SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: A festival of the soul begins this weekend for many Jains, as devotees fast and meditate to cleanse their souls of negative karma. Officially, Jains observe the characteristics of Paryushan during the entire year; it’s believed that just as the soul is eternal Paryushan, too, should have no beginning and no end. (JainWorld.com has more.) However, this time of year is most practical for modern Jain observance because business is slow in India, and is the easiest time for people to take time off of work for reflection. A primary tenet of Jainism is also to “Live and let live,” and because this is the rainy season in India, monks and nuns hold a rain retreat and do not travel—therefore not harming the insects and other living beings that are flourishing. (Visit Wikipedia for details.)
Paryushan is one of the most important festivals for Jains–some declare the most important—and is officially observed for eight days by Shvetambar Jains and for 10 days by Digambar Jains. (In the United States, some Jains observe both traditions, keeping this Paryushan for a total of 18 days, although Jains can keep the fast as long as they desire. The Pluralism Project, out of Harvard University, gives insight into Paryushan in America and abroad.) During these auspicious days, individuals and laity alike turn to the Tirthankaras for guidance. Since Jainism’s Tirthankaras are regarded as humans who achieved enlightenment and then returned to Earth to guide and teach others, Jains look to these figures for inspiration on their soul journeys. Monks and nuns are also commonly available during Paryushan for instructional support.
After reflecting on the past, practicing detachment from the body and making resolutions for the year ahead, Paryushan observers end the festival by asking forgiveness from a teacher, family and friends and, finally, all living beings. (Read one Jain’s perspective in TimesOfIndia.) In return, devotees practice final rites with something known as “universal friendship”—granting and receiving forgiveness from all living beings. (Families can practice Paryushan discipline together with this worksheet from JAINA, an American Jain organization.) These rites take hours to complete, and even specific postures are recommended for use during the rituals.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)