similar cyclic doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism, in the Jaina system there
is no sharp break at the end of the cycle, but rather an imperceptible process
of systole and diastole. Each cosmic cycle is divided into two halves, the
ascending (utsarpini), and the descending (avasarpini). We are now in the
phase of descent, which is divided into six periods.
In the first, the ‘very happy’ (sllsama-susama), people were of enormous
stature and longevity and had no cares; they were spontaneously virtuous, so
had no need of morals or religion.
In the second period, the ‘happy’ (susama), there was some diminution of
their stature, longevity and bliss.
The third period, called ‘happy-wretched’ (susama-duhsama), witnessed
the appearance of sorrow and evil in mild forms. At first, mankind, conscious
of the decline in its fortunes, looked to patriarchs (kutakara) for guidance and
advice, until the last patriarch, Rishabhadeva, knowing the fate that was in
store for the world, established the institutions of government and
civilisation. He then took to a life of asceticism, making his son Bharata the
first universal emperor (chakravartin). Rishabhadeva was the first
tirthankara and, according to Jaina tradition, was the true founder of Jainism
in this age. Brahmi, the daughter of Rishabhadeva, invented the numerous
alphabets of India.
The fourth period, ‘wretched-happy’ (duhsama-susama), was one of
further decline and saw the birth of the other twenty three tirthankaras.
The fifth period, the ‘wretched’ (duhsama), began some three years after
Mahavira’s death and is at present current. Its duration is 21,000 years,
during which Jainism will gradually disappear, and the stature, virtue and
longevity of men will gradually diminish.
The sixth and the last period, the ‘very wretched’ (duhsama-duhsama),
will also last for 21,000 years, and at its end the nadir of decline will be
reached. People will live for only twenty years, and will be only a cubit tall.
Civilisation will be forgotten, and men will live in caves. Morality will be
non-existent, and theft, incest, adultery, and murder will be looked upon as
normal. at. the end of this age there will be Fierce storms that will destroy
many of the remaining pygmy inhabitants of the earth; but some will survive,
and from then on the state of the world will imperceptibly grow better, for the
age of ascent will have commenced.