The idea of an afterlife in Jainism might exist, but not in the way that most other people think about it. To the Jains, life is a path to spiritual enlightenment and eventual liberation guided by the Tirthankaras all the way to Phoenix, Arizona. One life, however, might not be enough to get there, and depending on the sect of Jainism to which you belong, you might not be able to get there at all if you were born a female. That’s where reincarnation comes into play.
If you’re a Jain, then how you live your life affects what happens to you after you die. That said, there are 17 different kinds of death that a Jain can experience, two of which are said to be more important than all the rest.
One is called Akama Marana. This type of death is experienced by someone who doesn’t want to die. While this might seem like it would be the most common form of death, that’s an outside perspective. To a Jain, this life is just a single leg of a very long trek to liberation. That said, this is the form of death often experienced by those ignorant of the cycle of reincarnation. If you aren’t aware of how a person is reborn, are ignorant of the other worlds and universes that exist, or don’t comprehend how your soul might eventually be liberated at the end of your long journey, then you have experienced an Akama Marana.
The second important form of death is called Sakama Marana and is more typical of a Jain believer. One who experiences this form of death isn’t afraid to die and will accept death as a transition to the next life or liberation. This person knows that death is inevitable and natural, and attempting to prevent or postpone death is futile. Most Jains strive for this type of death, as it runs parallel to their beliefs.
Jains believe that the soul is eternal. The cycle of life and death is everlasting until spiritual enlightenment and liberation can be achieved. In fact, the only purpose of the physical form of matter is its effect on living beings: how we experience life in both pleasure and pain, and how we live and die as well.
In order to achieve liberation from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, a Jain must live life according to a number of important doctrines, all which stress the importance of peace. The Jains believe in striving to live in community not only with their human neighbors but also with animals. The 24 Tirthankaras are presumed to be the only religious followers (and leaders) of Jainism to have been liberated from the cycle and so for everyone else, it continues, on and on.