Jainism : The World of Conquerors ► 4 ► Religion ► 4.3 (b) ► Ajiva

Posted: 01.12.2015

Ajiva is non-living substance. It neither experiences pleasure nor pain, nor has any conscious activity. It may or may not be perceptible to the senses. Ajivas are of two kinds: with form and without form. They are classified into five entities:

with form

matter (pudgala)

without form

medium of motion (dharma)

medium of rest (adharma)

space (aakaasa)

time (kaala)



Matter particles are called pudgala, meaning "the entity that manifests itself in various forms by the process of combination and disintegration' (Sinha 1990: 52). The chief characteristic of matter is that it is subject to sense perception and that it has a form. Matter is divided into six sub-classes: solids, liquids, gases, energy, fine karmic matter and extra-fine matter (ultimate particles). Matter may be found as 'aggregate' (skandha), 'aggregate occupying a space' (skandha desa), 'aggregate occupying a limited space' (skandha pradesa), or 'ultimate particles' (paramaanu). Ultimate particles are in constant motion, but the medium of rest maintains their unity. Matter is an aggregation of infinite pudgalas, hence it is called pudgalaastikaaya.

Skandha: Two (or more) pudgalas of matter aggregate together to form a skandha. The concept is similar to the molecule of modern science. Skandha desa is the constituent part of an 'aggregate' or whole. If the part separated from the larger aggregate, is sizeable, it too becomes 'aggregate'. A constituent of an aggregate that is incapable of being divided further is called skandha pradesa. Skandha formation depends upon the process of bonding, and separation depends upon the attribute of roughness.

Paramaanu: The smallest and indivisible unit of matter is called an ultimate particle or paramaanu. When combined with other ultimate particles, it becomes part of pradesa, but when separated and remains separate it becomes paramaanu. Paramaanu is indivisible, indestructible and ungraspable. It is eternal, has one form and occupies a point of space, but not a definite space, has one colour, one smell, one taste and one touch. It creates sound, but has no sound. 'Words' (sabda) are expressions of aggregates in the form of sound. Jain texts (such as Dravyasangraha, Sarvarthasiddhi, Tattvartha Sutra and Pancaastikaayasaara) have elaborate discussions about the nature of ultimate particles and 'atomic theory'.

s and 'atomic theory'. Characteristics of Matter: Matter has four primary characteristics: touch, taste, smell and colour. These characteristics express themselves in twenty qualities, which may be 'measurable,' or 'immeasurable'. They are:

  • Touch: cold, hot, rough, smooth, light, heavy, soft and hard;
  • Taste: acid, sweet, sour, bitter and astringent;
  • Smell: fragrant, foul smelling;
  • Colour: black, blue, red, yellow and white.

Jain seers have described the modes or forms of ultimate particles as globular, circular, triangular, square and rectangular. They are so fine that they can only be perceived through intuition or superior apprehension, and cannot be grasped by sensory organs or measuring instruments.

From the point of view of substance, paramaanu is indivisible, but modally, it is not so. Modally, the four characteristics of colour, taste, smell and touch have their infinite modifications. Paramaanu can have a single characteristic or can express itself in many modes, and it can transform itself from one characteristic to another such as colour to taste, taste to smell, smell to touch. Matter with one quality or transformed qualities can remain in that form from the smallest unit to innumerable units of time. Jains describe empirical entities or events in their relation to substance (dravya), area (ksetra), time (kaala), and attribute (bhaava), so that they can have a better understanding of an event or substance and its forms and characteristics.

Types of Matter: The two categories of matter are the paramaanu and the skandha; they are classified by size:

very gross, containing gross objects such as earth, stones and wood; gross, which takes forms such as milk, yoghurt, butter, water, oil and other fluid material; gross-fine, which takes forms such as light and electricity; fine-gross, which takes forms such as wind and vapour; fine, the objects which belong to this category cannot be experienced by the senses, an example is the constituent of mind (manovargana); fine-fine, the ultimate particles of karma, sense imperceptible;

The scriptural classification of living (jiva) and non-living (ajiva) is based on the absence or presence of soul with the pudgalas. Jiva utilises necessary pudgalas for the formation of the body: sense organs, blood, muscles, etc. They are combined and discharged by the jiva: nail cuttings, hair and excretions. Paramaanus can amalgamate among themselves without the help of jiva, e.g. rainbows and clouds.

