Article: Karma-prakr̥ti

Contributed by Jean Arzoumanov

A later compilation?

The Karma-prakṛti's attribution to the Digambara philosopher Nemicandra is supported by the tradition, although there is no proof of this authorship. One traditional view holds that Nemicandra composed the Karma-prakṛti before his renowned Gommaṭasāra whereas another opinion in the tradition thinks it is a later work. The fact that a substantial number of verses from the Gommaṭasāra Karma-kāṇḍa and other texts are found in the Karma-prakṛti can be used to support either position.

Authors of commentaries on the Karma-prakṛti unanimously credit it to Nemicandra, but there is no decisive evidence available to support or disprove either outlook, as is common with historical Indian literature.

For the modern editor of the 1964 Karma-prakṛti, Hiralal Shastri, Nemicandra composed this text before the Gommatasara as it is aimed at helping beginners in karma theory. According to him, the Gommatasara would have come later for more advanced students. This represents a conservative view, which holds the tradition to be right until it is proven wrong. The editor also quotes other scholars who have expressed opposing opinions.

One example is Paramanand Shastri, who believes that the Gommaṭasāra Karma-kāṇḍa was faulty so Nemicandra decided to correct these errors by adding gāthās – verses – and creating a new text. Called the Karma-prakṛti, this new version was conceived as 'a late compendium' aimed at introducing students to the specific subject of karma (Introduction to Shastri 1964). Shastri claims that this later reworking was not done carefully, giving the example of verse 117 of the Karma-prakṛti, which is the same as verse 47 in the Gommaṭasāra Karma-kāṇḍa.

This table details how many of the 161 verses in the Karma-prakṛti are found in other works.

Sources of verses in the Karma-prakṛti

Source

Number of verses

Gommaṭasara: 'Jīva-kāṇḍa' and 'Karma-kāṇḍa' by Nemicandra

102

Bhava-saṃgraha – Compendium on Being by Devasena

16

May be composed for this work or from an unidentified source

14

If the Gommaṭasāra came earlier, the Karma-prakṛti could have been based on the longer treatise. However, if the Gommaṭasāra is later, the author may have reused verses from his earlier text in the longer work.

Varying titles in different sources

Many historical sources use the title of Karma-kāṇḍa for the text in the manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and the British Library. However, it is usually known as the Karma-prakṛti in contemporary scholarship, after the title used in the 1964 critical edition.

The commentary by Hemrāj that accompanies the text in these manuscripts specifies Karma-kāṇḍa as the title.

iyam bhāṣā-ṭīkā Karma-kāṇḍasya paṇḍita hemarājena kṛtā svabuddhyanusāreṇa

This gloss[,] accompanied with a commentary of the Karma-kāṇḍa[,] was composed by Hemrāj Pande according to his own understanding

Translation by Jean Arzoumanov

Similarly, in his commentary at the beginning of the 17th century, Sumatikīrti names it Karma-kāṇḍa.

It is very probable that the translator thought of the text in these two manuscripts as the Karma-kāṇḍa, as his contemporaries would have done. This explains why he gave its title as the Karma-kāṇḍa.

However, the name chosen by Hiralal Shastri, the editor of the 1964 critical edition, is Karma-prakṛti. He does not fully justify his decision, but seems to take this title because one of the manuscripts he used to produce his work called it the Karma-prakṛti.

There are some examples online of this text being named Karma-prakṛti, such as this manuscript in Varanasi, India, available on the website of the International Digamber Jain Organization.

Summary of the 'Karma-prakṛti'

Triple invocation at the beginning of the Bodleian Library's manuscript of the Persian translation of the 'Karma-prakṛti', titled the 'Karma-kāṇḍa'. The translator Dilārām begins with invocations in three languages, addressing different gods or prophets.

Triple invocation
Image by Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The rich collector Claude Martin commissioned the Brahmin Dilārām to translate into Persian Hemrāj's commentary on the Karma-prakṛti, which is attributed to Nemicandra. Hemrāj's original commentary was in the vernacular language of Braj, the main language for prose in this period, with some sentences in Sanskrit.

The title Karma-prakṛti means 'nature of karma', and this topic is explained in verse. Karma is a fundamental principle in Jain belief and is extremely complex and detailed, with numerous categories, effects and causes.

Dilārām opens his work with invocations in three languages, each appealing to a different god or prophet. These serve as an early indication of how the translation draws on the concepts and terminology of three separate faiths.

Dilārām carefully follows the ordering of the original verses but his translation stops with verse 87. Some verses are skipped in both the British Library and the Bodleian Library manuscripts, accounting for the different numbering in the modern edition, which includes all the verses.

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Contents

Related Manuscripts

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    Bodleian Library. MS. Wilson 262. Nemicandra. 21 July 1796

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