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World Religions: Jainism

Investigating Biographies

Chapter 15. Learning about World Religions: Hinduism
Another Important Religious Tradition in India: Jainism

In Chapter 15, you learned about the origins and beliefs of Hinduism. Another religion from India is Jainism. Like Hinduism, Jainism also developed during ancient times. Jains share many beliefs with both Hindus and Buddhists (which you will read about in Chapter 16). Today, there are about three million Jains. Most live in western India.

Below is a biography of the most important figure in Jainism. His name is Mahavira. As you read, think about the contributions he made to the religion of Jainism and to the culture of India.

Mahavira was born in 599 b.c.e. as a prince. As a young man, he was very interested in spiritual matters. At the age of 30, he left his family and his home to become a holy man. He spent the next several years living alone and traveling in the forests of India. He would go without food for long periods of time. He was careful to avoid harming any other living beings including animals, birds, and plants. He spent his days meditating.

After 12 years, he found the answers he was looking for and began teaching people who would listen. Mahavira lived during a time in India when there were many wars. Many people were looking for a message of hope and faith. Mahavira attracted all sorts of people-rich and poor, kings and farmers, men and women. He taught that happiness could never come to a person through material belongings. Therefore, he stressed, people should have as few possessions as possible.

Mahavira also taught that people should show great respect for all forms of life and not harm a living thing. This concept is called ahimsa and plays an important part in Jainism. To practice ahimsa, Jains became strict vegetarians. A vegetarian generally does not eat meat, fish, or fowl. Some Jains would not even eat root vegetables because the entire plant dies when its roots are pulled from the ground. Followers of Jainism would sweep the ground before walking to avoid harming insects. Many Jains became merchants and traders because farmers plowed the ground, destroying living things in the soil.

Jainism was not a new religion. Instead, Mahavira was a new inspiration in spreading the religion. His beliefs and teachings influenced not only Jainism, but Hinduism and Buddhism as well. For example, ahimsa is an important part of all three religions. Even in modern times, ahimsa influences Indian culture. The 20th-century Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi stressed the importance of ahimsa. He used nonviolent methods, such as fasting, to protest violence when India became independent from Great Britain in 1947.

Mahavira died in 527 b.c.e. at the age of 72. The site of his death is considered to be the most sacred place of pilgrimage for Jains today.

Investigating Biographies

The idea of ahimsa, or nonviolence, has become an important part of modern culture. In India, Gandhi protested violence through nonviolent means. In the United States, the 1960s civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. also protested injustice through nonviolent means.

Do some research to find out more about each man. In a research report of 500 to 700 words, write a summary of each man’s important contributions. Focus your report on this question: Is nonviolence an effective strategy? Your report must include
• an introduction that engages the reader’s interest and states a clear purpose.
• a body of two or three paragraphs with supporting facts, details, and examples from your research. Include a quote from each man that shows his belief in nonviolence, and explain how the quote shows that belief.
• a conclusion that restates the purpose of your report and summarizes your main points.
• correct grammar and spelling.
• a bibliography of your sources.

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