such as an insect, plant or single-celled microscopic organism. Negative karmas are produced by actions such as deliberate violence. Positive karma brings about birth as a god or human being.

Whether negative or positive, all karmas bind to the soul. This is why Jains believe that complete detachment from the world is necessary to destroy existing karmas and avoid producing new ones. Self-control and detachment thus underlie exemplary Jain behaviour, such as non-violence and practising asceticismtapas – which burns away karma.

Birth as a human being

Souls are found within all types of living beings, ranging from those with one sense to those with five. A soul contracts or expands to fill the available space inside a body, from a tiny, one-celled nigoda to a five-sensed blue whale.

Being born a human is vital for salvation because only human beings can reach omniscience and then liberation. It is rare, within the enormously long cycle of birth to be born a human being, so it is a good opportunity to make spiritual progress.

Guide to liberation

A wall of Jina figures dating from the 8th to 9th centuries. Cut into the rock face at the cave temple at Kalugumalai in Tamil Nadu, these images nearly all depict the 24 Jinas.

Carvings of Jinas
Image by Jennifer Howes © CC BY-NC 3.0

As found in the scriptures, the 24 Jinas preach the eternal truths of the universe and provide guidance on the correct mental attitudes and conduct to bring about spiritual progress.

As the soul travels up the 'scale of perfection'guṇa-sthāna – it reaches levels of spiritual development where it destroys the karma attached to it and stops new karma from sticking to it. It can thus attain, in stages, perfect knowledge – omniscience – and finally liberation.

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