Origin, state and condition in matter can be both permanent and impermanent. Matter is permanent as substance, but when modified it seems to be impermanent. The objects that are formed through the combination or integration of paramaanus change their nature and structure. These objects could be gross or fine and may occupy one point of space to innumerable points of space. They may pervade the entire occupied universe, which, itself, is the aggregation of innumerable ultimate particles.

Motion of Paramaanu: The ultimate particle (paramaanu) is characterised by motion. Its motion is sometimes due to causation and sometimes without. The ultimate particle, as in a karmic body, can be immobile because of jiva, as it is neither transformed nor combined into molecules by jiva. In fact, an ultimate particle may not always be in motion. In the smallest unit of time, one samaya, it can travel from one point of space in the universe to the farthest point of space. The medium of motion aids the mobility of paramaanu and the medium of rest aids its immobility.

The motion of ultimate particles has certain limits. Natural motion is always in straight lines. If there are some crosscurrents of other ultimate and material particles, the motion is curved. Jiva is not directly responsible for the motion of an ultimate particle, but jiva's own volitions can influence its motion. The motion of ultimate particles may be due to further inherent causes or due to some other external factors present in matter.

The special stationary wave motion is the norm in a free elementary particle of matter, and maintains the natural hexagonal shape of the free particle and its attributes, as it does not encounter any obstacle. When the normal special stationary wave motion of matter meets with obstruction in a molecule due to adjoining particles, it becomes abnormal and is charged with different attributes (gunas), and creates variation in the shape of the particle and changes its attributes. For the sake of convenience, such transformed motion is termed as abnormal super energy wave motion. Ultimate particles are inobstructible because of its motion and can penetrate any object. When other matter hinders the movement, the ultimate particles will affect the other matter it contacts.

The Fine Nature of Ultimate Particles: The special characteristic of the ultimate particle is that it can occupy a point of space without any resistance. Similarly, the fine form of a molecule consisting of infinite ultimate particles can occupy the same point without any resistance (Jain S. 1960: 5.14), because they have no visible extension, they are fine in nature and they have powers of contraction and expansion. For instance, the lights of several lamps in a room intermingle.

Ultimate particles have eternally positive (snigdha) and negative charges (ruksa) which give them the natural binding force of stickiness. The binding force of a free particle is short-lived. When it comes into contact with other particle(s), the normal special stationary motion is obstructed with and becomes abnormal, which increases the stickiness of the particles so that they form aggregates.

Eight Types of Combinations of Ultimate Particles: Appropriate ultimate particles can combine to form five types of 'body' for living beings, as well as the breathing organs, the speech organs, and mind. These combinations occur on the basis of phenomena extension and are dependent upon attached karmic particles. They are called 'variforms' (varganaas) of ultimate particles, as they change their mode. They are:

  • Gross (audaarika): This consists of the combination of ultimate particles to form gross bodies for humans, animals, vegetables, earth, water, fire and air.
  • Transformational (vaikriya): This consists of aggregates of pudgalas which have the capacity to express qualities such as small and large, light and heavy, visible and invisible, for example to form the body of heavenly or infernal beings.
  • Projectile (aahaaraka): This body can be made by yogis and is the aggregate of auspicious pudgalas.
  • Luminous (taijasa): This body is the aggregate of pudgalas formed of the ultimate particles with luminous energy.
  • Karmic: This subtle body is the aggregate of pudgalas formed of the fine particles of matter found in the universe.
  • Respiratory (svacchosvaasa): This is the aggregate of pudgalas, which enables the function of breathing.
  • Speech (vacana): This is the collection of pudgalas necessary for speech.
  • Mind (mana): The collection of fine particles of pudgalas forms the mind.

Characteristics of Pudgalas: Jain philosophers have made a study of pudgala and its various characteristics, the like of which we do not find in other systems of philosophy. In modern science, we find recognition, to a large extent, of the Jain viewpoint. According to Jainism, the pudgala has ten characteristics: sound (sabda), heat (taapa), light (udyota), combination (bandha), fineness (suksama), grossness (sthula), formation of body (sansthaana), distinctions (bheda), darkness (tama), and shade (chaaya). The eight forms of energy and the variations of heat, light and sound are the modes of matter. Prajnaapanaa mentions electrical light, which is a form of natural electricity produced by positive and negative charges. Many texts also refer to iron bar magnets with the power of attraction, however, there is little description for it as is the case with other forms of energy

