Today, begins the Jain festival of Paryushan. Let me tell you a bit about both as I know of it. Jainism is an ancient religion of India, still practiced by less than 1% of the population. Today, Jains are strewn all over the world, although the majority still reside in India. It is older than Buddhism and reportedly Buddha was born into a Jain family before renouncing his kingdom, family and the world and heading out on his own. Hence many principles of how he lived his life originated in Jainism and then found place in Buddhism also.
The primary tenet of Jainism is non-violence to all living beings. Lord Mahävir preached universal truth for all times to come when he said, “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation, disregards his own existence which is entwined with them”. The following ancient Jain aphorism is refreshingly contemporary in its promise and forms the basis of the modern day science of ecology.
It says, All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence.Paryushan
Paryushan is the single most important festival in the Jain religion. It is observed for eight or ten days by different sects. This year it is observed from September 8 to 25, 2007 with different beginning dates for different sects.
The purpose of life according to Jain teachings is to realize oneself, to experience wholeness, peace and reverence for all life. Therefore, the real purpose of Paryushan is to purify our soul by observing and correcting our own faults, asking for forgiveness for the mistakes we have committed, and taking vows to minimize our faults. During Paryushan we are expected to strive to minimize our worldly affairs so that we can concentrate on our true-selves.
Fasting is one way where we take our minds off the daily routine of figuring out what we will eat that day and what we will do. It is expected that the day is spent in a low-profile manner with some or very little activity. Fasting for the day actually begins at sundown the previous day and ends at sunrise the next day. The fasting is strict, so no food should be consumed during the period. Boiled water is allowed, although its consumption is also reduced. So since 7 pm yesterday night I haven't eaten or drunk water. I plan to drink water if I need to at some point later in the day. Since the focus is on self, I cannot look forward to it. I cannot think about drinking water or how I will relish the food when I break the fast. If I do so, the fast is considered broken when the thought enters my mind. Hence the focus is not just on improving yourself physically, but also concentrating on the inner self, the mind and the thoughts we have.