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What is the origin of Jataka tales?

What is the origin of Jataka tales?


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Some of the Jataka Tales are supposed to be about the Buddha in prior lives so the entire collection is touted as Buddhist by many. However, other sources will say they are tales handed down through oral tradition that begins before recorded history. My guess is many of the tales were already favorite tales that Buddha added two cents too, and a few were new, but that is only a guess. Is there any good evidence about the origins of some or all of these tales?


The Jataka Tales are moral tales, probably written down in this form in the 4th century, ie probably a 50 to 150 years after the life of Gautama Buddha.

Yes, many of these stories predate Buddha. Some of the stories are variants of stories believed to have been told by Aesop in the 7th century BC, for example.

I don't think Gautama Buddha added anything to these stories. The claim that they are about his earlier lives is probably something that arrives only well after his death.


An Introduction To The Jataka Tales of Buddhist Literature

Jataka tales are works of literature that are about Gautam Buddha‘s previous births. These births are his lives in which he was human as well as animal forms. In one particular branch of Buddhism, known as Theravāda, which means school of elder monks, the Jataka tales are in textual forms. The Jatakas happen to be amongst the oldest of Buddhist literature dating back to somewhere around the 4th century BC. These legendary biographies of the Buddha’s previous lives consist of 547 poems which are roughly put together in verses.

One of the sects in the Andhra Pradesh region, Mahāsāṃghika Caitika, have staked claim over the original collection of the Jatakas however, there is no concrete proof regarding the claim. Also, seen in the Ajanta Caves of Maharashtra are inscriptions of quotes from Jataka scenes of Arya Shura.

“The Ass in the Lion’s Skin,” “King Sibi,” “The Swan with Golden Feathers,” and “Four Harmonious Animals,” are a few of the stories which are based on the Jatakas. In India, we can see some of the stories translated and imbibed in the Panchatantra, for example “The Monkey and the Crocodile,” and “The Crab and the Crane.” The Jataka stories in Sanskrit and Tibetan stick to the Buddhist morality. The same stories have been retold in various languages, including Persian.

In India, one can find stupas in Buddhist monuments where the stupas have locations from the Jataka tales marked on them. A lot of them were discovered by Xuanzang, the Chinese pilgrim. A lot of tales with unknown and doubtful authorship were written in the Pali tradition. Another intriguing thing about the Jataka tales is that in the Theravāda countries, many of these tales have been used in dances, recitations and even theater. This custom remains in many areas.

The stories are set in or around the holy city of Benaras in India. The stories include a moral lesson for children as well as adults and are much loved by all. Usually, the stories show how friendships should be and how it is bad to cheat, lie or break someone’s trust. Few other stories common amongst Indian children are “Sandy Road,” “Penny Wise Monkey,” “Wind and Moon,” and “Power of Rumor.”


The Jataka Tales

Mahajanaka Jataka (#539)

The Jataka tales is a large collection of Buddhist morality stories in which the Buddha recounts some of his past lives on his long road to enlightenment. Even though they’re a part of the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) and contain words attributed to the Buddha himself, they’re more folktale than religious text and their popularity stems more from their entertainment value than their messages. Often compared with Aesop’s fables (Aesop’s and the Jataka tales even share some plots), the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) is often born as an animal and he frequently overcomes difficult situations or solves problems in creative and comical ways.

This website features abridged versions of all 547 Jataka tales, the first-ever complete collection of this sort in English. They’re much easier and, I think, more enjoyable to read than the stodgy translations done by scholars more than a century ago. And that’s why I wrote them.

Where to Begin

You could start at the beginning with the Apannaka Jataka (#1) or go to the end and read the Vessantara Jataka (#547), by far the most important and famous Jataka. But since the stories are not told in chronological order it makes just as much sense to jump in and read any story. To get a quick taste of the Jataka tales, here are twelve of my favorites.

Though the stories stand on their own, reading a little background information about the Jataka tales and about these versions of the Jataka tales might add to your enjoyment. And if you’re looking for a particular story, there are also very brief summaries.

Nimi Jataka (#541)

Yogapedia explains Jataka

The Jataka tales are some of the earliest examples of Buddhist literature, dating from around the fourth century B.C.E. They are believed to be precursors to the famous biographies of Buddha, which were composed later.

Some of the Jataka tales are contained in the Pali canon of Buddhist literature. There are 35 tales that were collected for the purpose of teaching and they make up the "Carriya Pitaka," or “Basket of Conduct.” The Theravada Jatakas are made up of 547 poems that include commentaries to give context to the verses.

There are many variations of the Jatakas, all with their own emphasis. In the Sanskrit and Tibetan Jatakas, for instance, the stories maintain their teachings of Buddhist morality, whereas the Persian retellings often contain more cultural amendments.


About the Jataka Tales

The Jataka tales are birth stories from some of the many past lives of the being who would eventually become the Buddha. In them, the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) is born variously as humans, animals, and deities, usually righteous and wise, and frequently with supernatural powers but often he’s just a completely ordinary man. (Here’s a list of his incarnations.) Typically he’s the story’s hero, but very often he’s only a minor player, sometimes nothing more than an observer who does nothing.

