Punya and Päp (Wholesome Karma and unwholesome Karma)

3) PUNYA (Wholesome Karma) 1

What is Punya?. 1

Causes of Punya. 2

4) Päp (Unwholesome Karma) 14

Causes of Päp. 20

Practical & Realistic Aspects of Punya and Päp. 45

Four Fold Combinations of Punya & Päp. 49

Preference of Punya Over Päp. 54


3) PUNYA (Wholesome Karma)

“Karma is the cause of merit (Punya) and demerit (PÄP); good thoughts give rise to merit while evil thoughts to demerit. Those who are possessed of subdued passions have clean mental states; those with intense passions will have unclean mental states.”

It all depends on the quality of one’s inner aspects (Bhäv). If his Bhäv is wholesome, he will earn Punya, and if his Bhäv is unwholesome, he will acquire PÄP. Negative contemplation is PÄP, and positive contemplation is Punya.

“Always speak words which are dear to others, even those wicked men who use harsh words ought to be forgiven; one must take the best from all people - these are illustrative of persons possessed of subdued passions.”

To speak that is likable to others is the first characteristic of the person who has subdued passions. There are two types of speeches - one that is like a pair of scissors, and the second one is like a needle. Harsh speech is like a pair of scissors, and kind speech is like a needle. As a pair of scissors cuts a piece of cloth, the harsh speech hurts others. And as a needle joins two pieces of clothes, the kind speech makes others feel good. One who speaks gently and kindly is in the state of subdued passions.

The second characteristic of the person with subdued passions is that he forgives the individual who speaks harsh and unkind words to him. To react to the individual who speaks harsh is the characteristic of an ignorant (ajnäni). It is spiritual  to  forgive the individual who speaks harsh words. To have forgiving nature is also a characteristic of the person with subdued passions. One of the fruits of our spiritual practice is to have forgiving  nature.


The third characteristic of the person with subdued passions is that he adopts good qualities (guna) of others. There is no bad guy who does not have good qualities, and there is no good guy who does not have a bad quality.  The question is of our perception,- how do we see others? If we are used to seeing others positively, then we will notice their good qualities, and if we are seeing them negatively, then we will notice their bad qualities.


Many people praise themselves, and that is wrong. The person who praises himself has an intensive ego. One who goes for his name and fame, is the person with intensive passions.  One usually reflects out his own attributes. If he is full of faults, he will notice faults in others. Contrary to this, if one has good qualities, he will notice good qualities even in a devil.  One who maintains the feeling of revenge (retaliation,  retribution, reprisal or vengeance) for a long time is the person of intensive passions. Attitude of revenge is like a hard knot that is difficult to untie.

What is Punya?

Wholesome Karma is Punya. When one acquires wholesome Karmas. it is called Punya.  One attains the material comforts because of his Punya. But Punya does not bring the spiritual happiness. One can get the happiness of heaven because of his Punya but not the happiness of Moksha. One attains the Moksha by eradicating both, PÄP and Punya.


There are nine causes mentioned in Sthänäng Sutra (a Jain Ägam) that result in Punya. Five of them are related to providing the necessities to the Jain ascetics. Offering of food, water, shelter, bed, and clothes to Jain ascetics (Sanyami - one who practices self-restraints) are acts of Punya. Such offerings are helpful to those  who have resorted to the spiritual path. Good thoughts, words (speech) and physical activities are also causes of Punya. Also paying spiritual homage to panch pamesthi [five supreme entities of arihantas, Siddhas, Ächäryas, upädhyäyas and Sädhus) is the cause for earning Punya. The term adopted by most Ächäryas is offerings to “right people” (supätra). Right people include Jain ascetics as well as the householders who are practicing self-restraints, and are pursuing the path of liberation, and are in need of help. Some Ächäryas interpret that there is no restriction against helping other living beings for the purpose of compassion (Jiva-dayä, karunä and anukampä), because our Tirthankars have preached about showing compassion to all living beings. Before initiation (dikshä), Tirthankars donate for one year to all living beings without becoming selective.


