Have you noticed how the clothes bounce up and down, side to side and get bashed around in all directions in a washing machine & tumble dryer?
Well, Jains believe in Saṃsāra – life is a continuous cycle of reincarnations (births and deaths) in 4 gatis (realms). Similar to what the clothes experience in a washing machine and tumble dryer, each of our indiviudal soul has transmigrated through various gatis since infinite time in the past experiencing pleasure and pain in all of its various manifestations.
Just as the clothes wish to come out of the washing machine / tumble dryer, so do our souls strive to free themselves from this continuous cycle of birth and death. Thus, the essence of life is to eradicate all karmas (Jains believe karmas are actual subtle physical particles which bind to the soul as a result of the mental, vocal and bodily activities) through right knowledge, faith and conduct, maintaining equanimity in all situations (favourable and adverse).
The one difference in the analogy of the clothes in the washing machine/tumble dryer is that an external person is required to take the clothes out of the washing machine / tumble dryer. The clothes cannot get out by themselves. However, every soul can attain liberation through self effort/realisation as there is no master or external agent (“God”) who can free us from saṃsāra.
In that case who do Jains pray to?
Jains pray to those souls who have managed to get rid of the karmas, achieved liberation and showed the path to others. Thus, the main essence of any Jain prayer is to imbibe qualities and inspiration from all the blessed souls who have achieved liberation or are on the path to achieving liberation. Jains therefore pray to the Panch Parmesthis. Jains also pray to “Gods” (a misnomer refering to divine celestial beings) who can actually confer boons to pious devotees through their supernatural powers for spiritual progress (and indirectly for material comfort).
What do I mean by indirect material comfort? For instance, if one is not in good health then one cannot pursue any activities (spiritual or mundane). Therefore, a devotee can pray to Gods (celestial beings) to be cured of ill health / diseases so that they can engage in spiritual activities for purification of their soul, with performing mundane activities as a result of good health being a fringe benefit.