Teachers' resource: Jainism & religious education
The Victoria and Albert Museum's rich Asian collections include important pieces of Jain art. This resource highlights Jain art objects from the collections, suggesting how these can be used for teaching and learning in RE and Art & Design at Key Stage 3. In particular, the activities support the following schemes of work:
- Unit 7E What are we doing to the environment
- Unit 8C Beliefs and practice (generic)
This Key Stage 3 resource has been developed to support teaching and learning on Jainism both at school and at the V&A. It aims to introduce students to the central beliefs of Jain doctrine through a study of religious objects. One of the intended outcomes is that pupils will deepen their understanding of symbolism and therefore it would be appropriate to use this resource as part of a unit on symbols. A study of Jainism would also be particularly relevant for students following Unit 7E 'What are we going to do about the
Environment?'. It can also be used for those studying
Unit 8C 'Beliefs and practice (generic)'.
The resource has been written to support the non-statutory national expectations in RE, and allows for progression in both Attainment Target 1 (learning about religion) and Attainment Target 2 (learning from religion). It provides opportunities for spiritual, moral and cultural development.
The pre-visit activities have been designed to ensure that pupils gain a knowledge and understanding of the importance of the examples set by Jinas in the lives of Jains today. It will also allow them to become familiar with the images that they will see in the V&A and the symbolic meaning of these.
Pre-visit schemes actvities
Task 1 - Explore the meanings of some of the symbols on the Jina image
Introduce students to Jainism, the third major world religion to have emerged from India together with Hinduism and Buddhism. Jainism has been continuously practised since at least the sixth century BC and there are currently some 6 million Jains practising their faith. Most are in India but there are Jain communities in London and Leicester.
- There is no supreme creator god in Jainism.
- Instead Jains believe (as do Buddhists and Hindus) in a cycle of birth and rebirth influenced by the effects of good and bad deeds and attitudes.
- The ultimate goal of the believer is to break the cycle and achieve liberation.
- As a result of worldly actions, a substance called karma becomes attached to the soul, weighing it down and making liberation impossible. Only by ridding itself of karma can a soul achieve liberation.
- This is done by living rightly by following the three 'jewels' of Jain ethics. These are: right faith, right knowledge and right conduct:
- Right Faith: Belief in the Jain doctrine
- Right knowledge: This means having a proper knowledge of the Jain scriptures.R
- Right conduct: This means living your life according to Jain ethical rules.
Jains believe that a person who has right faith and right knowledge will be motivated and able to achieve right conduct. However, it is no use following right conduct just to look good if you do not have right faith and right knowledge.
Jain monks and nuns take a series of vows to help them achieve right conduct. Lay people take a series of less strict vows along the same lines.
Take a look at the vows
- Ahimsa: Non-violence and respect for all fellow creatures
- Satya: Telling the truth
- Asteya: Not stealing
- Brahmacharya: Chastity
- Aparigraha: Renouncing possessions
Give the class the student activity sheet Five Great Vows to complete either individually or in groups.
Download the Five Great Vows (PDF file, 38.1 KB)
Collect up their suggestions of rules for living by and then explain the way that these rules are put into practice by Jains:
Five Great Vows
|Monks and Nuns||Ordinary People|
|Ahimsa||Non-violence and respect for all creatures. Monks and nuns go to great lengths to ensure they do not harm creatures. They carry flywhisks to brush insects out of harm's way and wear masks to prevent themselves from inhaling insects.||Jains are expected to be vegetarians. They are also expected to avoid violence in work. Most Jains work in professions that have been approved for them. They have traditionally been traders and merchants in textile, jewellery and financial businesses. Today, many Jains work in medicine or technical industries |
|Satya||Telling the truth .||Ordinary people must try to be truthful.|
|Asteya||No stealing or taking what has not been given.||No stealing.|
|Brahmacharya||Chastity.||Jains are expected to be faithful in mariage.|
|Aparigraha||Monks and nuns renounce all possessions. Monks of the strictest sect, the Digambara or 'sky clad' go completely naked whilst others wear simple white clothes.||Jains should not become too attached to personal possessions.|
Task 2 - Discuss and evaluate the symbolism of the Jina image
- Explain to the class that Jains do not believe in a supreme creator god. Instead, they follow the examples set by twenty-four role models known as Jinas. The word Jina means 'liberator' or 'victor' because the Jinas have conquered and controlled their desires and attained the state of inner enlightenment that is the aim of all Jains.
- The 24th and last Jina, Mahavira lived 2500 years ago and was a contemporary of the Buddha.
- The Jinas are also referred to as Tirthankaras, ('one who fords the river'). This is because although they have achieved liberation themselves, they help others to escape from the cycle of rebirth and 'ford the river' to liberation.
Show an image of the altarpiece with three Jinas from the V&A. Explain that this shows three Jinas, one sitting and two standing.
Give the students a reproduction of the image and copy of the Jina Fact File.
Download the Jina Fact File (PDF file, 359 KB)
- Ask the students to mark onto the reproduction any examples of symbolism that they find.
- Which of the Five Great Vows are referred to symbolically in the sculpture?
- How would contemplation of this sculpture assist Jains in keeping the Five Great Vows?
At the V&A
Preparing for the visit
The following activities focus on the Jain works of art on show at the V&A. These can be adapted to suit your pupils' learning styles.
- The Jain Trail will need to be printed out and brought to the V&A. You may wish to give different parts of the activities to small groups or individuals instead of asking each of them to complete it all.
- Students may also find it useful to have a copy of the Jain Fact File with them.
- You could also print the Art & Design Museum Visit Activities Exploring Jain Art to extend your visit.
- 2 pencils per student
- 2-3 sheets of drawing paper
- A pen for writing
- Jain Trail
- Jain Fact File
Back at school
Snakes and ladders
1. Look at Game of Snakes and Ladders with the class. This version of Snakes and Ladders is divided into 84 numbered squares which represent the progress of one's life. The words point out good and bad conduct and the effects that conduct can result in.
All the ladders are linked to good behaviour whereas snakes are linked to bad. This is of interest as in many images of the Jina Parsvanatha, Dharanendra, the Serpent King, is shown protecting him. Snakes are recongnised to be extremely dangerous and are thus revered and feared by Jains.
2. Count up how many snakes there are and how many ladders. Why do the students think that there are more snakes than ladders?
When it was originally devised in Britain, Snakes and Ladders was also a moral game. You can see an example from 1895 here. The virtues, in the shape of ladders, allowed the players to reach heaven quickly. The snakes were the vices for which the players were punished by having to move backwards.
3. Students should come up with rules for playing a Jain version of Snakes and Ladders. They should think of a minimum of five actions that would cause the player to ascend a ladder and eight actions that would make them go down a snake. They could then design a game board.
Alternatively, students could design a Snakes and Ladders game using the keeping or breaking of school rules or cases of modern morality as the reasons for ascending ladders or descending snakes.
After they have completed their own games, they can play Jain Snakes and Ladders on the V&A Jain Art website.
Booking & planning your visit
On arrival at the Museum
Remind your class in advance what the aim of the visit is and ensure that they have some time to look over the resources and ask questions before they begin exploring the museum. In particular, encourage students to look closely at the objects rather than just trying to complete the worksheets as quickly as possible.
It should also be stressed that students are studying sacred objects that need to be treated with respect.
The steps in Gallery 41 is a good location to gather the class together for group discussion.