Sound is a specific mode of fine particles of speech variforms. It is material, produced by striking or a collision, such as the ringing of bells, or disjunction of material particles, such as tearing paper. Sound forms the fourth category of Kundakunda's classification of material energy, and it cannot travel in a vacuum or without a medium. The sound has two varieties: natural and produced. Natural sounds are generally nonverbal, such as thunder, rippling water, volcanic eruptions and so on. Produced sounds may be generated by living beings, non-living entities and by a combination of living and non-living. Sound has six distinct forms, which are classified according to the factors, which produce it:

manifest and latent speech produced by the voice; beating of stretched membranes (e.g. tablaa or drum); playing stringed instruments (e.g. sitaar or violin); playing reed instruments (e.g. clarinet, harmonium); blowing wind instruments (e.g. pipes, conch-shell or trumpet); striking of solid objects (e.g. ringing of bells).

Sound is of two types: artificial or natural. Artificial can be produced by our own efforts, which could result in either: the production and non-production of speech.

An individual recognises a sound and communicates it through language to other individuals. The sound so produced spreads through space in the form of sound waves. If the intensity of the sound produced is low, the sound waves travel like the waves of water over time for several yojanas, and then fade away. If the intensity is high, the sound waves travel farther distances to the end of the universe (Jain N. 1996: p.348).

The sound that we hear spoken by a particular person is not the original sound of the person speaking, but the sound waves that travel through space are decoded and heard by us in form of speech. The sound waves so produced are dispersed in all six directions, east, west, north, south, high and low. If the waves of the sound radiate in combination then we hear a mixed sound.

The Jambudvipa Prajnapti argues that the ringing of a bell in a particular region will be echoed in a sound of a bell in a distant place (Madhukar Muni ed. Jambudvipa Prajnapti 1994: p.289). This phenomenon may be similar to the radio waves. Sound pervades the entire world in what seems a fraction of a second, which was explained to his audience by Mahavira more than 2,500 years ago, when he said that whatever one says at any moment can be heard throughout the universe.

If the high-energy particles of sound are utilised in meditation or concentration, they are beneficial to the self as well as to others. The effectiveness of mental or vocal recitals of incantations such as the Namokara Mantra or other chants can be explained by the flow of its invisible energy towards the recipients, and the sound such as that of sermon or music improves the psychological states of the living beings.

Heat: Haribhadra states in Sad-Darsana-Sammuccaya (1976: p.243) that heat is a characteristic of life and that all entities which produce heat are alive. This has practical implications for the Jain ascetics, who do not use artificial heat, light or electricity because of their vow of ahimsaa, as they believe production of heat involves violence to minute living creatures. Vapours arising from water, fermentation and similar processes involve heat production and therefore imply that there is violence in such processes.

All material energy has dual (hot and cold) thermal effects. Heat energy has three functions: baking; digesting food and providing energy for life; and facilitating physical and chemical changes. The measurement of heat has been shown to be relative to our body temperatures.

Electricity is material energy; it is produced by contact between opposite charges such as that of lightning or meteorite showers. Physicists claim that it is an electron-flow having chemical, thermal and magnetic effects.

Light produces vision in the eye and is material in nature consisting of streams of photon particles. There are three varieties of light mentioned in scriptures: sunlight (35% light, 65% heat); moonlight/lamp light (99% light, 1% heat); gemological light (reflected light).

There are three effects of light mentioned in the Jain texts: colour, darkness and shadow. The shadow, darkness and lustre are variations of light The sensation of colour is the first effect of light. G.R. Jain classifies colours into spectral, pigmentary and fundamental and suggesting that the Jain texts deal with only primary colours (Jain G.1975: p.128). There are five colours: black, blue, yellow, red and white, mentioned in earlier literature although later Jain seers have amended into seven colours. Of these, the first and the last are composite, indicating the absence or presence of all colours, the three other colours represent the spectrum range (blue to red) of an earlier period. All other colours of the spectrum are subsumed under these three primary colours with each possessing many varieties reflecting the different frequencies. The three primary colours described in Jain literature are identical to the basic colours of the quark, a recently discovered unit of fundamental particles.

Aura colours: The Jain texts mention that the omniscients and the spiritually advanced persons had a colourful shining aura around their head. Six types of auratic colorations (black, blue, grey, yellow, red and white) were recognised, representing degrees of purity. Kirlian photography has proved the existence of auras. It has been observed that the aura of an angry and a pious individual are different; the aura of a pious individual is pleasant, while that of an angry individual is repulsive. Meditation and other self-control practices improve the aura, suggesting the purity of thoughts.