Tundila Jataka (#388)

Many of the stories are fun, often with clever twists and humorous events letting the Bodhisatta save the day, or overcome a problem or a foe. Most (but far from all) are morality tales, teaching the value of dharma principles like modesty, obedience, or perseverance to the Jataka tales’ two audiences: we the readers, and the people within the stories listening to the Buddha speak. Many, perhaps most, of the stories pre-date Buddhism and were made Buddhist by assigning the role of Bodhisatta to one of the characters. Several of the stories are universal folklore, with similar stories appearing across the globe and throughout history. Two notable examples are Jataka #322, which is similar to “Chicken Little” (“The sky is falling!”), and Jataka #136, which is similar to Aesop’s Fable “The Goose the Laid the Golden Eggs.”

Satapatta Jataka (#279)

To the surprise of many, the Bodhisatta is not virtuous throughout: “Now the Bodhisattas, even though they are great beings, sometimes take the goods of others by being born as wicked men this they say comes from a fault in the horoscope.” Some examples of his immoral behavior are rude speech (#536), hiring prostitutes (#425), gambling (#62), cannibalism (#193), adultery (#431), lying (#547), cheating (#243), theft (#318), assault (#89), owning slaves (#45), giving away his young children to work as slaves (#547), and murder (#152). He also often condones similar actions by others. And even when the Bodhisatta is perfectly righteous, the story can be a little risque, the most notable example being the very horny monkey getting into mischief in Jataka #273. Cowell and his prudish team (see About this Website) felt this Jataka was so improper they translated it into Latin rather than English so only scholars could read it. They also used Latin for a few short passages in other Jataka tales they judged offensive.

The Buddha tells his past-life stories to people for many reasons. In every Jataka tale, the past-life part is related to a present-life situation, some of which are entertaining stories on their own. Often the Buddha tells of his past life to teach a lesson to people or to help his disciples overcome difficulties on their quest for enlightenment. After listening to the Buddha, these people can have a major breakthrough in their understanding of dharma: “His lesson ended, he preached the Truths, at the close whereof some won the First, some the Second, some the Third Path, while others again became Arahats.”

The Bodhisatta born as a tree fairy.

But frequently there is no educational or motivational purpose. Sometimes the Buddha tells the past-life story to remind people there’s no one greater than he. In Jataka #54 some of the Buddha’s disciples were impressed by a gardener’s knowledge of fruit, so the Buddha told them he was equally skilled at this in an earlier birth. If these weren’t religious documents, we’d say he was bragging. Other times the Buddha just tells what happened to him in the past because it’s similar or related to the present situation and the people he’s with enjoy hearing the stories. In Jataka #146 a group of elderly disciples loudly lamented the death of a woman who routinely gave them delicious food for alms. Some other disciples were shocked at their indecency and the Buddha told them that in the past these men had been crows and were so upset when one of their flock was eaten by a fish they foolishly tried to empty the ocean with their beaks to rescue her.

Most of the Jataka tales appear to have been intended for regular people, but monks are clearly the intended audience for stories about things such as renunciation and the inherent wickedness of women. Many of the Jataka tales are told specifically to convince wavering monks not to leave the brotherhood.

Composition

Theravada Buddhism has 547 formal Jataka tales. Called the Jatakatthakatha (aka Jatakatthavannana), they’re found in the Khuddaka Nikaya (“Collection of Little Texts”) collection of the Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka (“Basket of Discourses”) section. There’s ample evidence there used to be at least five hundred fifty, but some were lost.

Nang Phom Hom legend.

These Jataka tales are not all of the Buddha’s past lives, just the ones he himself recounted to other people and were later written in this particular format. The Buddha discusses other past lives in other parts of in the Pali Canon and he tells us that as he reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree he remembered hundreds of thousands of former births. Additionally, there are apocryphal Jataka not a part of the Pali Canon but nonetheless considered important and “real” by many Theravadans. In Thailand, the Pannasa Jataka collection contains sixty-one apocryphal past-life stories. Also, many people consider local folktales such as the Thai epic Ramakien and the Lao-Isan Nang Phom Hom legend to be past-life Buddha stories.

With just a few exceptions, such as Jataka #68 (explained in the next paragraph) the Jataka follow the same three-part structure. The first section is a “story of the present” that details the circumstances of when, where, and why the Buddha tells the past-life story: “When the Brethren became aware of this, they asked the Blessed One, saying, ‘Can there be any good in this, sir?’ The Blessed One told this story of the past.” Next comes the past-life birth story itself (the actual jataka – literally “birth story” in Pali – section of the full Jataka tale) and this is usually the longest of the three sections. Then at the end of the story, the Buddha reveals who the various people in the past-life are in his lifetime: “His lesson ended, the Master shewed the connexion, and identified the Birth by saying, ‘Ananda was the king of those days, Sariputta the knight, and I myself the thorough-bred Sindh horse.'” The person listening to the Buddha tell the past-life story is often one of the people in it.

