Jātakamālā or Garland of Birth Stories

Introduction (by J. S. Speyer)

The “Garland of Birth-stories” belongs to the Canon of the Northern Buddhists. For the discovery of this work we are indebted to Mr. Brian H. Hodgson, who as early as 1828 mentioned it among the interesting specimens of Bauddha scriptures communicated to him by his old Patan monk, and also procured copies of it. One of these was deposited in the library of the college of Fort William, now belonging to the Bengal Asiatic Society, and was described, in 1882, by Rājendralāla Mitra. Another was forwarded to the Paris library. Burnouf, who thoroughly studied other works belonging to the Sūtra and Avadāna classes, which form part of the Hodgson MSS. in Paris, seems to have had a merely superficial acquaintance with the Jātakamālā, if we may judge from the terms with which he deals with it in his “Introduction a l'histoire du Bouddhisme indien,” p. 54 of the second edition: “Je dis les livres, quoiqu'il n'en existe qu un seul dans la liste nepalaise et dans la collection de M. Hodgson, qui porte et qui merite le titre de Djātaka (naissance); c'est le volume intitule Djātakamālā ou la Guirlande des naissances, qui passe pour un recit des diverses actions meritoires de (Sākya anterieurement a l'epoque ou il devint Buddha.” In fact, he has never given a summary, still less a detailed account of its contents. It was not until 1875 that M. Feer gave such an account in the Journal Asiatique, Vll Ser., t. 5, p. 413.

Moreover, Burnouf's statement is not quite correct with respect to the Nepal list. Not one, but three Jātaka works are named there, the Jātakāvadāna (No. 32), the Jātakamālā (No. 33), and the Mahājātakamālā (No. 34). Of these only one, indeed, is extant, viz. No. 33, our “Garland of Birth-stories.” No. 34 may be the work, containing 550 or 565 Jātakas, spoken of by the Bauddha monk who imparted so much valuable [xx] information to Hodgson See Hodgson, Essays, pp. 17 & 37.01 or, perhaps, the original of the Tibetan collection of 101 tales, including also our Jātakamālā, to which two Russian scholars, Serge d'Oldenburg and Ivanovski, have of late drawn the attention of the public. See the paper of d'Oldenburg, translated by Dr. Wentzel in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of 1893, p. 304.02

As to No. 32, its title, Jātakāvadāna, allows the supposition that it is either a collection of Jātakas and avadānas, or that it contains “great religious exploits” (avadāna) performed by the Bodhisattva, who afterwards became Buddha, the Lord. Nothing is more common than the use of both terms in a nearly synonymous manner. Our Jātakamālā bears also the appellation of Bodhisattvāvadānamālā. Also compare the passage of the Avadānakalpalatā, quoted infra, p. xxiii.03

In translating Jātaka by “birth-story,” I comply with the general use and official interpretation of that term by the Buddhist Church. The original meaning must have been simply “tale, story,” as Prof. Kern has demonstrated in his “History of Buddhism in India.” See I, p. 257 of the original (Dutch) edition.04 Additional evidence of this statement may be drawn from the fact, that in several of the old and traditional headings of these stories the former part of the compound denotes not the Bodhisattva, but some other person of the tale, as Vyāghṛjātaka, “the Story of the Tigress,” or a thing, as Kumbhajātaka, “the Story of the Jar;” Bisajātaka, “the Story of the Lotus-stalks,” which are respectively Nos. 1, 17, and 19 of this collection; or an action, as Sīlavīmaṁsa(ka)-Jātaka, the common heading of Nos. 86, 290, 305, and 330 in Fausböll's Pāli Jātaka, Naccajātaka, ibid., No. 32, or a quality, as Sīlānisaṁsajātaka, ibid., No. 190.

