Jataka Commentary- fairy stories?

Thank you for the article. I am a Westerner by birth and education, but I take rebirth, karma and the deva realms seriously. That is because in my 20s I had an experience that gave me a rudimentary form of all Three Knowledges. Hence my interest in the Buddha’s actual past lives as found in the four major Nikayas (not the fairy stories of the Jataka Tales), both human and in the deva worlds. I can corroborate much of what the Buddha says from personal experience, but at the same time I have had a different trajectory over the eons as the Buddha. I am now in my 70s and have lived out of that knowledge for 45 years. If you are interested in hearing more please DM me.

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Welcome to the forum Mike.
The Jataka Commentary- where the stories of the Buddha’s past lives are recorded, are not fairy stories. They are part of orthodox Theravada.

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Okay, sorry, I do not wish to offend the Therevadin community. Perhaps I could put it another way: the past lives recorded in the four major Nikayas convey a message that I think is not so clear from the Jataka Commentary: that the Buddha, as either brahmin or gone-forth monarch, had repeatedly taught and practiced the brahma viharas, and so had been repeatedly been born in the brahma-world, and among those many times he became seven times the Great Brahma. However, such high births, he says, do not lead to ‘disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to superknowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana,’ (DN 19). If that point is made in the Jataka, I would be grateful for the reference. If not, we need some way of classing the Jataka as a lower teaching perhaps. I am in your hands here!

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Welcome to the group Mike. I am glad you liked my article.
However, your take on Buddhism appears at first glance to be out of line with the the causes and formations of the creation of this forum.
Do you generally feel this same way about the commentaries , vissudhimagga and the abhidhamma?

Please read the FAQ and decide whether you belong in this group of Orthodox Classical Theravada.

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Thank you for directing me to the FAQs. I would respond by saying that I follow no sect of Buddhism at all, least of all passionately, and I have no sectarian teachings I wish to spread. My interest is in the Buddha and his teachings. There are many suggestions in the Pali Canon that he had lower and higher teachings, and it is the higher teachings that I focus on. You would be right in picking up on my lesser interest in the commentaries, vissudhimagga and the abhidhamma. Does all this make me an unsuitable member of the forum?

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The jataka is also mentioned in the Anguttara Nikaya
> ** Numbered Discourses 4.191*

*** 20. The Great Chapter**

Followed by Ear

“Mendicants, you can expect four benefits when the teachings have been followed by ear, reinforced by recitation, examined by the mind, and well comprehended theoretically. What four?

Take a mendicant who memorizes the teaching—statements, mixed prose & verse, discussions, verses, inspired exclamations, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and classifications. They’ve followed those teachings by ear, reinforced them by recitation, examined them by the mind, and well comprehended them theoretically. But they die unmindful and are reborn in one of the orders of gods. Being happy there, passages of the teaching come back to them. Memory comes up slowly, but then that being quickly reaches distinction. This is the first benefit you can expect when the teachings have been followed by ear, reinforced by recitation, examined by the mind, and well comprehended theoretically.

Sotānugatasutta Variant: Sotānugatasutta → sotānudhanasuttaṁ (bj)
“Sotānugatānaṁ, bhikkhave, dhammānaṁ, vacasā paricitānaṁ, manasānupekkhitānaṁ, diṭṭhiyā suppaṭividdhānaṁ cattāro ānisaṁsā pāṭikaṅkhā. Variant: Sotānugatānaṁ → sotānudhanānaṁ (bj)Katame cattāro?

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu dhammaṁ pariyāpuṇāti— suttaṁ, geyyaṁ, veyyākaraṇaṁ, gāthaṁ, udānaṁ, itivuttakaṁ, jātakaṁ, abbhutadhammaṁ, vedallaṁ. Tassa te dhammā sotānugatā honti, vacasā paricitā, manasānupekkhitā, diṭṭhiyā suppaṭividdhā. So muṭṭhassati kālaṁ kurumāno aññataraṁ devanikāyaṁ upapajjati. Variant: muṭṭhassati → muṭṭhassatī (bj)Tassa tattha sukhino dhammapadā plavanti. Variant: plavanti → pilapanti (bj, sya-all, km, pts1ed)Dandho, bhikkhave, satuppādo; atha so satto khippaṁyeva visesagāmī hoti. Sotānugatānaṁ, bhikkhave, dhammānaṁ, vacasā paricitānaṁ, manasānupekkhitānaṁ, diṭṭhiyā suppaṭividdhānaṁ ayaṁ paṭhamo ānisaṁso pāṭikaṅkho.

