Translations of
Jātaka tales
EnglishBirth history
Sanskritजातक
(IAST: Jātaka)
Burmeseဇာတက
Khmerជាតក
(UNGEGN: Chéadâk)
Sinhalaජාතක කථා
(Jātaka Kathā)
Glossary of Buddhism

The Jātakas (meaning "Birth Story", "related to a birth") are a voluminous body of literature native to South Asia which mainly concern the previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form.[1][2] In these stories, the future Buddha may appear as a king, an outcast, a deva, an animal—but, in whatever form, he exhibits some virtue that the tale thereby inculcates.[3] Often, Jātaka tales include an extensive cast of characters who interact and get into various kinds of trouble - whereupon the Buddha character intervenes to resolve all the problems and bring about a happy ending. The Jātaka genre is based on the idea that the Buddha was able to recollect all his past lives and thus could use these memories to tell a story and illustrate his teachings.[4]

For the Buddhist traditions, the jātakas illustrate the many lives, acts and spiritual practices which are required on the long path to Buddhahood.[1] They also illustrate the great qualities or perfections of the Buddha (such as generosity) and teach Buddhist moral lessons, particularly within the framework of karma and rebirth.[5] Jātaka stories have also been illustrated in Buddhist architecture throughout the Buddhist world and they continue to be an important element in popular Buddhist art.[5] Some of the earliest such illustrations can be found at Sanchi and Bharhut.

According to Naomi Appleton, Jātaka collections also may have played "an important role in the formation and communication of ideas about buddhahood, karma and merit, and the place of the Buddha in relation to other buddhas and bodhisattvas."[5]

Jātakas are closely related to (and often overlap with) another genre of Buddhist narrative, the avadāna.[2]

Overview

The railings of the Bharhut Stupa contain roundels with jātaka illustrations

Jātaka tales may be quite ancient. The term appears as part of a schema of Buddhist literary forms called the nine angas, and depictions of them appear in early Indian art (as early as the second century B.C.E.).[4] According to Straube, "the presumably oldest specimens of fully elaborated narratives are dispersed throughout the Vinayapiṭakas and Sūtrapiṭakas of the canonical collections of the different Buddhist schools. These texts are transmitted in various Indian dialects and stem from a prior oral tradition."[2] Furthermore, while these texts cannot be dated in a precise manner, "the fact that many narratives are passed on in almost identical form within the canons of the different schools shows that they date back to the time before the schisms between the schools took place."[2]

According to A. K. Warder, jātakas are the precursors to the various legendary biographies of the Buddha, which were composed at later dates.[6] Although many jātakas were written from an early period, which describe previous lives of the Buddha, very little biographical material about Gautama's own life has been recorded.[6] jātaka tales also assimilate many traditional Indian fables and folklore that are not specifically Buddhist. As the genre spread outside of India, it also drew on local folk tales.[4]

Many jātakas are told with a common threefold plot schema which contains:[2]

In the jātakas found in the Sutra pitaka, the Buddha is almost always depicted as a person of high rank in a past life (and not an animal). Some of these also include past lives of some of the Buddha's disciples.[2] One famous example is the Pali Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, which includes the story of Mahāsudarśana.[2] Unlike Sutra collections, Vinaya sources like the Vinayavastu contain more varied jātakas, including ones in which the Buddha is depicted as an animal.[2]

Many jātakas contain elements of both verse and prose. According to Martin Straube "the division into canonical verses and postcanonical prose points to the old Indian narrative form of ākhyāna, which has a fixed wording of the stanzas only, whereas the actual story is to be shaped anew during each oral performance."[2]

The various Indian Buddhist schools had different collections of jātakas. The largest known collection is the Jātakatthavaṇṇanā of the Theravada school.[5] In Theravada Buddhism, the Jātakas are a textual division of the Pāli Canon, included in the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka. The term Jātaka may also refer to a traditional commentaries (Atthakatha) on this book. The tales are dated between 300 BCE and 400 CE.[7]

