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Book No. 63

To first story in the book press: 2844

To last story in the book press: 2993

The Jataka (Volume I)

Chalmers Robert (translator)

The Jataka (Volume I), Robert Chalmers (translator), 1895

The Jataka is a massive collection of Buddhist folklore about previous incarnations of the Buddha, both in human and animal form. Originally written in Pali, and dating to at least 380 BCE, the Jataka includes many stories which have traveled afar. Many of these can be traced cross-culturally in the folklore of many countries.



















It was an almost isolated incident in Greek literary history, [1] 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. [2] 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 [3] 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," [4] and he particularly mentions his births as Sou-to-nou, a bright flash of light, the king of the elephants, and an antelope. [5] These legends were also continually introduced into the religious discourses [6] 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. [7]

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.

The Pāli work, entitled 'the Jātaka', the first volume of which is now presented to the reader in an English form, contains 550 Jātakas or Birth-stories, which are arranged in 22 nipātas or books. This division is roughly founded on the number of verses (gāthās) which are quoted in each story; thus the first book contains 150 stories, each of which only quotes one verse, the second 100, each of which quotes two, the third and fourth 50 each, which respectively quote 3 and 4, and so on to the twenty-first with 5 stories, each of which quotes 80 verses, and the twenty-second with 10 stories, each quoting a still larger number. Each story opens with a preface called the paccuppannavatthuor 'story of the present', which relates the particular circumstances in the Buddha's life which led him to tell the birth-story and thus reveal some event in the long series of his previous existences as a bodhisatta or a being destined to attain Buddha-ship. At the end there is always given a short summary, where the Buddha identifies the different actors in the story in their present births at the time of his discourse, – it being an essential condition of the book that the Buddha possesses the same power as that which Pythagoras claimed but with a far more extensive range, since he could remember all the past events in every being's previous existences as well as in his own. Every story is also illustrated by one or more gāthās which are uttered by the Buddha while still a Bodhisatta and so playing his part in the narrative; but sometimes the verses are put into his mouth as the Buddha, when they are called abhisambuddha-gāthā.

Some of these stanzas are found in the canonical book called the Dhammapada; and many of the Jātaka stories are given in the old Commentary on that book but with varying details, and sometimes associated with verses which are not given in our present Jātaka text. This might seem to imply that there is not necessarily a strict connexion between any particular story and the verses which may be quoted as its moral; but in most cases an apposite stanza would of course soon assert a prescriptive right to any narrative which it seemed specially to illustrate. The language of the gāthās is much more archaic than that of the stories; and it certainly seems more probable to suppose that they are the older kernel of the work, and that thus in its original form the Jātaka, like the Cariyā-piṭaka, consisted only of these verses. It is quite true that they are generally unintelligible without the story, but such is continually the case with proverbial sayings; the traditional commentary passes by word of mouth in a varying form along with the adage, as in the well-known οὐ φροντὶς Ἱπποκλείδῃ or our own 'Hobson's choice', until some author writes it down in a crystallised form. [8] Occasionally the same birth-story is repeated elsewhere in a somewhat varied form and with different verses attached to it; and we sometimes find the phrase iti vitthāretabbam, [9] which seems to imply that the narrator is to amplify the details at his discretion.

The native tradition in Ceylon is that the original Jātaka Book consisted of thegāthās alone, and that a commentary on these, containing the stories which they were intended to illustrate, was written in very early times in Singhalese. This was translated into Pāli about 430 A.D. by Buddhaghosa, who translated so many of the early Singhalese commentaries into Pāli; and after this the Singhalese original was lost, The accuracy of this tradition has been discussed by Professor Rhys Davids in the Introduction to the first volume of his 'Buddhist Birth Stories'; [10] and we may safely adopt his conclusion, that if the prose commentary was not composed by Buddhaghosa, it was composed not long afterwards; and as in any case it was merely a redaction of materials handed down from very early times in the Buddhist community, it is not a question of much importance except for Pāli literary history. The gāthās are undoubtedly old, and they necessarily imply the previous existence of the stories, though not perhaps in the exact words in which we now possess them.