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@RobertK , yes… this is a stock phrase. It is also in the famous Simile Of The Snake. However, it gets lost in “pe” (…)(tripledot) when it is spoken favorably. It is there though. I think that is where the misconception comes where it is mistakenly seen as “bad”.

Here is the quote from the sutta from Bhikkhu Bodhi (which has done a great disservice to the world for this, breeding commy haters.

“Here, bhikkhus, some misguided men learn the Dhamma—discourses, stanzas, expositions, verses, exclamations, sayings, birth stories, marvels, and answers to questions — but having learned the Dhamma, they do not examine the meaning of those teachings with wisdom. Not examining the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, they do not gain a reflective acceptance of them. Instead they learn the Dhamma only for the sake of criticising others and for winning in debates, and they do not experience the good for the sake of which they learned the Dhamma. Those teachings, being wrongly grasped by them, conduce to their harm and suffering for a long time. Why is that? Because of the wrong grasp of those teachings.

This is the good part where the triple dot does not show the stories… The above story is the reference.

“Here, bhikkhus, some clansmen learn the Dhamma—discourses…answers to questions—and having learned the Dhamma, they examine the meaning of those teachings with wisdom. Examining the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, they gain a reflective acceptance of them. They do not learn the Dhamma for the sake of criticising others and for winning in debates, and they experience the good for the sake of which they learned the Dhamma. Those teachings, being rightly grasped by them, conduce to their welfare and happiness for a long time. Why is that? Because of the right grasp of those teachings.

Here is an example where ehem… Ajahn Sujato has a superior translation because he does not remove the postive elements in place of triple dot.

Now, take a gentleman who memorizes the teaching—statements, mixed prose & verse, discussions, verses, inspired exclamations, legends, stories of past lives, amazing stories, and classifications. And once he’s memorized them, he examines their meaning with wisdom, and comes to a considered acceptance of them. This is the “follower of teachings” (dhammānusāri), who is mentioned near the end of the sutta.He doesn’t memorize the teaching for the sake of finding fault and winning debates. He realizes the goal for which he memorized them. Because they’re correctly grasped, those teachings lead to his lasting welfare and happiness. Why is that? Because of his correct grasp of the teachings.


Is it necessary that the student must born in god realm to remember teaching…
If supposed one born in lower realm dosent he will remember those teaching and can reduce his existence time there ???
What exactly with lower realm being that they are not able to follow dhamma… I think acording to sutta preta and other hell being also able to remember there recent last Life. So why they can’t correct there worng deed why they can’t protect them from evil in this life.

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Hello, sorry not to have replied to this (and Robert’s point) before. Yes, I have come across a number of suttas where the Buddha refers to birth stories (some 15 in the AN alone). But which birth stories? Also, for example in AN 5.73, the Buddha makes clear that a bikkhu that learns the ‘the discourses, mixed prose and verse, expositions, verses, inspired utterances, quotations, birth stories, amazing accounts, and questions-and-answers’, but does not meditate, is ‘not one who dwells in the Dhamma.’

I have now completed my essay on the Buddha’s ‘actual’ past lives:
KingBuddhasPastLives.pdf (166.1 KB)

I have been conscious of not wanting to use the term ‘fairy-story’ in the essay so have used ‘mythological’ instead. I hope the group find the essay of interest. I haven’t seen anyone list the nine ‘actual’ past lives I found (plus six without detail and another six by inference), or draw the conclusions that come from them: that the Buddha’s principal practice in his former lives was the brahma-viharas, and that the failure of that practice to lead to enlightenment may have been what drove him in his final life towards complete liberation.

I am happy to make changes to the essay on the basis of responses here.

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What is the difference between mythical and fairy story?

Try to consider the whole Theravada. Have you studied the Dhammapada commentary or the Vimanavatthu, for instance?

I think you accept that all of us here have been in samsara for more aeons than grains of sand. And so we have been at times Brahma gods, devas, kings, queens. And also every type of animal and hell being. And yet rarely have we come across the Dhamma.

I would encourage you to take very seriously the Commentaries and Tipitaka. They hold the understanding of the Sammasambuddha and the arahats.

Maybe start with the Cariyapitaka. Here is an easy to read introduction to it.

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Thank you for your reply. I am keen to continue the conversation with you and Subhuti without drawing inconsiderately on your time. What we have in common is faith and love for the Buddha and his teachings, but I think we are approaching them from different directions. I am keen to meet the Buddha’s mind first and only after the supreme effort to do that then consider his interpreters of the last 2,500 years. For example you have kindly suggested reading ‘The Perfections’ by Sujin Boriharnwanaket, as an introduction to the Cariyapitaka. This means reading a commentary on a commentary on the Buddha’s teachings which means approaching the Buddha’s mind through the minds of at least two other individuals. The question then arises: are these minds equal to that of the Buddha, or greater, or lesser? I think that even to ask the question is to have answered it.

