Mystic Lotus


Stories of the Buddha's Former Births

Jataka Tales


Stories of the Buddha's Former Births

     The Jātaka 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 Jātaka includes many stories which have traveled afar. Many of these can be traced cross-culturally in the folklore of many countries.

     The primary value of this collection is the vast volume of 'lore' that it contains. Fascinating descriptions of magic powers and potions, customs and rituals and the manner in which tasks of ordinary life at the time were conducted.

     Another value, not to be under-estimated, is the inspiration these stories can give to both adults and children. There is here a treasure trove of stories that will instill values such as courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, honesty, generosity, wisdom, learning, self-sacrifice, performance of duty for those in rule and for all to their parents, and many other high values.

     It should be remembered, however, that these stories, even where they are very likely genuinely uttered by Gotama, represent the values held by Gotama prior to his having become a Buddha. Most of the stories represent high values acceptable both in the world and for the Buddhist renunciate, but there are exceptions and it should be remembered that what is being suggested by these stories pertains to worldly existence. Doctrines held by characters in these stories should not be used to support arguments concerning what is taught in the Dhamma except where they are in accordance with the Suttas.

     The canonical text of the Jātaka book, which consists exclusively of gāthās or stanzas, is divided into 'books,' or nipātas, according to the number of gāthās. The present volume contains the 150 stories which illustrate, and form the commentary of, a single gāthā in each ease, and compose the first book. The later books contain an increasing number of gāthās and a decreasing number of stories: e.g. the second book contains 100 two-gāthā stories, the third book 50 three-gāthā stories, and so on. The total number of the books or nipātas is 22, 21 of which form the text of the five published volumes of the Pāli text. The nipātas are subdivided into vaggas, or sets of about 10 stories, named as a rule after their first story. It has not been thought desirable to cumber the translation with these subdivisions.




Tales of the Buddha's Former Births


Apaṇṇaka-Jātaka: Praised be the Blessed One, the Arahat, the Perfect Buddha.

Two merchants travel with caravans across a desert. One, beguiled by goblins, throws away his drinking-water in the desert and is devoured with all his people and cattle; the other completes his journey safely.


Vaṇṇupatha-Jātaka: Untiring, deep they dug

Travelling across a desert, a caravan through mistake throws away its water, etc In their despair the leader has a well dug, till far down water is found, and perseverance saves the caravan from death.


Serivāṇija-Jātaka: If in this faith.

Two hawkers are successively offered by its unwitting owners a golden bowl. The greedy hawker over-reaches himself, whilst the honest one is richly rewarded.


Cullaka-Seṭṭhi-Jātaka: With humblest start.

A young man picks up a dead mouse which he sells, and works up this capital till he becomes rich.


Taṇḍulanāli-Jātaka: Dost ask how much a peck of rice is worth?

An incompetent valuer declares 500 horses worth a measure of rice, which measure. of rice in turn he is led to declare worth all Benares.


Devadhamma-Jātaka: Those only 'godlike' call.

Two princes going down to a haunted pool are seized by an ogre; the third, by correctly defining 'godlike', saves his brothers.


Kaṭṭhahāri-Jātaka: Your son am I.

A king refuses to recognize his son by a chance amour; the mother throws the child into the air, praying that, if he be not the king's son, he may be killed by his fall. The child rests in mid-air, and the king recognizes him as his son.


Gāmani-Jātaka: Their heart’s desire.


Makhādeva-Jātaka: Lo! these grey hairs.

A king, finding a grey hair in his head, renounces his throne to prepare as a hermit for death.


Sukhavihāri-Jātaka: The man who guards not.

A king who becomes a Brother proclaims the happiness he has found.


Lakkhaṇa-Jātaka: The upright man.

Two stags; one through stupidity loses all his following, whilst the other brings his herd home in safety.


Nigrodhamiga-Jātaka: Keep only with the Banyan Deer.

Deer in a royal park, to avoid being hunted, decide that lots shall be cast to select a daily victim. The lot having fallen on a doe big with young, the king of the deer offers himself as a substitute at the block and saves not only his own life but also the lives of all living creatures.


Kaṇḍina-Jātaka: Cursed be the dart of love.

A mountain-stag, enamoured of a doe, is by her allowed to fall prey to a hunter; the doe escapes.


Vātamiga-Jātaka: There’s nothing worse.

By a bait of honeyed grass a wild antelope is lured by slow degrees into a palace.


Kharādiya-Jātaka: For when a deer.

A deer which would not come to be taught the ruses of deer, is caught in a trap.


Tipallattha-Miga-Jātaka: In all three postures.