Maha-Ummagga Jataka (#546)

The 547 past-life stories do not report only 547 past lives. There are actually about 3,500 total past lives in the whole collection, though the exact number cannot be known. 1 Past-Life Duplicates
In my estimation, the following stories take place during the same past life.
-#8 and #462
-#28 and #88
-#30 and #286
-#42, #274, #275, #375 and #395
-#46 and #268
-#52 and #539
-#57 and #224
-#68 and #237
-#82, #104, #369 and #439
-#86, #290 and #330
-#90 and #363
-#96 and #132
-#99 and #101
-#102 and #217
-#110, #111, #112, #170, #192, #350, #364, #452, #471, #500, #508, #517 and #546
-#147 and #297
-#173 and #250
-#249 and #365
-#263 and #507
-#264 and #489
-#282, #303, #351 and #355
-#283 and #492
-#328 and #443
-#346 and #405
-#367 and #368
-#371 and #428
-#429 and #430
-#441 and #545
-#470 and #535
-#502 and #534

Multiple Lives
The following stories contain more than one past life.
-#31 contains 2 lives
-#68 contains 3,000 lives
-#415 contains 2 lives
-#421 contains 2 lives
-#449 contains 2 lives
-#450 contains 2 lives
-#458 contains 2 lives
-#468 contains 2 lives (It’s not actually clear how many lives are discussed. When the king talks about his bad behavior in the past it’s likely he is discussing a single past life, but it could have happened in several lives.)
-#498 contains 5 lives
-#506 contains 2 lives
-#524 contains 2 lives
-#531 contains 2 lives
-#535 contains 2 lives
-#536 contains 9 lives (Three of these lives have their own Jataka tales.)
-#547 contains 2 lives The total is much higher than 547 because some Jataka tales discuss more than one past life, notably Jataka #68 in which the Buddha mentions three thousand past lives. On the other hand, many particular past lives are recounted in more than one Jataka tale. Sometimes these are undoubtedly the exact same lifetime: Jataka #8 tells us, “In this Jataka both the Introductory Story and the Story of the Past will be given in the Eleventh Book in connexion with the Samvara-jataka – the incidents are the same both for that Jataka and for this, but the stanzas are different,” and Jataka #170 in its entirety reads, “This Kakantaka Birth will be given below in the Maha-Ummagga Birth.” But most are not so clear cut and it can only be said that several past lives seem to be recounted in more than one Jataka tale. The ancient texts do not address the matter, so there’s no way to know for certain if these apparent duplicates are actually the same life told more than once or if they’re different lives that just happen to have had the same circumstances. (Removing the religious element of the Jataka tales, stories such as these obviously share an earlier origin and are told differently by various storytellers or by the same storyteller at different times. A very clear example of this are Jataka #372 and Jataka #410, which tell identical stories of an ascetic adopting an orphaned animal and treating it as a child, then later becoming depressed when the animal dies. The only notable difference is that in the first it was a deer and in the second it was an elephant.)

Jambuka Jataka (#335)

Some of these similar life stories have the exact same plot, such as the monkey who dressed up as an ascetic hoping to get out of the rain in Jataka #173 and Jataka #250, the only differences being in the narration. But duplicate lives does not always mean duplicate stories. Sometimes two Jatakas telling the same past life focus on different events, such as a man and woman married against their will who live together as celibate ascetics in Jataka #443 (the Bodhisatta did not get angry when the king abducted his wife into his harem) and Jataka #328 (he showed no sorrow when she died). And some same-life stories include details not found in their matching Jatakas, like the man being executed for breaking into the royal park to steal safflower for his wife: Jataka #297 tells us he sent a crow to give a final message to his wife, but this is not mentioned in Jataka #147. Other past-life pairs, however, while being mostly the same have significant differences, such as when some caravan workers ignored the Bodhisatta’s instructions and ate a poisonous fruit – in Jataka #54 they all recovered, but in Jataka #85 some of the men died – and the jackal working as a lion’s servant who dies trying to kill an elephant – in Jataka #143 the two hunted as a team, the jackal being a scout and finding the food that the lion went to kill, and in Jataka #335 the jackal just stays at home and eats leftovers.

Though it’s unrelated to the number of past lives, there’s also a lot of repetition on the other side of the timeline. Often more than one past-life story is told regarding the same event that happened during the Buddha’s life, such as the Buddha rebuking disciples who pestered lay people to help them build new quarters in Jataka #253, Jataka #323, and Jataka #403 and the eleven stories told in relation to the Buddha’s Great Renunciation, the beginning of his path to enlightenment.

Mahanipata Jataka

Boon Pha Wet celebration in Khon Kaen, Thailand.

The last ten Jataka tales form a chapter called the Mahanipata and thus are sometimes referred to as the Mahanipata Jataka. They get special attention from most Buddhists, especially in Southeast Asia. Sometimes called the “Ten Great Birth Stories of the Buddha,” these long (from about 6,000 to 47,000 words in English) stories tell the ten earthly lives that preceded his final life in which he finally became the Buddha. (They are frequently misidentified as the final ten lives of the Buddha.) Each of the stories illustrates one of the ten paramitas (“perfections of character”) (#538 renunciation/nekkhamma, #539 endurance/viriya, #540 loving kindness/metta, #541 determination/adhitthana, #542 patience/khanti, #543 virtue/sila, #544 equanimity/upekkha, #545 truthfulness/sacca, #546 wisdom/panna, and #547 generosity/dana) that need to be developed before one can become enlightened. And while total mastery is required for Buddhahood, they’re also achievable moral goals for regular people to aspire. Paintings and carvings of these final ten stories are common in Buddhist temples around the world. Sometimes there are single panels for each of the ten and others there is a series telling the Vessantara Jataka (#547), the Buddha’s penultimate life. The Vessantara Jataka’s moral perfection is generosity, and by extension non-attachment, the latter being the most important principle of dharma. Listening to monks recite the story is an annual event around Thailand and Laos, plus parts of Cambodia and Myanmar. It’s practiced most keenly in Thailand’s Isan region (the northeast) and Laos where it’s part of a multi-day celebration (called boon pha wet) that often also includes hanging a long scroll depicting the whole story at the temple and costumed locals acting out parts of it around the village.