As to past lives, I am intimately interested in this because of personal recollection. I would suggest to you that while we are all equally likely to have been at times Brahma gods, devas, kings, queens, animal and hell beings and so on, we all have quite unique trajectories through such lives. This shapes all of us, including the Buddha, in very different ways. Hence it is of significance to look at the Buddha’s ‘actual’ past lives.

Here, of course, we come back to the difficulty of separating the Buddha’s sober statements on this matter from mythology. And of course it is hard to find a word that then does cause dismay to some. If some parts of the Canon are mythology or mythologised, then who is to judge that?

Anyhow, your reply has been most helpful. As I now look at the Cariyapitaka I see the need to edit my essay to take it into account as partner to the Jataka.

So, I suppose my question to you is this: are you saying that a person like myself, despite a love of the Canon, is unsuited to your forum because he is unhesitant in declaring both the Jataka and Cariyapitaka as mythology, in contrast to the sober parts of the four major Nikayas?

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Well in this forum we take the Theravada to include the entire Tipitaka - including the Jataka and Cariyapitaka- as the word of the Buddha.
You seem to discount the Commentaries yet Buddhaghosa was the editor and compiler of ancient Commentaries handed down from the first council. These have been approved by the Sangha for millenia.

You write about " the ‘serious’ sections of the
Canon" in contrast to the rest of it. Yet even in these serious parts you detect suttas that are 'mythological" hence the “Digha Nikay also contains more
mythological elements than the other three, though no collection of suttas escapes
them completely.”

As I said earlier samsara is very long and so we have accumulated vastly different habits, views and tendencies- and this is exactly as it should be.
So it is no surprise that doubt and wrong view appear so often even among those attracted to elements of the Dhamma.

When I read articles purporting to distinguish the ‘true teachings’ from the made up bits my reaction is mostly compassion. I would like to help the writers. But can it be done?
View always comes associated with lobha and hence there is attachment to it. And this attachment grows as reflection on that view is repeated. There is cogitation and reflection and a growing conceit that “I have thought over this well” .

Having said that, there are also real reasons why you end up here and ask for our opinion. I believe that is due to beneficial tendencies. I wish you to stay and take up some of the recommendations for reading on offer. If you can learn the Abhidhamma then much wrong view will be discarded.
Here is a section from the The Inception of Discipline (Samantapāsādikā Bāhiranidāna), the Commentary to the Vinaya.

