«The understanding of death and dying as seen by different religions»
  Death and Dying in Jainism


Reincarnation and deliverance


Like many Eastern religions, Jainism uses the concepts of reincarnation and deliverance.


When a being dies the soul (jiva) goes to its next body instantly. This body may not be human or even animal.

The quality of its next life is determined by its karma at that time.

The mental state of the being at the moment of death is also important: a calm and contented death, with the mind focussed on spiritual matters is the best.


A being achieves deliverance when it is free from all karma.

This is not the same thing as enlightenment. An enlightened being is free of all harmful karma, but still subject to the non-harmful karma. However a delivered being cannot attract any harmful karma, and they cannot do anything bad. Such a being is called an arihant.

Despite being still human, an arihant has perfect knowledge, and happiness. All tirthankaras were arihants (but not vice versa). A tirthankara is an arihant who founds a religious community of monks and nuns (there was no organised laity in early Jainism).

An enlightened being does not achieve deliverance until all the non-harmful karma has expired. During this time it continues to be embodied and can live in the world.

Presently, you will not find a fully enlightened being even among the most holy of Jain monks, as Jain teaching states that no-one has or will achieve enlightenment in the present time (in Jain terms, during the 5th and 6th spokes of the current time cycle).

When the being becomes free of all karma it travels instantly to the supreme abode - the highest level of the universe - where it lives for ever in a disembodied state of bliss with the other liberated souls.

«The soul»: Jivas

Jain ideas about the soul differ from those of many other religions.

The Jain word that comes closest to soul is jiva, which means a conscious, living being. For Jains body and soul are different things: the body is just an inanimate container - the conscious being is the jiva.

After each bodily death, the jiva is reborn into a different body to live another life, until it achieves liberation. When a jiva is embodied (i.e. in a body), it exists throughout that body and isn't found in any particular bit of it.

Jains believe:

  • the soul exists forever
  • each soul is always independent
  • the soul is responsible for what it does
  • the soul experiences the consequences of its actions
  • the soul can become liberated from the cycle of birth and death - not all souls can be liberated - some souls are inherently incapable of achieving this.
  • the soul can evolve towards that liberation by following principles of behaviour.


Each jiva is an individual quite independent of other jivas. This is different from one of the Hindu Vedanta schools of belief where each soul is part of a single ultimate reality.

Jains believe that there are an infinite number of souls in the universe - every living thing, no matter how primitive, is a jiva - and at any given time many of these jivas are not embodied.

Souls have not fallen from perfection

For Jains, each jiva has been associated with matter, and involved in the cycle of birth and death since the beginning of time. They did not in some way fall from perfection to become involved in this cycle.

Some jivas, through their own efforts, have become liberated and escaped from the cycle.

Liberated souls

Some jivas have achieved liberation from the cycle of samsara or reincarnation and are not reborn. They are called siddhas.

Liberated jivas don't have physical bodies; they possess infinite knowledge, infinite vision, infinite power, and infinite bliss - in effect they have become perfect beings.

This makes liberated jivas the beings most like gods in Jain belief, but they are very different from the conventional idea of gods

  • they do not create or destroy
  • it's not possible to have any sort of relationship with them
  • they do not intervene in the universe
  • they did not set down the laws of the universe
  • they do not make any demands on human beings
  • they don't reward human beings in any way, or forgive their sins, or give them grace
  • human beings don't owe their existence to them
  • humans can only use them as an inspiration

So when Jains worship "gods" they do so to set before themselves the example of perfection that they want to follow in their own lives.

Non-liberated souls

Every jiva has the possibility of achieving liberation, and thus of becoming a god, and each soul is involved in a process of evolving towards that state.

Categories of non-liberated soul

Ekendriya - Beings with one sense

Jains include many things as jivas that non-Jains regard as either inanimate or plants. They classify these as immobile beings, with only one sense - the sense of touch:

  • Earth-bodied: clay, sand, metal etc
  • Water-bodied: fog, rain, ice etc
  • Fire-bodied: fire, lightning etc
  • Air-bodied: wind, gas etc
  • Plant-bodied: trees, flowers, vegetables etc

Beindriya - Beings with two senses

These are very simple organisms that are thought to have two senses - touch and taste. This category includes things like worms and termites.

Treindriya - Beings with three senses

These have the senses of touch, taste and smell. This category includes insects like ants, beetles and moths.

Chaurindriya - Beings with four senses

These have the senses of touch, taste, smell and sight. This category includes wasps, locusts and scorpions.

Panchendriya - Beings with five senses

These have the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. There are four classes of these beings:

  • Infernal beings: souls living in hell. This form of jiva experiences the greatest suffering.
  • Higher animals: This includes all non-human animals above insects.
  • Human beings: This is the only form of jiva which is able to obtain liberation directly.
  • Heavenly beings: This form of jiva is the happiest.