Darkness is another effect of light, however, it is not directly the antithesis of light. Light has two ranges: light of the visible spectrum and light of the invisible spectrum; darkness forms the invisible range for human beings. There are, however, many animals, which see well in the dark.

Shadow is the third effect of light. It has two forms: the formation of dark shadows, and the formation of images, virtual or inverted. The dark shade or shadow is produced when an opaque obstacle in their path obstructs the fine particles of light.

By contrast with opaque bodies plain, concave or convex mirrors, and lenses and gemstones, there are many entities, which do allow the light to pass through them, but repulse it after the encounter, which is known as reflection. When light is reflected from plain mirrors (which were known in earliest times), we see our own image but virtual image laterally inverted (right becomes left and vice-versa). There is one further phenomenon of light, showing the natural process of refraction, the rainbow.

The Jain texts refer to the velocity of light, and G.R. Jain has calculated the velocity of light utilising Jain and Hindu data, giving it a value close to the scientific figure of 3´1010 cm/sec (Jain N. 1996: p.312).

Magnetism is referred to in the Jain texts in terms of iron bar magnets invisibly attracting other metals.

Functions of Pudgala (Matter) in Relation to Jiva: Pudgalas are necessary for the six functions of a living being: to take food, to produce body, to form sense organs, respiration, speech and mind from the respective variforms. The function of matter is also to contribute to pleasure, suffering, life and death of living beings (Jain S. 1960: 5.20). Of five types of bodies: gross, transformable, projectile, luminous and karmic, only the gross body can be experienced through the sense organs. Luminous and karmic bodies do not interact with other bodies; they can move in the occupied space towards the destination of the rebirth of a worldly soul. The jiva can have at the most four bodies at any one time, because the transformable and projectile bodies cannot co-exist. Usually a worldly being has three bodies: gross (or transformable), luminous and karmic. Only Yogis can produce a projectile body.

The mental functions are also material in nature. When we think, thoughts emanate from the mind through the molecules of mind variforms. Thought forms obtain their configuration from mind variforms and these flit across the mind leaving behind their traces in the form of thought processes. These thought processes have different durations. Some leave mnemonic traces on the cerebrum, through which they have a psychosomatic effect on the body.

The texts describe various types of unions as conjunctions or conjoining and as disjunction, division or separation. The conjoining may be natural or effected by the body, speech or the mind, or may be a physical or chemical union between two similar or dissimilar substances.

Certain conjugations are important to us for our worldly and superworldly life, and there are three varieties: between living (soul) and non-living karma (and quasikarma and other various forms such as the 'completions' of the mind, speech and respiration); non-living entities; and conjugations across categories.

The conjugations between non-living entities may be defined in terms of physical or chemical bonds. They are of five varieties: fastening (like a chain to a vehicle); painting (like paint or colour to a canvas, walls or furniture); joining (joining pieces of timber together with glue); body-joint (bone or ligament joints); embodied joining (this could be defined in terms of volitional bonds through attachment/psychological processes in living beings).

Jain texts describe two general types of bonding between the living and nonliving. Karma is bound to the soul of worldly living beings as karmic particles are charged particles capable of bonding with worldly living beings, and are of varying intensities and qualities.

To break the karmic bond requires a highly charged internal energy that must be generated by living beings through austerities and meditation. The scriptures also describe how energy flows from the adept to others through the fingers via touch, through the eyes and through speech. This energy may have good or ill effects: for example, the practice of healing by touch, and the influence on others of the eyes or the voice of the preceptor.

Every entity is associated with internal or external forces, which order stability. Besides the above two mediums or neutral forces, if the entity is sentient, it has some additional forces working in or upon it. They are mental, inner or spiritual, sonic, and physical, especially karmic forces. Sonic energy represents the motor force of sound, and its incantational power is well known. The karmic force is very important for action, volition and rebirth, but this force requires deeper scientific study.

In short, worldly beings are very closely associated with various forms of pudgala: gross bodies, fine bodies and their functioning and they experience various quasi-karmic forms of pleasure and pain through the senses. The processes of life and death are also said to be material, as they involve the gain or loss of material forces such as gross or fine bodies. In this sense, we can say that matter has a tremendous influence on the functions of the jiva and the formation of the universe.