The Jātakas are preceded in the Pāli text by a long Introduction, the Nidāna-kathā, which gives the Buddha's previous history both before his last birth, and also during his last existence until he attained the state of a Buddha. [11] This has been translated by Professor Rhys Davids, but as it has no direct connexion with the rest of the work, we have omitted it in our translation, which commences with the first Birth-story.

We have translated the quasi historical introductions which always precede the different birth-stories, as they are an essential part of the plan of the original work, – since they link each tale with some special incident in the Buddha's life, which tradition venerates as the occasion when he is supposed to have recalled the forgotten scene of a long past existence to his contemporaries. But it is an interesting question for future investigation how far they contain any historical data. They appear at first sight to harmonise with the framework of the Piṭakas; but I confess that I have no confidence in their historical credibility, – they seem to me rather the laboured invention of a later age, like the legendary history of the early centuries of ancient Rome. But this question will be more easily settled, when we have made further progress in the translation.

The Jātakas themselves are of course interesting as specimens of Buddhist literature; but their foremost interest to us consists in their relation to folk-lore and the light which they often throw on those popular stories which illustrate so vividly the ideas and superstitions of the early times of civilisation. In this respect they possess a special value, as, although much of their matter is peculiar to Buddhism, they contain embedded with it an unrivalled collection of Folk-lore. They are also full of interest as giving a vivid picture of the social life and customs of ancient India. Such books as Lieutenant-Colonel Sleeman's 'Rambles' or Mr Grierson's 'Bihār Peasant Life' illustrate them at every turn. They form in fact an ever-shifting panorama of the village life such as Fah-hian and Hiouen-thsang saw it in the old days before the Muhammadan conquest, when Hindu institutions and native rule prevailed in every province throughout the land. Like all collections of early popular tales they are full of violence and craft, and betray a low opinion of woman; but outbursts of nobler feeling are not wanting, to relieve the darker colours.

Professor Rhys Davids first commenced a translation of the Jātaka in 1880, but other engagements obliged him to discontinue it after one volume had appeared, containing the Nidānakathā and 40 stories. The present translation has been undertaken by a band of friends who hope, by each being responsible for a definite portion, to complete the whole within a reasonable time. We are in fact a guild of Jātaka translators, çreshṭhi pūrvā vayaṃ çreṇiḥ; but, although we have adopted some common principles of translation and aim at a certain general uniformity in our technical terms and in transliteration, we have agreed to leave each individual translator, within certain limits, a free hand in his own work. The Editor only exercises a general superintendence, in consultation with the two resident translators, Mr Francis and Mr Neil.

Mr R. Chalmers of Oriel College, Oxford, has translated in the present volume the first volume of Prof. Fausböll's edition of the Pāli text (five volumes of which have already appeared). The second volume will be translated by Mr W. H. D. Rouse, late fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, who will also be responsible for the fourth; the third will be translated by Mr H. T. Francis, Under-Librarian of the University Library at Cambridge, and late fellow of Gonville and Caius College, and Mr R. A. Neil, fellow and assistant-tutor of Pembroke College, who hope also to undertake the fifth. [12]



[1] But compare the account of Aristeas of Proconnesus in Hdt. iv. 14, 15.

[2] Diogenes Laert. viii. 1.

[3] iv. 148.

[4] Beal's transl. p. 157.

[5] Hiouen-thsang twice refers to Jātakas, Julien, i. 137, 197.

[6] See Prof. M. M. Künté's paper, Journ. R. A. S. Ceylon, viii. 123.

[7] In the curious description of the Buddhist grove in the Harsha-carita, viii., Bāṇa mentions owls "which repeated the Bodhisattva's Jātakas, having gained illumination by continually hearing them recited."

[8] We have an interesting illustration of the proverbial character of some of the Jātaka stories in the Sāṇkhya Aphorisms, iv. 11, "he who is without hope is happy like Piṅgalā," which finds its explanation in Jāt. 330. It is also referred to in the Mahābh. xii. 6520.

[9] As e.g. Fausböll, iii. p. 495. Cf. Divyāvad. p. 377, 1.

[10] See also several papers in the eighth volume of the Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the R. A. Society.

[11] This latter portion partly corresponds to the well-known Lalita-vistara of the Northern Buddhists.

