Jataka stories, over millennia, have been seminal to the development
of many civilisations, the cultivation of moral conduct and good
behaviour, the growth of a rich and varied literature in diverse
parts of the world and the inspiration for painting, sculpture and
architecture of enduring aesthetic value. The Buddha himself used
jataka stories to explain concepts like kamma and rebirth
and to emphasise the importance of certain moral values. A Jataka
bhanaka (jataka storyteller) is mentioned to have been appointed
even as early as the time of the Buddha. Such appointments were
common in ancient Sri Lanka and among others, King Llanaga (1st
century AD) is recorded in the Mahavamsa, to have heard Kapi
Jataka from a bhanaka Bhikkhu. It is in continuation of this noble
tradition that these stories are now re-told in print to an audience
which had been denied access to them by language and other cultural
barriers. These stories are ever more relevant in the fragmented
societies of today, where especially children, in their most formative
years, seek helplessly for guidance in steering their lives to success
other civilisation has been as much nourished by this rich source
as that in Sri Lanka. Sinhala, the language of the people of Sri
Lanka, in which script the teachings of the Buddha were written
down for the first time ever, carrier unerring marks of that nourishment.
Both the most hallowed literary works as well as the colloquial
language of ordinary present day villagers are replete with allusions
to the better-known Jataka stories. The latter would frequently
refer to "king Vessantara" (who was generous to a fault),
king Cetiya" (an inveterate liar), the blind jackal (a
most grateful friend) to prince Mahaushadha (of unfathomable wisdom),
to a tortoise who readily takes to water or to the occasion when
the sky fell on the hare.
is hardly any form of Sihala literature which has not been fed by
the well springs of jataka stories. Works of poetry beginning from
Sasadavata (12th century), Muvadevdavata
(12th century), Kausilumina (13th century),
Guttila kavyaya and Kavyashekharaya (14th
century), Kusa jataka kavyaya and Asadisa da Kava
(17th century) embody jataka stories. Poems of other
genre are replete with allusions to incidents and personalities
drawn from jataka stories.
prose works Sulu Kalingu da vata (12 century), Ummagga
Jataka (13th century), Bhuridatta Jataka (13th
century) and Vessantara Jataka are jataka stories re-told
in inimitable fashion. Other works such as Amavatura (12th
century), Butsarana (12 century) Pajavalia (13th
(13th century), and Saddharmalankaraya are deeply
embellished with material form jataka stories. Until quite recently,
the most widely read Sinhala prose work was Pansiya Panas
Jataka Pota, number 6 in our list of sources.
works of drama such as the Sandakinduru Nadagama, Vessantara Nadagama,
Pabavati, Kada Valalu, Kala gola and Pemato jayati soko are based
on jataka stories.
similar to jataka stories occur in the Vedas. Some of the
Brahmanas and Puranas are simply narrative stories. In
many places, the context, the style or the core stories are altered.
The same story is often told by different authors in different places,
for example, Kausilumina and Kasadavata as poetry
and Kabavati as drama are based on Kusajataka.
Mahayana literature Asvaghoss Sutralankara, Aryashuras
Jatakamala and Khsemendras Avadana Kalpalata
are well known as jataka stories.
Sanskrt works such as Katha sarit sagara, Dasa Kuamara carita,
Panca tantra and Hitopadesa contain similar stories.
These stories contributed to the later incomparable works of Kalidasa
are also Mahayana jataka stories such as Vyaghri, Dharmasondaka
and Seta Gandha Hasti which do not appear in Pali at all.
Some jataka stories can be found in Jain literature, such as the
story of Isisinga in Suyakadanga, which is the Nalini
Jataka. They are found in even the Mahabharata, for example Rsissringa
and similar other stories travelled far and wide by word of mouth
along caravan routes and contributed to the literature in Persia,
China, Arabia (Arabian Nights) Italy (Boccaccios tales), Greece
(Aesops Fables), Britian (Chaucers Canterbury Tales)
and Japan (Zen stories).
developing moral conduct and good behaviour, there are few more
instructive foundation than jataka stories. All Jataka stories hold
out advice on how to correct our ways. They played and continue
to play in some `societies an enormous role in the cultivation of
peace and generosity. When Buddhist monks taught children in viharas,
jataka stories took a prominent place in primary education. Young
samaneras (novice monks) were required to read and preach effectively.
In India these and similar other stories were a principal instrument
in the socialisation's of children, discouraging them from selfishness
and laying foundations for family had community solidarity. Jataka
stories speak eloquently of those human values, which contribute,
to harmony, pleasure and progress.
literature, painting, sculpture and architecture in many parts of
the world carried the message of jataka stories. King Dutugemunu
of Anuradhapura (2nd Century B.C.) had the inside shrine
room of the Ruvanveliseya embellished with murals depicting scenes
from Jataka stories. This practice is still carried on today in
Buddhist viharas in Sri Lanka as well as in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand,
Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Fa Hin, who visited Sri Lanka in the
fifth century A.D. recorded that festival times the city of Anuradhapura
was festooned with paintings from jataka stories. This practice
continues today in major cities in Sri Lanka during Buddhist days
of celebration. Jataka stories are well depicted in Amaravati, Nalanda,
Ajanta, Ellora, Bharut, Nagarjunikonda, Borobudur and Angkor Vat.
