name of both a book in the Pali Tipitaka
and a genera of Buddhist literature. The name itself means
"birth story". During the early spread of Buddhism,
monks drew upon the vast store of Indian folk stories
to illustrate points of doctrine, teach Buddhist values
and to edify generally. To incorporate these stories fully
into Buddhism the hero or heroine of each was said to
be the Buddha in one of his former lives.
oldest collection of these stories is the Pali Jataka,
containing 547 stories in all, which was probably took
its present forms by the 2nd or 3rd centuries BC. This
is confirmed by the fact that many of them are illustrated
in stone reliefs from Bodh Gaya, Sanchi and Bharhut all
of which also date from before 150 BC.
stories are of uneven quality, some are ribald, others
puerile but the majority are entertaining and well able
to impart the Buddhist values of generosity, honesty,
gentleness and compassion. Many are also able to raise
a smile on the face even of the modern reader. Being so
popular the Pali Jataka was gradually re-written to accommodate
changing tastes while new stories were composed to reflect
developments in doctrine, particularly after the rise
of Mahayana. Some of the earliest
of these Sanskrit Jatakas are to be found in the Mahavastu.
The other notable collection is the Jatakamala one of
the great classics of Indian literature written in about
the 6th century AD.
Cowell, The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha's Former
Births. London, 6 Volumes, 1990;
P. Khorache, (Trans) Once the Buddha was a Monkey,