The five Nikayas 8 are, Dighanikaya, Majjhimanikaya,
Sarp.yuttanikaya, Anguttaranikaya, and Khuddakanikaya.
Here Khuddakanikaya means the rest of the sayings of the
Buddha excluding the four Nikayas. The venerable Elder
Upali explained the Vinaya therein 9 and the Elder Ananda
the remaining sections of the Khuddakanikaya and the four
r6. All this forms the word of the Buddha which should be
known as uniform in sentiment,1 twofold as the Dhamma and
the Vinaya, threefold according to the first, intermediate, and
last words, and similarly as Pitakas (Baskets), fivefold according
to the Nikayas (Collections), ninefold according to the Angas
(Factors), and forming 84,000 divisions according to the Units
of the Dhamma.
r7. How is it uniform in sentiment ? During the interval of
forty-five years from the time He realized the unique and
perfect Enlightenment until he passed away in the element of
Nibbana being free from clinging to the material substratum,
whatever the Exalted One has said either as instruction to
devas, men, nagas, yakkhas, and other beings or on reflection,
has but one sentiment and that is emancipation. Thus it is
uniform as regards sentiment.
r8. [17] How is it twofold as the Dhamma and the Vinaya?
All this, in its entirety, is reckoned as the Dhamma and the
Vinaya. Herein the Basket of the Discipline is the Vinaya,
the rest of the word of the Buddha is the Dhamma.1 Hence
was it stated 2 : " Let us, friends, rehearse the Dhamma and
the Vinaya," and " I shall question Upali on the Vinaya
and Ananda on the Dhamma." Thus it is twofold as the
Dhamma and the Vinaya.
rg. How is it threefold according to the first, intermediate,
and last words? All this, in its entirety, has the three divisions
as the first words of the Buddha, the intermediate words and
the last words. Herein, the stanzas 1 :
"For many births have I run my course in sarp.sara
First Great Convocation 15
seeking with no success the builder of the house ; painful
is birth again and again.
“Thou art seen O builder of the house, thou shalt not build
the house again. All thine beams are broken, the ridge-pole
shattered. The mind that is divested of all things material
has attained the destruction of all craving” :
form the first words of the Buddha. Some say that it was the
Stanza of Joy in the Khandhaka beginning with, 2 " When
indeed, phenomena manifest themselves " (which formed the
first words). It should be known that this is a Stanza of Joy
which arose in Him as he contemplated on the causal modes
with a happy frame of mind after the attainment of Omniscience
on the first day of the lunar fortnight. The statement that He
made on the eve of His passing away in perfect Nibbana, 3
“Now then monks, I address you, all component elements have
decay inherent in them, apply yourselves diligently,” forms
the last words of the Buddha. What has been said during the
interval between these two (statements) form the intermediate
words of the Buddha. Thus it is threefold according to the first,
intermediate, and last words.
20. [18] How is it threefold according to the Pitakas ? Indeed,
all this, in its entirety, has the three divisions as the Vinayapitaka,
the Suttantapitaka, and the Abhidhammapitaka.
Therein, having brought together all that has been both
rehearsed and not 1 at the First Convocation, both Patimokkha,
the two Vibhanga, the twenty-two Khandhaka, and the
sixteen Parivara, it is called the Vinayapitaka.
The collection of the thirty-four suttas beginning with
Brahmajala called the Dighanikaya, that of 152 suttas beginning
with Miilapariyaya called the Majjhimanikaya, that of
7,762 suttas beginning with Oghataral).asutta called the
Sarpyuttanikaya, that of 9,557 suttas beginning with the
Cittapariyadanasutta called the Anguttaranikaya, and the
Khuddakanikaya 2 consisting of the fifteen works: Khuddakapatha,
Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka, Suttanipata, Vimanavatthu,
Petavatthu, Thera- and Therigatha, Jataka, Niddesa,
Patisambhida, Apadana, Buddhava.q1sa, and Cariyapitaka, are
called the Suttantapitaka.
16 Inception of Discipline
Dhammasangal).i, Vibhanga, Dhatukatha, Puggalapaiiiiatb,
Kathavatthu, Yamaka, and Patthana constitute the Abhidhammapitaka.

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Sadhu for reading this… I don’t have the time these days. I hope that @Mike_King can learn from this group. We are not interested in any propgation of true-dhamma-sorters, telling us what is fake and real. This type of “scholarship” is best found at suttacentral and appreciated there.

I wonder why this suttacentral group does not satisfy you though? Are you familiar with the group? Do you still participate there?

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Many thanks to you both, Robert and Bhante Subhuti, for taking the time to respond. I hope you are both sympathetic to the idea that some come to the Dhamma via the Canon and not through tradition and its representatives. In the West there is something of a scepticism to the officials of religious tradition - owing to unfortunate incidents in its history - yet who come to various Scriptures with an open mind and heart and are elevated by them, inspired to meditation by them, and interested to engage in dharma talk. You will note that I wrote my essay with very much the Western-educated person in mind, but I hope you have also seen that nowhere do I claim to have any view as to what is the ‘true’ dhamma and what is in error. For example, nowhere in my essay do I suggest that the Jataka etc in any way contradicts the dhamma as expounded in the suttas.

However, there must be some way of distinguishing what is in the Jataka with its morally uplifting stories and what is in, for example the Majjhima Nikaya with its subtle and complex accounts, for example, of non-self in the five aggregates. No reader of these two texts can escape the strong impression of the difference. Now, what came to mind today is sutta DN 97 (Dhananjani Sutta) where the Buddha queries that Sariputta only taught the brhamin Dhananjani sufficient of the dhamma to gain the brahma world. In DN 143 (Anathapindikovada Sutta) Sariputta gives the householder Anathapindika a more advanced teaching than he had ever heard before, which makes him weep with joy. Ananda explains that such teachings are not given to householders, so Anathapindika pleads with him that there are clansmen with little dust in their eyes who could understand it and benefit from it.

So could this be a way forward, to distinguish between teachings as ‘lower’ and ‘higher’? And that the lower teachings (intended more for the lay follower) - the moral foundations as it were - are found in the Jataka and similar volumes, while the higher teachings that lead to final liberation are found in the Majjhima Nikaya and similar volumes? (The MN etc also include the moral teachings of course.) I would happily abandon ‘fairy tales’ and ‘mythology’ if we can speak about ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ teachings. Otherwise, how would you prefer to distinguish what we find in the two volumes?

On another point I find the debates at Dhamma Wheel (where Subhuti’s essay was discussed) not without merit. For sure they sometimes descend into what the Buddha calls ‘verbal daggers’ or bring in non-Buddhist ideas. However I have learned as much there as here, and would not wish to choose between them. Good dharma talk is rare, so a wide net is needed.