The late historian Mackensey in Buddhism in pre-Christian
Britian (1928) demonstrated that there were artistic works based
on jataka stories in pre-Christian Britain.
this point I wish to draw the readers special attention to
three stories in this collection. The first when the Enlightened
one had been born as a quail. In the forest where he lived he befriended
a monkey and an elephant. They raised a question among themselves:
who was the most experienced and most worthy of respect?
discussion, they came to a conclusion: whoever was the oldest would
be the most experienced and the most knowledgeable. Then they had
to decide which among them was the eldest and the most respected.
Pointing to a very large and well-grown banyan tree the elephant
said, "Can you remember that banyan tree in whose shade we
used to rest sometimes? I used to scratch my tummy rubbing on it
when I was very little." Then the monkey responded "Oh,
I ate its tender leaves while sitting next to it when I was very
young." Finally the quail chirped in, "When I was young,
I ate a fruit from an old banyan tree. Afterwards I left droppings
that held a seed that grew into this banyan tree." They concluded
that the oldest of them was the smallest, the quail. So they began
to respect each other according to their age first the quail,
second the monkey, and last the elephant.
story teaches respect for elders. It is an essential part of the
Buddhist tradition to respect seniority. Amongst Buddhist monks
this is strictly observed and it is an offence to violate this seemingly
minor rule. It also points to the need to gain control over conceit,
a minor defilement. This very same respect for seniority may have
led to the development of historiography.
second story, that of a half-blind fox teaches the value of being
grateful. The half-blind fox was caught by a python in his coils
and was fighting for his life. A poor peasant who was collecting
wood in the forest helped the fox escape from his predator. After
the same poor peasant was the victim of a python. The half-blind
fox who heard the screams of the peasant ran in to a village field
where a group of men were ploughing field and ran away with their
clothing. The villagers chased after the fox, heard the screams
of the helpless man and released him from the coils of the python.
third story relates the fate of two parrots who were carried from
their nest in a storm and one dropped in a hermitage and the other
in a den of thieves. The one who fell among the hermits learned
and eventually practised generosity and became quite gentle. The
one who fell among thieves grew up like them cruel, rough
and wicked. This story teaches the ill of associating with bad people
and helps to cultivate the mind in many ways. Generosity, the use
of gentle language, the nobility of the ways of wise people, the
value of morality and the evils of unwholesome associations are
all thrown into high relief. In this any many other respects, jataka
stories contributed to happiness and the development of the minds
of young ones. The happiness they engendered went well beyond the
mundane to reach the supra mundane. They led mankind to all that
is good in this world and to the ultimate happiness taught by the
sources used in this second volume are as follows:
Jataka Pai (Colombo: Buddha Jayanti Tripitaka Series (Publication
Board, 1983) - original Pali stanzas.
2. Jataka Pali (Colombo: Simon Hewavitarane Bequest, 1926)
original Pali Jataka stories in Sinhalese characters.
3. Sinhala Jataka Pot Vahanse (Colombo: Jinalankara Press,
1928 Sinhalese translation of Pali Jataka Stories.
4. Sinhala Jataka Pot Vahanse, (Colombo: RatnakaraBookshop,
1961 - Sinhalese translation of Pali Jataka stories
5. The Jataka or Stories of the Buddhas Former Lives,
ed. E.B. Cowell (London: Pali Text Society, 1981), 6 vols., index
- English translation of Pali Jataka Stories.
6. Pansiyapanas Jataka Pot Vahanse (Bandaragama: H. S. N.
Prematilaka, 1987) - Sinhalese summaries of Pali Jataka Stories.
sequence numbers used for the stories are in the same order as the
Jataka Pali and The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha Former
Lives (numbers 1 and 5 cited above).
publishers of this and other volumes, The Buddha Educational Foundation
of Taiwan, are making a inestimable contribution of Dharma. I offer
my thanks to the Director of the Board and to all donors as well
as to the office staff. They are making an essential contribution
that the world badly needs today.
its inception The Buddha Educational Foundation has contributed
to a marked rise in the reading of the Dharma. While many kinds
of reading material are chap and widely available, the precious
and valuable works on Dharma that can instruct the minds of the
people are scarce and costly. The Buddha Educational Foundation
and its donors have eased the severity of these problems considerably.
I wish to thank them all and say, Much merit to them".
May they all be well and happy and live long. May the merit they
acquire through this noble Dhammadana cause them to attain the ultimate
happiness of Nirvana!
would also like to thank John Patterson for his talents, skills
and insights to create the marvellous illustrations. I wish him
the greatest of success in the future.
also take this opportunity to appreciate and thank my good-hearted
friends (kalyanamitta), Todd Anderson, for his tireless effort and
Tanh Van Nguyen and Dr. G.Uswattearatchi. My colleagues Ven. Higgoda
Khemananda, HeenbunneKondanna and Aluthgama Dharmajothi are also
especially thanked for their assistance in our work. May they be
able to realise the Dharma and attain Nirvana!
all beings be well and happy!
New York Buddhist Vihara
84-32 124th Street, Kew Gardens
New York, NY 11415 U.S.A.