Causes of Punya

There are following nine aspects that lead to Punya :

1.      Anna-punya: Offering of innocent,  non-sentient, pure and vegetarian foods,.

2.      Pän-punya: Offering of non-sentient and pure water;.

3.      Layan-punya: Offering shelter;

4.      Shayan-punya: Offering bed;.

5.      Vastra-punya: Offering clothes;.

6.      Man-punya: Good thinking;.

7.      Vachan-punya: Good, kind words;

8.      Käy-punya: Virtuous, helpful activities;.

9.      Namaskär-punya: Paying homage to panch-parmesthi,.


4) Päp (Unwholesome Karma)

Unwholesome Karma is PÄP. Gauam Swämi asked Mahävir Swämi, “Bhante ! How can one be free from PÄP?”

Mahävir Swämi replied, “Gautam ! There are three ways to get freed from PÄP: 1) Knowledge of previous lives, 2) knowledge of the mystery behind the cycle of birth and death and 3) knowledge of what is conscious mind (Chitta) and how to purify it?”

1.      Knowledge of Previous Lives: If one remembers what happened in his previous lives, he will automatically take the path of punya and will abandon the path of PÄP. If we do not have the knowledge of our previous life, it is difficult to abandon the wrong path. The person with the knowledge of previous life, understands the mystery behind attaining the human life. He understands that it requires a great amount of spiritual efforts to attain the human life. He thinks, “I do not want to waste my human life by indulging in wrong activities. I need to choose the right path.” Knowledge of previous lives is called “Jäti-smaran Jnän”.

2.      Knowledge of the Mystery Behind the Cycle of Birth and Death: One will become very careful, if he finds out the cause for the cycle of birth and death. He is reborn in a good or a state because of his own good or bad Karmas. He realizes, “My Karma is the reason why I am trapped in the cycle of birth and death.” This realization makes one to stop undesirable activities and, makes him conscious of the importance of human life

3.      Knowing the Causes that Impurity  the Conscious Mind (Chitta): If one figures out why his conscious mind has become impure, and how he can purify it then he automatically begins to free himself from the sinful activities. Unnecessary and sinful activities stain the Chitta, while practicing as per true religion purifies it.

Causes of Päp

There are eighteen causes of PÄP:


1.      Pranätipät (Violence or Himsä): Pranätipät means to injure one or more of the  ten präns (vitalities) of a living being. Great Ächärya Umäswäti defines - “pramatt yogät prän vyayropanam Himsä.”  To injure or to kill a living being because of invigilance or  ignorance (Pramäd) is Himsä. One cannot find peace by pursuing a course of violence. Carelessness itself amounts to Himsä.

Every living being wants to live, and no one wants to die. Hurting or killing any living beings by physical means, words or in thoughts is called Himsä. Lord Mahavir has laid down that one should behave the way he likes the others to behave towards him. He has said that as we like to live comfortably, all other beings too like to lead comfortable life. The message is ‘Live and let live’. One should try to provide comfort and security to others. If we cause suffering or unhappiness to others or kill someone, we commit sin and we acquire Päp. Such Päp brings unhappiness in our life or in our future lives. Ahimsä holds the key position in the whole scheme of the ethical discipline. Giving protection to living beings is the true religion. The true religion is based on compassion. Compassion is the root of the tree in the form of religion. For householders, abstaining from intentionally injuring mobile living beings, through mind, words or body, in any of the two ways‑ directly or through somebody is called sthul-pranätipat-virmanvrata or Ahimsänuvrata.. One who inflicts injury to living beings, with passion  or carelessness is guilty of Himsä.