As to doubt and wrong view, as Robert speaks about, I have no doubt in the Buddha at all. I find him quite exceptional in the history of this planet. On ‘wrong view’ - well, this is the point for me about dharma talk, as the Buddha asked of his bikkhus. Good dharma talk today is where ‘wrong view’ is sifted out perhaps, not by remaining silent on difficult elements of the dharma, but by sharing one’s discoveries in the Canon.

It is easiest to call ourselves a separate religion from other Buddhist Groups. We are not the same religion as suttanta-only followers, or those who reject a good chunk of the CST.

The rules state how a Christian should not preach about the texts that do not agree with him. In the same way, a Suttanta follower should not disrespect the texts we follow here.

Culavagga is considered “old” Myanmar paragraph 311
It has a story on seniority with talking animals… pasted below
This link is from suttacentral SuttaCentral


“Once upon a time, monks, there was a great banyan tree on the slopes of the Himalayas. Reading himavantapasse with the PTS edition.“bhūtapubbaṁ, bhikkhave, himavantapadese mahānigrodho ahosi. Variant: himavantapadese → himavantapasse (bj, sya-all, pts1ed)Three friends lived near it:Taṁ tayo sahāyā upanissāya vihariṁsu—a partridge, a monkey, and an elephant.tittiro ca, makkaṭo ca, hatthināgo ca.They were disrespectful, undeferential, and rude toward one another.Te aññamaññaṁ agāravā appatissā asabhāgavuttikā viharanti.They thought,Atha kho, bhikkhave, tesaṁ sahāyānaṁ etadahosi—‘If we only knew which one of us was the oldest. We would honor, respect, and esteem him, and we would wait for his instructions.’‘aho nūna mayaṁ jāneyyāma yaṁ amhākaṁ jātiyā mahantataraṁ taṁ mayaṁ sakkareyyāma garuṁ kareyyāma māneyyāma pūjeyyāma, tassa ca mayaṁ ovāde tiṭṭheyyāmā’ti.

The partridge and the monkey then asked the elephant,Atha kho, bhikkhave, tittiro ca makkaṭo ca hatthināgaṁ pucchiṁsu—‘What’s your first memory?’‘tvaṁ, samma, kiṁ porāṇaṁ sarasī’ti?

‘When I was young, I stepped over this banyan tree, keeping it between my legs, and the top shoots touched my belly.‘Yadāhaṁ, sammā, poto homi, imaṁ nigrodhaṁ antarā satthīnaṁ karitvā atikkamāmi, aggaṅkurakaṁ me udaraṁ chupati. Variant: antarā satthīnaṁ → antarāsatthikaṁ (bj)That’s my first memory.’Imāhaṁ, sammā, porāṇaṁ sarāmī’ti.

The partridge and the elephant asked the monkey,Atha kho, bhikkhave, tittiro ca hatthināgo ca makkaṭaṁ pucchiṁsu—‘What’s your first memory?’‘tvaṁ, samma, kiṁ porāṇaṁ sarasī’ti?

‘When I was young, I sat on the ground and ate the top shoots of this banyan tree.‘Yadāhaṁ, sammā, chāpo homi, chamāyaṁ nisīditvā imassa nigrodhassa aggaṅkurakaṁ khādāmi.That’s my first memory.’Imāhaṁ, sammā, porāṇaṁ sarāmī’ti.

The monkey and the elephant asked the partridge,Atha kho, bhikkhave, makkaṭo ca hatthināgo ca tittiraṁ pucchiṁsu—‘What’s your first memory?’‘tvaṁ, samma, kiṁ porāṇaṁ sarasī’ti?

‘In such and such a spot there was a great banyan tree.‘Amukasmiṁ, sammā, okāse mahānigrodho ahosi.I ate one of its fruits and defecated here.Tato ahaṁ phalaṁ bhakkhitvā imasmiṁ okāse vaccaṁ akāsiṁ;This banyan tree has grown from that.tassāyaṁ nigrodho jāto.Well then, I must be the oldest one.’Tadāhaṁ, sammā, jātiyā mahantataro’ti.

The monkey and the elephant said to the partridge,Atha kho, bhikkhave, makkaṭo ca hatthināgo ca tittiraṁ etadavocuṁ—‘You’re the oldest.‘tvaṁ, samma, amhākaṁ jātiyā mahantataro.We will honor, respect, and esteem you, and we’ll wait for your instructions.’Taṁ mayaṁ sakkarissāma garuṁ karissāma mānessāma pūjessāma, tuyhañca mayaṁ ovāde patiṭṭhissāmā’ti.

