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Paryushan & Das Lakshana…do we really need it?

Paryushan/Das Lakshana comes every year. Every year we all get together at the temple. Every year we all then listen to pravachans (sermons) and nod our heads in unison on how we need to embrace certain Jain principles more than we normally do. We then decide we’re going to pray, fast, and/or do both or nothing based on how we feel. We unite as a sangh and reach the peak of religious activity together. And then, all of a sudden, right after the holy period comes to an end, very few of us continue to maintain spiritual activity to the likes achieved just a couple of weeks earlier. We all then seem to scatter back into our demanding lives. Then this cycle repeats itself the following year.

Every year I wondered why we even have Paryushan/Das Lakshana. I mean aside from the religious rituals, as Jains, isn’t the bottom line that we try our best to be, simply put, humanitarians?

So last year, I asked myself a simple question: What does Paryushan/Das Lakshana mean to me? More importantly, what did I want it to mean to me? You should ask yourself the same question. Really think hard about this. Let’s come back to this after I share an experience with you.

I remember the weeks before last Paryushan. I was busy within my career having my hands full with professional responsibilities and moving ahead. I was busy in my personal and social life, as I stayed current with new things and connected with friends and family. I was also quite aware of the world we lived in. This was yet another year I read more of the same stories in the news and of the horrible tragedies around the world. I remember reading about people dying for no reason in foreign countries over wars they didn’t wage. I read about corrupt politicians squeezing the people at the bottom of the ladder for more personal gain. I remember hearing about people in my neighborhood sharing how they were afflicted with life changing diseases or how their loved ones were suffering. It was a time the world just seemed so big that it was overwhelming. People just seemed like the worst in causing pain to others and yet, I also felt compassionate towards so many. Then I had a close family member that was struck with a horrible accident leaving her without an arm. I couldn’t accept that my God allowed for this. But we as Jains don’t even have a God. We just have ourselves to blame for all our suffering. The karma theory is the backbone of our spiritual belief making all suffering the result of our actions. We’re both the perpetrator and the victim leaving no one else to blame. A simple, open and shut case!

As Paryushan arrived last year, I found myself not wanting to understand Jainism anymore. I was an adult and knew enough about myself, and religion, to know that I simply wanted to be a good human being. I was done with all the preachers and lectures. All the fake people at the temple and all their clichés about how they’ll eventually become more religious when the time is right. I didn’t even see them doing the simple nice things for people within our sangh. Thank you very much.

Now as much as I knew it was important to simply be a humanitarian, I also realized I was lost and needed to re-energize my soul through some means. I wanted to make sense of Jainism and the world on a spiritual and personal level.

Then something happened.

In my internal struggle to understand religion and the larger world of justice, life, and metaphysics, I decided I really wanted to go within myself. I wanted to cut myself off from the world and also raise the ante. I decided to fast for 8 continuous days to force myself to experience something life altering via self-reflection and self-meditation. I knew it was a crazy and wild hope, but it worked.

Paryushan helped me re-discover my faith in Jainism and it automatically put a smile on my face. I was re-energized and I felt connected once again to myself and to the Divine universe. Everything seemed so clear and all my priorities seem to align themselves. I was somehow blessed with answers to so many of my questions as if I attracted the Q&A sessions during my visits to the temple’s evening pravachans. I somehow came across literature that made me understand things differently. Situations arose teaching me concepts in a practical way. Everything seemed so simple and clear putting me at peace. Things that I already knew made more sense. Things I refused to understand before seemed silly to ignore. It’s not about what I realized, it’s the fact that I finally understood the meaning of Paryushan. Aside from it being a time to forgive and forget, it’s also a time to recharge your soul and head out strongly in your spiritual journey. And this can only be done when we truly take time every year to allow ourselves to do this.

I entered Paryushan last year struggling with faith and not truly understanding what it meant to be “Jain” in modern times. Through self-reflection I got more than my answer. I’m not here to preach or enlighten anyone, frankly because I’m just another student like you. I’m here to remind you that I found what I was looking for at a time, when I least expected it. And also, when I most needed it.

Paryushan/Das Lakshana and Pratikraman are meant to help us renew our faith and help us continue on our spiritual journey. As we approach this time of the year again, take a moment to truly embark on that journey through self-reflection and explore all your questions and ideas. Take a moment to pull back from the daily routine of work and life, and reflect on the larger journey you are already part of. Start the mental process of unlocking the door and you may require blind faith, but take that leap of faith…my experience tells me you won’t be disappointed. And before you realize it, you’ll have grown in some spiritual capacity, only wanting more.

I hope you all renew your thirst for spiritual enlightenment this Paryushan/Das Lakshana. In writing this article, if I have caused you offence in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed, then

I seek your forgiveness.

Micchami dukkadam.

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