The earliest archeological findings which depict Jātakas are the illustrations found in the on the Bharhut stupa railing as well as at Sanchi (c. late 2nd - 1st century BCE), which also include inscriptions.[8][2] After this, Jātakas appear at many Buddhist sites, like at Ajanta. Similar Jātaka tales are found in murals of Silk Road sites of the pre-Tang period (ca. 421–640 C.E.), such as at Kucha. They are also found in early Southeast Asian sites, especially at Bagan sites. Burmese Buddhism has an extensive tradition of Jātaka illustration, one of the best examples being the illustrations found at Ananda Temple (which depicts 554 tales).[8]

Bhutanese painted thangka of the Jātakas, 18t–19th century, Phajoding Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan

The Mahāsāṃghika Caitika sects from the Āndhra region took the Jātakas as canonical literature and are known to have rejected some of the Theravāda Jātakas which dated past the time of King Ashoka.[9] The Caitikas claimed that their own Jātakas represented the original collection before the Buddhist tradition split into various lineages.[10]

Martin Straube notes that even though there is a widespread view that jātakas arose due to monks "catering to the needs and tastes of the illiterate lay practitioners of Buddhism as propagandistic means of preaching or converting" there is no historical evidence for this.[2] Instead, the opposite might be true, since "the prose portions of the Pali jātakas not infrequently have as their audience monks and nuns, who sometimes reach high levels of spiritual realization after listening to a jātaka story."[2] He also notes that the rock caves of Ajanta and Bagh were inhabited by monks and it was them who ordered and directed the jātaka murals found there. There is also evidence from inscriptions on old stūpas at various Indian sites with jātaka motifs which indicate that they were build due to the patronage of monks and nuns, some of them of high rank such as bhāṇaka (reciter).[2]

In the Northern Buddhist tradition, Jātakas eventually came to be composed in classical Sanskrit. Perhaps the most influential and important Sanskrit Jātaka text is the Jātakamālā of Āryaśūra which includes 34 Jātaka stories.[11] This work differs from earlier sources in that it is a highly sophisticated poem which makes use of various Sanskrit literary devices.[12] The Jātakamālā was quite influential and was imitated by later authors who wrote their own jātakamālās, mainly Haribhaṭṭa and Gopadatta. These works are all written in a classical Sanskrit genre known as campū, which is a blend of prose and verse in various meters. The jātakamālās all also use the six perfections (pāramitā) as their main framework.[2] The influence of the jātakamālās can be seen in the Ajanta Cave complex, where illustrations of Jātakas are inscribed with quotes from Āryaśūra,[13] with script datable to the sixth century. The Jātakamālā was also translated into Chinese in 434 CE. Borobudur, a massive 9th century Buddhist site in Java, contains depictions of all 34 Jatakas from the Jātakamālā.[14]

Two other sanskrit authors associated with the jātaka genre are Kumāralāta (2nd century CE), author of the Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā Dṛṣṭāntapaṅkti (Collection of Examples, Adorned with an Artistic Arrangement) and Saṅghasena's (date unknown) Pusa benyuan jing (菩薩本縁經; Sūtra of the Bodhisattva’s Avadānas). Both works exist only in Chinese translation (but there are sanskrit fragments). These texts are a kind of predecessor to the Jātakamālā and are less poetically sophisticated.[2]

Various jātaka stories and source texts were also translated into Chinese and Tibetan for the Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist canons.[4]

Later sanskrit authors continued to write in the genre. One such late text is Kṣemendra’s (c. 1036–1065) Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā (Wish-Fulfilling Creeper Consisting in Avadānas of the Bodhisattva), a unique jātaka text written completely in verse. This work was influential on the Tibetan tradition.[2]

Classic Jātaka sources

Jatakamala manuscript 8th-9th century
Pali manuscript of the Suvannasama Jataka, Khom Thai script (Khmer Mul script), Central Thailand, 18th century

There are numerous sources for Jātaka tales, including:[15][2]

