Eschatology i/ˌɛskəˈtɒlədʒi/ (from the Greek ἔσχατος/ἐσχάτη/ἔσχατον, eschatos/eschatē/eschaton meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”, first used in English around 1550) is a part of theology, physics, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events of history, theultimate destiny of humanity — commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end time“.
In the context of mysticism, the phrase refers metaphorically to the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine. In many religions it is taught as an existing future event prophesied in sacred texts or folklore. More broadly, eschatology may encompass related concepts such as the Messiah or Messianic Age, the end time, and the end of days.
History is often divided into “ages” (Gk. aeons), an age being a period when certain realities are present. One age comes to an end and a new age, where different realities are present, begins. When such transitions from one age to another are the subject of eschatological discussion, the phrase, “end of the world”, is replaced by “end of the age”, “end of an era”, or “end of life as we know it”. Much apocalyptic fiction does not deal with the “end of time” but rather with the end of a certain period of time, the end of life as it is now, and the beginning of a new period of time. It is usually a crisis that brings an end to current reality and ushers in a new way of living / thinking / being. This crisis may take the form of the intervention of a deity in history, a war, a change in the environment or the reaching of a new level of consciousness.
Most modern eschatology and apocalypticism, both religious and secular, involves the violent disruption or destruction of the world, whereas Christian and Jewish eschatologies view the end times as the consummation or perfection of God’s creation of the world. For example, according to ancient Hebrew belief, life takes a linear (and not cyclical) path; the world began with God and is constantly headed toward God’s final goal for creation.
Eschatologies vary as to their degree of optimism or pessimism about the future (and in some eschatologies, conditions are better for some and worse for others, e.g. “heaven and hell”).
Researchers in futures studies and transhumanism are investigating how the accelerating rate of scientific progress may lead to a technological singularity in the 21st century that would profoundly and unpredictably change the course of human history, and result in Homo sapiens no longer being the dominant life form on Earth.
The Sun at the center of the Solar System will turn into a red giant in about 5 billion years. As a red giant, the Sun will have a maximum radius beyond the Earth’s current orbit. The Sun’s expansion will not lead to the end of the Universe — its effects will be limited to the Solar System. Life on Earth will become impossible due to a rise in temperature long before the planet is actually swallowed up by the Sun.
Some forms of Buddhism hold a belief in cycles in which the life span of human beings changes according to human nature. In the Cakkavati sutta, the Buddha explained the relationship between life span of human beings and their behaviour. According to this sutta, unwise behavior was unknown among the human race in the past. As a result, people lived for an immensely long time — 80,000 years — endowed with great beauty, wealth, pleasure, and strength. Over the course of time, though, they began behaving in various unwise ways. This caused the human life span gradually to shorten, to the point where it now stands at 100 years, with human beauty, wealth, pleasure, and strength decreasing proportionately.
Ultimately, conditions will deteriorate to the point of a “sword-interval,” in which swords appear in the hands of all human beings, and they hunt one another like game. A few people, however, will take shelter in the wilderness to escape the carnage, and when the slaughter is over, they will come out of hiding and resolve to take up a life of wise and virtuous action again. With the recovery of virtue, the human life span will gradually increase again until it reaches 80,000 years, with people attaining sexual maturity at 500.
According to Tibetan Buddhist literature, the age of the first Buddha was 1,000,000 years and his height was 100 cubits while the 28th Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama (563BC–483BC) lived 80 years, and his height was 20 cubits.
In other traditions, such as Zen, a somewhat utilitarian view is taken. The notion often exists that within each moment in time, both birth and death are manifest. As the individual “dies” from moment to moment, they are equally “reborn” in each successive moment, in what one perceives as an ongoing cycle. Thus the practitioner’s focus is shifted from considerations regarding an imagined future endpoint, to mindfulness in the present moment. In this case, the worldview is taken as a functional tool for awakening the practitioner to reality as it exists, right now.