The Unveiling of Secrets The Golden Goose King
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The Jataka Tales

Parvardigar Press

Illustration - A Bodhisattva from Cave 1, Ajanta, fresco, 600-650 A.D.

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. Illustration - Elephant in a Lotus Pond, from Ajanta, Cave 1, 6th-7th cent. A.D.

In presenting this Jataka story as the first publication of Parvardigar Press, Judith Ernst reminds us of its placement as a sacred text, as part of the Buddhist canon… While simplicity is doubtless part of the charm of the Jatakas, when viewed as narratives told by the Buddha they also contain an aura of transcendence, the "taste of the dharma". One of the achievements of this version of The Golden Goose King is to transport us not merely into the timeless world of the tale, where the dream of the queen of Benares leads to an encounter with the luminous and spiritual bird; this version also takes us to the second-order reflection on the tale, as the primordial anticipation in a previous life of the self-sacrificing love of [the disciple,] Ananda for the Buddha…

Illustration - The Buddha Taming a Maddened Elephant, from the Stupa of Amaravati, late 2nd Century A.D., Government Museum, Madras

In presenting this story in an illustrated form, Judith Ernst has invoked a rich ancient pictorial tradition… In Buddhist art, the Jatakas have been lavished with special attention over the centuries, often carved in stone in the great Buddhist monuments of India and Southeast Asia. In choosing a pictorial style for the Jatakas, one cannot ignore the paintings of the Ajanta caves in western India. These exquisite portraits convey all the elegance and calm appreciation of physical beauty that emerged from the courts of ancient India as depicted for a major Buddhist center fifteen hundred years ago… It is in the spirit of the art of Ajanta, with more than a nod to the physical textures and styles represented there and at other Buddhist monuments such as Sanchi, that Judith Ernst has undertaken the meticulous and lucid miniature paintings that accompany the text…

—excerpted from the Foreword to The Golden Goose King
by Carl W. Ernst

©1995 Parvardigar Press. All rights reserved

The Unveiling of Secrets The Golden Goose King
Home Other Books Order