Jainism Cosmology

According to Jain beliefs, the universe was never created, nor will it ever cease to exist. It is eternal but not
unchangeable, because it passes through an endless series of alternations or swings. Each of these upward or downward swings is divided into six world ages (yugas). The present world age is the fifth age of one of these "swings," which is in a downward movement. These ages or "swings" are known as "AARO" as in "''Pehelo Aaro''" or First Age, "''Beejo Aaro''" or Second Age and so on. The last one is the "''Chhatho Aaro''" or Sixth Age. All these ages have fixed time durations of thousands of years.

When this reaches its lowest level, even Jainism itself will be lost in its entirety. Then, in the course of the next upswing, the Jain religion will be rediscovered and reintroduced by new leaders called Tirthankaras (literally "Crossing Makers" or "Ford Finders"), only to be lost again at the end of the next downswing, and so on.

In each of these enormously long alternations of time There are always twenty-four Tirthankaras. In the current world age, the twenty-third Tirthankar was Parshva, an ascetic and teacher, whose traditional dates are 877-777 BC, i.e., 250 years before the passing of the last Tirthankar Mahavira in 527 BC. Jains regard him and all Tirthankaras as a reformer who called for a return to beliefs and practices in line with the eternal universal philosophy upon which the faith is said to be based.

The twenty-fourth and final Tirthankar of this age is known by his title, Mah8257;v8299;ra, the Great Hero (599527BC). He too was a wandering ascetic teacher who attempted to recall the Jains to the rigorous practice of their ancient faith.

Jains believe that reality is made up of two eternal principles, jiva and ajiva. Jiva consists of an Infinite number of identical spiritual units; ajiva (that is, non-jiva) is matter in all its forms and the conditions under which matter exists: time, space, and movement.

Both jiva and ajiva are eternal; they never came into existence for the first time and will never cease to exist. The whole world is made up of jivas trapped in ajiva; There are jivas in rocks, plants, insects, animals, human beings, spirits, et cetera.

Any contact whatsoever of the jiva with the ajiva causes the former to suffer. Thus the Jains believed that
existence in this world inevitably means suffering. Neither social reform nor the reform of individuals themselves can ever stop suffering. In every human being, a jiva is trapped, and the jiva suffers because of its contact with ajiva. The only way to escape from suffering is for the jiva to completely escape from the human condition, from human existence.

karma and transmigration keep the jiva trapped in ajiva. Achieving release from the human condition is difficult. The Jains believe that the jiva continues to suffer during all its lives or reincarnations, which are of an indefinite number. They believe that every action that a person performs, be it good or evil, opens up channels of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), through which an invisible substance, karma, filters in and adheres to the jiva within, weighing it down and determining the conditions of the next reincarnation.

The consequence of evil actions is a heavy karma, which weighs the jiva down, forcing it to enter its new life at a lower level in the scale of existence. The consequence of good deeds, on the other hand, is a light karma, which allows the jiva to rise in its next life to a higher level in the scale of existence, where There is less suffering to be endured. However, good deeds alone can never lead to release.

The way to moksha (release or liberation) is withdrawal from the world. Karma is the cause-and-effect
mechanism by virtue of which all actions have inescapable consequences. Karma operates to keep the jiva
chained in an unending series of lifetimes in which the jiva suffers to a greater or lesser extent. Thus the way of escape must involve an escape from karma, the destruction of all karma and the avoidance of new karma.

Then, at death, with no karma to weigh it down, the jiva will float free of all ajiva, free of the human condition,
free of all future embodiments. It will rise to the top of the universe to a place or state called Siddhashila, where the jiva, identical with all other pure jivas, will experience its own true nature in eternal stillness, isolation and noninvolvement. It will be totally free. The way to burn up old karma is to withdraw from all involvement in the world as much as possible, and close the channel of the senses and the mind to prevent karmic matter from entering and adhering to the jiva.