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.

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Categories: Jain

Mahavir Jayanti: Jains honor the life of Mahavir and promote non-violence

Elaborate white temple with several pillars on street in India

The Shri Mahavirji Temple of Karauli, Rajasthan, in India, devoted to Mahavira. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, APRIL 2: The most significant holiday of the year arrives for Jains with Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the final Tirthankar, Mahavira. (In the Jain religion, each cycle of time, according to the laws of nature, gives birth to 24 Tirthanars. Though not an incarnation of God, a Tirthankar is a soul that has attained ultimate purity and possesses divine power.)

On Mahavir Jayanti, Jains visit elaborately decorated temples for religious rituals, prayer, and ceremonial baths of Mahavira statues. Many Jains spend this holiday meditating on the path of virtue defined by Jain teachings, and live out that path by acting in charity. (Learn more about Jain doctrine at JainWorld.com.) In India, Mahavir Jayanti is a national holiday.

BIRTH LEGEND AND LIFE OF MAHAVIRA

Jain belief holds that Mahavira was born the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, in 599 BCE. While pregnant, Queen Trishala experienced a series of dreams about her unborn child, and astrologers revealed that she would give birth to either an emperor or a Tirthankar.

While young, Mahavira developed an interest in Jainism and began meditating. By age 30, he was an ascetic who spent more than a decade seeking spiritual truth. Mahavira spent the remainder of his life preaching non-violence and righteousness. (Wikipedia has details.) Mahavira spoke widely of the importance of karma, indicating that an accumulation of bad karma leads to suffering, confusion and continued cycles of life and death.

IN THE NEWS:
HOLIDAYS IN INDIA & A VEGAN YOUTH RALLY

Christians worldwide are gearing up for the Easter Triduum and Easter, but in India, a jam-packed week of holidays is also on the agenda. Experts are voicing fears for potential disruptions in stock market transactions, exports and shipments, as banks close for 7.5 of 9 days. (Business Standard reported.) This week in India brings the national observances of Ramanavami, Mahavir Jayanti, Good Friday and two annual days of closing, along with the regular closing on Sundays.

In Jaipur, a Jain youth organization will hold a rally promoting vegetarianism on April 2, as part of the week-long Mahavir Jayanti festival. The purpose of the rally is to raise awareness of eating ethically and non-violently. Devout Jains follow a vegan diet without root vegetables—so as not to kill the insects and bacteria living on the roots—and some eat before sunset, to avoid harming any insects that might be attracted to artificial light after dark.

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Categories: Jain

New Year: Jains usher in Vira Nirvana Samvat 2541

Large marble statue of man sitting with legs crossed, hands in lap, eyes closed, meditating

A marble depiction of Lord Mahavir in Delhi, India. Jains count the years of this era as having begun with Lord Mahavir’s attainment of moksha (nirvana). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24: Jains usher in a New Year!

According to Jain belief, a man named Mahavira attained moksha (nirvana) on Diwali night of 527 B cE. As Mahavira was the 24th and final Tirthankar (person who has conquered the cycle of birth and death) of this portion of our current cosmic time cycle, Jains began counting the calendar year from the date of Mahavira’s attainment. This year, Jains will welcome the year 2541.

On the first day of the New Year, Jains perform Snatra Puja at the temple and offer sweets. Fresh account books are opened, and business accounts from last year have been settled. Vira Nirvana Samvat (era) began with Mahavir’s enlightenment, and Jains also recognize that the chief disciple of Mahavir attained kevala jnana (omniscience, or supreme knowledge) on the morning of the New Year. At the temple today, Jains perform special morning worship.

The Jain calendar is lunisolar—that is, based on the position of the moon in relation to earth, and also adjusted to coincide with the sun.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Paryushan Parva: Jains ask forgiveness during principle festival

Building with white pillars, gray-and-white tiles on floor of outdoor area

The Parasnath Jain temple in Calcutta, in India. During Paryushan, many Jains spend more time in temples. Photo by Jyotirmai, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 30: Forgiveness plays a central role in many world religions, but for Jains, it’s the focus of the most important festival of the year: Paryushan Parva.

Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (Aug. 22-29, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (Aug. 30-Sept. 8, this year), 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. (Learn more from Jain World and Digambar Jain Online.)

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. The end of Paryushan brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. (Wikipedia has details.) 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? Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva. Some drink only between sunrise and sunset; others consume only water. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones.