Languages of India and abroad

Pali-English dictionary

jātaka : (nt.) a birth story. (adj.), born arisen.

Source: Sutta: The Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary

1) Jātaka, 2 (m.) (jāta+ka, belonging to what has been born) a son J. I, 239 IV, 138. (Page 281)

context information

Pali is the language of the Tipiṭaka, which is the sacred canon of Theravāda Buddhism and contains much of the Buddha’s speech. Closeley related to Sanskrit, both languages are used interchangeably between religions.

Discover the meaning of jataka in the context of Pali from relevant books on Exotic India

Marathi-English dictionary

jātaka (जातक).—n (S) The predetermination, from the horoscope &c., of the fortunes and destinies of an individual through life: also that branch of astrology which teaches the calculation. 2 A particular one of the eight varga or significant letters considered in forming a matrimonial connection.

Source: DDSA: The Aryabhusan school dictionary, Marathi-English

jātaka (जातक).—n Astrological calculation of a nativity.

Marathi is an Indo-European language having over 70 million native speakers people in (predominantly) Maharashtra India. Marathi, like many other Indo-Aryan languages, evolved from early forms of Prakrit, which itself is a subset of Sanskrit, one of the most ancient languages of the world.

Discover the meaning of jataka in the context of Marathi from relevant books on Exotic India

Sanskrit dictionary

Jātaka (जातक).—a. [jāta-svārthe ka] Born, produced.

-kam 1 A ceremony performed after the birth of a child (jātakarman) जात- काद्याः क्रियाश्चास्या विधिपूर्वं यथाक्रमम् (jāta- kādyāḥ kriyāścāsyā vidhipūrvaṃ yathākramam) Mb.1.8.12 जातकं कारयामास वर्तयित्वा च मङ्गलम् (jātakaṃ kārayāmāsa vartayitvā ca maṅgalam) Bhāg.1.12.13.

2) Astrological calculation of a nativity.

3) An aggregate of similar things.

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Edgerton Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Shabda-Sagara Sanskrit-English Dictionary

(-kaṃ) Astrological calculation of a nativity. E. svārthe ka added to the preceding.

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Benfey Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Cappeller Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Jātaka (जातक).—[adjective] born, begot (—°) [masculine] a new-born child [neuter] birth ([especially] a former birth of Śakyamuni & its history), nativity, also = seq.

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Aufrecht Catalogus Catalogorum

1) Jātaka (जातक) as mentioned in Aufrecht’s Catalogus Catalogorum:—horoscope of Śarabhoji of Tanjore (born in 1778). Burnell. 80^a.

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Yates Sanskrit-English Dictionary

Jātaka (जातक):—[(kaḥ-kā-kaṃ) a.] Born. m. A mendicant. n. Astrological calculation of a nativity.

[Sanskrit to German] (Deutsch Wörterbuch)

1) ekodarasamudbhūtā ekanakṣatrajātakāḥ . na bhavanti samāḥ śīle [VṚDDHA-Cāṇakya 5, 4.] —

Source: Cologne Digital Sanskrit Dictionaries: Sanskrit-Wörterbuch in kürzerer Fassung

1) Adj. am Ende eines Comp. erzeugt von , geboren unter (einem Stern). —

Sanskrit, also spelled संस्कृतम् (saṃskṛtam), is an ancient language of India commonly seen as the grandmother of the Indo-European language family (even English!). Closely allied with Prakrit and Pali, Sanskrit is more exhaustive in both grammar and terms and has the most extensive collection of literature in the world, greatly surpassing its sister-languages Greek and Latin.

Discover the meaning of jataka in the context of Sanskrit from relevant books on Exotic India


Contents

First dream Edit

  • The four strong oxen, from North, East, South and West, came to fight against one another in front of the king. But when they are about to fight, they retreated instead.

Meaning: "When bad people lead, the dark clouds came to rain, but just thunder instead, thus destroying certain crops and leading people to starve."

Second dream Edit

Meaning: "When people begin to have short lifespan, young people will marry and have kids even when they are below 18 years old."

Third dream Edit

Meaning: "When people stop respecting the elders, the parents will live with their children, for not having anyone to rely on."

Fourth dream Edit

Meaning: "People will hire young, inexperienced people in certain jobs, especially judging crimes. Not being able to work well, the young people will quit the jobs and old people will not reapply for their previous jobs, which leads to the demise of a country."

Fifth dream Edit

Meaning: Evil judges will take the bribery of both the defendant and the jurors, and they will decide the crimes however they want."

Sixth dream Edit

Meaning: "Good people will not be respected or praised, thus reducing reputation. So, they have to make friends with bad people for the sake of their reputation."

Seventh dream Edit

  • A man is making threads and places them near his legs. A hungry, female wolf tries to eat the thread without letting him know.

Meaning: "Women will not consider about the money their husbands have tiredly made. They will spend the money for clothes, food, drinks, jewelry and gambling without letting their husbands know."

Eighth dream Edit

  • There is a large pot surrounded with other small pots. Although the large pot is overflowing, people come and pour water only into the large pot and no one pour water into the small pots.

