JAIN FESTIVALS OF SELF PURIFICATION, PARYUSHAN & DAS-LAKSHAN – Guest Author Dr. Sulekh Jain, Ph.D.
“Too often when struggling with the daunting and discouraging environmental issues confronting humanity, I reflect on the strategy of the Jains. While this religious approach may not suit all, I believe there are some principles which could be shared more broadly to become part of the foundation of a sustainable future built on principles of respect, compassion, and discipline”. Author unknown
Jain community like other communities throughout the world celebrates many social and religious functions annually. The most prominent and important Jain festival popularly known as ‘Paryushan Parva’ is organized every year between August and September time frame (in year 2020 from August 15 to September 1st). Two popular components of this festival; Paryushan Parva and Das LakshanParva are in vogue and Jains throughout the world over an 18 day period Paryushan (8 days) and Das Lakshan (10 days) celebrate these festivals. The mode of performance and aims of both the festivals are the same.
Origin of most of the festivals in the world are generally to celebrate a) an historic event (such as July 4th Unites States of America Independence day or August 15 India’s Independence Day), b) celebration of birthday of some important person such as October 2nd as Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday), c) to pay tributes to or to recognize the contributions of some groups or persons such as Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanks Giving Day etc.
In Most of these festivals, there is pomp, show, lighting, decorations, dancing, gifts and presents, ceremonies, parades, tributes, merrymaking, drinking and eating etc. But the Jain festivals of Paryushan and Das Lakshan are based on spiritual purification to attain soul’s pure state. Thus in reality, they aim at self-improvement. The emphasis here is on giving up things and vices, on self-discipline and controlling the wants and desires through fasting, penance (tapasya) and other ascetic practices. The underlying idea of these festivals and their interpretation is that it is a celebration through which the karmic (deed) matter attached to the soul is burnt or vanquished (both internally and externally). Truly these are the festivals of self-purification.
Paryushan is a period of sincere and deep contemplation, meditation, spiritual studies, atonement, asking forgiveness, dialog of the self with the self, fasting and taking a personal stock of the whole year what, where and why I as an individual resorted to hurt/harm and to violence (mentally, verbally and physically) to others around me with whom I came in contact in my life. Men, women and children as well as monks and nuns undertake fasts with varying strictness. They celebrate ten best characteristics (lakshan or virtues) of the soul. These can also be called Ten Commandments of Jains.
- FORGIVENESS (KSHAMA) – Total lack of anger.
- HUMILITY (MARDAVA) – Lack of pride.
- STRAIGHT FORWARDNESS (ARJAVA) – Lack of cunningness.
- CONTENTMENT (SAUCH) – Lack of greed.
- TRUTHFULNESS (SATYA) – Lack of falsehood.
- SELF-CONTROL (SAYAMA) – Control over physical violence.
- AUSTERITY (TAPPA) – Repentance of one’s sins.
- RENUNCIATION (TYAGA) – Giving up possessions both internal and external.
- DETACHMENT (APARIGRAHA) – Reducing attachment.
- CELIBACY (BRAHMACHARYA). Control of sensual desires.
The festival ordains the Jains 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.
On the last day of Paryushan and Das Lakshan, members of Jain community greet each other and ask forgiveness for any pain that might have been caused knowingly or unknowingly by any of their actions during the past year. Those members of the Jain community who undertake complete fast during the festival days (ranging from 1 to 30 days) are taken to the temple in a procession on the last day after which they break the fast.
The non-Jains also express high reverence for this Jain festival. All members of Jain community 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 eighteen-day festival. In these celebrations, Jains contemplate on the wellbeing, 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 help others to live’.
On the last day, each person asks for forgiveness from all those (Jains and non-Jains) who have been so hurt and also grants forgiveness to those who might have done wrong to me as a person. This is a sincere attempt (without the support and help of anyone else) and is done unconditionally with the family members, friends, relatives, servants, enemies and co-workers. The sounds of michchhami Dukkhadam and Uttam Kshama (I seek and grant forgiveness) reverberate within the entire Jain community.
There are several great aphorisms (Sutras) to ask for forgiveness with the unity of the body, speech and mind, and the following two most common ones are:
Khämemi Savve Jivä, Savve Jivä Khamantu Mi
Mitti Me Savva bhuesu, Veram majjham na Kenai.
Meaning: I forgive all the living beings of the universe, and may all the living-beings forgive me for my faults. I do not have any animosity towards anybody, and I have friendship for all living beings.
Jam jam manen vaddham, jam jam vaayen bhaasiyam paavam,
Jam jam kaayen kadam, tas michchhaami dukkdadam
Meaning; whenever and wherever I have thought of ill of others, spoken bad words and harmed any one physically, I sincerely ask for forgiveness from them.
The process of shedding our karmas (deeds) 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 to take vows to minimize our faults. We try to forget about the needs of our body (like food) and our business so that we can concentrate on our-self.
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.
This festival puts an end to all evils in man; gives him/her 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.
Dr. Sulekh C. Jain is the Past Secretary and President of the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA). Dr. Jain also authored a book An Ahimsa Crisis: You Decide, which can be accessed as an eBook free of charge at www.isjs.in Currently, Dr. Jain resides in Las Vegas and is active in the local Indian community. You can reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org