Himsä is also marked in two forms: Sukshma Himsä‑ taking life of any living being and Sthula Himsä‑ taking life of living beings with two senses and onwards, which are also known as trasa (mobile) Jivas.  The first is obligatory for the monk and the second is for the householder. The householder is also expected to abstain from killing or injuring living beings even with one sense (ekendriyas), where possible. There are two types of Himsä: 1. inherent in one's occupation and 2. unrelated to one's occupation . The Himsä related to one’s profession is further divided into three categories: (1) Udyami, (2) Grihärambhi and (3) Virodhi. (1)  The householder, who has to maintain himself and his family, has necessity to get involved in some occupation and his occupation may involve Himsä.  Therefore,  occupations that involve less form of Himsä are advised to be undertaken. (2) Some kind of Himsä is  involved while carrying out the manifold domestic duties and other obligations.  Preparation of food, use of water in bathing and washing clothes, keeping of cattle, maintenance of gardens, cutting fruits and flowers, etc. are some of such instances; and whatever Himsä is involved in such household obligations is permissible; otherwise normal course of life becomes impossible. (3) It is committed generally in self‑defense or in the protection of persons or property of members of the family, relatives or friends. In the ordinary course of life, one has to defend himself from thieves, robbers or enemies in battles. If one is a soldier, defense of his country is an obligatory duty; but he is not expected to indulge in unnecessary Himsä as a matter of hostility or revenge.

Himsä can also be defined as Bhav Himsä and Dravya Himsä: 1. bhäva‑Himsä‑ denotes the intention to cause injury and 2. Dravya‑Himsä denotes causing actual injury. Intention to commit, or attempt to commit is a form of Himsä whether it is actually carried out or not.

2.      Mrushäväd: means to speak lies. To tell a lie is PÄP . Lying is due to some form of passions; therefore, all lying is forbidden unless the truth is likely to result in greater Himsä. Spreading unkind rumors, character assassination,  misguiding deliberately, forgery, causing thoughtless defamation, using harsh language, etc. have to be avoided. Honesty and reliability  of Jain businessmen was well known. One time more than 50% of the money transaction passed through their hands. The main reason of their success was  their truthfulness. Like poetry, it is difficult to define “truth” though its nature can be described and understood. The words that inflict injury to living beings amounts to falsehood. But the truth may have to be avoided at times, if it likely to cause loss of any life. 

Any statement made through Pramäd(careless activity of body, mind or speech) is false‑hood. The falsehood is of four kinds: 1. Denying the existence of a thing with reference to its position, time and nature, when it actually exists. 2. Asserting the existence of a thing with reference to its position, time and place, when it does not exist at all. 3. Representation of an existing thing as something different from what it really is. 4. Utterance of condemnable, sinful or disagreeable words. Back‑biting, harsh, unbecoming, non‑sensical or unethical speech is condemnable. That kind of speech which incites another to engage in piercing, cutting, beating etc., or which is likely to lead to destruction of life is sinful. The speech causing uneasiness, pain, hostility, misery or anguish etc., has to be forbidden.

3.      Adattädän: Adattädän means stealing. To take something which is not given is adattädän. Stealing covers what is not granted by its owner, The sense of stealing arises from the greed (lobha) and it causes Himsä. Non-stealing includes the maintenance of quality, not buying stolen goods, not cheating on taxes, divulging confidences (vishvashaghät), etc. It also includes not to disclose someone's secrets. The person who steals causes pain to one whom he deprives of the objects and such deprivation may bring inconvenience, trouble and even death. Seizing the property of another is like depriving him of his vitalities, for all objects belonging to one are his external vitalities. Hence theft is Himsä. Taking with intent to steal objects, even of such things as grass, which are in the possession of others is stealing. If we think deeply, accumulation of material objects beyond our necessities such as food, clothes and shelter also amounts to adattädän. If one accumulates more than his needs, he deprives others from getting their necessities.

