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This book has 495 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1895.
This is Volume 1 of a 6 Volume set. The Jataka is a massive collection of Buddhist folklore about previous incarnations of the Buddha, both in human and animal form. Dating to at least 380 BCE.
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Production notes: This edition of The Jataka Volume I was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 2nd March 2019, and updated on the 14th March 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Bhutanese painted thanka of the Jataka Tales' by unknown artist.
IT was an almost isolated incident in Greek literary history , when Pythagoras claimed to remember his previous lives. Heracleides Ponticus relates that he professed to have been once born as Æthalides, the son of Hermes, and to have then obtained as a boon from his father ζῶντα καὶ τελευτῶντα μνήμην ἔχειν τῶν συμβαινόντων . Consequently he remembered the Trojan war, where, as Euphorbus, he was wounded by Menelaus, and, as Pythagoras, he could still recognise the shield which Menelaus had hung up in the temple of Apollo at Branchidæ; and similarly he remembered his subsequent birth as Hermotimus, and then as Pyrrhus, a fisherman of Delos. But in India this recollection of previous lives is a common feature in the histories of the saints and heroes of sacred tradition; and it is especially mentioned by Manu as the effect of a self-denying and pious life. The doctrine of Metempsychosis, since the later Vedic period, has played such an important part in the history Of the national character and religious ideas that we need not be surprised to find that Buddhist literature from the earliest times (although giving a theory of its own to explain the transmigration) has always included the ages of the past as an authentic background to the founder's historical life as Gautama. Jātaka legends occur even in the Canonical Piṭakas; thus the Sukha-vihāri Jātaka and the Tittira Jātaka, which are respectively the 10th and the 37th in this volume, are found in the Culla Vagga, vii. 1 and vi. 6, and similarly the Khandhavatta Jātaka, which will be given in the next volume, is found in the Culla Vagga v. 6; and there are several other examples. So too one of the minor books of the Sutta Piṭaka (the Cariyā Piṭaka) consists of 35 Jātakas told in verse; and ten at least of these can be identified in the volumes of our present collection already published; and probably several of the others will be traced when it is all printed. The Sutta and Vinaya Piṭakas are generally accepted as at least older than the Council of Vesāli (380 B.C.?); and thus Jātaka legends must have been always recognised in Buddhist literature.
This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that Jātaka scenes are found sculptured in the carvings on the railings round the relic shrines of Sanchi and Amaravati and especially those of Bharhut, where the titles of several Jātakas are clearly inscribed over some of the carvings. These bas-reliefs prove that the birth-legends were widely known in the third century B.C. and were then considered as part of the sacred history of the religion. Fah-hian, when he visited Ceylon, (400 A.D.), saw at Abhayagiri "representations of the 500 bodily forms which the Bodhisatta assumed during his successive births ," and he particularly mentions his births as Sou-to-nou, a bright flash of light, the king of the elephants, and an antelope . These legends were also continually introduced into the religious discourses which were delivered by the various teachers in the course of their wanderings, whether to magnify the glory of the Buddha or to illustrate Buddhist doctrines and precepts by appropriate examples, somewhat in the same way as mediæval preachers in Europe used to enliven their sermons by introducing fables and popular tales to rouse the flagging attention of their hearers .
It is quite uncertain when these various birth-stories were put together in a systematic form such as we find in our present Jātaka collection. At first they were probably handed down orally, but their growing popularity would ensure that their kernel, at any rate, would ere long be committed to some more permanent form. In fact there is a singular parallel to this in the 'Gesta Romanorum', which was compiled by an uncertain author in the 14th century and contains nearly 200 fables and stories told to illustrate various virtues and vices, many of them winding up with a religious application.
Some of the birth-stories are evidently Buddhistic and entirely depend for their point on some custom or idea peculiar to Buddhism; but many are pieces of folk-lore which have floated about the world for ages as the stray waifs of literature and are liable everywhere to be appropriated by any casual claimant. The same stories may thus, in the course of their long wanderings, come to be recognised under widely different aspects, as when they are used by Boccaccio or Poggio merely as merry tales, or by some Welsh bard to embellish king Arthur's legendary glories, or by some Buddhist samaṇa or mediæval friar to add point to his discourse. Chaucer unwittingly puts a Jātaka story into the mouth of his Pardonere when he tells his tale of 'the ryotoures three'; and another appears in Herodotus as the popular explanation of the sudden rise of the Alcmæonidæ through Megacles' marriage with Cleisthenes' daughter and the rejection of his rival Hippocleides.