Karma, Austerity, and Time Cycles: Jainism and Radical Life Extension
Jainism, as it is practiced in India today, is traced back to the twenty-fourth jina (“victor”),1 Mahavira (b. 599 bce), who taught a path of nonviolence and austerity to lead people to mokṣa (“liberation” from rebirth). According to Jain cosmology, the world is divided into five parts: the heavens, the hells, the middle world of humans and animals, the abode of beings with only one sense, and the abode of enlightened souls (Dunda 2002, 90–93; Babb 1996, 38–41). All beings are part of a cycle of reincarnation (samsāra) in which they may be reborn as humans, animals, and heavenly or hellish beings.2 Souls reincarnate repeatedly, according to their karma, until they reach moksa and escape this cycle3 to float to the top of the universe to the abode of enlightened souls, never to be reborn again. It is moksa, and not heaven, which is Jainism’s soteriological goal. Indeed, a rebirth in heaven is temporary, and not permanent like moksa; nor do the pleasures of heaven compare to the bliss of moksa. To achieve moksa, lay-people must first increase their good karma in order to produce a rebirth suitable for the intensive religious practice of monks and nuns. Then, as renouncers, they eventually eliminate all good and bad karma from their souls. Once this is achieved, moksa is attained.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.