An earlier version of this post appeared on the Huffington Post.
Across the globe Jains are embarking upon a spiritual journey of reflection and repentance as they begin celebrating one of our most important festivals. The festival is celebrated separately as Paryushan and Das Lakshan by the two traditions of Jainism. Paryushan, celebrated by Swetambar Jains, lasts for eight days and concluded last weekend. Digambar Jains celebrate the festival as Das Lakshan, beginning at the end of Paryushan and lasting for ten days.
During these days, Jains focus on the ideas of forgiveness and self-purification. It is a time to assess our actions and repent for any misdeeds we may have committed. In the spirit of discipline and spirituality, it is common for Jains to take vows of religious study and fasting. In this regard, Paryushan and Das Lakshan are similar to periods of rigorous religious practice in other faiths, such as the Muslim observance of Ramadan or the Christian tradition of Lent.
The central theme of the festival is atmashuddhi or “purification of the soul.” Vows are taken to decrease dependence on excesses in our daily lives. Fasting redirects the mind away from material activities, cleansing our system and helping us achieve purity in both mind and soul. It ameliorates past karma while teaching discipline, self-control, and patience. Many Jains fast for all eight or ten days of the festival, and sometimes longer, drinking only purified water from sunrise to sunset and abstaining from the consumption of both food and water after sunset.
While fasting may not be possible for all individuals, the most important aspect of Paryushan and Das Lakshan is daily meditation and reflection. It is an opportunity to scrutinize oneself and look to the teachings of the Thirtankars for guidance. Each day is focused on removing our impurities – anger, pride, deceit and greed – and building the virtues of humility, honesty, kindness, self-restraint, non-violence, non-possessiveness, charity, austerity, sacrifice, and forgiveness.
The festival concludes with Samvatsari or the Day of Forgiveness, a time of confession and exoneration for sins of the previous year. On this day, Jains greet family, friends, and each other with “Micchami Dukkadam,” an ancient Prakit phrase literally meaning “may all the evil that has been done be fruitless.” We seek forgiveness from loved ones, as well as enemies, for any intentional or unintentional harm that we may have caused them over the past year.
There are many facets of Paryushan and Das Lakshan that an individual can observe – fasting, meditation, religious study, etc. In my experience, there are often extenuating circumstances, such as school and work, that prevent me from observing the festival in the capacity to which I may aspire. Jainism, however, provides the individual flexibility to practice that which he or she is able to do without detriment to their personal well-being. Ultimately, these eight or ten days are a period for us to focus within, to avoid violence, to control our desires, and to apologize for our transgressions. In my own practice, I find that the spirit of self-reflection and self-restriction from the material world affords me the space to think about my impact on the world around me and how I can participate more actively in social and civic issues. In many ways, each year this festival marks a renewed call to social action.
As I begin my own spiritual journey and reflect on the past year, I would like to thank you for reading what I have to share about my own religious background and I apologize if my words, through way of this platform, have knowingly or unknowingly offended anyone or if I have misrepresented any views. I conclude with a Jain prayer for forgiveness and ask for your pardon.
Khamemi savve jive
Savve jiva khamantu me
Mitti me savve bhuesu
Veram majaham na kenai
I ask for forgiveness from all living beings;
May all living beings grant me forgiveness.
My friendship is with all living beings;
I have hostility towards none.
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