Friday, September 5, 2008

Paryushan & Festival of Forgiveness

Paryushan is the most important Jain religious observance of the year.

Paryushan Parva lasts 10 days; (two popular titles of this festival, viz. (1) ‘Paryushan Parva’ and (2) ‘Dashlakshan Parva’ are in vogue). The festival ordains the Jain’s to observe the ten (10) universal supreme virtues in daily practical life. This is a time of intensive study, reflection and purification.

It takes place in the middle of the rainy season, in the auspicious month ‘Bhadrapad’ of the Jain calendar extends from the fifth day to fourteenth day of the bright fortnight, a time when Jain monks and nuns cease travelling and stay with a community and are available to them for instruction and guidance. It is also a time when the laity takes on various temporary vows of study and fasting, a spiritual intensity similar to temporary monasticism. Paryushan concludes with a time of confession and forgiveness for the transgressions of the previous year.

Even if there are no religious leaders in residence, the laity meets every day during Paryushan, shifting their focus of life to the soul for these days. The most important part of Paryushan is daily meditation and prayer, which provides an opportunity for looking within and looking toward the teachings of the Tirthankaras for guidance. Jain’s often take time off from work during this period and eat a much simpler diet.

Select Jain’s also fast during Paryushan, some for the entire period. At the end of Paryushan, those who have fasted for the 10/31 days; break their fast with a special meal during which they do not touch food, but are fed by friends and loved ones in honor of their achievement.

One cannot consume any fruits or even a grain in our upvaas (fast) except water. We live in a sea of energy. Our bodies gain energy indirectly from the food we eat, while we gain direct energy from the cosmic energy that flows into us through the medulla oblongata at the bottom of the brain. But this kind of acceptance of energy depends upon our mental set-up. The greater the will, the greater would be the flow of energy.

Penance is given high importance to purify one's soul. In the time cycle, Lord Rishabh started the penance for one year at a stretch. The same tradition is followed even today. During the process of penance, all the accumulated toxins in the cells of the body over a period of time start to melt away. Since the body's energies are concentrated in cleaning and detoxification during the fasting process, rest becomes a necessary adjunct. The body parts are recharged and relaxed. This minimizes physical ailments, increases strength and keeps body, mind and the hormonal balance in check.

Its origin is related to the staying of the monks in one place for the rainy season. ‘Paryushan’ is staying of the monks in one place. In popular terminology this stay is termed ‘chaturmas’ because the rainy season is regarded to be about four months.

Paryushan means, literally, "abiding" or "coming together". It is also a time when the laity takes on vows of study and fasting with a spiritual intensity similar to temporary monasticism. Paryushan concludes with a time of confession and forgiveness for the transgressions of the previous year.

Paryushan Parva -Definition / Translation:

The word "Parva" means auspicious day. The word "Paryushan" has several different meanings:

1. Pari + ushan = all kinds + to burn = to burn (shed) our all types of karmäs. To shed our karmäs, we do twelve different types of austerities including fasting.

2. Another meaning of "ushan" is to stay closer. To stay closer to our own soul from all directions and to stay absorbed in our own-self (soul), we do Svädhyäya (self-study), meditation, austerities, etc., and

3. Pari + upshamanä = upshamanä means to suppress, to suppress our passions (kashäyas - anger, ego, deceit and greed) from all directions.

According to Sanskrit grammar the underlying idea of the festival and its interpretation is given below:

“Parismantadushayante dhante karmani yasimannasau paryushanam”

· The celebration through which the karmic matter attached to the soul is totally burnt or vanquished (both internally and externally) is known Paryushan (self-purification).


· The real purpose of the Paryushan is to purify our soul by staying closer to our own soul, to look at our own misdeeds, to ask for forgiveness for the mistakes we have committed, and to take vows to minimize our faults and passions. We try to forget about the needs of our body (like food) and our business so that we can concentrate on our self.

· Paryushan is a festival of self-discipline through fasting and other ascetic practices.

· Men, women and children as well as monks and nuns undertake fasts with varying strictness.

They celebrate ten best characteristics of the soul:

1. Kshamä (forgiveness), Total lack of anger

2. Märdav (Humility), Lack of pride

3. Ärjav (straightforwardness), Lack of cunning

4. Shauch (content - absence of greed), Lack of cunning

5. Satya (truth), Lack of falsehood.

6. Samyam (restraint of all senses), Control over physical violence

7. Tapa (austerities), Austerity is repentance of one's sins

8. Tyäga (charity), Giving up possessions both internal and external

9. Äkinchan (non-possessiveness), Lack of attachment

10. Brahmachärya (celibacy), Abstaining from sexual relations

The festival ordains the Jain’s to observe the above mentioned ten universal supreme virtues in daily practical life. Besides assuring a blissful existence in this world and the other world for every living being, it aims at the attainment of salvation - the supreme ideal for mundane soul.

Jain community, as a whole, high and low, young and old, and males and females, participate with full vigor and zeal in the various religious rituals and cultural programs. They listen with rapt attention to the holy sermons of the Saints and learned Jain scholars arranged during the ten-day festival. In these celebrations lie dormant the seeds of the well being, peace and happiness of the common man. On the eve of this festival all activities, which add to social discord or bitterness are declared taboo from the temple pulpits.

These celebrations harbinger social harmony and amity and preach the lofty Jain motto:

‘Live and Let live’.

At the conclusion of the festival, the followers request each other for forgiveness for all offenses committed during the last year.

This occurs on Pratipada (first) of Ashwin Krashna (Jain Calendar).

This ritual of forgiveness is sometimes called the rite of "universal friendship." Most Jain centers even in the U.S. now conduct at least part of the ritual of forgiveness in English for the benefit of the youth.

There are several great aphorisms (Sutras) to ask for forgiveness with the unity of the body, speech and mind, and one of them is as follows:

Khämemi Savve Jivä, Savve Jivä Khamantu Mi
Mitti Me Savva bhuesu, Veram majjham na Kenai.

I grant forgiveness to all living beings, May all living beings grant me forgiveness; my friendship is with all living beings, my enmity is totally non-existent. Let there be peace, harmony, and prosperity for all.

The process of shedding our karmäs really begins by asking for forgiveness with true feelings, and to take some vows not to repeat mistakes. The quality of the forgiveness requires humility (vinay - absence of ego) and suppression of anger.

Therefore, the real purpose of the Paryushan is to purify our soul by staying closer to our own soul, to look at our own faults, to ask for forgiveness for the mistakes we have committed, and take vows to minimize our faults.

Paryushan Parva gives expression to the perfectly purified trait of the soul, through which one gets rid of worldly discords and allurements and one gets fully absorbed in the eternal truth on experiencing and realizing the true nature of soul. In other words we can say that the natural realization of the trio ‘the True, the Good and the Beautiful’ is fully possible only through Paryushan. In fact the other name of the Jainism, which is universal religion, is Paryushan. This festival puts an end to all evils in man; gives him realization of the eternal bliss, and spiritualism becomes alive by the celebration of this festival.

Paryushan Parva is a grand Jain festival of self-introspection, self-enlightenment and, self-achievement, which, ultimately leads to the one and only one final goal, i.e., liberation or salvation.
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