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.
— from the Kalpa Sutra, holy text of Jainism
Depending on sect and location, the practitioners of Jainism are now ending their most important religious period of the year, the Paryushana. It has been a time of retreat and contemplation, for Paryushana literally means to close in, to remain near to one’s self and soul. Paryushana stems from the tradition of monks remaining in their towns during the rainy season. The rainy season can last several months, but the minimum duration for is 70 days.
During this time, people replenish their faith through purification, self-discipline, and meditating on the wisdom of the Dharma (one’s righteous duty and the path of virtue in one’s life).
A central component of the Jain religion is the concept of Ahimsa, symbolized by the hand with a circle in its palm. Ahimsa is the practice, not only of non-violence, but the complete absence of harmful intent toward any living being human or animal.
Jains believe that all living beings possess a soul, and therefore great care and awareness is required in going about one’s business in the world. In Jainism, all life is considered worthy of respect and it emphasizes this equality of all life, advocating the protection of even the smallest creatures.
For this reason vegetarianism is a essential part of Jainism. In fact, during special festivals, such as the one being observed today, many Jains restrict themselves to eating only those parts of plants that do not endanger the plant itself. However, these essentially “fruitarian” diets are not necessarily practiced throughout the year.
The circle in the palm of the Jain hand represents the cycle of reincarnation, and the 24 spokes are the 24 Tirthankars, the heroic holy teachers of Jain, the last of whom, Mahavira, lived over 2,500 years ago.
With at least 4.2 million followers in modern India, as well as many followers elsewhere in the United States, western Europe, throughout Asia and Australia, Jains have an ancient tradition of scholarship, mental discipline and have the highest degree of literacy in India. Jain libraries are India’s oldest.
Today, let us join in the spirit of Jainism, and consider what Dharma means for us. What is a truly virtuous life? In what ways can we support non-violence, and improve our mental clarity? Can we teach ourselves to eliminate even harmful intent in our daily rounds?
For it is ultimately true that every thought, word and deed counts, and shapes a lifetime, for you and for me. Surely we can do more to erase enmity and grant forgiveness and blessings, by how we interact with the world and one another. Today, let us resolve to live and work on behalf of “peace, harmony, and prosperity for all.”