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Global Jains Begin Paryushan

Written by Kirit C. Daftary
September 3, 2013

Jainism is an Eastern religion and philosophy dating back over 2600 years. The three major tenets to define Jainism are the path of Ahimsa, Anekantvad and Aprigraha (non-violence, multiple points of views and non-attachment).
From September 2nd to September 19th, Jains worldwide will be observing the practice of Paryushan. For Jains this is the one of the two most important annual festivals, the other being Diwali. While Diwali is focused on the celebration of Nirvana (ultimate enlightenment) of the Lord Mahavir, Parushan is focused on the reflection of one’s soul.
Paryushan – the celebration of spiritual awareness – is the most important annual festival of Jain religion. The word “Paryushan” has several different meanings:

To stay closer to our own soul from all directions. To stay absorbed in our own-self (soul), read scriptures, meditate, observe austerities, etc.
To burn (shed) all types of karma. Fasting is just one of many ways Jains use to shed karma.
To suppress one’s passions (anger, ego, deceit and greed) from all directions.

Paryushan is a period of repentance for the acts of the previous year to shed one’s accumulated karma. Jains endeavor to exercise self-discipline and do penance to purify their souls to the best of their individual capacities.
The origins of the Paryushan Festival are rooted in the agricultural lifestyles of India from centuries ago. After the monsoon rains and harvests, people had a break from the 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 in 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 spend time on self-purification, meditation and self-awareness.
Paryushan is a time for self-analysis and soul searching. Though one can tirelessly strive to live within the framework of the moral standards and ideals Jainism, it is extremely difficult to avoid mistakes due to the complexities and hardship of life. Paryushan provides a break from routine life and allows reflecting and contemplation on the past conduct, in the light of the teachings of Jainism. 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 finally broken the chain of life, death and reincarnation.
Paryushan also 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. Equally, wealth and social status have no place in Paryushan. Practitioners of Paryushan believe in the interdependence of all souls, i.e. all lives are bound together 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 non-violence, truth, non-stealing, purity of mind and body and non-possessiveness to a greater extent and resolve for greater effort for spiritual progress in the coming year.
Observing the essentials of Paryushan Festival:

Welfare of fellow human beings and all other living creatures alike.
Reflection over the events and actions of the past year.
Practicing Ahimsa (non-violence) through one’s thoughts, words, and deeds.
Fasting for up to 8 days. (Though many will fast for three days as three represents the jewels of Jainism: right faith, right knowledge and right conduct.

Ranakpur marble Jain temple

Pilgrimage to holy places – to show respect and devotion to the Lord through worship, prayers and meditation.
Asking for forgiveness from all beings who in the past or present life may have suffered because of their actions to others. In turn, they forgive those who may have hurt them and forgive their shortcomings and weaknesses.

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.
Fasting is a good way of developing self-control. Health permitting, everyone should fast occasionally. During Paryushan, Some Jains observe up to eight days of fasting, while others – eating once a day or twice a day. It is important to note that while fasting, they also try to be free from passions such as pride, greed, anger etc.
The last day of Paryushan, known as Samvatsari, is the most important of the eight days. On this day, most Jains will try to observe a fast and collectively perform the prayer of introspective Pratikraman. This is also the day of ‘forgive and forget’. During this day, Jains will ask for forgiveness from family and friends for any faults, which they might have committed towards them in the previous year. As with many religions, Jains also believe that the best year begins with a clean slate and with no ill will toward anyone.
Compiled by: Kirit C Daftary
Reference: Insight Into Paryushan Festival.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipdeia

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