Jataka Tales

The Jataka is divided into three main parts: texts concerning discipline for monks and nuns, texts of sermons or sayings mostly of Buddha, and texts of philosophy or higher teaching (1301). The Jataka includes works from many different authors over several generations after the Buddha’s death. Therefore each narrative has been suited to fit the religious and didactic purposes of each author and the time period. We can see this when comparing three of these narratives: the Golden Goose, the Hare’s Self Sacrifice, and the Monkey’s Heroic Self Sacrifice. Even though these narratives might be someone similar, they are different in their individual messages and lessons. The overall message behind the Golden Goose is a warning against the damage of greed. The Buddha who comes back to life as a goose tries to do right by his widow and daughters who he left behind when he died. He goes to them every day to give them one of his golden feathers. Instead of being grateful his widow decides to sneakily pluck all of his feathers at once with no regard for the Goose. She does not care if he comes back or not as long as she has the feathers: “the mother in her greed called the golden goose to her one day when he came, and then took him with both hands and plucked him” (1304). In return, the goose’s feathers grew back white and he flew away never to return. The Hare’s Self Sacrifice is about the Bodhisatta coming to life as an hare. He offered to sacrifice his own life so that someone else would not starve. This is seen as incredibly virtuous and is a lesson to not be selfish and to sometimes put others before yourself. In the Monkey’s Heroic Self-Sacrifice there is more emphasis on the honoring of the monkey after his death and having a proper, honorable funeral for him considering his noble behavior. This is demonstrated in page 1309: “the ministers made a funeral pile with a hundred Waggon loads of timber. Having prepared the Bodhisatta’s obsequies in a royal manner, they took his skull, and came to the king. The king caused a shrine to be built.. offerings of incense and flowers..” Here the reader definitely gets a sense for the importance of religious traditions to the author.

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