The partridge had the monkey and the elephant take the five precepts, and he also undertook them himself.Atha kho, bhikkhave, tittiro makkaṭañca hatthināgañca pañcasu sīlesu samādapesi, attanā ca pañcasu sīlesu samādāya vattati.They were respectful, deferential, and courteous toward one another. And when they died, they were reborn in a happy, heavenly destination.Te aññamaññaṁ sagāravā sappatissā sabhāgavuttikā viharitvā kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā sugatiṁ saggaṁ lokaṁ upapajjiṁsu.In this way the spiritual life called tittiriya came to be. There seems to be a play on words here, in which tittiriya refers both to a partridge and to a class of brahmins.Evaṁ kho taṁ, bhikkhave, tittiriyaṁ nāma brahmacariyaṁ ahosi.

Those who respect the seniors,‘Ye vuḍḍhamapacāyanti,And who are learned in the Teaching,narā dhammassa kovidā;They are praised while still alive,Diṭṭhe dhamme ca pāsaṁsā,And then go to a good destination.samparāye ca suggatī’ti.

“Even those animals, monks, were respectful, deferential, and courteous toward one another.Te hi nāma, bhikkhave, tiracchānagatā pāṇā aññamaññaṁ sagāravā sappatissā sabhāgavuttikā viharissanti.Having gone forth on this well-proclaimed spiritual path, will you look good if you are disrespectful, undeferential, and rude toward one another? SP.3.248: Ettha tanti nipātamattaṁ, idha kho bhikkhave sobheyyāthāti attho, “Here taṁ is a mere indeclinable. The meaning is, ‘In this case, monks, would you shine?’”Idha kho taṁ, bhikkhave, sobhetha yaṁ tumhe evaṁ svākkhāte dhammavinaye pabbajitā samānā aññamaññaṁ agāravā appatissā asabhāgavuttikā vihareyyātha?This will affect people’s confidence …”Netaṁ, bhikkhave, appasannānaṁ vā pasādāya …p

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Let us consider more.
Here I quote from the book I recommended as an introduction to it.

We read in the “Khuddhaka Nikåya” in the Commentary to the “Basket
of Conduct”, the “Conduct of Yudañjaya”, about the beginning of the
development of paññå during the life the Bodhisatta was young
[ See Jåtaka no. 460.]

“In his life when the Bodhisatta was Yudañjaya, he was the eldest son of the
King and had the rank of the viceroy. He fulfilled every day mahå-dåna 1
, the
giving of an abundance of gifts. One day when he visited the royal park he
saw the dewdrops hanging like a string of pearls on the tree-tops, the grasstips, the end of the branches and on the spiders’ webs.
The prince enjoyed himself in the royal park and when the sun rose higher all
the dewdrops that were hanging there disintegrated and disappeared. He
reflected thus: ‘These dewdrops came into being and then disappeared.
> Evenso are conditioned realities, the lives of all beings; they are like the
> dewdrops hanging on the grass-tips.’ He felt a sense of urgency and became
disenchanted with worldly life, so that he took leave of his parents and
became a recluse.

Thus we see how Jataka has deep meaning to those who can understand. Do we see that right now life is exactly conditioned realities arising and passing?

now some more:

You ask:

So could this be a way forward, to distinguish between teachings as ‘lower’ and ‘higher’? And that the lower teachings (intended more for the lay follower) - the moral foundations as it were - are found in the Jataka and similar volumes, while the higher teachings that lead to final liberation are found in the Majjhima Nikaya and similar volumes? (The MN etc also include the moral teachings of course.) I would happily abandon ‘fairy tales’ and ‘mythology’ if we can speak about ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ teachings. Otherwise, how would you prefer to distinguish what we find in the two volumes?

from p.61 of the book.

The Buddha’s different methods of teaching Dhamma are in conformity
> with each other, there is no contradiction between them. For example,
the Buddha taught mindfulness of death, marana sati. Moreover, he
also taught that there are three kinds of death: momentary death
(khanika maraùa), conventional death (sammutti marana) and final
death (samuccheda marana) [final passing of arahat]
. Momentary death is death at each
moment, and this means that our life occurs during only one moment of
citta. One may say that life lasts long, that a person is very old, but in
reality, life is a series of cittas that arise and fall away in succession. If
we reduce the duration of life that seems to be very long into just one
extremely short moment of citta, we can understand that life occurs
during only one moment of seeing. At this moment of seeing, there is
just one moment of life that arises and sees; if there would not be
seeing there would be no life. Seeing has arisen and sees, and then it
dies, it lasts for an extremely short moment. At the moment we are
hearing, life occurs only during one short moment of hearing and then
there is death.


