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The term “Jataka” refers to a collection of stories that are an important part of Buddhist literature. These stories are about the previous lives of Siddhartha Gautama, who would later become Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The Jataka tales are considered one of the most significant genres of Buddhist literature and are traditionally included in the Khuddaka Nikaya, which is one of the five major collections of texts in the Pali Canon, the authoritative scriptures of Theravada Buddhism.
The Jataka tales typically illustrate moral lessons and ethical principles by recounting stories of the Buddha’s past lives as he progressed on the path to enlightenment (Bodhisattva’s journey). Each story highlights different virtues such as generosity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and wisdom. The stories often involve animals, humans, and sometimes deities and supernatural beings, and they provide insight into the karmic consequences of one’s actions in previous lives.
There are various versions of the Jataka tales found in different Buddhist traditions, including Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan Buddhism. The Theravada tradition recognizes 547 Jataka tales, while the Mahayana tradition contains a larger number of these stories, often exceeding 1,000.
The Jataka tales have had a significant influence on Buddhist art, literature, and moral teachings, and they continue to be an essential source of inspiration for Buddhists and those interested in Buddhist ethics and philosophy. These stories are not only cherished for their religious and moral significance but are also appreciated for their narrative and storytelling qualities.