Day: September 14, 2020

The Guidance of the Jātaka

Hello! Welcome to my blog! I am happy that you are here on the journey to learn a little bit more about other religions and, most importantly, The Jātaka. On a personal note, I love the teachings of these stories that I will talk about later and they always reminded me about one of my favorite shows, Avatar the Last Airbender so I hope you enjoy my references as much as I do.

As mentioned by the Norton Anthology, “The Jātaka, a set of 547 tales, is one of the books in the canon of Buddhist scripture” (1294). It was composed of three parts, which all focused on different parts of life and the meaning behind things. It is also said to be, “a record of the Buddha’s actions in the world in his previous lives” (1295).

What does that even mean?

This description means that the Jātakas is used as a spiritual text for the Buddhist community. These stories are set out on helping people become better versions of themselves.

Why does this matter?

Well, there is a lot of reasons that the Jātaka matters not only as a set of stories. The Jātaka is a guide for people who may feel lost in their lives and need a bit of guidance. Let us also not forget that it is being used as a religious text and that should be enough to justify it as an important text just like any other religion.

 

Personally, the most intriguing reason to me for the Jātaka is the way it serves to teach people on having an open mind. For example, The Hare’s Self Sacrifice is a story about a hare giving up their own body in order to serve someone above them. They decided that they may not be able to provide any worldly possession, so they offered up their own body. By having an open mind, the Hare was able to be appreciated by its god and it learned a lesson in what it means to fast and to serve other people. As for destiny, like mentioned by Iroh from Avatar the Last Airbender, the Jātaka teaches that one can find their own path by simply keeping an open heart to the world around them. For this reason, these texts are absolutely critical to how we as humans function. Despite not being part of the Buddhist faith, anyone can see that these stories tell the truth of the world through ways that are made easy for us to understand.

Still not convinced on why these texts matter? Well, consider the notion that these texts also serve as historical markers. As mentioned by Pranee Wongthet from Silpakorn Unversity on oral traditions, “the data or cultural accounts transmitted through the oral traditions as historical or cultural facts,” which means that these texts may provide us with insight on Asian cultures in a way we never truly understood (21).

What significance do the stories have?

Despite being such a simple question to ask, this question cannot be answered in quick and fun blog post. The stories have multiple meanings and they can be read in many ways that teach lessons and morals. As mentioned before, the stories significance are based on their meaning and morals taught. The story of The Golden Goose is an excellent lesson of the way that money can corrupt a person and change them for the worse. The story tells of a man that died and returned as a golden goose and decided that he had to return to his family in order to provide his feathers as a source of income. The wife became greedy and ended up scaring the goose away after wanting to pluck away all his feathers.

The Jātaka may seem like a spite to those who become greedy, which is definitely true, but it is also a message to those who help. Just like Iroh allows us to know, the best way to become a better person is to help others. For that reason, the Jātaka is significant to the way a society may prosper.

What else is the Jātaka used for?  

Maybe religious guidance is not your cup of tea and you are still not convinced over why this text is absolutely worth everyone’s time. Well, do not consider it a religious text then. I suggest taking these stories and do as the past did and enjoy the entertainment of them. The stories may be filled with loads of wisdom and knowledge, but it also filled with an array of interesting tales. The Monkey’s Heroic Self-Sacrifice is not only an amazing tale of giving up one’s life for the greater good but also a completely epic story of a heroic figure. These stories were read just in that same light as people would watch movies today. People were enthralled of the tales of the unknown and how they could learn from the presentations that were given, which as mentioned by Wongthet, “The chanting of stories as a part of the cremation ceremony became a form of entertainment for all villagers” (26). So instead of telling yourself that they are just a bunch of stories, remember that these stories are packed with adventure and emotions that made people of all ages come out and listen to them.

Who cared for these texts?

If you are not convinced by now, the last concept of these stories is those who were worthy to tell them. In order to chant these tales, you either had to be a monk or have a voice that kept people awake. These were not just some fairy tales that were read to kids before bed. They were tales to help mothers after they gave births and stories that shaped the world (Wongthet 26). Imagine the honor that one had to possess to be able to tell these stories of wonder and excitement. They were trusted with telling people about the journey of enlightenment and how they could achieve it!

Works Cited

Text:

  • Wongthet, Pranee. ”The Jataka Stories and Laopuan Worldview”. Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 48, no. 1, 1989,. JSTOR, jstor.org/stable/1178532. Accessed 4 Sept. 2020.
  • The Northon Anthology of World Literature,4th edition, vol. A. W. Norton & Company, 2020. pp. 1294-1303

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