Before we studied the Dhamma we had no understanding of the
realities appearing through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the
bodysense and the mind-door. We had a great deal of ignorance. By
listening to the Dhamma we can come to know that realities appear
each with their own characteristic and that we should study these
realities. We should not merely study them in theory, or merely listen to
the explanation about them without carefully considering their true
nature. We should remember that at this very moment realities are
appearing and that the true characteristics of those dhammas which
arise and fall away should be penetrated

You write that:

I am keen to meet the Buddha’s mind first and only after the supreme effort to do that then consider his interpreters of the last 2,500 years. For example you have kindly suggested reading ‘The Perfections’ by Sujin Boriharnwanaket, as an introduction to the Cariyapitaka. This means reading a commentary on a commentary on the Buddha’s teachings which means approaching the Buddha’s mind through the minds of at least two other individuals. The question then arises: are these minds equal to that of the Buddha, or greater, or lesser? I think that even to ask the question is to have answered it.

and yet you write an essay yourself on Dhamma. Perhaps you see no disconnect, or do you assume your readers don’t want to “meet the Buddha’s mind”?

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Dear Mike,
So the literal meaning of the Abhidhamma is higher teaching. It truly is steeped in the flavour of anatta.
Yet do not discount the Jataka or Cariya pitaka. These show how wisdom and the other parami are gradually developed over countless lives to culminate in full awakening.
Even we simple folk can - at times - be considered as savaka Bodhisatta. The ones who will become the disciples of the blessed one.
And how is that accomplished - only by gradual and repeated insight into the dhammas of this moment.
As it says in the Cariya Pitaka commentary (see Bodhi translation p. 250 The all embracing net of views)

(4) Wisdom has the characteristic of penetrating the real specific nature (of dhammas), or the characteristic of sure penetration, like the penetration of an arrow shot by a skillful archer; its function is to illuminate the objective field, like a lamp; its manifestation is non­ confusion, like a guide in a forest; concentration, or the four (noble) truths, is its proximate cause…[…]


Through the power of wisdom, again, they are devoted to the investigation of the aggregates, sense bases, etc., fully comprehend the processes of origination and cessation in accordance with actuality, develop the qualities of giving, etc., to the stages of distinction and penetration, and perfect the training of bodhisattas. Thus the perfection of wisdom should be reinforced by determining the noble qualities of wisdom with their numerous modes and constituents.

p.293 Then be should develop wisdom born of reflection (cintamaya panna) by first reflecting upon the specific nature of the dhammas
such as the aggregates, and then arousing reflective acquiescence in them. Next, he should perfect the preliminary portion of the wisdom born of meditation by developing the mundane kinds of full understanding through the discernment of the specific and general characteristics of the aggregates, etc.- To do so, he should fully understand all internal and external dhammas without exception as follows: “This is mere mentality-materiality (namarupamatta0 , which arises and ceases according to conditions. There is here no agent or actor. It is ‘impermanent’ in the sense of not being after having been; ‘suffering” in the sense of oppression by rise and fall; and non-self* in the sense of being insusceptible to the exercise of mastery.

Thus when we read the Jataka we should know that when it refers to animals - say- in the deepest sense there are only nama and rupa. Like now, mere elements.
Sela sutta:

This puppet is not made by itself,
Nor is this misery made by another.
It has come to be dependent on a cause,
When the cause dissolves then it will cease.

As when a seed is sown in a field
It grows depending on a pair of factors:
It requires both the soil’s nutrients
And a steady supply of moisture.

Just so the aggregates and elements,
And these six bases of sensory contact,
Have come to be dependent on a cause;
When the cause dissolves they will cease

So it is encouraging that you mention non-self in the five aggregates. These are indeed the core of the teachings. Seeing into this is the way to untangle the tangle.

Now we are human - yet life as a human is so very brief, a hundred years or less- and soon this life will end. And next birth will be where - that is unknown.
Yet wherever and in whatever plane there are only elements arising and ceasing instantly.
While reading jataka we can see that even as an animal the Bodhisatta was intent on development.


Thank you for your excellent posts Robert. I think it unfortunate to try to shoehorn Dhamma into a modern “scientific” box. Stories and mythology (not in the negative sense of “fairy tales”) are a key form of communication of ideas in many cultures.

One perspective such stories is given by Bhikkhu Sujato in this series of talks: Ajahn Sujato - Buddhist Mythology: The Sacred and the Profane - AV - Discuss & Discover You may well not agree with some of his analysis, but he certainly argues for a much more sympathetic reading of the stories of the Canon than most modern teachers.