As we have seen earlier out of the six substances constituting the universe, jiva and pudgala have the capacity for movement. They are considered to have the capacity for both movement (gatisila) and rest (sthitisila), which is helped by the medium of motion (dharmaastikaaya) and the medium of rest (adharmaastikaaya). Jain texts use the suffix 'astikaaya' (literally meaning having a body) after all the substances except time, to express that they have innumerable space-points, as an analogy similar to that of a body, which has innumerable parmaanus. The words dharma and adharma have also been used in the ethical sense of auspicious (subha) and inauspicious (asubha) by Jainism and other Indian religions, but dharmaastikaaya has a connotation of movement, while adharmaastikaaya has a connotation of rest. Jainism is the only philosophy, which possesses these principles.

Dharmaastikaaya pervades the entire universe, is eternal, formless, and has no colour, smell, touch nor taste. It is the medium of motion by which both the soul and matter move. All the activities and movements of jiva, in both the physiological and psychological senses, are due to the medium of motion. It has an infinite number of space points (pradesas). It, itself, does not move, it facilitates movement. It is indestructible. It is the medium by which movement is possible, although it does not contribute directly either in material substance or as the energy that makes objects move. Dharmaastikaaya is one and whole and does not appear as divisible.

Dharmastikaaya assists movement but does not initiate it. Just as the motion of a fish is possible in water although the water does not or may not make it move, similarly, dharmastikaaya is the medium in which movement is possible. Without this principle, motion is impossible, just as the fish cannot function out of water.

Motion and rest are the two states which are characteristic of pudgala and jiva. They do not have mere motion or mere rest, sometimes they move and sometimes they rest. The principles assisting their mobility are dharmaastikaaya and adharmaastikaaya.

The principles of motion and rest are illustrated in the following dialogue, from the Bhagvati Sutra, between Mahavira and his disciple Gautama

Gautama Ganadhara asked Bhagavan Mahavira 'What is the use of Dharmastikaaya for the jivas?'

Mahavira said: 'O Gautama, if the principle of motion were not to operate, where would be the motion? Who would come and who would go? How could the waves of the sound travel? How could eyelids open? Who would talk and who could move about? The whole world would have remained stationary. Dharmastikaaya is the means to all the moving things.'

Gautama asked, 'Bhagavan! What is the use of the Adharmastikaaya for the Jivas?'

Mahavira said, 'O Gautama, if the Adharmastikaaya were not to operate as the principle of rest who would stand and who would sit? Who would sleep? Who could concentrate? Who could remain silent? Who can remain inactive? Who could keep their eyelids steady? The world would have constant movement without end. All that is steady and at rest is due to the principle of rest, Adharma' (Devendra Muni 1983: pp. 129-30).


As dharmaastikaaya is necessary for movement in the world, so adharmaastikaaya is necessary for the static state of objects. It is the medium of rest. Like dharma, adharma also pervades the entire universe. It is whole and non-discrete, and has infinite number of space-points. It enables jiva and pudgala to experience a state of rest, steadiness and a static existence. It is formless, and co-exists with dharmaastikaaya though the functions of both are contrary to each other.


The substance that accommodates living substance, matter, the media of motion and rest, and time, is called space (aakaasa). It is the location of all substances, which is illustrated, in the following dialogue, also from the Bhagvati Sutra, between Gautama and Mahavira:

Gautama asked Mahavira: 'Bhagavan! What is the use of the substance of space for living and non-living things?'

Mahavira said: 'O Gautama, if space were not there, where would living beings be? Where would the media of motion and rest pervade? Where would time extend? Where would the movement of matter be possible? The whole world would be without foundation' (Devendra Muni 1983: p.132).'

It is empty space, which accommodates both in jiva and ajiva. It is all pervading, infinite, formless and inactive and has infinite space-points. It is divided into two parts: occupied space and unoccupied space. It is only an optical illusion, dust or water in the atmosphere, which allows us see the ostensible phenomena of coloured sky and the rainbow.

Occupied space has the media of motion and rest; these are absent in unoccupied space, hence no jiva or ajiva can move into unoccupied space. Space is singular and continuous substance without division.

The Jain scriptures have explained how heavy substances like the Earth exist in space: the Earth rests on solidified water which rests on heavy air; heavy air rests on thin air and that again rests in space. The medium of rest helps the macroscopic matter of the Earth to remain in place.


