Talk to the hand.
But not just any hand. The hand above symbolizes the concept of Ahimsa, the central component of the Jain religion. It means the practice of non-violence, but far beyond our common perception of it. Ahimsa is the absence of harm toward any living being, human or animal. For this reason vegetarianism is a essential part of Jainism. In fact, during special festivals, such as Paryushana, some Jains restrict themselves to eating those parts of plants that do not endanger the plant itself. (However, “fruitarian” diets are not necessarily practiced throughout the year.)
Ahimsa also means practicing the self-discipline not to cause harm to one’s own soul. And that means no sin. States the Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya 4.42:
All sins like falsehood, theft, attachment and immorality are forms of violence which destroy the purity of the soul. They have been separately enumerated only to facilitate their understanding.
The circle in the palm of the Jain hand represents the cycle of reincarnation, and the 24 spokes are the 24 Tirthankars, great prophets of Jain, the last of whom, Mahavira, lived over 2500 years ago.
The name of this week’s festivities, Paryushana, literally means to close in, to remain near to one’s self and soul. Paryushana stems from the tradition of monks to stay in one place, in the towns, during the rainy season. The rainy season could last four months, but the minimum duration for Paryushana was 70 days.
The period of Paryushana commences by Bhadrapada Shukla panchami, the fifth day (panchami) of the bright/full moon (Shukla) of the month of Bhadrapada (August/September).
During this time people replenish their faith through meditation, self-control, and through the wisdom of the Dharma.
There are two sects of Jainism. Digambara and Svwetambara (pardon my pronunciation.)
The Digambaras observe a 10-day festival starting on today (although the date can vary slightly by sect and location). Digambara Jains use this time to focus upon the Dashalakshana vrata—the 10 components of the Dharma:
Forbearance – Kshama
Gentleness – Mardava
Uprightness – Arjava
Purity – Shaucha
Truth – Satya
Restraint – Sanyam
Austerity – Tapa
Renunciation – Tyaga
Lack of possession – Akinchanya
and Chastity – Brahmcharya
The Svwetambara Jains celebrate an 8-day festival which ends today. During this time the Kalpa Sutra is recited. The Kalpa Sutra recalls the birth, life, and journey toward Nirvana of Mahariva.
The holy festival closes with participants seeking forgiveness for their sins of the last year.
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