A deer which had learnt the ruses of deer, being caught in a snare, effects its escape.


Māluta-Jātaka: In light or dark.

A tiger and a lion dispute whether it is the dark or the light half of the month which is cold.


Matakabhatta-Jātaka: If folk but knew.

A goat, which was to be sacrificed by a brahmin, shows signs of great joy and of great sorrow. It explains the reason for each emotion.


Āyācitabhatta-Jātaka: Take thought of life hereafter.

Offering sacrifice to get release from a vow, is not true 'Release'.


Naḷapāna-Jātaka: I found the footprints.

Thirsty monkeys came to a pool haunted by an ogre. Their leader miraculously blows the knots out of canes and with these the monkeys safely slake their thirst.


Kuruṅga-Jātaka: The antelope knows well.

A hunter up a tree throws down fruits to lure a deer within aim. The deer detects the artifice and escapes.


Kukkura-Jātaka: The dogs that in the royal palace grow.

Carriage-straps having been gnawed by palace dogs, a king orders all other dogs to be killed. The leader of a pack of dogs reveals the truth by causing an emetic to be applied to the royal dogs of the palace.


Bhojājānīya-Jātaka: Though prostrate now.

A charger falls wounded when his rider has captured six out of seven kings. Seeing that a hack is being saddled in his place, the charger asks to be saddled again, makes a last effort and dies in the hour of victory.


Ājañña-Jātaka: No matter when or where.

A story similar to the above Ja 23 about two chariot horses, one of whom is wounded and is about to be replaced by a sorry beast.


Tittha-Jātaka: Change thou the spot.

A royal charger refuses to take his bath because a hack had bathed at the spot.


Mahilāmukha-Jātaka: Through hearing first.

An elephant listening to robbers' talk, kills his mahout; by listening to virtuous converse he becomes good again.


Abhiṇha-Jātaka: No morsel can he eat.

An elephant, missing his playmate, the dog, refuses to eat until the dog is restored to him.


Nandivisāla-Jātaka: Speak only words of kindness.

How by incivil words to his bull a brahmin lost a bet, which by civility to the animal he afterwards won.


Kaṇha-Jātaka: With heavy loads.

How a bull drew 500 carts in order to earn money for his poor mistress.


Muṇika-Jātaka: Then envy not poor Muṇika.

A hard-worked ox is discontented with his own hard fare, when he sees a lazy pig being fattened up. Another ox explains that the pig is being fattened to be eaten; and the discontented ox accepts his position.


Kulāvaka-Jātaka: Let all the forest’s nestlings.

Through the practice of goodness tending to the diminution of crime in his village, a man is falsely accused by the headman and sentenced to be trampled to death by elephants. The elephants refuse to harm him. Being released, he builds a caravansery, in which good work (against his wish) three out of four of his wives take part: At death he is reborn as Sakka. His three good wives are reborn in heaven. He seeks out the fourth and exhorts her to goodness. As a crane she refuses to eat a fish which showed signs of life; reborn a woman, she is eventually born a Titan and espoused by Sakka.


Nacca-Jātaka: A pleasing note.

The animals choose kings. The daughter of the king of the birds the Golden Mallard chooses the peacock for her husband. In dancing for joy the peacock exposes himself and is rejected.


Sammodamāna-Jātaka: While concord reigns.

Quails caught in a net, rise up in a body with the net and escape several times. After a time they quarrel and are caught.


Maccha-Jātaka: Tis not the cold.

An uxorious fish being caught, fears his wife may misconstrue his absence. A brahmin sets him free.


Vaṭṭaka-Jātaka: With wings that fly not.

A baby-quail is about to be engulfed in a jungle-fire, when by an 'Act of Truth' he quenches the flames round him.


Sakuṇa-Jātaka: Ye denizens of air.

A tree in which birds dwell is grinding its boughs together and beginning to smoke. The wise birds fly away; the foolish ones are burnt.


Tittira-Jātaka: For they who honour age.

A partridge, a monkey and an elephant living together, decide to obey the senior. To prove seniority each gives his earliest recollection.


Baka-Jātaka: Guile profits not.

A crane by pretending that he was taking them to a big lake, devours all the fish of a pond. A wise crab nips the bird's head off.


Nanda-Jātaka: Methinks the gold.

How a slave was made to tell where his master's father had buried his hoard.


Khadiraṅgāra-Jātaka: Far rather will I headlong plunge.

In order to stop a Treasurer from giving alms to a Pacceka Buddha, Māra interposes a yawning gulf of fire. Undaunted, the Treasurer steps forward, to be borne up by a lotus from which he tenders his alms to Māra's discomfiture.