Meaning: "People will experience poverty because of their evil leaders. They have to work hard for their leaders and not for their family which leads to starvation."

Ninth dream Edit

  • Animals drink water from a large lake which is polluted around the centre and clean around the edge.

Meaning: "The future leaders will not be sympathetic to their citizens. They will force the citizens to pay a lot of taxes. Not being able to withstand the heavy tax, they will move to the countryside."

Tenth dream Edit

    is cooked in a single pot. However, some portions are overcooked, some undercooked and some are cooked right.

Meaning: "It will not rain properly, i.e some areas get a lot of rain while other areas don't. Such a rain destroys certain crops and results in crops of different qualities although they are grown in same field."

Eleventh dream Edit

Meaning: "People will spread Buddha's teachings, asking for donations and spend for their own good. This is equivalent to buying the teachings with a few money."

Twelfth dream Edit

Meaning: "Wicked people will get the duties of leading a country and people will start to believe in them."

Thirteenth dream Edit

Meaning: "When bad people rule, good people couldn't make strong statements in arguements. So, they are no longer appreciated.

Fourteenth dream Edit

Meaning: "Men would marry younger spouses and give them whatever they want. However, the spouses will scold them for lacking decision in certain cases."

Fifteenth dream Edit

Meaning: "In the future, only people of bad characteristics will become the leaders. Not having anyone to rely on, good people will have to serve them."

Sixteenth dream Edit

Meaning: "When Wicked people became governors, they will claim the land of the good people and deports them. So, good people have to run away from those people."


How a Vain Woman Was Reborn As a Dung-Worm

She died and at her death the king was plunged in grief, and became sad and miserable. He had the body laid in a coffin, and embalmed with oil and ointment, and laid beneath the bed and there he lay without food, weeping and wailing.

In vain did his parents and kinsfolk, friends and courtiers, priests and laymen, bid him not to grieve, since all things pass away they could not move him. As he lay in sorrow, seven days passed by.

Now the Bodhisatta was at that time an ascetic, who had gained the Five Supernatural Faculties and the Eight Attainments he dwelt at the foot of Himalaya. He was possessed of perfect supernatural insight, and as he looked round India with his heavenly vision, he saw this king lamenting, and straightway resolved to help him.

By his miraculous power he rose in the air, and alighted in the king's park, and sat down on the ceremonial stone, like a golden image. A young brahmin of the city of Potali entered the park, and seeing the Bodhisatta, he greeted him and sat down. The Bodhisatta began to talk pleasantly with him.

"Is the king a just ruler?" he asked.

"Yes, sir, the king is just," replied the youth "but his queen is just dead he has laid her body in a coffin, and lies down lamenting her and today is the seventh day since he began. Why do you not free the king from this great grief? Virtuous beings like you ought to overcome the king's sorrow."

"I do not know the king, young man," said the Bodhisatta "but if he were to come and ask me, I would tell him the place where she has now come into the flesh again, and make her speak herself."

"Then, holy sir, stay here until I bring the king to you," said the youth.

The Bodhisatta agreed, and he hastened into the king's presence, and told him about it.

"You should visit this being with the divine insight!" he told the king.

The king was overjoyed at the thought of seeing Ubbari and he entered his chariot and drove to the place.

Greeting the Bodhisatta, he sat down on one side, and asked, "Is it true, as I am told, that you know where my queen has come into being again?"

"Yes, I do, my lord king," replied he.

Then the king asked where it was.

The Bodhisatta replied, "O king, she was intoxicated with her beauty, and so fell into negligence and did not do fair and virtuous acts so now she has become a little dung-worm in this very park."

"I don't believe it!" said the king.

"Then I will show her to you, and make her speak," answered the Bodhisatta.

"Please make her speak!" said the king.

The Bodhisatta commanded: "Let the two that are busy rolling a lump of cow-dung, come forth before the king!" and by his power he made them do it, and they came.

The Bodhisatta pointed one out to the king: "There is your queen Ubbari, O king! she has just come out of this lump, following her husband the dung-worm. Look and see."

"What! My queen Ubbari a dung-worm? I don't believe it!" cried the king.

"I will make her speak, O king!"

"Pray make her speak, holy sir!" said he.

The Bodhisatta by his power gave her speech.

"What is it, holy sir?" she asked, in a human voice.

"What was your name in your former character?" the Bodhisatta asked her.

"My name was Ubbari, sir," she replied, "the consort of King Assaka."

"Tell me," the Bodhisatta went on, "which do you love best now -- king Assaka, or this dung-worm?"

"O sir, that was my former birth," said she. "Then I lived with him in this park, enjoying shape and sound, scent, savor and touch but now that my memory is confused by rebirth, what is he? Why, now I would kill king Assaka, and would smear the feet of my husband the dung-worm with the blood flowing from his throat!" and in the midst of the king's company, she uttered these verses in a human voice:

Once with the great king Assaka, who was my husband dear,
Beloving and beloved, I walked about this garden here.

But now new sorrows and new joys have made the old ones flee,
And dearer far than Assaka my worm is now to me.

And the Bodhisatta, having instructed the king, and set him free from sorrow, returned again to the Himalayas.

    Source: The Jataka or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births, edited by E. B. Cowell, vol. 2, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1895), no. 207, pp. 108-110. Translated from the Pali by W. H. D. Rouse.

