– KIRIT C. DAFTARY
Whatever else this week represents, it marks the conclusion of the Paryushan Festival, a time for self-analysis and soul-searching rooted in Jainism, an Eastern religion and philosophy dating more than 2,600 years ago. Its three major tenets are Ahimsa (nonviolence), Anekantvad (multiple points of view) and Aprigraha (nonattachment).
From Sept. 2-19, Jains worldwide observe the practice of Paryushan, one of the two most important annual festivals, the other being Diwali. Diwali is focused on the celebration of Nirvana (ultimate enlightenment) of the Lord Mahavir. Parushan is focused on spiritual self-awareness and the reflection on one’s own soul.
What is Paryushan: The word “Paryushan” has several meanings: to move closer to one’s own soul; to read scriptures, meditate, observe austerities, etc.; to shed all types of karmas. (The Jain understanding of karma is that the soul becomes weighted down by negative results of our thoughts and actions. Fasting is one of many ways Jains shed karma.); to suppress one’s passions (anger, ego, deceit and greed). It is also a period of repentance for acts of the previous year. Jains endeavor to exercise self-discipline and do penance to purify their souls to the best of their individual capacities.
Origins of Paryushan: The origins of the Paryushan Festival are rooted in the agricultural lifestyles of ancient India. After the monsoon rains and harvest, people had a break from their agricultural work. While the rains made roads difficult to travel, it also brought an increase in insects. Traveling by road at that point meant an increased chance of killing insects, i.e. undue violence. Thus people tended to stay in their villages, avoiding any travel. With this extra time came the chance to concentrate on self-purification, meditation and self-awareness.
Why Paryushan is celebrated: Though one can tirelessly strive to live within the framework of the moral standards and ideals of Jainism, it is extremely difficult to avoid mistakes because of the complexities and hardship of life. Paryushan provides a break from routine life and allows reflecting and contemplation on past conduct, in light of Jainism’s teachings. This helps one to make a determination to lead a spiritually cleaner life in the future. Paryushan also reminds Jains that life’s ultimate and highest aim is not the pursuit of materialism but the attainment of Nirvana. When the soul achieves Nirvana (salvation), the soul has broken the chain of life, death and reincarnation.
Paryushan has an important social aspect. During these holy days, the goal is to further bring people together by letting go of feelings of inequality and discrimination. Wealth and social status have no place in Paryushan, for Jains believe all lives are bound by mutual support and interdependence.
During Paryushan, Jains study scriptures and religious books, reflect on basic principles of Jainism and purify their conduct through meditation and self-awareness. They strive to observe the vows of nonviolence, truthfulness, purity of mind and body.
During the Paryushan Festival, Jains observe the following: welfare of fellow human beings and all other living creatures; reflection over the events and actions of the past year; practicing Ahimsa (nonviolence) through one’s thoughts, words and deeds; fasting for up to eight days (though many will fast for three days, as three represents the jewels of Jainism: right faith, right knowledge and right conduct); pilgrimage to holy places to show respect and devotion to the Lord through worship, prayers and meditation.
During these eight days, many Jains will not eat after sunset, as more insects and micro-organisms become present at dark. Additionally, many Jains will not eat vegetables grown underground — root vegetables like potatoes/onions/garlic — because entire plants are destroyed in obtaining them.
The last day of Paryushan, known as Samvatsari, is the most important of the eight days. On this day, most Jains try to observe a fast and collectively perform the prayer of introspective Pratikraman. This is also the day of “forgive and forget.” Jains ask forgiveness from family and friends for any faults they might have committed the previous year. As with many religions, Jains also believe that the best year begins with a clean slate and no ill will toward anyone.
Kirit C. Daftary is past president of JAINA, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America. There are more than 150,000 Jains in North America with more than 67 Jain Centers.
Article Originally posted on www.wacotrib.com – Published on September 17, 2013