Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 4: Life of a Jain

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

Description of Activity

Youth explore the concept of ahimsa-nonviolence, or, doing no harm to any living being-and consider the trade-off we make in industrialized societies: casual harm for human convenience.

Share with participants that Jains are fervently committed to ahimsa. As far as possible, they do no harm to anything that lives. Display the Jain symbol (Leader Resource 3). Explain, in your own words:

The Jain symbol is a hand with a wheel and the word "ahimsa" in the palm, reminding Jains to be aware of the effect they have on their world. Jains practice radical mindfulness of all living things: humans, of course, but also animals (all kinds, mammals to bugs), plants, even microorganisms-anything they know to be alive.

Ask youth to stand up. Indicate two ends of a continuum: no harm at one end, great harm at the other. Tell them you will read a list of human actions that could affect other life, and you would like them to position themselves along the continuum to show how much harm they think is done by each action.

Read each item aloud. Give youth time to move, and then ask if they think that action would be all right to do: If the action is doing harm, would they nonetheless consider the actions justifiable? Why or why not? Would they feel bad about it? Would the amount of harm be different if they did the action, as opposed to someone else? Why or why not?


Stepping on a bug by accident

Stepping on a bug on purpose

Hitting a dog with your car

Eating leftovers

Eating root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots (destroying the plant)

Having an ill or aged pet put down by the veterinarian

Knocking down a hornets' nest

Swatting a mosquito on your arm

Treating your pet for fleas

Cutting down a tree that is in the way of building a house

Paving a parking lot

Treating your house for termites

Insulting someone

Stealing something

Telling a lie

Wearing leather shoes

Pulling weeds from your yard

Treating a child for lice

Driving a car

Laughing at someone

Buying something wrapped in lots of packaging

Throwing away food

Buying more than you need or buying something you do not need

Eating more than your body needs

Downloading pirated music or software

Not helping someone when you can, even in small ways


Invite youth to return to their seats, and continue discussion:

  • What constitutes harm?
  • Do you think about not doing harm in your daily lives? When?
  • How do you, or could you, choose when to do harm and when not to?
  • Is everything that is alive worthy of consideration before harming it? Is everything that is alive capable of experiencing distress? Should that be a deciding factor?

Share with the group:

Jains take an oath to "Take nothing unless it is offered," either by a person or by the earth. Here is a partial list of what Jains will not do:

Kill an animal for food.

Pick fruit from a tree.

Eat any root vegetable.

Eat leftovers.

Burn a fire at night.

Smack a mosquito.

Ask for youth's thoughts about the Jain commitment. Do they find it admirable? What purpose do they think it serves the individual practitioner? What purpose might it serve the earth and life on it?

Continue discussion with questions such as:

  • What would youth consider "reasonable" harm? What makes harm okay?
  • Is being grateful enough compensation to the earth, or to other life, for our actions that cause harm? Is being grateful even necessary or important?
  • Can preventing greater harm justify doing harm? When is doing harm "worth it?"
  • What about harm done in your behalf?
  • Does dedication to a goal that is impossible seem simple-minded or foolish? If the goal is a worthy one, than is getting as close to it as possible better than not trying at all?
  • How would your life be different if you applied the principle of ahimsa as Jains do? What would you have to change?

Including All Participants

If any participant is unable to easily move along a physical continuum, have the youth show their answers another way, such as by raising two hands for "great harm," one hand for "some harm," and no hands for "no harm."