Jataka


Jataka
/jah"teuh keuh/, n. Buddhism.
a collection of fables, many concerning former lives of the Buddha.

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▪ Buddhist literature
(Pāli and Sanskrit:“Birth”),
 any of the extremely popular stories of former lives of the Buddha, which are preserved in all branches of Buddhism. Some Jātaka tales are scattered in various sections of the Pāli canon of Buddhist writings, including a group of 35 that were collected for didactic purposes. These 35 constitute the last book, the Cariyā Piṭaka (“Basket of Conduct”), of the Khuddaka Nikāya (“Short Collection”). Beyond this, a Sinhalese commentary of the 5th century that is questionably attributed to a Buddhist scholar named Buddhagosa and called the Jātakaṭṭhavaṇṇanā, or Jātakaṭṭhakathā, gathers together about 550 Jātaka stories, some of which are quite brief while others are as long as novelettes.

      Each tale begins by noting the occasion that prompted its telling and ends with the Buddha identifying the lives of the people in the introductory story with those of people from the past. There is humour in these stories and considerable variety. 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.

      Many Jātakas have parallels in the Mahābhārata (“Great Epic of the Bhārata Dynasty”), the Pañca-tantra (animal fables), the Purāṇas (collections of legends), and elsewhere in non-Buddhist Indian literature. Some turn up again in such places as Aesop's fables. The Jātaka stories have also been illustrated frequently in sculpture and painting throughout the Buddhist world.

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Universalium. 2010.

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