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:
JAIN STOCK INDEX REQUESTED FOR ADHERENTS

There is public discussion of creating an index of stocks of companies complying with Jain religious structures, reported Business-Standard, and officials are seriously considering the requests. Similar to the Islamic Shariah index, which avoids liquor companies, a Jain index would, for example, avoid companies that deal in food products that are not strictly vegetarian. With increasing numbers of Jain investors, officials say religious scholars would first need to provide an assessment of which stocks to include in the index.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaJain

Diwali: Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and more mark Festival of Lights

Diwali Diyas lit in dim lighting

A diya, the traditional lamp of Diwali, is customarily made of clay and symbolizes the “Festival of lights.” Paramount to Hindu philosophy is the Atman, something beyond the physical that is pure, infinite and eternal; it is the awakening to this “Inner Light” that Diwali represents. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3: Here’s a holiday question for our readers: Are you seeing signs of Diwali wherever you call home?
ReadTheSpirit’s Home Office is in suburban Detroit, and we’ve seen displays of Diwali decorations in stores, for weeks, as families prepare for Diwali. Please, add a comment below or email us at ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com if you spot a local sign of Diwali approaching.

The Festival of Lights cuts across a number of faiths: Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Indian communities all around the planet mark this annual holiday with lovely displays of lights.

Hands decorated with henna tattoos holding a small clay bowl filled with oil and lit with fire at the top

Hands decorated with Mehndi, or henna, hold a diya lamp. Photo by Shrinivasa Sharma, courtesy of Flickr

FOR HINDUS, Diwali lasts five days and is associated with several legends. Literally, “Diwali” is a contraction of “Deepavali,” which translates into “row of lamps”—thus indicating one of the most vital elements of the holiday. (Wikipedia has details.)

Diyas are the small lamps found in almost every Hindu home during Diwali. The lamps often burn throughout the night in order to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. (Some Hindus use colorful paper lamps known as kandils. Find kid-friendly explanations of Diwali from National Geographic.)

In the days and weeks ahead of Diwali, devotees buy new clothes, clean their homes, purchase fireworks and gifts, and prepare plenty of mouth-watering sweets to share with family and friends. (Learn more from DiwaliFestival.org.) Indian businesses prepare the end of their financial year, as a fresh year begins on Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali.

FOR JAINS, Diwali marks the time when Mahavira, the 24th and final Tirthankara (human who freed his soul from the cycles of karma and acts as a role model) achieved moksha, or nirvana. For Jains, Diwali is a type of anniversary of Mahavira’s attainment in 527 BCE. It’s believed that several gods were present at the time, and that they illuminated the darkness.

FOR SIKHS, Bandi Shor Divas is associated with Diwali. Commemorated as “Day of Liberation,” Bandi Shor Divas (spellings vary) celebrates the time when Sikh Guru Hargobind Ji, along with 52 princes, was released from prison in 1619. As Diwali was in full swing when Guru Hargobind Ji arrived in Amritsar following his release, the festival became tied with happiness for his liberation. The two—Bandi Shor Divas and Diwali—are distinct, yet Sikh families tend to mark them together.

FOR MILLIONS AROUND THE WORLD, Diwali is an official holiday: in India, Nepal, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname.

DIWALI FROM NORTH TO SOUTH, EAST TO WEST

Two countries are rivals for the grandest Diwali festival in the world: India, of course, and—Fiji! Nearly one-third of Fiji’s population is Hindu, and the government of Fiji set aside the holiday in 1970, along with one major Christian holiday and a major Islamic holiday. Officials wanted to honor all three of the main religions that comprise Fiji’s population. Diwali events in Fiji begin at least one week before the commencement of the actual festival, and fireworks, shopping events, diya lightings and special dishes make up the favored festival. (This year, the Consumer Council of Fiji is expressing concern for the over-commercialization of the holiday, which includes some advertisements for traditionally banned meats. Read more here.)

Women adjust circles of small lighted diya lamps

Women create a display of diya lamps for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

INDIA: FROM HOMEMADE OILS TO CATTLE

In India, customs vary by region. In Tamil Nadu, a bathing tradition includes an oil of pepper corns and bael leaves (and a homemade medicine is popular to soothe digestive issues that may come with the influx of rich foods); in Karnataka, cows are elaborately decorated and fireworks are widely seen at night; restaurants in Hyderabad prepare sweets that are available only during this time of year. In many areas, local stage shows tell the stories associated with Diwali in a family-friendly atmosphere. Though the purchase of gold is a major custom associated with Diwali, that tradition is taking a downturn this year as India cut its legal gold imports. (Reuters has the story.) India took first place as the world’s top gold purchaser in 2012, but is likely to lose its spot to China in 2013.

DIWALI IN EUROPE, AUSTRALIA & THE UNITED STATES

Britain takes pride in its Diwali events, as Leicester hosts one of the largest parties outside of India and an enormous display of fireworks commences in the East End of London. Australia kicked off its first major Diwali festival in 2002, and today’s events include traditional Indian foods, Indian art, Diwali stories and a night sky filled with fireworks.

With an increasing Indian population, the United States witnessed its first Diwali in the White House in 2003; Barack Obama became the first president to personally attend Diwali at the White House in 2009. That same year, San Antonio became the first U.S. city to sponsor an official Diwali event.

