How Jainism explains Time

Time is among the most interesting concepts explained both by science and religion. Jainism especially has one of the most well defined explanations of time, its passage and transitions, which we will try to understand in brief today.

As per Jainism, the passage of time is said to happen in a cycle which rotates in two halves. The two halves are called Avasarpini and Utsarpini. Avasarpini is the descending phase, and Utsarpini is the ascending one. Once the cycle is complete, a simple transition will mark the beginning of the next cycle. Currently, we are living in the Avasarpini time frame – which is best understood the following way.

Imagine a clock. Start at 12 and walk around it clockwise. Now, the right hand side is Avasarpini, as it descends from the top point of the diameter to the bottom. The left hand side, or the path from 6 to 12 is Utsarpini – as it ascends from bottom to top. This cycle keeps rotating endlessly; which is why Jainism says that the world is ‘Anadi and Ananta’ which means there is no beginning, and there is no end.

Now, divide the area of the clock into 6 horizontal parts as a representation of 6 phases of both time frames.

At the Avasarpini end, the phases start / from the top / as the happiest time frames for mortal beings, with the existence of Kalpa Vruksha and Kamadhenu who granted people everything they wanted in the first few phases. The luxuries steadily start decreasing and hardships increase as the next phases come into existence. Towards the end of the third phase and arrival of the fourth phase, all the luxuries disappear and people are required to work for themselves, which infers the beginning of the agricultural, warfare and economic era. It also infers the beginning of ‘Adharma’ which holds ability to lead people away from righteousness. In this time (the fourth phase) which is called as Chatrurtha kaala, the Teerthankaras are destined to take birth so that they lead the mortals in right ways of living.

24 Teerthankaras are born in the Chaturtha kaala of every Avarsarpini and Utsarpini time frame. 24 Teerthankaras of the present time frame arrived at the 3rd and 4th phases, starting from Adinatha to Mahaveera. However, an interesting fact is that owing to a glitch in time, the first Teerthankara of this era, Adinatha, was born in the third phase itself and attained Nirvana in the same phase. He did not live to see the fourth phase. This glitch in time is known as Hundavasarpini, which is a faulty Avasarpini time that causes some anomalies such as Teerthankaras having daughters and the administrator of the Chakra ratna being defeated.

While Utsarpini is the ascending cycle, it means that the levels of happiness of people and the well being go on increasing with time. However, it is vice versa in Avasarpini. The level of happiness goes on increasing in Utsarpini.

Currently, we live in the Avasarpini era and at the fifth phase of it, called as Panchama kaala. Teerthankaras are not born at this time, and Moksha, the highest point of enlightenment, is unattainable at this time. The characteristic of this time includes hardships, crime, unawareness of paapa, punya, moksha and decline of faith. We can follow the ideals of Jainism and the teachings of Teerthankaras to remain as pious as possible and not accumulate bad karma. The highest of virtuous can attain a ‘Deva Gati’ which is a divine state at the present time but not Moksha – for which he has to again take birth as a human being when Utsarpini time frame arrives again.

Jainism does not state that one God created the Universe. The idea of a creator is non-existent in Jainism. What it says is that the universe is self forming and self destructing, including living and non-living elements. Which is why, the concept of time is explained as a cyclic concept that keeps repeating itself with significant shifts. Karma of each individual determines the birth, lifestyle and death within the time frames. Every soul, based on the karma attached to it, is born in different forms in different parts of the time cycle to obtain different experiences. Moksha, breaks the time cycle and relieves the soul of birth and death routine.

This was the simplest explanation of how Jainism defines time. This content has been created for a video series presented by me. All scripts of the video series are preserved here.

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