Jataka tales

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Bhutanese painted thangka of the Jatakas, 18th-19th Century, Phajoding Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan
Mahajanaka renouncing the worldly life, from the Mahajanaka Jataka. 7th century, Ajanta Caves, India

The Jātakas (Sanskrit जातक) (also known in other languages as: Burmese: ဇာတ်တော်, pronounced: [zaʔ tɔ̀]; Khmer: ជាតក [cietɑk]; Lao: ຊາດົກ sadok; Thai: ชาดก chadok) refer to a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births (jāti) of the Buddha. These are the stories that tell about the previous lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. The future Buddha may appear in them as a king, an outcast, a god, an elephant—but, in whatever form, he exhibits some virtue that the tale thereby inculcates.[1]

In Theravada Buddhism, the Jatakas are a textual division of the Pali Canon, included in the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta Pitaka. The term Jataka may also refer to a traditional commentary on this book.

History[edit]

The Jatakas were originally amongst the earliest Buddhist literature, with metrical analysis methods dating their average contents to around the 4th century BCE.[2] The Mahāsāṃghika Caitika sects from the Āndhra region took the Jatakas as canonical literature, and are known to have rejected some of the Theravada Jatakas which dated past the time of King Ashoka.[3] The Caitikas claimed that their own Jatakas represented the original collection before the Buddhist tradition split into various lineages.[4]

According to A.K. Warder, the Jatakas are the precursors to the various legendary biographies of the Buddha, which were composed at later dates.[5] Although many Jatakas 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]

The Jataka-Mala of Arya Shura in Sanskrit gives 34 Jataka stories.[7] At Ajanta, Jataka scenes are inscribed with quotes from Arya Shura,[8] with script datable to sixth century. It had already been translated into Chinese in 434 CE. Borobudur contains depictions of all 34 Jatakas from Jataka Mala.[9]

Khudda-bodhi-Jataka, Borobudur

Contents[edit]

The Theravada Jatakas comprise 547 poems, arranged roughly by increasing number of verses. According to Professor von Hinüber,[10] 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 Jataka such as the Rabbit in the Moon of the Śaśajâtaka (Jataka Tales: no.316),[11] 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.[12] Many of the stories and motifs being translations from the Pali but others are instead derived from vernacular oral traditions prior to the Pali compositions.[13]

Sanskrit (see for example the Jatakamala) and Tibetan Jataka stories tend to maintain the Buddhist morality of their Pali equivalents, but re-tellings of the stories in Persian and 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.[14] Reliquaries often depict the Jataka tales.

Jataka stupas[edit]

Many stupas in northern India are said to mark locations from the Jataka tales; the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang reported several of these. A stupa in Puskaravati marks where Syama fulfilled his filial duty to his blind parents. Nearby. the ascetic Ekasrnga was seduced by a beautiful woman. In Mangalura Ksantivadin submitted to mutilation by a king. At Hadda Mountain a young Brahmin sacrificed himself to learn a half verse of the dharma. At Sarvadattaan an incarnation sold himself for ransom to make offerings to a Brahmin.[15]

Faxian describes the four great stupas as being adorned with precious substances. At one site king Sibi sacrifices his flesh to ransom a dove from a hawk. Another incarnation gave up his eyes when asked; a third incarnation sacrificed his body to feed a hungry tigress. As King Candraprabha he cut off his head as a gift to a Brahmin.[16] Some would severe their body parts in front of stupas that contained relics; or even end their own lives.

Apocrypha[edit]

Within the Pali tradition, there are also many apocryphal Jatakas of later composition (some dated even to the 19th century) but these are treated as a separate category of literature from the "Official" Jataka 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 Jatakas of the Pali Buddhist canon, such as those belonging to the Paññāsajātaka 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.[17]

Celebrations and ceremonies[edit]

In Theravada countries several of the longer Jatakas such as Rathasena Jataka[18] and Vessantara Jataka,[19] are still performed in dance,[20] theatre, and formal (quasi-ritual) recitation.[21] Such celebrations are associated with particular holidays on the lunar calendar used by Cambodia, Thailand and Laos.

Translations[edit]

The standard Pali collection of jatakas, with canonical text embedded, has been translated by E. B. Cowell and others, originally published in six volumes by Cambridge University Press, 1895-1907; reprinted in three volumes, Pali Text Society,[22] Bristol. There are also numerous translations of selections and individual stories from various languages.

The Jataka-Mala of Arya Shura was critically edited in the original Sanskrit [Nâgarî letters] by Hendrik Kern of the University of Leiden in Netherlands, which was published as volume 1 of the Harvard Oriental Series in 1891. A second issue came in 1914.

List of Jatakas[edit]

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

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jataka". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 2011-12-04. 
  2. ^ Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 286-287
  3. ^ Sujato, Bhikkhu. Sects & Sectarianism: The Origins of Buddhist Schools. 2006. p. 51
  4. ^ Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 286-287
  5. ^ Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 332-333
  6. ^ Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 332-333
  7. ^ THE JATAKA-MALA Stories of Buddha's former Incarnations OTHERWISE ENTITLED BODHISATTVA-AVADANA-MALA By ARYA-SURA CRITICALLY EDITED IN THE ORIGINAL SANSKRITu7 BY DR. HENDRIK KERN, http://archive.org/details/jatakamala015656mbp
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ Jataka/Avadana Stories — Table of Contents http://www.borobudur.tv/avadana_01.htm
  10. ^ Handbook of Pali Literature, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1996
  11. ^ Source: sacred-texts.com (accessed: Saturday January 23, 2010)
  12. ^ 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. . . ."
  13. ^ "Indian Stories",The History of World Literature, Grant L. Voth, Chantilly, VA, 2007
  14. ^ (John Strong 2004, p. 51)
  15. ^ (John Strong 2004, p. 52)
  16. ^ (John Strong 2004, p. 53)
  17. ^ The tale of Prince Samuttakote: a Buddhist epic from Thailand
  18. ^ Nang Sip Song Prarath Meri
  19. ^ Dance Troupe Prepares for Smithsonian Performance
  20. ^ สุธนชาดก (Suthan Jataka - Dance form)
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ Pali Text Society Home Page

Bibliography

John Strong (2004). Relics of the Buddha. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11764-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Concordance of Buddhist Birth Stories, Pali Text Society, Lancaster, tabulates correspondences between various jataka collections.
  • Sandra Shaw (2006). The Jatakas — Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta, Penguin Classics, Penguin Books India, New Delhi
  • Noor Inayat Khan (1985) Twenty Jataka Tales, Inner Traditions
  • Isaline Blew Horner, Padmanabh S. Jaini (1985). Apocryphal Birth-stories (Paññāsa-Jātaka), London ; Boston: Pali Text Society, distributed by Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 9780860132332
  • E.B. Cowell (ed): "The Jataka or Stories of the Buddhaś former Births, Vol.1-6, Cambridge at the University Press 1895 Vol.1 Vol2 Vol. 3 Vol. 6
  • Francis, Henry Thomas (1916). Jātaka tales, Cambridge: University Press,

External links[edit]