Paryushan Parva: Jains enter period of supreme forgiveness, meditation

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Adherents leave the Jain temple at Ranakpur, one of the holiest Jain sites. This temple contains more than 1,000 columns, of which none are identical. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, AUGUST 18: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year. This spiritually intense period is known as the festival of Paryushan Parva, or 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. A vital element of this festival is the asking of forgiveness—from other persons, animals and any other form of life, whether the offense is known or not. This ritual may be referred to as the rite of universal friendship.

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Did you know? 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.”

Jainism incorporates an especially deep concern and respect for all living beings, from animals and insects, to plants and root vegetables (Jain monks uphold this value to the highest level). 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. Jains hold that only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.”

Fast fact: Swetambar Jains observe the festival as Paryushana; Digambar Jains 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.

PARYUSHAN: DAILY OBSERVANCES

Paryushan Parva means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. 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. 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 end of Paryushan 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.

NEWS: Last month, 5,000 Jains in India chanted the Navkar Mantra 36 lakh times in two hours, creating a record in the city. Read the story here.

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