Losaka-Jātaka: The headstrong man.

How a Brother through jealous greed was condemned to rebirths entailing misery and hunger. Finally, when reborn a man, he is deserted by his parents and brings suffering on those around him. On board ship, he has to be cast overboard; on a raft he comes to successive island palaces of goddesses, and eventually to an ogre-island where he seizes the leg of an ogress in form of a goat. She kicks him over the sea to Benares, and he falls among the king's goats. Hoping to get back to the goddesses, he seizes a goat by the leg, only to be seized as a thief and to be condemned to death.


Kapota-Jātaka: The headstrong man.

A pigeon lives in a kitchen. A greedy crow makes friends with him, and, being also housed in the kitchen, plans an attack on the victuals. The crow is tortured to death, and the pigeon flies away.


Veḷuka-Jātaka: The headstrong man.

A man rears a viper, which in the end kills its benefactor.


Makasa-Jātaka: Sense-lacking friends.

A mosquito settles on a man's head. To kill it, his foolish son strikes the man's head with an axe with fatal effect.


Rohiṇī-Jātaka: Sense-lacking friends.

Like the last Ja 44; a pestle takes the place of the axe.


Ārāmadūsaka-Jātaka: ’Tis knowledge.

Monkeys employed to water a pleasaunce pull up the trees in order to judge by the size of the roots how much water to give. The trees die.


Vāruṇi-Jātaka: ’Tis knowledge.

Seeing customers whet their thirst with salt, a young potman mixes salt in the spirits for sale.


Vedabbha-Jātaka: Misguided effort.

Captured by robbers, a brahmin makes treasure rain from the sky; a second band kills him because he cannot repeat the miracle. Mutual slaughter leaves only two robbers with the treasure. One poisons the other's food and is himself slain by his fellow.


Nakkhatta-Jātaka: The fool may watch.

A chaplain thwarts a marriage on the ground that the day fixed is unlucky. The bride is given to another.


Dummedha-Jātaka: A thousand evil-doers.

To put a stop to sacrifices of living creatures, a king vows to offer a holocaust of such as take life, etc Sacrifices cease.


Mahāsīlava-Jātaka: Toil on, my brother.

A good king meets evil with good. Refusing to sanction war, he is captured and buried alive in a charnel-grove. How he escapes the jackals, acts as umpire for ogres, and regains his sovereignty.


Cūḷa-Janaka-Jātaka: Toil on, my brother.


Puṇṇapāti-Jātaka: What? Leave untasted.

Rascals drug spirits for purposes of robbery. Their intended victim discovers the plot because they do not drink the liquor themselves.


Phala-Jātaka: When near a village.

How in defiance of warnings greedy fellows ate a poisonous fruit. How their leader knew it must be poisonous though it looked exactly like a mango.


Pañcāvudha-Jātaka: When no Attachment.

How Prince Five-weapons fought the ogre Hairy-grip, and, though defeated, subdued the ogre by fearlessness.


Kañcanakkhandha-Jātaka: When gladness.

A farmer finds a heavy nugget of gold. By cutting it up into four pieces, he is able to carry it away.


Vānarinda-Jātaka: Whoso, O monkey-king.

How the crocodile lay on a rock to catch the monkey, and how the latter outwitted the crocodile.


Tayodhamma-Jātaka: Whoso, like you.

A monkey gelds all his male offspring. One escapes; the father, seeking to kill him, sends his son to an ogre-haunted pool. By cleverness the son escapes death.


Bherivāda-Jātaka: Go not too far.

A drummer by too much drumming is plundered by robbers in a forest.


Saṃkhadhamana-Jātaka: Go not too far.

A similar story Ja 59 about a conch blower.


Asātamanta-Jātaka: In lust unbridled.

The wickedness of women shown by the endeavor of a hag to kill her good son in order to facilitate an intrigue with a youth.


Aṇḍabhūta-Jātaka: Blindfold, a-luting.

Another story of the innate wickedness of women. A girl is bred up from infancy among women only, without ever seeing any man but her husband. The story of her intrigue with a lover and of her deceits toward her husband.


Takka-Jātaka: Wrathful are women.

A wicked princess seduces a hermit who devotes himself to her. Being carried off by a robber chief, she lures the hermit to her new home in order that he may be killed. His goodness saves him and her ingratitude destroys her.


Durājāna-Jātaka: Think’st thou.

Wives a bar to the higher life.


Anabhirati-Jātaka: Like highways.

Women common to all.


Mudulakkhaṇa-Jātaka: Till Gentle-heart was mine.

