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Jain Holiday Means Showing Respect — Even for Insects

March 19, 2015

by Kirit Daftary
Originally published on August 22, 2014 in The Waco Tribune‑Herald
Paryushan is one of the two most important religious periods for Jains, the other being Diwali, Celebration of Light. According to the Western Calendar, it begins today this year. Depending on the sect of Jainism, it can last from eight to10 days.
In India, native land of the Jain religion, Paryushan comes during the annual monsoon season. During this period, the land teems with new life — earthworms, frogs, mosquitos and other insects come out of hibernation. Because Jains view all life as sacred — even insects — extra care is taken not to harm any living creature. And because the simple act of walking can cause one to inadvertently step on an insect, extensive travel is prohibited for monks and nuns.
During the Paryushan period, monks and laity observe fasting for up to eight days. Those who can’t observe fasting eat only one or two times a day. When Jains fast, no solid or liquid food is consumed and only boiled water is permitted from sunrise to sunset. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse oneself of bad karma — the accumulation of bad deeds and their consequences. During this time period Jains do not eat green and root vegetables. They eat lentils, wheat, rice and similar foods. They also cut down on cooking activities, since lighting a fire kills living organisms in the air. Jains believe that life exists in plants, earth, fire, water and air so they reduce consumption of any of these.
Jains observe this period by going to temples to pray to God and listen to sermons given by monks. They do Samayik and Pratikraman. Samayik means sitting at one location for a minimum of 48 minutes. During this one should meditate, read holy books, listen to sermons, chant mantras or count rosary beads.
During Paryushan, Jains do Pratikraman twice a day — once before the sunrise, once after sunset. Pratikraman means “turning back, confessing and asking for forgiveness,” so Jains reflect on their lives based on several principles to see if they have done anything wrong. These principles are non-violence, truth-telling, non-stealing, celibacy, non-attachment to wealth and materialistic things in life and attitudes expressed toward others, including anger, egotism, deception and greed. Jains ask for forgiveness from everyone, mentally and verbally, and forgive others who may have behaved unjustly toward them.
The last day of the Paryushan is called Samvastari. It is an annual confession day. Everyone fasts for that day. On the last day of the Paryushan all Jain families get together and do Samvastari Pratikraman. They follow the same daily ritual of Pratikraman but with special emphasis placed on examining life based on those several principles and behavior with others for the entire year. Jains believe that if you have not asked for forgiveness and granted forgiveness to everyone, at least once a year during Samvastari, then your cycle of birth and death will continue forever. You have to break the cycle of life and death to attain Nirvana or Moksha (Enlightenment).
They extend forgiveness to others, including strangers. They also ask for forgiveness from all the living beings on the planet. Jains believe someone who is a stranger to you in this life may have known you in the past life and you may not have asked for forgiveness during that lifetime. So asking for forgiveness from everyone during this lifetime cleanses all the bad karma of all past lives.
There are about 150,000 Jains in North America and about 30 Jain Temples and Jain Centers. At major Jain centers, scholars from India are invited who will discuss various Jain scriptures for those eight to 10 days. Most will stay at the temple from morning until evening reading religious books, doing meditation and listening to sermons.
The day after Samvastari, which is the ninth day, people break their fast and celebrate the end of the Paryushan. They give a donation to poor and needy.
The following prayer of forgiveness, Khamemi Save Jiva, is recited at the end of each Pratikraman:
I grant forgiveness to all living beings,
May all living beings grant me forgiveness.
My friendship is with all living beings,
My enmity is totally non-existent.
Let there be peace, harmony and prosperity for all.
Published with the author’s permission.