[12] A complete index will be given at the end of the last volume.

Index of Proper Names

Ābhassara, the celestial realm 291-292

Aciravatī, the river 102, 249

Aggāḷava, the temple 47

Agni (see also Jātaveda) 283, 308

Ajātasattu, King 67, 319-321

Āḷavi, the town 47

Amarā, Queen 254

Ambatittha 206

Ambavana 14

Ānanda, the Elder 32, 42, 48, 89, 222, 230, 314; a fish 83

Anātha-piṇḍika 1, 38, 92, 100, 101, 117, 120, 134, 209, 220, 245, 267, 314; the younger 38

Andhapura, a town 12

Andhra, the country 203

Aṅgulimāla, the Elder 139

Añjanavana 166

Anotatta, Lake 103

Anūpiya, a town 32

Aratī, Māra's daughter 288

Asura 80, 82, 229

Avīci, the hell 104

Badarika, the monastery 47

Bamboo-grove, the 35, 44, 57, 67, 174, 177, 215, 255, 269, 286, 298, 302,304, 305, 319

Benares 4, 10, 19, 21, 22 et passim

Bhaddavatikā, a town 206

Bhaddiya, the Elder 32

Bhagu, the Elder 32

Bhīmasena, a big weaver 204

Brahmā (see Mahā-Brahmā)

Brahmadatta, King passim; Prince 126

Brahma-realm 8 et passim.

Buddha, Gotama the 103, 172, 229, 230 et passim.; Kassapa the 16, 246; Padumuttara the 38, 243; Vipassī the 243

Buddhas, Pacceka 101, 103, 233, 289; previous 16, 38, 90, 243, 246

Caṇḍa, a Nāga 290

Captain of the Faith (see Sāriputta)

Ceti, the country of 121

Chattapāṇi, a lay-brother 223

Ciñcā, the brahmin-girl 143, 264

Cittahattha-Sāriputta, the Elder 168

Culla-Panthaka, the Elder 14, 16

Culla-Piṇḍapātika-Tissa, the Elder 44

Dabba, the Mallian 21

Desaka, a town 232

Devas, wars of 80-81

Devadatta 14, 32, 34, 57, 67, 142, 144, 174, 255, 269, 286, 298, 304, 305,319, 320

Dhanapālaka, the elephant 57

Form, realm of 241

Formless Realm 241

Four Regents, the 81, 102

Gāmani, Prince 29

Gandhāra 173, 218

Ganges 156, 315

Garuḷa 80, 81

Gayā-sīsa 34, 67, 255, 305, 319

Gotama 44, 100, 216

Ghaṭīkāra, the potter 56

Ghositārāma 206

Himalayas 25, 93, 171, 207, 215, 241, 258, 260, 267, 274, 317

Illīsa, a miser 198

Indra (see also Sakka) 28, 130, 171, 201, 289

Jambudīpa 137

Janaka, King 133

Jātaveda (= Agni) 90

Jetavana 1, 9, 38, 172, 183, 314 et passim.

