The subject of merits and demerits, as those of God and soul, bondage and emancipation, this world and the other, has been much talked of in the Indian philosophies. What are merits and demerits and what place do they occupy in the path of liberation of the soul? The problem here is to discuss these in the context of Jain philosophy.
Every period of Jain literature since the days of Acharya Kundkund up-to-date has taken up this question of merits and demerits and discussed it threadbare. Even today it is the main subject of discussion. Controversy, however, is not in the definition of merits and demerits, it lies in their position in the path of liberation.
Merits and demerits are both impure, internal behaviour of the soul. Worship of God, adoration of the monks, compassion, charity, abstinence, mortification and other auspicious activities etc., are termed as merits and their fruition brings favourable associations. Violence, untruth, theft, indulgence in sex and accumulation of possessions etc., are called demerits and they are instrumental to unfavourable associations.
Ordinary men regard merit as good and demerit as bad, for one is born as a human or a heavenly being on account of his merits and in hells or animal phase due to demerits. They, however, do not realise that all the four phases of life are full of grief only. Happiness is not to be found in any of these phases. Pt. Daulatramji has declared in the first Dhal of his Chhahdhala that all the four phases of life are full of grief and miseries. It is clear from the text of the reflection on renunciation that if there was any joy in all the four phases, why should the Tirthankars have left their household and adopted the path of renunciation ?
The founder of Shraman culture, the great Acharya Kundkund has held both merits and demerits as equal, both being instrumental to worldly existence and has asked us to dissociate with them and not to have any attachment for them. He says, “demerits are undesirable and merits desirable, this is the belief of ordinary humans, but how can even merits be desirable that push creatures in worldly existence ?”
Iron chains as also gold chains, both deprive persons of their freedom. In the same way merits as demerits push those beings in the tap of worldly existence.
Do not associate with any of those, because if you associate with something undesirable, your freedom will be lost.
All auspicious modifications attract merit bondage and inauspicious ones demerit bondage. Bondage is bondage, be it merit bondage or demerit bondage. It only binds the soul, does not liberate it. Liberation can be had only in the absence of merits and demerits, with pure detachment. As such merits and demerits play only a negative role in the path of liberation of the soul.
Yoginder Deo writes in Yogsar in this context :
“Merits lead to heavenly phase of life and demerits to hellish phase. One who knows the soul, leaving both these, attains complete liberation.”
Acharya Pujyapad has also given vent to same ideas in Samadhi Shatak. Acharya Kundkund very emphatically asserts:-
“Meritorious inclinations towards others are merits and demeritorious ones are otherwise. The inclinations of the soul not inclined towards any non-self entity are the instrument of the destruction of all unhappiness and attainment of the liberation of the soul.”
Jain scriputres are very clear that abstinence, worship, rules of conduct etc., are merits and the manifestations without delusion and movements of body, mind and speech is religion.
In Natak Samaysar both merits and demerits have been described as twins born of a she-barbarian and that the sentient beings should have no liking for any of the two.
From worldly point of view merits are said to be better than demerits, but in the path of liberation both merits and demerits are obstructions.
The great poet Banarsidas has presented the concepts of merits and demerits in a dialogue form between a teacher and a taught on the basis of the commentary of Acharya Amritchandra named Atmakhyati, on the holy treatise Samaysar by Kundkund Acharyadeo, and the additional slokas composed by him, which is as follows .-
A student tells his teacher that merits and demerits are not equal, because their causes, tastes, nature and results are different. Merits appear to be dear, while demerits unwholesome.
Passionate manifestations lead to demerit bondage and virtuous ones to merit bondage. Thus their causes are different. The fruition of demerit results in unhappiness, whose taste is bitter and the fruition of merit results in happiness, whose taste is sweet. This way there is difference of tastes in the two. Demerit manifestations are in themselves irritating to the soul, while merit ones are pleasant. Thus, there is difference in their nature also. Demerits lead to unpleasant phases of life like the hellish, while merits to heavenly and other good phases. Thus the difference as regards their results is also very clear. Why then do you call them equal ?
