Among the literary and scriptural treasures of Buddhism, the Jataka texts hold a special place. The Jatakas consist of over five hundred stories about the previous incarnations of the Buddha in both human and animal form. The Jataka stories are told by the Buddha himself, and at the end of each story he identifies the role that he himself played, and sometimes the roles of others as well, particularly his disciples. The Jataka collections were transmitted orally for centuries, and when written down they took a form combined of verse, story, and moral commentary.
The traditional belief is that they form part of the canon of Buddhist scriptures established in 483 B.C., at the council that his disciples held shortly after his death. While the overall Buddhist flavor of the Jatakas is unmistakable, a number of these stories may previously have been part of non-Buddhist Indian narrative traditions. The question of the religious character of the Jatakas is complicated by the fact that quite a few of these stories have been exported through translation and detached altogether from the Buddhist context.
Together with stories from another ancient Indian collection, the Panchatantra, the Jatakas were translated through a bewildering series of languages---Persian, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and English. These versions were, however, transformed by their removal from the Buddhist canon; the frame story that located each tale in relation to the life of the Buddha, the underlying ideas of reincarnation and karma, and the identification of characters that ended each tale, were all cut away.
What remained were entertaining and occasionally moralistic animal stories, but demythologized for a generic storytelling purpose . . . Still, it is remarkable that these "detached" Jataka stories have proven to be among the most widely popularized narratives in world literature.
as retold by Noor Inayat Khan
Hark to those painful cries which pierce each day the silent forest! Alas! They are the cries of six thousand quails. Poor little birds! Each day a man comes from the village and casts a net over them as they land on the ground. After throwing the net, he pulls it together, catching hundreds of quails which he takes to the village to sell. Now one day King Quail said "Cry no more, my little ones; If you heed your King's word you will never be caught.
When the net is thrown over you, put your heads through the holes, and all together fly up, lifting the net through the air. If then you land on the top of thorny hill the prickles will hold the net above the ground and you can escape from under it before the villager reaches the hill. Do as I say, and you will all be saved. But if one day quarrels arise, and you should begin to fight one with another, alas! that day you will be caught and you will never see the woods again."
The quails did as their King advised, and when the net was thrown over them they flew up to a hill with it and escaped. And the villager returned each day without a penny, and his wife was very, very angry. "Do not worry," said he one evening to his wife. "Those naughty quails will fight together one of these days and then they will be easily caught."
And it happened one day that a quail stepped on the head of another. "I will give you what you deserve!" cried the injured quail in anger, jumping up and knocking his wing. "Away with you, away with you," he cried. King Quail, seeing the quarrel, said to the others, "Let us not stay here. Those two unhappy birds will surely come to a bad end." And he flew off with those who heeded his warning. And while the two quarrelsome quails went on fighting, a strange dark cloud came over their heads.
It was the net! Many others were caught with them and taken to the village to be killed. But the wise King Quail, and those who heeded his counsel, were never caught. And in the silent little forest they all lived happily ever after.
Mandala: Through A Child's Eyes P.S 102Q (CSD24) & The Asia Society A Collaboration for the Cultural Arts The New York Center for Partnership in Arts and Education Laurie Tisch Sussman: Chairman Hollis Headrick: Executive Director Funded by: The Annenberg Foundation
Once there was a tortoise who lived in a pond and he talked too much. One day two wild ducks came to the pond to look for some food, and the tortoise talked to the ducks. Then they became very good friends. Then the two wild ducks said that they lived near the Himalayan Mountains near the golden cave. They asked "Would you like to come?" and the tortoise said, "Yes." Next the duck told the tortoise to bite the stick and hold on to the stick with his mouth. He opened his mouth to talk, let go of the stick and fell to the ground. Moral: Don't talk at the wrong time. Created By: Satalyn
Once there lived a beautiful elephant in the forest. She was so white and pretty that the king decided to keep her. The king told the trainers to train her but they beat her and she ran all the way to the Himalayan mountains. It was such a long way that the king's people couldn't find the elephant. Years passed. The king had forgotten the elephant but the elephant still didn't forget how she was treated. She was frightened and worried. She forgot to eat lunch. She got skinnier and skinnier. One day a tree spirit came and said, "Don't be afraid all the time. Stop worrying, you are free now." Lesson: Don't make a habit of being afraid. Created by: Shuyang