The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births (6 Volumes in 3 Parts): Translated from the Pali by Various Hands

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In India recollection of previous lives is a common feature in the histories of the saints and heroes of sacred tradition. The doctrine of transmigration, since the later Vedic period, has played such an important part in the history of the national character and religious ideas that even buddhist literature has included the ages of the past as an authentic background to the founder’s historical life as Gautama. Jataka stories or birth legends were widely known in the third century B.C. The Pali work, entitled “The Jataka” contains 537 Birth-stories of the Buddha’s former births. Each story, narrated by the Buddha, opens with a preface relating the particular circumstances in the Buddha’s life, revealing some events in the long series of his previous existences as a bodhisattva. At the end the buddha identifies the different actors in the story in their present births. These stories magnify the glory of the buddha and illustrate buddhist doctrines and precepts by appropriate example. The foremost interest of these legends lies in their relation to folklore giving a vivid picture of the social life and customs of ancient India. The famous translations of the Jataka Stories from Pali edited by Prof. E.B. Cowell are now once again being made available to the general public in three volumes.

The Pali work, entitled ‘the Jataka’, contains 550 Jatakas or Birth-stories, which are arranged in 22 nipatas or books. This division is roughly founded on the number of verses (gathas)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 paccuppannavatthu or ‘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 bodhisattva 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. Every story is also illustrated by one or more gathas 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-gatha.

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Weight 0.5 kg
Dimensions 10 × 11 × 12 cm
Book Author

E. B. Cowell, H. T. Francis, W. H. D. Rouse

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