Jīvaka-Komārabhacca 14, 16, 320

Kālakañjaka, the Asura 229

Kalaṇḍuka, a slave 280

Kāṇā, a girl 294

Kāṇā-mātā 294

Kāpilānī, a Therī 150

Kapilavatthu 85

Kāsi 4, 10, 19, 21, 24, 114, 129, 162, 204, 207, 295, 309

Kassapa, the Buddha 16, 246; the Elder 36

Kaṭāhaka, a slave 275, 280

Kaṭṭhavāhana, King 29

Kattikā, the festival 261, 312

Ketakavana 54

Kharādiyā, a doe 47

Kimbila, the Elder 32

Kings, the four great 81, 102

Kokālika 260, 305

Koliya, King 242

Kora, the kshatriya 229

Kosala 27, 38, 50, 91, 118, 129, 164, 172, 183, 184, 187, 213, 243, 277

Kosambī 47, 206

Kosiyā, a brahmin woman 285

Kumbhaṇḍa 81

Kuṇḍadhānavana 242

Kuṇḍiya, a city 242

Kusāvatī, a city 231

Kusinārā, a town 231

Kuṭumbiyaputta-Tissa, the Elder 172

Lāḷudāyi, the Elder 271

Licchavis, the 251, 316

Losaka-Tissa, the Elder 105, 111

Macala, a hamlet 77

Magadha 35, 42, 49, 77, 88, 89, 98, 116, 216, 269, 286

Magha, Prince 77

Mahā-Brahmā 81, 241, 291, 292, 308, 314

Mahāmāyā, Gotama's mother 166

Mahānāma-Sakka, King 27

Mahā-Panthaka, the Elder 15

Mahāvana 251, 316

Mahiṃsāsa, Prince 24

Mahosadha, King 254

Makhādeva, King 31

Mallikā, Queen 187

Manosilā, a region 103

Māra 103; daughters of 288

Mithilā, a city 31

Mittavindaka 109, 209, 246

Moggallāna, the Elder 35, 48, 94, 196, 231, 242, 305

Nāga 81, 206, 290, 311

Nāgamuṇḍā, Queen 27

Nālagāmaka, a village 230

Naḷakapāna, a village 54

Nāḷapana 231

Nandā, a brahmin woman 293

Nidānakathā 30

Nimi, King 31

North-country, the 193, 203, 207, 240, 260, 263, 274, 317

North-west country, the 216

Pacceka Buddhas 101, 103, 233, 289

Padumuttara, the Buddha 38, 243

Pajjunna, the god 184

Pasenadi, King 38, 194

Pāṭikārāma 229

Pātimokkha, the 140

Pavāraṇā, the festival 73

Piliya, a treasurer 286

Ragā, Māra's daughter 288

Rāhu, the Titan 65, 139

Rāhula, the Elder 47

Rājagaha 2, 14, 34, 35, 36, 38, 42, 44, 49, 77, 92, 195, 198, 216, 231, 269,286, 304, 320

Raṭṭhapāla, the Elder 44

Rohiṇī, the river 181

Sāgata, the Elder 206

Sāketa, a city 166

Sakka 77, 80, 81, 102, 171, 182, 198

Saṁkassa, a town 73, 291, 292

Saṁkhaseṭṭhi, a treasurer 286

Sañjaya, a gardener 45

Sañjīva, a brahmin 321

Sārambha, an ox 217

Sāriputta, the Elder 35, 48, 64, 92-94, 98, 106, 167, 229, 230, 240, 291, 305

Sāvatthi 1, 2, 9, 12, 44, 69, 92, 106, 116, 135, 140, 161, 168, 183, 184, 185,206, 212, 217, 239, 244, 246, 249, 257, 261, 273, 284, 292, 294, 310, 314

Sēri, a country 12

Sindh 61, 63

Sineru, Mt. 80, 101, 162, 176, 314

Sīvali, the Elder 242

Six, the wicked 71, 73, 92, 207

Subhaddā, Queen 231

Sudassana, King 231

Sudatta (= Anāthapiṇḍika) 1

Suddhodana, Gotama's father 166

Sumbha, a country 232

Sunakkhatta, a pervert 229

Suppavāsā, a lay-sister 242

Takkasilā, a city 71,126, 137, 148, 173, 203, 217, 233, 237, 240, 243, 260,285, 289, 317, 321

Taṇhā, Māra's daughter 288

Tathāgata 30

Tāvatiṁsa-devaloka 80

Telavāha, a river 12

Thullanandā, a Sister 292

Tissa, the Elder Kuṭumbiyaputta- 172; Losaka- 105, 111

Titan (see Asura)

Udāyi, the Elder Lāḷ- 21

Upāli, the Elder 32, 38

Uppalavaṇṇā, the Sister 47, 50, 164

Uttaraseṭṭhi, a youth 261

Varaka, a town 230

Vāsabha-Khattiyā, Queen 27

Velāma 101

Veḷuvana (see Bamboo-grove)

Vepacittiya, an Asura 82

Vesāli 92, 229, 251, 316

Vessavaṇa, a deity 25, 182

Videha, the country 31

Viḍūḍabha, Prince 27

Vipassī, the Buddha 243

Visākhā, the lay-sister 38

Vissakamma, the deity 171

Yugandhara Mts. 18

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