One of the most significant and important part of the Khuddaka- Nikaya is the jataka. It is an invaluable record of the social, cultural, political, economic and religious history of ancient India. Prof. Fausball was the first in editing the jataka in six volumes. The tales in the jatakas mostly, are culled from the folk- lores prevalent in Northern India. The tales have great literary and historical value. The stories also inspired the works of art as evident from many such works in the far east countries of Asia as also in the frescos in Ajanta caves. The Jatakas also played some important role in shaping public opinion in favour of Buddhism. The multi-colouredness that adorns the jatakas can only be compared to the Mahabharata, Incidentally, it is not always that these tales (atitavatthu) are related to either Buddha or Buddhism. The entire concept of jatakas is derived from the unflinching belief in Karma and Bodhisattva symbolising the virtues that would make a future Buddha.
The present book "The jataka From Aesthetic Standpoint" by Dr. Ramesh Chandra Mukhopadhyaya is a sincere attempt to highlight the various aspects of the jatakas in an exhaustive way and while doing so he has aptly brought into focus some topics which have not previously and so elaborately, been touched upon. The present work by Dr. Mukhopadhyaya, as such, may be treated as a comprehensive one bringing out the essentials of jatakas including the topic on the influence that jatakas wielded over world literature. The chapter-IV dealing with the sociological and psychological approach to jatakas is worth mentioning as an innovative addition to the underlying merit of the jatakas, The author here tries to substantiate the fact, by illustrating quite a number of Jataka tales, that every narrative has a society of its own and that the characters in the tales, as they interact, build up a society. In this very chapter he has also tried to analyse the factors that govern kingship, legislation and even judiciary. In his presentation of psychological approach to Jitaka, he has discussed the impact of psychology and phantasy on these tales. The bibliography is exhaustive one which is sure to help inquisitive readers and researchers alike to a great extent.
Dr. Mukhopadhyaya has spared no pains in collecting materials from different and original Pali sources and utilised them properly in his study. It is a matter of my great satisfaction to remark that the book of Dr. Mukhopadhyaya is a valuable contribution to the field of Buddhist studies and it will be vary useful to the students of Buddhism and appreciated by the scholars.
The meaning of the word Jataka
The Pali English Dictionary defines Jitaka as belonging to what has been born, a son.
The word jataka is derived from the root verb 'jan ' with the first suffix 'kta' and the second suffix "ka '. The verb 'jan ' means-.
(1) To be produced; (2) To raise, spring up, grow; (3) To be, become, happen, take place, occur. The word jata means'' (1) brought into existence, (2) Caused, occasioned, (3) felt affected. Jatah means (1) A son, male offspring. Jatam means (1) A creature, living being, (2) Production, origin (3) Kind, sort, class, species (4) A collection of things forming a class (5) A child, a young man.
Since the suffix 'Kta' might be used in the locative jata might also mean the road along which creatures are born in close approximation to Yatani which means the road along which one goes.
The suffix Ka added to the word jata might mean 'jata eva 'jata eva' emphasizes on the meaning of the word 'jata' only. Or else it might be added to a substantive to mean the latter's smallness. The word 'jataka means (1) Born or produced (2) A mendicant. The word 'jataka' means (1) Ceremony performed after the birth of a child (2) Astrological calculation of a nativity (3) An aggregate of similar things.
Thus we may construe the following levels of meaning of the word jataka : (1) It speaks of a birth or of one who is born, having particular significance (2) It speaks of the locus of a being along a sequence of birth (3) It speaks of the past and future of a being that is born (4) It is a ritual celebrating birth (5) It is a kind of narration that celebrates a birth and its past, present and future as a ritual.