Some time after M. Féer's compte-rendu of the Paris MS. was published two new MSS. of the Jātakamālā came to Europe. They belong to the valuable set of Sanskrit Buddhist works which Dr. Wright acquired for the Cambridge University Library, and are described by Prof. Cecil Bendall in his excellent Catalogue (1883). Prof. Kern was the first to appreciate the great literary merits of the Jātakamālā, and soon planned an edition, availing himself of the two Cambridge MSS. (Add. 1328 and 1415) and the Paris one. Dr. d'Oldenburg mentions two more copies; they are at St. Petersburg. See his paper in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, p. 306.05 This editio princeps was published at the end of 1891 as the first volume of the Harvard Oriental Series of Prof. Lanman. It has every right to bear the name of “princeps,” not only because Ārya Śūra's work has never been edited before, but on account of [xxi] the critical acumen and the untiring care of the editor, whose exertions have almost purged the text from the clerical errors and blunders which greatly encumber the Nepal manuscripts. Compare the complaint of Prof. Cowell, p. xii of the Introduction to his translation of the Buddhacarita (Sacred Books, vol. xlix).06 Thus, thanks to Prof. Kern, this masterpiece of Sanskrit Buddhist literature is now accessible to Sanskritists in an excellent edition. I have undertaken to translate it, as I consider it a most valuable document for the knowledge of Buddhism.

Properly speaking, Jātakamālā is a class-name. It has been pointed out above that in the Northern Buddhist Canon several writings of that name have been made known, and though, so far as I know, this appellation does not occur in the book-titles of the Pāli Tripiṭaka, such texts as the Pāli Jātaka and the Cariyāpiṭaka may have some right to be thus designated. That it is a generic appellation is made plain from Somendra's Introduction to the Avadānakalpalatā of his father Kṣemendra. It is said there, verses 7 and 8:-

“ācāryaGopadattādyair avadānakramojjhitāḥ
uccityoccitya vihitā gadyapadyaviśṛṅkhalāh,
ekamārgānusāriṇyaḥ paraṁ gāmbhīryakarkaśāḥ
vistīrṇavarṇanāḥ santi Jinajātakamālikāḥ.”

“There exist many ‘Garlands of Birth-stories of the Jina’ by Gopadatta and other teachers, who, discarding the usual order of the Avadānas, gathered tales carptim, and told them at length in elaborate prose (gadya) interspersed with verse, holding themselves free as to the proportions of the two styles, which they made interchange. They all treat of the praise of the Right Path, but, owing to their profoundness, are hard to understand.”

This definition of that class exactly suits the work, the translation of which is here published. This composition consists, indeed, of verse intermingled with flowery prose built up according to the rules and methods of Sanskrit rhetoric; it claims to be a florilegium, a selection of Jātakas, with the avowed object of rousing or invigorating the true faith in the minds of the reader; and the stories are told at length. It has perhaps been the most perfect writing of its kind. It is distinguished no less by the superiority of its style than by the loftiness of its thoughts. Its verses and artful prose are written in the purest Sanskrit, The peculiarities of our author are not many, and bear chiefly on lexicology, not on grammar or style, which show the most intimate acquaintance with the classic language. His subject-matter and his faith, of course, necessitate the use of a number of terms, found in Buddhist writings only; yet he avoids several of them, which are not good Sanskrit, as vijita and most of those signalized by Cowell and Neil in p. ix of their edition of Divyāvdāna. He often employs uddhava = Pāli utthava [which itself is = Skt. utsava], sumukha = ‘propense’, sātmībhavati, okaroti, obhāva, a term to express the imbibing of qualities into one's nature, adhyāśaya = āśaya, vitāna and vaitānya = ‘dejected’ and ‘dejection’, vimanaḥ = durmanaḥ ‘sad’, pratipat and pratipatti = ‘(good) conduct’ and so on. Likewise he uses such words as vaṇīpaka pratisaṁmodana, (ahorātram) atināmayām āsa, 26, 27 ārabhya [= Pāli ārabbha] in the meaning of ‘concerning’ = adhikṛtya, āśṛtya and 8, 20 pratyāham = pratyaham. On the other hand, instances of old words and expressions, and of such as were hitherto only known from the Dictionaries, are found in his work. So e.g. addhā 9, 60 and elsewhere, ākumbha 17, 5; 28, 31, dāṇḍājinika in 28, 37.07 and charm the reader by the [xxii] elegance of their form and the skill displayed in the handling of a great variety of metres, some of which are rarely to be met with elsewhere and are sometimes adorned with the additional qualities of difficult and refined rhymes, and the like. Apparently Śūra, to whom the Jātakamālā is ascribed, was a poet richly gifted by Nature, whose talent must have been developed by thorough and extensive literary studies. Above all, I admire his moderation. Unlike so many other Indian masters in the art of literary composition, he does not allow himself the use of embellishing apparel and the whole luxuriant mise en scśne of Sanskrit alaṁkāra beyond what is necessary for his subject. His flowery descriptions, his long and elaborate sermons, his elegant manner of narration, are always in harmony with the scheme of the whole or the nature of the contents. Similarly, in the choice of his metres he was guided by stylistic motives in accordance with the tone and sentiment required at a given point of the narrative. It is a pity that most of these excellencies are lost in the translation.