Jain seers have described time (kaala) as an independent substance, unidimensional in nature, and as the mode of living and non-living substances, change, effect and their activity. Some Jain seers exclude time as a constituent substance of the universe as it is unidimensional, while the bulk of Jain literature includes it as a constituent of the six substances of the universe. Uttaraadhyayana and Dharmasangrahani, two classic texts, state that time has relevance for the world of humans, and also for astronomical and astrological calculations. The rotations and evolutions of planetary bodies are utilised to measure time. Although time is a substance, which consists of infinite instants (Jain S. 1960: 5.39, 5.40), it is not like the other five substances having extendable dimensions, but, it is serial: always in a 'forward' direction and linear. Every point of time is discrete, and at a particular moment of time the present alone exists, the past is irrecoverable and the future has yet to come. Therefore, there is only one samaya (moment) at a time and no possibility of an aggregate of time, and as it is unidimensional it cannot reverse.

Forms of Time: The Sthaanaanga mentions four types of time: measurable time, the life span of a living being, the moment of death, and time relative to the movements of the sun and the moon. The conventional measurement of time is impossible; it is possible only through changes in objects. Life and death are two relative spans of time. The duration of life is considered as life span time, and the cessation of life as death.

Expressions like 'ancient' and 'recent', 'late' and 'early' are relative to time. If there is no time to intercede, no action can be performed, then no result can be obtained. Moving, eating and drinking, bathing, washing, and business activity can only be achieved through time. Similarly the growth of a tree from a seed, or that of a child through maturity to old age can only be measured through time.

The measurement of time based on the movement and revolutions of the sun and the moon is called the aaddhaakaala. It is the primary measurement of time, other measurements are modifications of it. It determines the span of time for the practical purposes of human activities. The conventional measurements of time for the purpose of human activities, from samaya, the smallest unit, to the largest unit of anantakaalacakra, are described in the Jain scriptures. Jains still use ghadi (or ghati) and muhurta in their daily rituals as measurements of time.

Table 4.4 Time measurement as described in Jain literature.

The indivisible unit of time

one samaya

Infinite number of samayas

one avalika

256 avalikas (shortest lifespan)

one ksullaka bhava

17 ksullaka bhava

one breath

2 breaths

1 prana

7 pranas

one stoka

7 stokas

one lava

38.5 lavas

one ghadi (24 minutes)

72 lavas — or 3773 breaths or 943 pranas

one muhurta (48 minutes)

30 muhurtas

one day and a night

15 days and nights

one paksa

2 paksas

one masa (month)

2 masas

one rutu (season)

3 rutus

one ayana

2 ayanas

one year

5 years

one yuga

20 yugas

one century

8.4 million years

one purvanga

8.4 million purvanga

one purva (c. 70,560 billion years)

1 palyopama

innumerable years

10 crore crore palyopama

one saagaropama

20 crore crore sagara

one kaalacakra

Innumerable kaalacakra

one pudgala paraavartana


The Jain Concept of Time Cycle

The time has been imagined as a wheel moving in a clockwise direction and divided into cycles each of two equal parts: the descending cycle (avasarpini) and the ascending (utsarpini). Each of these two half cycles is further divided into six epochs. During the descending cycle there is a gradual spiritual decline (leading ultimately to the deterioration of material things) in the world, and during the ascending cycle there is gradual spiritual progress. These cycles of time follow one after another in unbroken and unending succession and indefinitely (Jaysundarmuni, Tattvajnaan Citravali-Prakash date n.a.: pp.15-18). Each epoch of the cycle lasts for vast, though varying, lengths of time and its characteristics are expressed in terms of 'misery' (dusamaa) or 'joy' (susamaa):

Ascending half-cycle (utsarpini)

  • First epoch (dusamaa—dusamaa), an epoch of great misery
  • Second epoch (dusamaa), an epoch of misery
  • Third epoch (dusamaa—susamaa), an epoch largely of misery
  • Fourth epoch (susamaa—dusamaa), an epoch which is mostly joyful
  • Fifth epoch (susamaa), an epoch of joy
  • Sixth epoch (susamaa—susamaa), an epoch of extreme joy

Descending half-cycle (avasarpini)

  • First epoch (susamaa—susamaa), an epoch of extreme joy
  • Second epoch (susamaa), an epoch of joy
  • Third epoch (susamaa—dusamaa), an epoch which is largely joyful
  • Fourth epoch (dusamaa—susamaa), an epoch largely of misery
  • Fifth epoch (dusamaa), an epoch of misery
  • Sixth epoch (dusamaa—dusamaa), an epoch of extreme misery.