Once upon a time when a king named Senaka was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was Sakka. The king Senaka was friendly with a certain naga king. This naga king, they say, left the naga world and ranged the earth seeking food. The village boys seeing him said, "This is a snake," and struck him with clods and other things.

The king, going to amuse himself in his garden, saw them, and being told they were beating a snake, said, "Don't let them beat him. Drive them away." And this was done.

So the naga king got his life, and when he went back to the naga world. He took many jewels, and coming at midnight to the king's bedchamber he gave them to him, saying, "I got my life through you." So he made friendship with the king and came again and again to see him. He appointed one of his naga girls, insatiate in pleasures, to be near the king and protect him, and he gave the king a charm, saying, "If ever you do not see her, repeat this charm."

One day the king went to the garden with the naga girl and was amusing himself in the lotus tank. The naga girl seeing a water snake quitted her human shape and made love with him. The king not seeing the girl said, "Where is she gone?" and repeated the spell. Then he saw her in her misconduct and struck her with a piece of bamboo.

She went in anger to the naga world, and when she was asked, "Why are you come?" she said, "Your friend struck me on the back because I did not do his bidding," showing the mark of the blow.

The naga king, not knowing the truth, called four naga youths and sent them with orders to enter Senaka's bedchamber and destroy him like chaff by the breath of their nostrils. They entered the chamber at the royal bedtime.

As they came in, the king was saying to the queen, "Lady, do you know where the naga girl has gone?"

"Today when we were bathing in the tank, she quitted her shape and misconducted herself with a water snake. I said, 'Don't do that,' and struck her with a piece of bamboo to give her a lesson. And now I fear she may have gone to the naga world and told some lie to my friend, destroying his goodwill to me."

The young nagas hearing this turned back at once to the naga world and told their king. He being moved went instantly to the king's chamber, told him all and was forgiven. Then he said, "In this way I make amends," and gave the king a charm giving knowledge of all sounds. "This, O king, is a priceless spell. If you give anyone this spell you will at once enter the fire and die."

The king said, "It is well," and accepted it. From that time he understood the voice even of ants.

One day he was sitting on the dais eating solid food with honey and molasses, and a drop of honey, a drop of molasses, and a morsel of cake fell on the ground. An ant seeing this comes crying, "The king's honey jar is broken on the dais, his molasses cart and cake cart are upset. Come and eat honey and molasses and cake."

The king hearing the cry laughed. The queen being near him thought, "What has the king seen that he laughs?"

When the king had eaten his solid food and bathed and sat down cross-legged, a fly said to his wife, "Come, lady, let us enjoy love."

She said, "Excuse me for a little, husband. They will soon be bringing perfumes to the king. As he perfumes himself some powder will fall at his feet. I will stay there and become fragrant, then we will enjoy ourselves lying on the king's back."

The king hearing the voice laughed again. The queen thought again, "What has he seen that he laughs?"

Again when the king was eating his supper, a lump of rice fell on the ground. The ants cried, "A wagon of rice has broken in the king's palace, and there is none to eat it."

The king hearing this laughed again. The queen took a golden spoon and helping him reflected, "Is it at the sight of me that the king laughs?"

She went to the bedchamber with the king and at bedtime she asked, "Why did you laugh, O king?"

He said, "What have you to do with why I laugh?" But being asked again and again he told her.

Then she said, "Give me your spell of knowledge."

He said, "It cannot be given." But though repulsed she pressed him again.

The king said, "If I give you this spell, I shall die."

"Even though you die, give it me."

The king, being in the power of womankind, saying, "It is well," consented and went to the park in a chariot, saying, "I shall enter the fire after giving away this spell."

At that moment Sakka, king of gods, looked down on the earth and seeing this case said, "This foolish king, knowing that he will enter the fire through womankind, is on the way I will give him his life." So he took Suja, daughter of the Asuras, and went to Benares. He became a he-goat and made her a she-goat, and resolving that the people should not see them, he stood before the king's chariot. The king and the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot saw him, but none else saw him. For the sake of starting talk he was as if making love with the she-goat.

One of the Sindh asses yoked in the chariot seeing him said, "Friend goat, we have heard before, but not seen, that goats are stupid and shameless. But you are doing, with all of us looking on, this thing that should be done in secret and in a private place, and are not ashamed. What we have heard before agrees with this that we see."

And so he spoke the first stanza:

The goat hearing him spoke two stanzas:

The king understood the talk of both animals, and hearing it he quickly sent away the chariot. The ass hearing the goat's talk spoke the fourth stanza:

The goat explaining this spoke the fifth stanza:

The king hearing his words said, "King of goats, you will surely act for my advantage. Tell me now what is right for me to do."

Then the goat said, "King, to all animals no one is dearer than self. It is not good to destroy oneself and abandon the honor one has gained for the sake of anything that is dear." So he spoke the sixth stanza:

So the Bodhisatta exhorted the king. The king, delighted, asked, "King of goats, whence come you?"

"I am Sakka, O king, come to save you from death out of pity for you."

"King of gods, I promised to give her the charm. What am I to do now?"

"There is no need for the ruin of both of you. You say, 'It is the way of the craft,' and have her beaten with some blows. By this means she will not get it."

The king said, "It is well," and agreed. The Bodhisatta after exhortation to the king went to Sakka's heaven. The king went to the garden, had the queen summoned and then said, "Lady, will you have the charm?"