JATAKA IN THE BUDDHIST CONTEXT
In the Pali Buddhist context the word Jataka has developed a special meaning. The Pali-English Dictionary'' describes the jataka as the name of a book containing the verses of 547 stories'. Pali literature could be divided into (1) the Canonical and (2) the non-Canonical. The Canonical literature is subdivided into three pitakas or baskets of wisdom. They contain in them traditional wisdom handed down. Sutta pitaka one of the three pitakas consists of five Nikayas. The Khuddaka Nikaya, the collection of the smaller pieces- is one of them. The jataka occupies the tenth position in this Nikaya. Thus the jataka is a proper name signifying a book that enshrines in it numerous birth stories of one who toiled hard through the numerous lives till one becomes the Enlightened One or the Buddh of kapilavaitthu, the Gotama Buddha.
As tradition has it, one day Siddhattha Gotama when thirty five years old, sat beneath a large pipal tree on the bank of the river Neranjara in the outskirts of the town of Gaya and vowed that though his bones wasted away, he would not budge from his seat until the riddle of suffering was solved 1. So for forty nine days he sat beneath the tree. Mara, the evil spirit of the world and sensual pleasures, the Buddhist devil played trick upon Gotama. But it was of little avail. At the dawning of the forty-ninth day, Siddhattha Gotama knew the truth. He had found the secret of sorrow, and understood why the world is full of suffering and what man must do to get rid of that. Now he was fully enlightened - a Buddha.`
According to Buddhist dogmatics Gotama was a Bodhisatta. (etymologically meaning a being whose essence is knowledge) as long as he was not a Buddha/ Bodhisatta is one who like Gotama Buddha before his -enlightenment out of deep compassion aspires and strives after perfect Enlightenment in order to serve all living beings from suffering. On the way to this goal of becoming a Buddha for the sake of others such a person cultivates all the virtues through innumerable lives of selfless action.
But what is Enlightenment? This is a question to be answered by the philosophers, mystics and the spiritually advanced. It is told that Buddha attained three kinds of knowledge in course of his Enlightenment. The first of these is the Buddha's recollection of his own previous existences. He remembered many former existences, such as one birth, two births, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand births. He could remember, there he had been of such and such name, colour, livelihood, such pleasure and pains that he had suffered and such was the end of his life. Everything about that too he could' remember in minutest details. Passing away thence he had been born elsewhere. Everything about that also he could remember in the minute details. Thus could Gotama Buddha remember all his former births. He was a Bodhisatta in all those births and remained one even as Gotama till the day of his Enlightenment under the tree of knowledge. The second knowledge, achieved in course of Enlightenment consists of the vision of how the whole gamut of beings come to be and pass away. All the many denizens of the universe were apparent to him in their various conditions of weal and woe, beauty and ugliness, depending on the karmic value of the deeds. Thus there was an integrated understanding of all experiences of the existence. The third knowledge achieved by Gotama Buddha was the knowledge that he was free from Asavas or Cankers. Thus free from ignorance, free from the birth and death cycle, and free from sense- pleasures, Buddha as tradition holds, narrated the Jataka. The Jataka tales under review, are the stories of Bodhisattas that become the Buddha of Kapilavatthu, the Gotama Buddha. If we now assemble all the meanings of the word 'jataka' a common name and the special meaning of the 'jataka' a Proper name, in the Buddhist context we have all the connotations of the title 'jataka' that gives a foretaste of the basic theme of the Jataka tales. They are a pisgah vision of the infinite universe as such, as experienced by a Bodhisatta through myriads of lives retold by the Buddha. It speaks of an aesthetics. True literature could be forged by a Buddha only; it is a recollection of emotions in tranquility. Buddha is always tranquil despite the humdrums of life.
The Buddhists claim that the Gotama Buddha narrated the Jataka on different occasions to teach the Bhikkhus in simple terms the deeper truths of life and universe as posited by Himself".
The truths are too deep to understand for ordinary mortals and they are to be lived. Buddha in his Bodhisattahood lived those truths. In every former life he toiled for them and attained one or another parami 2 or perfection: knowledge is for Lord Buddha not merely an intellectual affair, knowing is becoming. And Buddha exhorts in the jataka tales the truths that he attained through numerous births and deaths.
It is, however, a pity that the jataka tales are not at our hand in their original form. We do not know for certain how many birth stories were originally narrated by the Bhagava.
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