Friday, December 17, 2010

Jataka Storybooks

The jataka tales are one of the core texts of Buddhism. In many ways, they are similar to Aesop's fables and also to the parables of Jesus. These are parables that the Buddha told, often involving animal characters, and in each story there is one character who was the Buddha himself in a previous birth or incarnation, hence the term "jataka" ("birth") tales.

You can see what some students have done with jataka tales in these past Storybooks.

Story Sources. You can find lots of jataka tales online at the The Illustrated Jataka website, along with many jataka books online; see the section entitled "Buddhist Literature and Jatakas" on the India Books page.

Some of these jataka books - such as Ellen Babbitt's Jataka Tales or Marie Shedlock's Eastern Stories and Legends - do not contain the "frame" part of the story where the Buddha speaks to his followers, but if you look at the Jataka by Robert Chalmers (in six volumes!), you can read the part where the Buddha introduces and explains each of the stories that he tells. The Chalmers edition is an actual translation of the ancient Buddhist texts, while the books by Babbitt, Shedlock, etc. are instead adaptations for readers who might be interested in the stories without the specifically Buddhist context.

Background Information. For more background information, see the Jataka unit in my World Literature course. I don't offer that course anymore, alas - but it had an entire unit on the jatakas!



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