FIGURE 4.5 The Jain cosmic time cycle.

We are now living in the fifth epoch of a descending half-cycle. The conditions, which pertain to the first two epochs of the descending half-cycle, were generally very favourable. During the first epoch people are healthy, large in stature, live long lives, need to eat only every fourth day and have all their desires satisfied by the 'wish-fulfilling' trees (kalpavruksa). In the last six months of their lives, each couple gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, and after forty-nine days of nurturing them, the parents quietly and contentedly die and are reborn as heavenly beings, because they had very few passions. The offspring grow up living together and continue the cycle.

During the second epoch conditions deteriorate slightly. People need to eat every third day, are smaller in stature than in the first epoch and live shorter lives. When a couple's offspring are born they are cared for sixty-four days before the parents die and achieve rebirth as heavenly beings.

In the third epoch, people eat every other day and decline yet further in stature and lifespan. Couples continue to give birth to a single pair of twins, whom they nurture for seventy-nine days before they die to be reborn as heavenly beings. The 'wish-fulfilling' trees have, by the end of the third epoch, lost much of their power. In the third epoch conditions in the world deteriorate and many problems appear which demand solutions. At this juncture, 'guides' or 'law givers' (kulakaras) emerge to teach the people the necessary skills, arts and professions to establish social order. The first tirthankara, Risabhdeva, lived at the end of this epoch in the current time cycle.

During the fourth epoch humans had to work in order to live. With the dawning of this epoch, social structures, states and the ruling classes were formed and people begin to perform religious rituals, and to marry. New methods of trade, industry, agriculture, architecture, and learning were devised. There was material progress, but spiritually humans deteriorated. It was during this epoch that the other twenty-three tirthankaras lived. Attainment of liberation is possible only for those born in the fourth epoch of any descending cycle. At the end of this epoch in the current half-cycle some great landmasses were submerged under water. This was the 'partial end of the world' (khanda pralaya).

The fifth epoch, in which we are now living, will last 21,000 years. About 2,500 years of the epoch have elapsed. In this epoch the stature, life span and the physical strength of humans are very much reduced. The maximum span of life is 120 years. Religious observances will decline, so that by the end of the epoch, few people will be religious at all. Passions (anger, pride, deceit and greed) will increase. People will be self-centred, violent, discourteous and unhelpful to others. There will be destructive weather patterns and worldwide climatic conditions will become unbearable. There will be famines, increases in diseases and reductions in the fertility of land. Many spurious schisms and harmful beliefs will prevail. Heavenly beings will not come to bless even their most ardent devotees. Education and learning will have no beneficial spiritual impact on people. Good people will suffer and the bad will prosper. Pseudo-cults and their leaders will be respected and religious and upright people will be few in numbers. In general, people will be increasingly unhappy and there will be deterioration in moral values.

During the sixth epoch of 21,000 years things worsen still further. There will be unbearable heat during the day and cold during the night. People will live in burrows along the banks of rivers. Jain scriptures forecast that there will be a total destruction of civilisation. During the last forty-nine days of this epoch there will be dust clouds for the first seven days, violent storms for the next seven days, heavy rains during the third week and rains of fire during the fourth week. During the final three weeks there will be hailstorms, sandstorms and trees uprooted. The result will be the almost complete destruction of all living beings. The Jain seers have called this period a pralaya (demanifestation). The few surviving beings will be removed to places of safety by divine forces, where they will multiply again after the storm has subsided. Thus the cycle of decline will end. After this, the cycle is repeated in the reverse order, going through six epochs of a half-cycle. Jains do not conceive of an end to the existence of the universe, which is eternal.

During the process of transmigration the souls might have had an infinite number of re-births in the universe and occupied different types of bodies. Hence the knowledge of the 'real entities' and their usefulness to the soul are necessary for its spiritual advancement.

The soul guides itself and other souls towards spiritual progress. Matter serves the soul by providing the body through which a soul expresses itself, provides nutrition, and objects of comfort and material pleasure. Space accommodates all substances. Time expresses modification and continuity of substances over time. The medium of motion facilitates the soul and matter in motion. The medium of rest facilitates the soul and matter in rest. The other 'real entities' suggest the mechanism of karmic bondage and the liberation of the soul to enjoy its inherent qualities of perfect knowledge and perception, total bliss and energy.

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Title: Jainism: The World of Conquerors
Dr. Natubhai Shah
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Edition: 1998