HEADLINES:
TRAFALGAR SQUARE; PET SAFETY; POLLUTION

Indians in New Zealand celebrated Diwali a few days early this year, but the public is invited to Trafalgar Square in London for a lineup of contemporary music and dance, stalls of traditional foods and drinks and children’s activities.

Alerting pet owners to make preparations for their pets before the booming fireworks of Diwali, animal activist groups in India are handing out pamphlets and raising awareness about the stress experienced by furry friends throughout Diwali. (The Hindu reported. Or, read more in the Deccan Chronicle.) Nearly 40 pets in Hyderabad alone had to be rushed to veterinary care last year as a result of the immense number of firecrackers, and celebrants are being urged to avoid lighting crackers in residential areas. Helpline services and a specialized ambulance will be on hand this year for emergencies.

Air toxicity is expected to hit unprecedented and alarming levels in Kolkata this year, as poisonous gases and heavy metals fill the air after exceeding numbers of fireworks. Smuggled imports of Chinese firecrackers, which are more toxic than others, contributes to the high pollution levels; thousands of other banned crackers are also making their way into India as Diwali approaches. Officials note that unless strict monitoring services are employed, the pollution will be out of control.

As the price of dried fruit has skyrocketed, demand for chocolate has risen dramatically this Diwali, reports the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India. Read more in the Indian Express.

While the immersion of religious statues was banned in Allahabad high court for environmental concerns, a group of rural women is answering the demand—with eco-friendly figures made of cow dung. (The Times of India has more.) The women, who were educated in the sculpting by the Bioved Research Institute of Agriculture and Technology, report that the figures—lightweight, biodegradable and durable—are in high demand. While just a few figures were crafted last year, this year has seen the creation of hundreds of statues.

 (Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, a magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Faiths of India

MAHAVIR JAYANTI: Jains mimic Tirthankar with nonviolence

“One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, water, fire, air, vegetation and all other lives disregards his own existence which is entwined with them.”

-Lord Mahavira

Square stone pillars inside a cave with Jain figures carved into the sides

A Jain temple in an ancient Badami cave in India. The temple features numerous sculptures, including one of Lord Mahavira. Photo in public domain

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24: Mediate on the complexities of karma and pay it forward today, for the most eminent Jain festival of the year: Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the 24th Jain Tirthankar. Rather than belief in a single, monotheistic God, Jains look toward 24 historical figures known as Tirthankars, or individuals who achieved enlightenment while on earth and act as role models for others on the path to nirvana. Bhagwan Mahavir, in particular, preached ahimsa—ultimate non-injury, or nonviolence—in that it should be practiced not only in action, but also in thought and word. (Wikipedia has details.)

Mahavira extended his concept of nonviolence to all living beings, and today’s strict Jains abstain from harming anything down to the tiniest insects. The sacredness of Mahavir Jayanti is kept by the crowds that fill Jain temples today. In many parts of India, government offices, stock markets, schools and colleges are closed for the auspicious occasion.

Prior to Mahavira’s birth in the 6th century BCE, it’s believed his mother had auspicious dreams about the coming of a great leader. During her pregnancy, astrologers told Queen Trishala that her dreams signified a child who would become either an emperor or a Tirthankar; upon his birth, Mahavira was allegedly bathed in celestial milk by the god-king Indra, in indication that he would be a Tirthankar. Three decades later, the king-to-be renounced his throne, spent 12 years as an ascetic and began preaching nonviolence. He disputed the caste system, worked for social justice and promoted equality. Through the years, Mahavira gained immense control over his desires and senses, eventually letting go of attachment and aversion. At 72, Mahavira attained nirvana.

JAIN KARMA: LIVE AND LET LIVE

At its core, Jainism revolves around karma. “Jain,” derived from jina, calls its members to literally conquer themselves, thereby taking responsibility for their actions. According to Jainism, every act—intentional or not—that supports injury or violence will create harmful karma. (Looking to explain these concepts to kids? Check out IndiaParenting.) The harmful karma cannot be “canceled out” by good karma, but instead builds up through a lifetime and circulates back again. The goal of ahimsa is to prevent the accumulation of harmful karma, which will prevent one from reaching nirvana. Nirvana, freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, carves out the ultimate goal of Jainism.

MAHAVIR JAYANTI IN INDIA

While not in prayer or listening to the words of Lord Mahavira, Jains spend the Tirthankar’s jayanti volunteering, giving to charity or collecting donations that will save animals from slaughter. (Learn more, and access related articles from past years, at The Times of India.) Statues of Mahavira are given a ceremonial bath and, in some regions, set in an ornately decorated cradle and carried in a procession.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Hindu, Jain, Sikh: Light up the night for Diwali

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_1112_Diwali_temple.jpgAn Indian temple is illuminated during Diwali. Photo courtesy of FotopediaTUESDAY, NOVEMBER 13: Beacons of light soar across the night sky, announcing the triumph of good over evil, as hundreds of thousands of clay lamps—and neon lights—illuminate Diwali.