4.      Maithun means unchastity or engaging in sensuous pleasure. Forbidden for householders are sexual contact with unmarried men and women and widowers, keeping a mistress or going to a prostitute, gossiping about sex or making sexually provocative gestures, leaving one's own children and celebrating the marriages of others, wearing indecent dress and decorations; and taking intoxicating drugs. No. one should have extramarital or premarital relationship, and even within the married life it is advisable to observe maximum possible restraint.

5.      Parigraha means possessiveness or over collection of worldly objects.  Greed is the root‑cause of accumulation. For the householder absolute renunciation of parigraha is not possible; he should set limits to its acquisition, possession and protection. Bhagavän Mahävir has explained two types of parigrahas: external possessions and internal possessions. There are ten types of external possessions: (1) kshetra -land or fields, (2) västu -houses, (3) hiranya -gold coins, (4) suvarna -gold, (5) dhana -wealth, (6) dhänya -grains (7) dwipad -servants (8) chatushpad - animals (9) kupya -clothes (10) shayyäsana - beds and furniture.  There are fourteen internal possessions: (1) Mithyätva -false belief , (2) krodha - anger , (3) män - ego, (4) mäyä - deceit , (5) lobha - greed, (6) häsya -laughter for joke or out of contempt (7) rati - pleasure (8) arati -dejection (9) bhaya -fear (10) shoka -sorrow (11) jugupsa -disgust 12) purushved - urge to have sex with female (13) strived - urge to have sex with male, and (14) napunsakaved ‑ urge to have sex with both, male and female. Bhagavän Mahävir said, “Muchchhä pariggaho vruto.” - Attachment is the possession (parigraha). Attachments make the soul heavier with Karmas.

6.      Krodha means anger. Anger is the first of four passions (Kashäy). Spiritually, anger hurts the person who shows it. Anger can become a reason for one’s destruction. Because of the anger, one is unable to maintain the balance of mind. Anger destroys  friendships and develops rivalry. Anger dissolves the fabrics of the family life. Anger adversely affects health - causes adverse effects on brain, heart, etc. Because of anger, one’s life becomes horrible. Contrary to this, one can produce lots of positive results by the application of forgiveness, love and cooperation.

7.      Män means ego - meaning the feeling of “I am something.” This is the second of the four passions (Kashäy). It is difficult for one to overcome his ego. Because of the ego, our history is full of blood. Today’s political problems and violence are because of egotism. Egotism is one of the higher päps. (One’s ego can be overcome by cultivating the sense of humbleness.)

8.      Mäyä means deceit. There are four factors which lead to getting human life. One of them is straightforwardness (saralatä). One, who has unity of his thinking, speaking and deeds (he does what he says and he says what he thinks), is a straightforward person. This kind of person is well respected by all. Because of his straightforwardness, his soul becomes lighter as he acquires less amount of Karmas.

9.      Lobha means greed. Greed is the father of all sins (and the other three passions). Four passions: anger, greed, ego, and deceit (AGED), are the main culprits for the cycle of birth and death. They are difficult to be controlled. If one conquers these four, then he can attain Moksha. One acquires lot of Karmas because of his greed. Under the influence of greed, one forgets his duties, laws, ethics, morale, etc. Subtle level of greed  exists even in the tenth gunsthäna. That’s why it is said, “loho savva vinäsano” - greed destroys all merits. 

10.  Räg means attachment. One of the most popular words used in the Jainism is “vitaräg” - one who has conquered räg. But there is no word like “vitdvesha” - one who has conquered aversion. Because it is difficult to conquer “attachment” (räg). It is even difficult to identify räg. It is like a covered well, one can easily be cheated. This can be controlled by cultivating the sense of detachment..

11.  Dvesha means aversion. It includes hatred, enmity, jealousy etc. Where there is räg, there is dvesha. One cannot tolerate the prosperity of his neighbors or his friends. Because of jealousy, one does not necessarily bring bad things to others, but he certainly spoils his own life. One’s hatred does more harm to his own soul. Attachment or hatred occurs to us almost every moment. If somebody does good to us, we like him and if somebody does not do what we like, we tend to hate him. We can overcome these two by cultivating the sense of equanimity in all situations, and we must if we want to attain liberation. We should have love and amity for all. Even if someone happens to be wicked we should show compassion instead of hatred.