How a hermit fell in love and was cured.


Ucchaṅga-Jātaka: A son’s an easy find.

A woman's husband, son and brother are condemned to death. Being offered a choice which she will save, she chooses her brother and gives the reason.


Sāketa-Jātaka: The man thy mind rests on.

Why a Brahmin and his wife claimed the Buddha as their son.


Visavanta-Jātaka: May shame.

A viper bites a man and refuses under threat of death to suck out the poison.


Kuddāla-Jātaka: The conquest.

Private property a bar to the higher life. Conquest over self the highest conquest. Sakka builds a monastery for a sage and a converted people.


Varaṇa-Jātaka: Learn thou from him.

How a lazy fellow, who picked green boughs for firewood, hurt himself and inconvenienced others.


Sīlavanāga-Jātaka: Ingratitude lacks more.

The story of the good elephant and the ungrateful man.


Saccaṃkira-Jātaka: They knew the world.

The ingratitude of a prince, and the gratitude of. a snake, a rat and a parrot.


Rukkhadhamma-Jātaka: United, forest-like.

Union is strength, among trees as among men.


Maccha-Jātaka: Pajjunna, thunder!

How the good fish ended a drought And saved his kinsfolk.


Asaṃkiya-Jātaka: The village breeds no fear in me.

A caravan is saved by a wakeful hermit from being looted.


Mahāsupina-Jātaka: Bulls first, and trees.

Sixteen wonderful dreams and their interpretation.


Illīsa-Jātaka: Both squint.

How a miser was cured by his father reappearing on earth and distributing the son's wealth in the exact semblance of the son.


Kharassara-Jātaka: He gave the robbers time.

A village headman privily incites robbers to carry off the taxes collected for the king.


Bhīmasena-Jātaka: You vaunted your prowess.

A valiant dwarf and a cowardly giant. The dwarf does the work, and the giant gets the credit. The giant's growing pride is brought low in the face of danger; the dwarf is honoured.


Surāpāna-Jātaka: We drank.

The effects of strong drink on hermits.


Mittavinda-Jātaka: No more to dwell.

How a Brother through jealous greed was condemned to rebirths entailing misery and hunger. Finally, when reborn a man, he is deserted by his parents and brings suffering on those around him. On board ship, he has to be cast overboard; on a raft he comes to successive island palaces of goddesses, and eventually to an ogre-island where he seizes the leg of an ogress in form of a goat. She kicks him over the sea to Benares, and he falls among the king's goats. Hoping to get back to the goddesses, he seizes a goat by the leg, only to be seized as a thief and to be condemned to death.


Kālakaṇṇi-Jātaka: A friend is he.

Not the name but the heart within makes the man.


Atthassadvāra-Jātaka: Seek health.

The paths to spiritual welfare.


Kimpakka-Jātaka: As they who ate.

How in defiance of warnings greedy fellows ate a poisonous fruit. How their leader knew it must be poisonous though it looked exactly like a mango.


Sīlavīmaṃsana-Jātaka: Naught can compare.

The brahmin who stole in order to see whether he was esteemed for goodness or otherwise. The good cobra.


Maṃgala-Jātaka: Whoso renounces.

The folly of superstitious belief in omens and the like.


Sārambha-Jātaka: Speak kindly.


Kuhaka-Jātaka: How plausible.

The hypocritical hermit who stole the gold, but punctiliously returned a straw which was not his.


Akataññu-Jātaka: The man ungrateful.

A merchant is befriended by a merchant in another country, but refuses to return the service. The revenge taken by the good merchant's servants.


Litta-Jātaka: He bolts the die.

A sharper swallows dice which had been poisoned in order to teach him a lesson.


Mahāsāra-Jātaka: For war men crave.

A queen's jewels are stolen by monkeys. Certain innocent persons confess to the theft. How the monkeys are proved to be the real culprits, and how the jewels are recovered.


Vissāsabhojana-Jātaka: Trust not the trusted.

A lion's fatal passion for a doe.


Lomahaṃsa-Jātaka: Now scorched.

The futility of ascetic self-mortification.


Mahāsudassana-Jātaka: How transient.

How King Sudassana died.


Telapatta-Jātaka: As one with care.

A prince wins a kingdom by resisting the fascinations of lovely ogresses. A king who yields, is eaten, with all his household.


Nāmasiddhi-Jātaka: Seeing Quick dead.

Discontented with his name, a youth travels till he learns that the name does not make the man.


Kūṭavāṇija-Jātaka: Wise rightly, Wisest wrongly.