For five days, Hindus celebrate the extravagant event popularly known as the “Festival of Lights” with sweets, lanterns and firecrackers. (Learn more at DiwaliFestival.org.) Diwali calls all Hindus, worldwide, to examine the Atman: that is, the part of living beings that is beyond physical body and extends into the vast, the pure, and the infinite. After the firecrackers have been lit and the sweets enjoyed, devotees reflect on what the Festival of Lights is really about: the light of higher knowledge that is only realized when one awakens from ignorance and understands the oneness of all things. The bottom line—only inner light can bring true serenity and joy.

The very name Diwali means light. A contraction of Deepavali, the lengthy name for the festival translates into “row of lamps.” Inner light aside, the brightness of Diwali traces its roots to an agricultural harvest festival, when farmers would welcome the goddess of wealth with clay lanterns. Businesses, homes and public arenas today work hard to continue receiving her, hoping for auspiciousness in the coming year. (Wikipedia has details.) Each day of Diwali signifies a principal story in Hindu legend, with rituals that follow. The breakdown goes something like this:

Day 1: Homes are cleaned; devotees shop for gold
Day 2
: Hindus display clay lamps; rangoli created with colored powders and sand
Day 3
: The main day of the festival, familes gather to perform Lakshmi Puja, a prayer for the goddess of wealth; the prayer is followed by feasts and fireworks
Day 4
: The first day of the New Year
Day 5
: Brother-sister relationships are strengthened when married sisters welcome their brothers into their homes, often with a lavish meal.

For most Hindus, each day’s gladness is further enhanced with tasty sweets, gift exchanges and general gaiety. Even young people adore the traditions of old—according to one source in The Hindu, “In our ever-so-busy lives, these occasions serve the purpose of bringing the family together again. Tradition is fun, if I can say so.”

DIWALI: FROM THE WHITE HOUSE TO AUSTRALIA

Upward of 10 countries mark Diwali as an official holiday. Even outside those nations, most major cities around the world host Diwali celebrations, too. Across the UK, Diwali has been an annual festival for years, and in 2003, the White House observed Diwali for the first time; Barack Obama became the first American President to attend Diwali at the White House, in 2009. The Australian Indian Innovations Incorporated (AIII) organized their country’s first major Diwali Festival in 2002; between that year and 2008, more than 140,000 people visited the festival of cultural programs, music, rides, food and fireworks.

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-SF_1112_Fireworks_Diwali.jpgFireworks in India will bring pollution to ‘alarmingly high’ levels this Diwali. Photo courtesy of FotopediaJAIN: NIRVANA FOR A NEW YEAR

The second day of Diwali marks a New Year for Jains—two days earlier than Hindus—and Inner Light is embraced by this religion when recalling the attainment of Nirvana, or Moksha, by Lord Mahavira in 527 BCE. Of the 24 Tirthankars central to Jainism, Mahavira was the last. Mahavira rejuvenated the Jainism Dharma—the Dharma that devotees follow to this day. Legend has it that many gods were present during Mahavira’s attainment, thereby lighting the dark night.

SIKH: A TRIUMPH IN HISTORY

Sikh history tells of the sixth guru, Hargobind Singh, and his release from prison during this time many years ago. It’s believed that 52 Hindu kings were also released by Guru Hargobind at that time, and today, Sikhs rejoice by sharing a vegetarian meal and reading Sikh holy scripture.

‘ALARMINGLY HIGH’ POLLUTION LEVELS

One of the primary elements of Diwali will threaten lives in India this year, and both young people and the Indian government are speaking out en masse: the fireworks that light up the night are threatening to bring pollution to extreme levels. (Read more in the Hindustan Times.) Children across India are crowding the streets, shouting slogans and waving banners that include “Say No to Crackers”, according to the Times of India, while thousands of students have vowed an eco-friendly Diwali. Still more students have informed local residents about focusing on traditional clay lamps. A Guinness World Record of “green” is being attempted by children at Prince Ashokraje Gaekwad School, by displaying more than 800 drawings for a “green” Diwali, according to the Times of India. For those fond of fireworks, eco-friendly varieties are available in markets, and many have reported opting for a virtual show, courtesy of software called “e-cracker.”

DIWALI EXTRAS

Planning a party for Diwali? The Hindu offers up ideas for a fabulous fete. Cook up some tasty sweets—and other traditional dishes—with help from the BBC. Kids can get a pint-sized explanation of the festival from National Geographic; craft descriptions and printables are at Activity Village.

 

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaInternational Observances