By Quinn, Nation, and Millett
Published here with authors’ permission
ReadOasis Step 2
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Like Buddhism, Jainism began in India. However, while Buddhism went to other countries, Jainism never moved from India. Jainism is not widely known now, but it was very important in the history of India.
The greatest teacher of Jainism lived at the same time as Buddha. His name was Mahavira and he came from a strong and rich family. When he was thirty years old, he left his home. He travelled around for twelve years and then began teaching. He taught his ideas to his followers for thirty years until his death at the age of 72. The place of his death is important for his followers.
For almost one hundred years after Mahavira died, Jainism was not very important. Then a famous king became a follower of Jainism. At this time Jainism broke into two parts. It happened like this. One leader wanted to leave the north of India where there was not enough food and the people were hungry. A big group of people went with him but many others did not want to follow him. Later, when some of the people came back to the north of India from the south, they found changes. Followers of Jainism had not worn clothes in the past but now many of them were wearing white clothes. The two groups still believed in the same things but they lived in different ways.
For the followers of Jainism everything has a life. Animals, trees, flowers, water and stones all have lives. Every part of the world is alive. Each life wants to be free from its body but until it is free, it is born again and again. If it wants to be free, it must do good things and must not hurt anything else.
This is difficult to do, so a Jain must do things carefully. If a person walks on a bee and kills it, this is very bad. Water and earth each have a life so drinking water and walking on earth hurt them. A true follower of Jainism eats and drinks but does not kill the plants. Other people kill them. Water must be very clean before Jains will drink it because they do not want to kill anything living in the water. Jains cover their faces with a piece of cloth because they do not want to hurt the wind or air when they take it into their bodies. They do not run or hit their feet on the ground. They live very carefully and think before they do anything.
Some lives are more important than other lives. All living things are put into five groups. The highest group is people, gods and some animals like horses, cows, and snakes. The second group cannot hear things. Bees are in this group. The third group cannot see or hear. The next group cannot hear, see, or smell things. Some of the things in this group live in the sea or in the ground. The last group is the biggest. They can only feel things. Plants, earth, water, air, stones, fire and wind are in this group. It is very bad to hurt things in the highest group. It is not as bad to hurt things in the lowest group, but it is still bad. The followers of Jainism do not like to hurt things at all. When you go on to a new life, you may go to a higher group or a lower group.