12.  Kalah means dispute or quarrel. Quarrel is more connected with the tongue. When we do not restrain what we talk, we add fuel to fire - we give momentum to quarrel. Because of quarrel, we have wars.. Because of quarrel, we invite medical problems such as blood pressure, ulcer, etc. Not only we hurt ourselves, we also hurt our dear ones. Many people quarrel for trivial matter. Sometimes it may seem that we win by fighting, but we happen to lose in the long run. One should therefore develop amity and friendliness.

13.  Abhyäkhyän means accusation or incrimination. Because of jealousy, we put false accusation on others. This is one of the dangerous päps. Abhyäkhyän may get innocent people in trouble. Moreover there is always a possibility to get in trouble when the truth comes to light. One should therefore try to avoid laying accusations and try to understand the truth of the matter.

14.  Paishunya means calumny or slandering. To slander someone in his absence is  Paishunya. It is a bad habit to talk behind some one’s back or to spread rumor. Such habit leads to unnecessary friction and quarrels. This kind of habits is no good. Instead of indulging in gossip, one should cultivate the habit of appreciating others.

15.  Par-pariväd means to criticize someone in his presence.

16.  Rati-arati means not to pursue permanent happiness through self-restraint and to pursue temporary happiness.

17.  Mäyä-mrushä means to lie with the intent of cheating. This binds double unwholesome Karmas - one for lying and one for deceit. This type of activities results in deluding (Mohaniya) Karma. People do not like to keep friendship with such persons. Nobody would trust them. One should be truthful and straightforward towards others.

18.  Mithyätva shalya means false faith or to trust false god or wrong guru or wrong religion. This is the last but the most dangerous unwholesome activity. False faith is the root cause of the wandering from one life to another.

Practical & Realistic Aspects of Punya and Päp

From the practical point of view, people prefer punya to PÄP, and therefore, engage themselves in such acts and thoughts that bring in punya for the following reasons: (1) Good activities bring  punya, and bad activities  PÄP. (2) Happy and comfortable situations like handsome and strong or beautiful and graceful body, good health, attractive and loving spouse, children to be proud of, wealth, amenities, to be born in higher family, longer life-span, etc. are due to punya. Unwholesome Karmas on the other hand would result in unhappy and miserable situations like ugliness, illness, quarrelsome and wicked spouse, issuelessness or vicious issues, poverty, to be born in lower family, shorter life-span, and the destructive Ghäti) Karmas. (3) Fruit of punya is pleasure and the fruit of  PÄP is pain.

From the realistic point of view, both punya and PÄP lead the soul further into the Sansär because: (1) Both are caused by impure activities of the soul, (2) Both are karmic material in nature, (3) Fruition of both is harmful to the real happiness of soul and (4) Both lead towards the path of bondage.

As long as soul is embodied, it does indulge in some or other activity. This activity may be physical or mental or both. It is possible that a person may refrain from physical activity for some time. His mental apparatus however never rests. It functions even when he sleeps. Every activity involves Karma and he has to bear consequences thereof sooner or later. Because of ever presence of the Karmas (kärman body), the subtle vibration of the soul creates an adhyavasäy (primal drive - sub-conscious mind), that affects the psychic colors (leshyä). These psychic colors depending upon its nature, good or bad, generate passionate thoughts that may translate in good or bad activities. These activities are responsible for influx and bondage of good or bad of Karmas. Good as well bad bondage of Karmas hinder the purity and freedom of soul. Punya bondage is like hand-cuffs made of gold and the PÄP bondage is like iron hand-cuffs, causing the soul to wander in the cycle of birth and death, because fruits of good or bad Karmas have to be born. Therefore, a true believer should treat  punya and PÄP as an obstruction to attaining Moksha, the path of liberation, and true nature of the soul. Thus he should always be absorbed in the “self” (endeavor for the activities that stop and eradicate Karmas). However, when Jiva is in the lower spiritual stages (gunasthän), long-continued self-absorption is not possible. That time, he should resort to Punya - good deeds, such as, devotion to punch parmesthi, services to Jain ascetics,  and study of scriptures in order to keep away Pramäd. However, he should continue his efforts to attain the status of self-absorption.

