Paryushan Parva: Jains practice festival of forgiveness, fasting and renewal

Bhandasar Jain Temple

The Bhandasar Jain Temple, in India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4: Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (beginning September 4, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (beginning September 11, this year), Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. (For Digambar Jains, the festival is also sometimes known as Das Lakshana.) In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too.

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva, with some drinking only between sunrise and sunset and others consuming only water. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones. The end of Paryushan also brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification.

Did you know?  The word “Paryushan” has several meanings. One aspect is explained this way: Pari means “all kinds,” or “fully,” and Ushan means “to burn,” so during this time, a devotee “burns” “all kinds” of karma.

Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.

IN THE NEWS: Current diet fads may be promoting the practice of fasting for health reasons, but most world religions have been utilizing this tool for thousands of years—and not just for physical health, but for spiritual health. As is pointed out in an article from Florida International University:

Jain fasting includes complete avoidance of food or eating only a partial meal, eliminating rare or expensive foods and avoiding sexual temptations. The holiday of Paryushan, observed annually around August to September, is the time when Jains connect communally on the core tenets of the faith through fasting and studying.

For eight to 10 days, Jains focus on the values of forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, truth, contentment, self-restraint, penance, renunciation, nonattachment and celibacy. Fasting is also possible throughout the year by individuals, but this celebration is the common communal embracing of fasting across sects.

 

Paryushana: Jains seek purification during festival of meditation, forgiveness

Jain Temple of Phoenix Arizona

Jain Temple of Greater Phoenix. Photo by Vijay J Sheth released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Enormous stone carved temple against blue sky

The Adinath Jain Temple in India. Photo by Lapidin, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10: The deepest spiritual period of the year arrives for Jains today with the festival of Paryushana. For eight or 10 days (Swetambar Jains observe Paryushana for eight days; Digambar Jains observe for 10), adherents fast, study sacred texts and make a renewal of faith.

In comparison to other world religions, Jainism incorporates an especially deep concern and respect for all living beings, from animals and insects, to plants and root vegetables. (Learn more from Jain World.) Jain monks uphold this value to the highest level.

Did you know? Swetambar Jains observe the festival as Paryushana; Digambars refer to it as Das Lakshana. Some Jains in the United States observe the festival for 18 days, which combines the Swetambar and Digambar periods.

During the days of this festival, Jains are expected to uphold 10 specific virtues including: forgiveness; modesty/humility; straightforwardness; contentment/purity; truth; self-restraint; penance; renunciation; non-attachment and supreme celibacy. (Wikipedia has details.)

During the eight-day festival for Swetambar Jains, the Kalpa Sutra is recited, which includes a portion on the birth of Mahavira, the final Tirthankara, or spiritual exemplar. Some Swetambar Jains recite the Antagada Sutra, which describes the lives of men and women who attained moksha, or soul liberation, during the era of Mahavira. In many communities, a procession is made to the main temple during Paryushana.

THE FESTIVAL OF FORGIVENESS

A vital element of the Paryushan Parva is the asking of forgiveness—from other persons, animals and any other form of life, whether the offense is known or not. Jains ask forgiveness with the words “Micchami Dukkadam,” or “Uttam Kshama,” which conveys the meaning: “If I have cause you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.” This ritual may be referred to as the rite of universal friendship.