"Then go through the usual custom."

"A hundred stripes on the back, but you must not make a sound."

She consented through greed for the charm. The king made his slaves take whips and beat her on both sides. She endured two or three stripes and then cried, "I don't want the charm."

The king said, "You would have killed me to get the charm," and so flogging the skin off her back he sent her away. After that she could not bear to talk of it again.

    Source: The Jataka or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births , edited by E. B. Cowell, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1897), no. 386, pp. 174-77. Translated from the Pali by H. T. Francis and R. A. Neil.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, there was a beautiful woman of the town, called Sulasa, whose price was a thousand pieces a night. There was in the same city a robber named Sattuka, as strong as an elephant, who used to enter rich men's houses at night and plunder at will. One day he was captured. Sulasa was standing at her window when the soldiers led Sattuka, his hands bound behind his back, down the street toward the place of execution.

She fell in love with him on sight, and said, "If I can free that stout fighting man, I will give up this bad life of mine and live respectably with him." She sent a thousand pieces to the chief constable, and thus gained his freedom. They lived together in delight and harmony for some time, but after three or four months, the robber thought, "I shall never be able to stay in this one place. But one can't go empty handed. Her ornaments are worth a hundred thousand pieces. I will kill her and take them."

So he said to her one day, "Dear, when I was being hauled along by the king's men, I promised an offering to a tree deity on a mountain top, who is now threatening me because I have not paid it. Let us make an offering."

She consented to accompany her husband to the mountain top to make the offering. She should, he said, to honor the deity, wear all of her ornaments.

When they arrived at the mountain top, he revealed his true purpose: "I have not come to present the offering. I have come with the intention of killing you and going away with all your ornaments. Take them all off and make a bundle of them in your outer garment."

"Husband, why would you kill me?"

"Husband, remember the good I have done you. When you were being hauled along in chains, I paid a large sum and saved your life. Though I might get a thousand pieces a day, I never look at another man. Such a benefactress I am to you. Do not kill me. I will give you much money and be your slave."

But instead of accepting her entreaties, he continued his preparations to kill her.

"At least let me salute you," she said. "I am going to make obeisance to you on all four sides." Kneeling in front of him, she put her head to his foot, repeated the act at his left side, then at his right side, then from behind. Once behind him, she took hold of him, and with the strength of an elephant threw him over a cliff a hundred times as high as a man. He was crushed to pieces and died on the spot. Seeing this deed, the deity who lived on the mountain top spoke this stanza:

So Sulasa killed the robber. When she descended from the mountain and returned to her attendants, they asked where her husband was. "Don't ask me," she said, and mounting her chariot she went on to the city.

    Source: The Jataka or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births , edited by E. B. Cowell, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1897), no. 419, pp. 660-63. Translated from the Pali by H. T. Francis and R. A. Neil. Slightly shortened.

Once upon a time, when Brahmadatta was King of Benares, there was in a family of a certain village of Kasi an only son named Vasitthaka. This man supported his parents, and after his mother's death, he supported his father as has been described in the introduction. But there is this difference. When the woman [Vasitthaka's wife] said, "Look there! That is your father's doing! I am constantly begging him not to do this and that, and he only gets angry!" she went on, "My lord, your father is fierce and violent, forever picking quarrels. A decrepit old man like that, tormented with disease, is bound to die soon and I can't live in the same house with him. He will die of himself before many days are out. Well, take him to a cemetery, and dig a pit, throw him in, and break his head with the spade and when he is dead, shovel the earth upon him, and leave him there."

At last, by dint of this dinning in his ears, said he, "Wife, to kill a man is a serious matter. How can I do it?"

"I will tell you of a way," quoth she.

"Well, my lord, at break of day, go to the place where your father sleeps. Tell him very loud, that all may hear, that a debtor of his is in a certain village, that you went and he would not pay you, and that if he dies the man will never pay at all. And say that you will both drive there together in the morning. Then at the appointed time get up, and put the animals to the cart, and take him in it to the cemetery. When you get there, bury him in a pit, make a noise as if you had been robbed, wound and wash your head, and return."

"Yes, that plan will do," said Vasitthaka. He agreed to her proposal, and got the cart ready for the journey.

Now the man had a son, a lad of seven years, but wise and clever. The lad overheard what his mother said. "My mother," thought he, "is a wicked woman, and is trying to persuade father to murder his father. I will prevent my father from doing this murder." He ran quickly, and lay down beside his grandsire.

Vasitthaka, at the time suggested by the wife, prepared the cart. "Come, father, let us get that debt!" said he, and placed his father in the cart.

But the boy got in first of all. Vasitthaka could not prevent him, so he took him to the cemetery with them. Then, placing his father and his son together in a place apart, with the cart, he got down, took spade and basket, and in a spot where he was hidden from them began to dig a square hole. The boy got down and followed him, and as though ignorant what was afoot, opened a conversation by repeating the first stanza:

This his father answered by repeating the second stanza:

Hearing this, the boy answered by repeating a half stanza:

With these words, he caught the spade from his father's hands, and at no great distance began to dig another pit. His father approaching asked why he dug that pit, to whom he made reply by finishing the third stanza:

To this the father replied by repeating the fourth stanza:

When the father had thus spoken, the wise lad recited three stanzas, one by way of answer, and two as an holy hymn:

The father, after hearing his son thus discourse, repeated the eighth stanza:

Said the lad, when he heard this, "Father, women, when a wrong is done and they are not rebuked, again and again commit sin. You must bend my mother, that she may never again do such a deed as this." And he repeated the ninth stanza:

Hearing the words of his wise son, well pleased was Vasitthaka, and saying, "Let us go, my son!" he seated himself in the cart with son and father.