Four Fold Combinations of Punya & Päp

Concepts of Punya and Päp are more or less identical in most of the religions. The latter concept is however more subtly treated by Indian philosophies, They take into consideration not only the actual act but also the intention behind it. They are unanimous in adoring the meritorious intentions and activities and in condemning the sinful ones. In a major respect however Jainism differs from others in its approach to Punya or meritorious activities. One may obtain material happiness and comforts as a result of punya, but what after that? Material happiness does come to an end and comfortable situations do not last forever. One has therefore to undergo miseries at the expiration of punya Karmas, unless he has earned other punya Karmas meanwhile. This earning of new punya Karma while enjoying the fruits of earlier ones is known in Jain terminology as Punyänubandhi Punya or wholesome Karmas motivating further wholesome activities.


Very few persons fall within the category of Punyänubandhi Punya, because most of the persons get infatuated by the happiness and comforts. By virtue of the infatuation they indulge in unwholesome activities. This type of Punya is known as Päpänubandhi Punya or wholesome Karmas leading to unwholesome ones. Misery is thus destined for them in the near future. How can one avoid this situation? If the objective is to attain liberation, one has to avoid all sorts of Karmas. There is no other alternative. In ultimate analysis, Jainism therefore lays down avoidance of wholesome Karmas as well.

Päp Karmas or unwholesome Karmas are also considered of two types. As consequence of operative PÄP Karmas,  a person does undergo varying degrees of miseries. If however that person realizes that his miseries are the consequence of his previous unwholesome Karmas, he may like to stay unaffected and bear the miseries with a sense of detachment and objectivity. He may therefore undergo the pain of the miseries with equanimity and meanwhile try to undertake the best possible activities. This attitude would earn to him Punyas. His operative Karmas are therefore known as Punyänubandhi Päp or unwholesome Karmas motivating wholesome activities.

On the other hand, most of the people undergoing miseries blame someone else or some extraneous factors for causing the miseries. They therefore indulge in anger, jealousy, enmity etc. and react violently or wrongly to the persons whom they consider the cause  of their pain and miseries. Thus they  acquire new unwholesome Karmas or Päp. The current Päp Karmas of such persons are therefore known as Päpnubandhi PÄP or unwholesome Karmas leading to further unwholesome Karmas.

Preference of Punya Over Päp

The wholesome as well as unwholesome Karmas cause bondage to which soul gets chained. Both of them come in the way of soul’s liberation and are to be avoided as such. This can be done by cultivating sense of detachment in all possible situations, favorable as well as unfavorable. No situation lasts forever and every conceivable situation comes to an end sooner or later. Why then get infatuated or feel miserable in a situation which is ephemeral? If a person stays tuned to such detached attitude and maintains equanimity, he does not attract new Karmas. His earlier Karmas would steadily drip off as he bears their consequences. In due course he would therefore shake off all Karmas . As such, he proceeds on the path of liberation. Unfortunately however it is not possible for a worldly soul to stay continuously tuned to its true nature very long. The Tirthankars have stated that no one can continuously concentrate on any object for more than two ghadies or 48 minutes. Beyond that time the attention of the aspirant gets diverted. Thus after staying tuned to true nature, the attention reverts to other aspects. During periods of such reversals a person may better be involved in wholesome activities instead of indulging in unwholesome ones. Therein lies the preference of punya over päp