Teacher :- In answer the teacher tells his student that merit and demerit bondages both are obstructions in the path of liberation and as such are equal. Good and bad phases of life are both in the worldly existence and as such there is no difference as regards results. Differences on account of causes, taste, nature and result, in fact, do not exist; non-sentient beings observe these differences on account of their wrong faith; sentient beings do not recognise any difference. Merits and demerits are both dark wells, both are instrumental to karmic bondage and both are non-existent in the path of Siddhahood. Only absolute detachment is desirable in the path of soul’s liberation.
Out of rules of conduct, penance, abstinence, charity, worship etc., on the one hand and absence of all these on the other, some are meritorious while others are demerits, but if we go to the heart of the matter, both kinds of karmas are diseases. The supreme Lord Jinendra has described the process of bondage like that. Merits and demerits both are bondage and causes of bondage. As such the religion for the welfare of the soul discards all the merits and demerits without any distinction. Perfect detachment alone can take the soul to its destination, where there are no attachment and aversions; only pure operation of the consciousness prevails, without merit or demerit operations.
Hearing this, the student argues before the teacher as follows :-
“You have described merits and demerits both showing them equal. I have that way developed a doubt in my mind. Those who are following the path of the soul’s liberation i. e., followers in the fourth, fifth and the sixth scales of development cannot do without some support. They need the adherence to rules of conduct, abstinence, compassion, charity, meditation and worship rituals to occupy their minds. Why do you repudiate these altogether?”
The teacher in return reiterates, “It is not like that. Do the followers of the path of emancipation need the support of merits or demerits? Their refuge is their own all sentient soul, which is ever present. The karmas are eliminated by the experience of such a soul and its practice. There is no question, therefore, of their being without refuge or support. The devotion towards and engagement in the soul itself which is without any delusions, attachments and aversions, are instrumental to achieving the supreme bliss. The inclinations towards the rules of conduct and the activities of the inanimate matter are shadows of matter substance only. It has been rightly said that merits and demerits are both filth, a mass of matter, and dereliction on the path of the soul. We can never attain omniscience and liberation by these”.
Hearing this the student, who believes in compromise, asks his teacher to accept the view that merits are pure and demerits impure.
The teacher explaining the whole thing asserts as below :
“As long as there are merit and demerit manifestations, one has variability in mind, body and speech, as also in operative consciousness of both the types i.e., sentience and perception. One cannot experience the pure soul as long as there is no stability in mind, body, speech and operative consciousness. Therefore, both merit and demerit manifestations are like scissors to cut short the path to liberation. Both are instrumental to bondage and, therefore, undesirable. I have spoken against both knowing them as obstructions in the path of soul’s emancipation.”
Thus Pandit Banarsidas has expressed his thoughts in accordance with the scriptures.
Pandit Todarmalji writes in the same context :-
“The person with wrong faith, regards influxes of violence etc., as undesirable and the merit influxes of non-violence and others as desirable; both attract bondage of the karmas. To regard them as desirable is perversion of faith. Likewise, he regards truth etc., as cause of merit bondage and untruth etc., as causes of demerit bondage. All those, however, are false faiths and so to be abandoned. Therefore, non-violence etc., are also undesirable being causes of bondage only. Only that stage where one remains a sentient seer with full detachment is the desirable state. Till such a state has been achieved, indulge in merits alright, but have faith that this is instrumental to bondage only and as such undesirable; if this is regarded as path to liberation, the perverted faith persists as ever.”
Thus, we see that though merits are better than demerits from the worldly point of view and keeping this aspect of the state, the scriptures have recognised these as conventional religion, yet in the path of liberation their position is negative only.
The joy out of the pleasures of senses consequent of merit is the root cause of regarding merit as beneficial. As long as pleasures of senses are regarded as giving happiness, the desirability of merits cannot be lost sight of. Without touching the sentient soul, the feelings of happiness in the pleasures of senses cannot disappear. The pure manifestation is the experience of the sentient pure soul, which is absolutely without merits and demerits. Those who want to taste real happiness of the soul, therefore, should always attempt to acquire the pure manifestation of the spiritual experience