Late Jātakas

Within the Pali tradition, there are also many non-canonical Jātakas of later composition (some dated even to the 19th century) but these are treated as a separate category of literature from the "official" Jātaka stories that have been more or less formally canonized from at least the 5th century — as attested to in ample epigraphic and archaeological evidence, such as extant illustrations in bas relief from ancient temple walls. Apocryphal Jātakas of the Pali Buddhist canon, such as those belonging to the Paññāsa Jātaka collection, have been adapted to fit local culture in certain South East Asian countries and have been retold with amendments to the plots to better reflect Buddhist morals.[20][21]

Important Jātakas

Main article: List of Jatakas

The Theravāda Jātakas comprise 547 poems, arranged roughly by an increasing number of verses. According to Professor von Hinüber,[22] only the last 50 were intended to be intelligible by themselves, without commentary. The commentary gives stories in prose that it claims provide the context for the verses, and it is these stories that are of interest to folklorists. Alternative versions of some of the stories can be found in another book of the Pali Canon, the Cariyapitaka, and a number of individual stories can be found scattered around other books of the Canon. Many of the stories and motifs found in the Jātaka such as the Rabbit in the Moon of the Śaśajātaka (Jataka Tales: no.316),[23] are found in numerous other languages and media. For example, The Monkey and the Crocodile, The Turtle Who Couldn't Stop Talking and The Crab and the Crane that are listed below also famously featured in the Hindu Panchatantra, the Sanskrit niti-shastra that ubiquitously influenced world literature.[24] Many of the stories and motifs are translations from the Pali but others are instead derived from vernacular oral traditions prior to the Pali compositions.[25]

Sanskrit (see for example the Jātakamālā) and Tibetan Jātaka stories tend to maintain the Buddhist morality of their Pali equivalents, but re-tellings of the stories in other languages sometimes contain significant amendments to suit their respective cultures.[citation needed] At the Mahathupa in Sri Lanka all 550 Jataka tales were represented inside of the reliquary chamber.[26] Reliquaries often depict the Jataka tales.

This list includes stories based on or related to the Jātakas:

Jātakas in art and culture

Jātakas have been important as a way to spread Buddhist teachings and they were widely used as part of sermons, rituals, festivals, and various forms of art. Numerous Indian Buddhist archeological sites contain illustrations of Jātakas, and thus they are important artistic sources for Jātakas. Some of the main sites include:[15][2]

Many stupas in Nepal and northern India are said to mark locations from the Jātaka tales. Chinese pilgrims like Xuanzang and Faxian reported several of these and discussed the stories connected with them. Sites discussed by these figures include the "four great stupas" (at the four great pilgrimage sites) as well as stupas in Pushkalavati, Mangalura, Hadda Mountain, and Sarvadattaan.[28][29]

Other sites outside of India which contain Jataka illustrations include Dunhuang (the Mogao caves), Bagan city and at Borobudur.

Jataka illustrations are widespread in the Theravada Buddhist world, adorning many temples, wats and key sites. In Theravada countries several of the longer tales such as "The Twelve Sisters"[30] and the Vessantara Jataka[31] are still performed in dance,[32] theatre, and formal (quasi-ritual) recitation.[33] Such celebrations are associated with particular holidays on the lunar calendar used by Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Laos.

Gallery

English Translations

The standard Pali collection of jātakas, with canonical text embedded, has been translated by E. B. Cowell and others, originally published in six volumes by Cambridge University Press (1895-1907) and reprinted in three volumes, by the Pali Text Society (Bristol).[34] There are also numerous English translations of selections and individual stories from various sources.

