14 September 2009

Coming Together To Forgive And Heal

Coming Together To Forgive And Heal
Dhanpal Jain
Paryushan is the most important annual Jain observance. For both Shvetambars, who observe the festival over a period of eight days, and Digambars, for whom Paryushan Parva lasts 10 days, this is a time of intensive study, reflection and purification.
It takes place in the middle of the rainy season, a time when Jain monks and nuns cease travelling and stay with a community and are available to them for instruction and guidance.
Paryushan means "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 confession and forgiveness for the transgressions of the previous year. The most important part of Paryushan is daily meditation and prayer, which provides an opportunity for looking within and towards the teachings of the Tirthankaras for guidance. Beginning on the fourth day of Paryushan, it is customary for Murtipujak Shvetambars to read from the Kalpa Sutra, a scripture which recounts the life of Mahavira the 14 dreams of his mother before his birth, followed by the story of his birth, life and liberation. It also recounts the lives of other Tirthankaras and the rules of Paryushan. Among Mahavira's teachings are those that advocate gender equity, of the importance of ensuring equal status to both women and men. The book of scripture would be carried ceremonially through the streets, water sprinkled in its path along the way, purifying the entire town.
Jains often take time off from work during this period and eat a much simpler diet than their usual vegetarian diet. Jains avoid eating root vegetables like potatoes, onions and garlic as harvesting them for food would entail destroying the entire plant. For Shvetambars, the final day of Paryushan is Samvastsari Pratikraman, the annual confession. The ritual of asking forgiveness from the teacher is widened in scope to include family and friends and, finally, all living beings. The culmination of confession is receiving forgiveness from all living beings and also granting forgiveness to all. This ritual of forgiveness is sometimes called the rite of "universal friendship".
The spirit of the day is contained in this verse: "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." One cannot consume any fruits or even a grain during the fasting period or upvaas.
Wouldn't it be difficult to remain without eating any food? a lady, who has fasted for 31 days at a stretch, says: "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 minimises physical ailments, increases strength and keeps body, mind and the hormonal balance in tact.
The writer is a law student at the University of Mumbai.

Extract from Tuesday, 25-08-2009, The Times Of India

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