is a pleasure to rewrite the Jataka stories in modern English understandable
by western readers. To achieve this goal, the stories are being
retold in order to convey the spirit and meaning. They are not scholarly
word-for-word translations as have been done by others. The Pali
Text Society published the whole text in English translation a hundred
years ago. In Sri Lanka they were translated into Sinhalese in the
14th century, where they were known as Pansiya Panas Jataka.
all Buddhist countries the Jataka tales were the major sources for
developing the character of the people. They were used widely in
preaching by monks and lay preachers. King Dutugemunu (2nd century
B.C.), in Anuradhapura, paid for the support of preachers to teach
Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. They usually used these stories
in their sermons. Even the Venerable Arahant Maha Mahinda, who introduced
Dharma into Sri Lanka, used these stories to illustrate the truth
of the teachings. Some were even used by the Lord Buddha in his
teachings, and from him his followers learned them and passed them
into popular use in society. Even earlier, the same types of stories
were present in Vedic literature.
myths, as well as the fables of Aesop, inherited them from the Vedas
and Buddhism; Persia also took them from India. They later migrated
into the stories of Chaucer in England and Boccaccio in Italy. The
stories were used for a variety of purposes. In Sanskrit, the Pancatantra
used them to teach Law and Economics, and the Katha Sarit
Sagara used them for the development of knowledge, as well as
just for enjoyment. In the past, people have been satisfied and
fulfilled in many ways by hearing them in forms ranging from lessons
to fairy tales.
reading these stories, children and adults can develop their knowledge
and learn how to face the difficult experiences of modern life.
They can easily develop human values and good qualities like patience,
forbearance, tolerance and the four sublime states of mind - loving-kindness,
compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. The major purpose of
these stories is to develop the moral and ethical values of the
readers. Without them, people cannot be peaceful and happy in their
hearts and minds. And the reader will find that these values are
very different from those of the wider, violently acquisitive, ego-based
this interpretation, changes are being made to the style of the
old Jataka stories, and explanations are added, as is appropriate
for children in the modern world. The lovely artwork is also sometimes
in a modern setting, to attract young and old to the truths contained
in the tales.
sources used have been as follows:
Jataka Pali (Colombo: Buddha Jayanti Tripitaka Series Publication
Board, 1983) - original Pali stanzas.
2. Jataka Pali (Colombo: Simon Hewavitarane Bequest, 1926)
- original Pali Jataka stories in Sinhalese characters.
3. Sinhala Jataka Pot Vahanse (Colombo: Jinalankara Press,
1928) - Sinhalese translation of Pali Jataka stories.
4. Sinhala Jalaka Pot Vahanse (Colombo: Ratnakara Bookshop,
1961) - Sinhalese translation of Pali Jataka stories.
5. Jataka Pota, ed. Lionel Lokuliyana (Colombo: M. D. Gunasena
& Co., 1960) - Sinhalese translation of first fifty Pali Jataka
6. The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha's Former Lives, ed.
E. B. Cowell (London: Pali Text Society, 1981), 6 vols., index
English translation of Pali Jataka stories.
7. Pansiyapanas Jataka Pot Vahanse (Bandaragama: H. W. N.
Prematilaka, 1987) - Sinhalese summaries of Pali Jataka stories.
addition, "From the Storyteller to the Listeners" (below),
contains a paraphrase taken from "Discourse With Canki,"
Middle Length Sayings (Majjhima-Nikaya), trans. I.
B. Horner (London: Pali Text Society, 1975), 11, 95, pp. 362-3.
The title of the fourth story, "The Mouse Merchant", was
originally in Somadeva, The Ocean of Story (Katha Sarit
Sagara), trans. C. H. Tawney (London: C. J. Sawyer, 1924).
sequence numbers used for the stories are in the same order as in
the Jataka Pali and The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha's
Former Lives (above). Multiple sequence numbers indicate that
identical, similar or partial stories are told in one version. The
most complex example is "The Curse of Mittavinda" which
requires explanation. Here the Losaka (41), the three Mittavinda
(82, 104, 369) and the Catu-Dvara (439) Jatakas are
combined. This is because the stanzas of 82, 104 and 369 all refer
directly to the palaces described in 41 and 439, as well as to the
wheel of torture described in 439. The latter retells the four palaces
portion of 41, and then leads directly into the wheel of torture
(Ussada hell) portion. To allow continuity, the ending of
the wheel of torture portion is taken from 369, since in it Mittavinda
does not die.
the stories include legends which are not actually canonical, the
character traditionally said to be the Bodhisatta (the Buddha in
a past life) is not necessarily identified in each rewritten story.
is hoped that these stories will be picked up by teachers and used
to teach children. They can serve as examples in guiding children
to use the morals in their daily activities. By drawing their minds
into thinking properly, their thinking power will be developed.
This will prove invaluable in facing difficulties, unexpected circumstances
and disasters, without being confused.
stories teach valuable lessons to correct our current life style.
For instance, the second story, "Finding a New Spring",
teaches the value of perseverance. Today people who are enslaved
to the Modern development of science and technology, are lazy due
to the easy availability of things they need (and things they don't
need). They become used to giving up their efforts to achieve goals
when there are even minor difficulties. They give up, change their
minds, and try something else. Having become lazy, their thinking
power declines, as does their effort to overcome difficulties. Consequently,
they also do not understand how to solve the problems of living
with others, and their human values decline as well.
has achieved the present level of civilization over a long period
of time, by using vast human energy to control his weaknesses. Deep
and immeasurable dedication and effort have been required to develop
human physical and intellectual skills. We need to preserve these
qualities for the future peace and happiness of the world. Our highest
efforts are needed to preserve declining human qualities and values.
If not, the future will be in turmoil with quarrels and conflict.
and compassionate people of diverse cultures are realising the danger.
The cause is the discouragement of the teaching of an internal moral
code. Modern educators and psychologists have neglected the function
of the moral development of children. This is the major cause of
the world-wide increasing crime rate. Fifty years ago children were
taught moral values, but there is no such subject in modern schools,
while churches and temples are poorly attended. Without such teaching,
where will a young child learn what is good and bad, from cartoons,
commercials and movies? Why has the subject been neglected in the
field of education and in the society at large?
"Finding a New Spring", when the caravan lost its way,
the leader did not blame others or grumble, he was determined to
overcome the unexpected circumstances. In the midst of the weakened
thinking of the others, he was the only one who could be depended
on to lead the search for water. Even after tiring digging led to
the great rock obstacle, he was not to give up. His perseverance
broke through the slab and reached the goal. How joyful they all
were! Why do we not teach our children to follow such examples in
their unexpected encounters? The adults who read these stories to
children must point out morals like these and help them to develop
their tender minds.
all beings be well and happy!
New York Buddhist Vihara
84-32 124th Street, Kew Gardens
New York, N.Y. 11415 USA