Thus much for the philologist and the lover of Oriental literature. To the student of Buddhism it is the peculiar character of the Jātakamālā which constitutes its great importance. Although it is styled “a garland of stories,” it is really a collection of homilies. Each Jātaka is introduced by a simple prose sentence of ethical and religious purport, which is to be illustrated by the story. The whole treatment of the tale bears the character of a religious discourse. Prof. Cowell, in his preface to the translation of the Pāli Jātaka, observes that the Jātaka-legends are “continually introduced into the religions discourses .... whether to magnify the glory of the Buddha or to illustrate Buddhist doctrines and [xxiii] precepts by appropriate examples.” See the Jātaka, translated from the Pāli by various hands under the editorship of Prof. E. B. Cowell, Cambridge, 1895, I. p.vi.08 Our Jātakamālā has a right to be called a choice collection of such sermons, distinguished by their lofty conception and their artistic elaboration. It is a document of the first rank for the study of ancient Buddhist homiletics, and is for this reason entitled to a place among the Sacred Books of the East.

Śūra took his thirty-four holy legends from the old and traditional store of Jātaka-tales. Almost all of them have been identified with corresponding ones in other collections, both of Northern and Southern Buddhism. So far as I could control those parallels or add to them, I have taken care to notice them at the beginning or at the end of each story. The author himself in his introductory stanzas declares his strict conformity with scripture and tradition; and, however much he has done for the adornment and embellishment of the outer form of his tales, we may trust him, when he implies that he has nowhere changed their outlines or their essential features, but has narrated them as they were handed down to him by writing or by oral tradition. Wherever his account differs from that preserved in other sources, we may infer that he followed some different version.

Sometimes he passes over details of minor importance. For instance, in the second story he avoids the hideous particulars of the eye-operation, dwelt upon in the Pāli Jātaka; The same good taste will be appreciated in Story 28, when the cruel act of the wicked king against the monk Kṣāntivādin has to be told, and in Story 8. Stories 17, 22, 31 are much simpler than their parallels in the holy Pāli book, which are unwieldy, encumbered as they are by exuberance of details. I cannot help thinking that Śūra omitted such particulars purposely. For the rest, he does not pretend to tell stories new or unknown to his readers. He acknowledges their popularity; he puts the story of the tigress at the beginning, in order to honour his teacher, who had celebrated that Jātaka. He often neglects to give proper names to the actors in his tales. For instance, of Agastya, Ayogṛha, Cuḍḍabodhi, the heroes of the Jātakas thus named, it is nowhere said that they were so called. Jūjaka, the Brāhman who begged the children from Viśvantara, consequently a well-known figure in the legend, is only named “a Brāhman”. In the same story (9) Madrī, the wife of the hero, is introduced as a well-known person, although her name had not been mentioned before.