Some of the main translations of jātakas available in English include:

See also

Citations

  1. ^ a b Appleton, Naomi. "Jātaka". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Straube, Martin. Narratives: South Asia in Silk, Jonathan A. (Editor-in-chief) "Brill's Encyclopedia of Buddhism". Vol. I: Literature and Language. Leiden, Boston 2015
  3. ^ "Jataka". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
  4. ^ a b c d Robert E. Buswell (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume 1, pp. 400-401.
  5. ^ a b c d e Appleton, Naomi (2016-08-31). "Jātaka". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-182. Retrieved 2022-05-08.
  6. ^ a b Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 332-333
  7. ^ "Archived copy". www.pitt.edu. Archived from the original on 5 October 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ a b Robert E. Buswell (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume 1, pp. 401-402.
  9. ^ Sujato, Bhante (2012), Sects & Sectarianism: The Origins of Buddhist Schools, Santipada, p. 51, ISBN 9781921842085
  10. ^ Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 286-287
  11. ^ a b Kern, Hendrik (1943) THE JATAKA-MALA. Harvard University Press
  12. ^ "Jataka Stories". jatakastories.div.ed.ac.uk. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  13. ^ Literary History of Sanskrit Buddhism: From Winternitz, Sylvain Levi, Huber, By Gushtaspshah K. Nariman, Moriz Winternitz, Sylvain Lévi, Edouard Huber, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1972 p. 44
  14. ^ Jataka/Avadana Stories — Table of Contents "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-12-22. Retrieved 2005-12-22.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ a b Appleton, Naomi, "Jātakas in and beyond Pali Literature", Transnational Network of Theravada Studies, retrieved 2022-05-09
  16. ^ Robert E. Buswell (2004). Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Volume 1, pp. 400-401.
  17. ^ ‘The “Jātakāvadānas” of the Avadānaśataka: An Exploration of Indian Buddhist Narrative Genres’, Journal of the International Association for Buddhist Studies 38 (2015): 9-31.
  18. ^ Pagel, Ulrich (1992). The Bodhisattvapiṭaka: Its Doctrines, Practices and Their Position in Mahāyāna Literature, pp. 76-85. Institute of Buddhist Studies.
  19. ^ Bhikshu Dharmamitra (trans.) (2008). Marvelous Stories from The Perfection of Wisdom: 130 Didactic Stories from Ārya Nāgārjuna’s Exegesis on the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Kalavinka Press.
  20. ^ The Tale of Prince Samuttakote: A Buddhist Epic from Thailand. Ohio University Center for International Studies. July 2, 1993. ISBN 9780896801745 – via Google Books.
  21. ^ http://www.khamkoo.com/uploads/9/0/0/4/9004485/the_tham_vessantara_jataka_-_a_critical_study_of_the_vj_and_its_influence_on_kengtung_buddhism_eastern_shan_state.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  22. ^ Handbook of Pali Literature, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1996
  23. ^ Source: sacred-texts.com (accessed: Saturday January 23, 2010)
  24. ^ Jacobs 1888, Introduction, page lviii "What, the reader will exclaim, "the first literary link [1570] between India and England, between Buddhism and Christendom, written in racy Elizabethan with vivacious dialogue, and something distinctly resembling a plot. . ."
  25. ^ "Indian Stories",The History of World Literature, Grant L. Voth, Chantilly, VA, 2007
  26. ^ (John Strong 2004, p. 51)
  27. ^ Quintanilla, Sonya Rhie (2007). History of Early Stone Sculpture at Mathura, ca. 150 BCE - 100 CE. BRILL. p. 226. ISBN 978-90-474-1930-3.
  28. ^ Bernstein, Richard (2001). Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment. A.A. Knopf. ISBN 9780375400094. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  29. ^ (John Strong 2004, p. 52-53)
  30. ^ "Nang Sip Song Prarath Meri". Archived from the original on October 5, 2013.
  31. ^ "Dance Troupe Prepares for Smithsonian Performance". Archived from the original on 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2011-09-17.
  32. ^ "Account Suspended". www.petchprauma.com.
  33. ^ Rev. Sengpan Pannyawamsa, Recital of the Tham Vessantara Jātaka: a social-cultural phenomenon in Kengtung, Eastern Shan State, Myanmar, Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, (University of Kelaniya), Sri Lanka
  34. ^ "Pali Text Society Home Page". www.palitext.com.

General sources

Further reading