Now the woman too, this sinner, was happy at heart for, thought she, this ill-luck is out of the house now. She plastered the place with wet cow dung, and cooked a mess of rice porridge. But as she sat watching the road by which they would return, she espied them coming, "There he is, back with old ill-luck again!" thought she, much in anger. "Fie, good-for-nothing! cried she. "What, bring back the ill-luck you took away with you!"

Vasitthaka said not a word, but unyoked the cart. Then said he, "Wretch, what is that you say?" He gave her a sound drubbing, and bundled her head over heels out of doors, bidding her never darken his door again. Then he bathed his father and his son, and took a bath himself, and the three of them ate the rice porridge. The sinful woman dwelt for a few days in another house.

Then the son said to his father, "Father, for all this, my mother does not understand. Now let us try to vex her. You give out that in such and such a village lives a niece of yours, who will attend upon your father and your son and you. So you will go and fetch her. Then take flowers and perfumes, and get into your cart, and ride about the country all day, returning in the evening."

And so he did. The women in the neighbor's family told his wife this. "Have you heard," said they, "that your husband has gone to get another wife in such a place?"

"Ah, then I am undone!" quoth she, "and there is no place for me left."

But she would inquire of her son. So quickly she came to him, and fell at his feet, crying, "Save thee, I have no other refuge! Henceforward I will tend your father and grandsire as I would tend a beauteous shrine! Give me entrance into this house once more!"

"Yes, mother," replied the lad, "if you do no more as you did, I will. Be of good cheer!" And at his father's coming he repeated the tenth stanza:

So said he to his father, and then went and summoned his mother. She, being reconciled to her husband and her husband's father, was thenceforward tamed, and endued with righteousness, and watched over her husband and his father and her son. And these two, steadfastly following their son's advice, gave alms and did good deeds, and became destined to join the hosts of heaven.

    The Jataka or, Stories of the Buddha's Former Births , edited by E. B. Cowell, v. 4, translated by W. H. D. Rouse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1901), no. 446, pp. 27-31.

    . Type 980 tales in which old people are saved by their grandsons. . Type 981 tales about geronticide. . Type 982 tales about old people who trick their ungrateful children into caring for them.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts , a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.


What are Jataka stories What is the moral of these stories?

The Jātaka tales are a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha. These are the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. The term Jātaka may also refer to a traditional commentary on this book.

Beside above, what are the themes of Jataka tales? The themes are moral, and sometimes rather dark. In &ldquoThe Feast of the Dead&ldquo, a priest is called upon to sacrifice a goat. He orders his pupils to bathe the goat, prior to its slaughter. The goat, knowing of its looming death, rejoices and then weeps.

Correspondingly, what do Jataka tales teach us?

A working definition for this age group is: Jataka Tales are morality tales which strive to teach people lessons about behaving well.

What is the importance of Jatakas in Buddhism?

The stories about the birth of Buddha in his previous lives are preserved in the jatakas. It also included moral lessons and ethical teachings. The stories in the Jatakas are important as they throw light on the common life of the people, their economic conditions,social manners and customs.


Jataka Tales – Ancient Tales of Wisdom

The Jataka tales are one of the greatest instances of folk literature that India has produced. Hough used as vehicles of Buddhist ethical teaching these stories are mostly of secular origin and highlight the moral pitfalls that can befall an individual in everyday life. The stories are purported to be told by the Buddha in various incarnations in human and animal form as the Bodhisattva. At the end of each story he identifies the role that he himself played, as well as those of others, particularly his disciples. A great way of not only learning about Indian culture, but also how to keep to that straight and narrow ethical path!

The Jataka as we possess it occurs in the second of the three great divisions of the Pali Buddhist scriptures. It consists of 547 Jatakas each containing the life of Buddha during some incarnation in one of his previous existences as a Bodhisatta. Some of the tales occur more than once in a different setting or in a variant version and occasionally several stories are included in one birth. Each separate story is embedded in a framework, which forms the story of the present. This is generally an account of some incident in the life of the historic Buddha, such as an act of disobedience or folly among the brethren of the order, the discussion of a question of ethics, or an instance of eminent virtue. Buddha then tells a story of the past, an event in one of his previous existences, which explains the present incident as a repetition of the former one, or as a parallel case and shows the moral consequences.

All stories contain the Bodhisatta (one being destined to enlightenment) as well as verses occur in all the births. It is these verses which are canonical, the prose being a commentary explaining how the verses came to be spoken.

Although much of the Jataka is merely moral instruction to the unconverted it also expounds teaching which leads to enlightenment, such as the doctrine of impermanence, belief in the Buddha, the rejection of superstitious rites, freedom from lust, hatred and delusion and other bonds which the disciple must break as he advances on the noble path.

The present selection has been made with the purpose of brining together the Jataka stories of the most widespread interest.


Watch the video: Jataka Tales u0026 In Praise of Dependent Origination (December 2022).

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