That he closely adheres to the traditional stock of legends [xxiv] is also shown by a good number of his verses. Generally speaking, the metrical part of the Jātakamālā admits of a fourfold division. There are laudatory verses, praising and pointing out the virtues of the hero; these are commonly found in the first part or preamble of the tale. There are descriptive verses, containing pictures of fine scenery or of phenomena. Further, there are religious discourses, sometimes of considerable length, put in the mouth of the Bodhisattva; they have their place mostly at the end. It is but seldom that the verses contain a mere repetition or development of what has been told in the prose immediately preceding.09

The rest consists in verses treating of facts in the story, and it is chiefly there that we find again the gāthās of the corresponding Pāli Jātakas. It is incontestable that in a great many cases Śūra worked on the same or a very similar stock of gāthās as are contained in the Sacred Canon of the Southern Buddhists. For the sake of reference I have registered those parallel verses in a Synoptical Table, which is placed at the end of this book (pp. 337-340).

Sometimes the affinity is so striking that one text will assist the interpretation and critical restitution of the other. Śūra's stanza, 5, 11, for example, has not been invented by the author himself; it is a refined paraphrase in Sanskrit of some Prākrit gāthā of exactly the same purport as that which in Fausböll's Jātaka III, p. 131, bears the number 158. By comparing pāda c in both, it is plain that in the Pāli text no ought to be read instead of vo. Here are some other instances. In the Bisajātaka [ed. Bhisa-], Fausböll IV, 309, 11, read puttī ... sabbakāmī, cp. Jātakamālā 19, 13, ibid. 1. 22 sabbasamattavedaṁ and 1. 24 pūjentu, cp. Jātakamālā 19, 16; ibid. p. 310, 3 lattha, not alattha, cp. 19, 18 - In the Cullahaṁsajātaka, Fausböll 5, 349, 12 khaṇḍaṁ the reading of Bds and Sdr is confirmed by Śūra, 22, 37 ūnaṁ. Ibid. 343, 16 I read tāvad eva ca te lābho kar’ assa yācanā ca me, comparing Śūra 22, 50, and from 22, 80 I infer that Fausböll 5, 350, 16 mama is to be read for dhammaṁ, vasu for vaso, sabbatth’ instead of sabb’ atth’. - In Fausböll I, 213, 13 a prose passage may be corrected from the parallel prose of Jātakamālā (p. 98, 8 of the edition); divide the words thus, kucchito jāto aṇḍakosam padāletvā. On the other hand the Pāli text is of use to correct a passage of Śūra. 22, 33 c we should read dharmo hy apacitaḥ samyag & so on, cp. Fausböll 5, 339, 22.10 It must have been sacred texts in some popular dialect, not in Sanskrit, that underly the elaborate and high-flown verses of Śūra. This is proved, among other things, by the mistake in 19, 17, pointed out by Prof. Kern in the Various Readings he has appended to his edition.

As I have already remarked, each story is introduced by a leading sentence expressing some religious maxim, which, according to Indian usage, is repeated again at the end as [xxv] a conclusion to the story, being preceded by evam or tathā, “in this manner.” But, as a rule, With the exception of 5 and 15. In the conclusion of 3 and 13 the leading text is repeated, and then more fully developed; in that of the ninth Jātaka it is repeated in an abridged form.11 the epilogues are not limited to that simple repetition. They often contain more, the practical usefulness of the story thus told being enhanced by the addition of other moral lessons, which may be illustrated by it, or by pointing out different subjects of religious discourses in connection with which our tale may be of use. Most of these epilogues, in my opinion, are posterior to Śūra.

Apart from the argument offered by some remarkable discrepancies in style and language and the monkish spirit pervading them, I think it highly improbable that, after the author had put at the head and at the end of each Jātaka the moral maxim he desires to inculcate upon the minds of his readers by means of the account of a certain marvellous deed of the Bodhisattva, he should himself add different indications for other employments to serve homiletical purposes. It is more likely that these accessories are of later origin, and were added when the discourses of Śūra had gained so great a reputation as to be admitted to the Canon of Sacred Writings, and had come to be employed by the monks as a store of holy and edifying sermons for the purposes of religious instruction.