A rogue is hidden in a hollow tree, to feign to be the Tree-sprite who is to act as umpire in a dispute. A fire lighted at the bottom of the tree exposes the cheat.


Parosahassa-Jātaka: Far better than a thousand fools.

A brahmin dies and states his spiritual attainments in a formula which only one of his pupils understands.


Asātarūpa-Jātaka: In guise of joy.

A beleaguered city is captured by cutting off supplies of water and firewood.


Parosata-Jātaka: Think hard.

This story is in all respects analogous to the Parosahassa-Jātaka Ja 99, with the sole difference that 'think hard' is read here.


Paṇṇika-Jātaka: He that should prove.

To test his daughter's virtue, a man makes love to her.


Veri-Jātaka: If wise, thou ’lt loiter not.

A merchant rejoices that he has outstripped robbers and reached his home in safety.


Mittavinda-Jātaka: From four to eight.

An additional fragment of Jātaka 41 Ja 41.


Dubbalakaṭṭha-Jātaka: Fear’st thou the wind.

An elephant, having escaped from the trainer's goad, lives in constant dread.


Udañcani-Jātaka: A happy life was mine.

A young hermit, seduced by a girl, is disenchanted by the number of errands she makes him run.


Sālittaka-Jātaka: Prize skill.

A skilful marksman reduces a talkative brahmin to silence by flicking pellets of goat's dung down the latter's throat.


Bāhiya-Jātaka: Learn thou betimes.

Occasional decency a passport to greatness.


Kuṇḍakapūva-Jātaka: As fares his worshipper.

A Tree-sprite, whose worshipper feared his gift was too mean, asks for the gift and rewards the poor man by revealing the site of a buried hoard of money.


Sabbasaṃhāraka-Jātaka: There is no All-embracing.


Gadrabha-Jātaka: Thou think’st thyself a swan.


Amarādevī-Pañha-Jātaka: Cakes and gruel.


Sigāla-Jātaka: The drunken jackal.

Being belated in a city, a jackal, by a lying promise to reveal buried treasure, induces a brahmin to carry him safely out of the city. The greedy brahmin reaps only indignities from the ungrateful beast.


Mitacinti-Jātaka: They twain in fisher’s net.

Of three fishes, two through folly are caught in a net; the third and wiser fish rescues them.


Anusāsika-Jātaka: The greed-denouncing bird.

A greedy bird, after cunningly warning other birds against the dangers of the high road on which she found food, is herself crushed to death by a carriage on that road.


Dubbaca-Jātaka: Too much.

Being in liquor, an acrobat undertakes to jump more javelins than he can manage, and is killed.


Tittira-Jātaka: As died the partridge.

A busybody is killed for his chatter by a jaundiced man; and the piping of a partridge attracts the hunter who kills it.


Vaṭṭaka-Jātaka: The thoughtless man.

A quail, being caught by a fowler, starves itself till no one will buy it, and in the end escapes.


Akālarāvi-Jātaka: No parents trained.

A cock which crowed in and out of season has its neck wrung.


Bandhanamokkha-Jātaka: Whilst folly’s speech.

A queen, who had committed adultery with sixty-four footmen and failed in her overtures to the chaplain, accuses the latter of rape. He reveals her guilt and his own innocence.


Kusanāḷi-Jātaka: "Let great and small."

A grass-sprite and a tree-sprite are friends. The former saves the latter's tree from the axe by assuming the shape of a chameleon and making the tree look full of holes.


Dummedha-Jātaka: "Exalted station breeds a fool great woe."

Being jealous of his elephant, a king seeks to make it fall over a precipice. The elephant flies through the air with its mahout to another and more appreciative master.


Naṅgalīsa-Jātaka: "For universal application."

A stupid youth, being devoted to his teacher, props up the latter's bed with his own leg all night long. The grateful teacher yearns to instruct the dullard and tries to make him compare things together. The youth sees a likeness to the shaft of a plough in a snake, an elephant, sugar-cane and curds. The teacher abandons all hope.


Amba-Jātaka: "Toil on, my brother."

In time of drought, a hermit provides water for the animals, who in gratitude bring him fruit enough for himself and 500 others.


Kaṭāhaka-Jātaka: "If he ’mid strangers."

A slave, educated beyond his station, manages by forging his master's name to marry a rich wife in another city. He gives himself airs till his old master comes, who, while not betraying the slave, teaches the wife verses whereby to restrain her husband's arrogance.


Asilakkhaṇa-Jātaka: "Our diverse fates."

Effects of two sneezes. One lost a sword-tester his nose, whilst the other won a princess for her lover.

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