On account of these considerations, I have bracketed in my translation such part of the epilogues as seemed to me later interpolations. Yet I did not think it advisable to omit them. They are not without importance in themselves. They allow us an insight into the interior of the monasteries and to witness the monks preparing for preaching. Moreover, some of them contain precious information about holy texts of the Northern Buddhists, which are either lost or have not yet been discovered. In the epilogue of 8 there is even a textual quotation; likewise in that of 30, where we find the words spoken by the Lord at the time of his Complete Extinction. As to 9, see my note on that epilogue. In 7 and 21 similar sayings of holy books are hinted at.

Concerning the person of the author and his time, nothing certain is known. That he was called Ārya Śūra is told in the manuscripts, and is corroborated by Chinese tradition; the Chinese translation of the Jātakamālā, made between 960 and 1127 A. D., bears Ārya Śūra on its title as the author's name (see Bunyiu Nanjio's Catalogue, No. 1312). Tibetan tradition, too, knows Śūra as a famous teacher, and as the author of our collection of stories. Tāranātha identifies him [xxvi] with Aśvaghoṣa, and adds many more names by which the same great man should be known. It is, however, impossible that two works so entirely different in style and spirit as the Buddhacarita and the Jātakamālā should be ascribed to one and the same author.

As to his time, Dr. d'Oldenburg observes that the terminus ante quem is the end of the 7th century A. D., since it seems that the Chinese traveller I-tsing speaks of our “Garland of Birth-stories.” If No. 1349 of Bunyiu Nanjio's Catalogue of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, being a Sūtra on the fruits of Karma briefly explained by Ārya Śūra, is written by our author - and there seems to be no reasonable objection to this - Śūra must have lived before 434 A.D., when the latter work is said to have been translated into Chinese. This conclusion is supported by the purity and elegance of the language, which necessarily point to a period of a high standard of literary taste and a flourishing state of letters. Prof. Kern was induced by this reason to place Śūra approximately in the century of Kālidāsa and Varāhamihira, but equally favourable circumstances may be supposed to have existed a couple of centuries earlier. I think, however, he is posterior to the author of the Buddhacarita. For other questions concerning·the Jātakamālā, which it would be too long to dwell upon here, I refer to Prof. Kern's preface and d'Oldenburg in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1893, pp. 306-309.

Tāranātha, the historian of Tibetan Buddhism, has preserved a legend which shows the high esteem in which the Jātakamālā stands with the followers of the Buddha's Law. “Pondering on the Bodhisattva's gift of his own body to the tigress, he [viz. Śūra] thought he could do the same, as it was not so very difficult. Once he, as in the tale, saw a tigress followed by her young, near starvation; at first he could not resolve on the self-sacrifice, but, calling forth a stronger faith in the Buddha, and writing with his own blood a prayer of seventy Ślokas, he first gave the tigeress his blood to drink, and, when their bodies had taken a little force, offered himself.” I quote the very words, with which Dr. Wenzel translates d'Oldenburg's quotation from the Russian. See Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, I. I. p. 307.12 In this legend I recognise the sediment, so to speak, of the stream of emotion caused by the stimulating eloquence of that gifted Mahāyānist preacher on the minds of his co-religionists. Anyone who could compose discourses such as these must have been capable of himself performing the extraordinary exploits of a Bodhisattva. In fact, something of the religious enthusiasm of those ancient apostles of the Mahāyāna who [xxvii] brought the Saddharma to China and Tibet pervades the work of Śūra, and it is not difficult to understand that in the memory of posterity he should have been represented as a saint who professed the ethics of his religion, non disputandi causa, as Cicero says of Cato, ut magna pars, sed ita vivendi.

It was no easy task to translate a work of so refined a composition, still less because there is no help to be had from any commentary. The Sanskrit text has none, and the Chinese commentary mentioned by Bunyiu Nanjio is not translated. Repeated and careful study of the original has led me to change a few passages of the translation I formerly published in the Bijdragen voor Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde van Ned. Indie, vols. viii and x of the fifth “Volgreeks.” Moreover, I have adapted this, which may almost be styled a second edition, to the wants and the arrangements of the “Sacred Books of the East.”

J. S. Speyer.
Groningen, April 16, 1895.