Great to see you posting again Mike!
I might not listen to Sujato’s talks but I am glad to hear he has a sympathetic view on this.

Just a point on mythology in Jatakas.
When we see that what is a being is actually only conditioned nama and rupa, then when we read stories of animals with rather “human” motives and actions it doesnt seem strange to me. So I accept them at face value.

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Here is one of the Jataka stories I listened to today.
No. 388.

Something strange to-day," etc. The Master told this tale while dwelling in Jetavana, concerning a brother who feared death. He was born in Sāvatthi of good family and was ordained in the Faith: but he feared death and when he heard even a little moving of a bough, or falling of a stick or voice of bird or beast or any such thing, he was frightened by the fear of death, and went away shaking like a hare wounded in the belly. The Brethren in the Hall of Truth began to discuss, saying, “Sirs, they say a certain Brother, fearing death, runs away shaking when he hears even a little sound: now to beings in this world death is certain, life uncertain, and should not this be wisely borne in mind?” The Master found that this was their subject and that the Brother allowed he was afraid of death: so he said, “Brethren, he is not afraid of death for the first time,” and so he told an old tale.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was king in Benares, the Bodhisatta was conceived by a wild sow: in due time she brought forth two male young. One day she took them and lay down in a pit. An old woman of a village at the gate of Benares was coming home with a basket-full of cotton from the cotton field [287] and tapping the ground with her stick. The sow heard the sound, and in fear of death left her young and ran away. The old woman saw the young pigs, and feeling towards them as to children of her own she put them in the basket and took them home: then she called the elder Mahātuṇḍila (Big-snout), the younger Cullatuṇḍila (Little-snout), and reared them like children. In time they grew up and became fat. When the old woman was asked to sell them for money, she answered, “They are my children,” and would not sell them. On a certain feast-day some lewd fellows were drinking strong drink, and when their meat was done they considered where they could get meat: finding out that there were pigs in the old woman’s house, they took money and going there, said, “Mother, take this money and give us one of those pigs.” She said, “Enough, young men: are there people who would give their children to buyers to eat their flesh?” and so refused them. The fellows said, “Mother, pigs cannot be children of men, give them to us”: but they could not get this though they asked again and again. Then they made the old woman drink strong drink, and when she was drunk, saying, “Mother, what will you do with the pigs? take the money and spend it,” they put pieces of money in her hand. She took the pieces saying, “I cannot give you Mahātuṇḍila, take Cullatuṇḍila.” “Where is he?” “There he is in that bush.” “Call him.” “I don’t see any food for him.” The fellows sent for a vessel of rice at a price. The old woman took it, and filling the pig’s trough which stood at the door she waited by it. Thirty fellows stood by with nooses in their hands. The old woman called him, “Come, little Cullatuṇḍila, come.” [288] Mahātuṇḍila, hearing this, thought, “All this time mother has never given the call to Cullatuṇḍila, she always calls me first; certainly some danger must have arisen for us to-day.” He told his younger brother, saying, “Brother, mother is calling you, go and find out.” He went out, and seeing them standing by the food-trough he thought, “Death is come upon me to-day,”

and so in fear of death he turned back shaking to his brother; and when he came back he could not contain himself but reeled about shaking. Mahātuṇḍila seeing him said, “Brother, you are shaking to-day and reeling and watching the entrance: why are you doing so?” He, explaining the thing that he had seen, spoke the first stanza:—

Something strange to-day I fear:
The trough is full, and mistress by;
Men, noose in hand, are standing near:
To eat appears a jeopardy.

Then the Bodhisatta hearing him said, “Brother Cullatuṇḍila, the purpose for which my mother rears pigs all this time [289] has to-day come to its fulfilment: do not grieve,” and so with sweet voice and the ease of a Buddha he expounded the law and spoke two stanzas:—

You fear, and look for aid, and quake,
But, helpless, whither can you flee?
We’re fattened for our flesh’s sake:
Eat, Tuṇḍila, and cheerfully.

Plunge bold into the crystal pool,
Wash all the stains of sweat away:
You’ll find our ointment wonderful,
Whose fragrance never can decay.

As he considered the Ten Perfections, setting the Perfection of Love before him as his guide, and uttered the first line, his voice reached and extended to Benares over the whole twelve leagues. At the instant of hearing it, the people of Benares from kings and viceroys downwards came, and those who did not come stood listening in their houses. The king’s men breaking down the bush levelled the ground and scattered sand. The drunkenness left the lewd fellows, and throwing away the nooses they stood listening to the law: and the old woman’s drunkenness left her also. The Bodhisatta began to preach the law to Cullatuṇḍila among the multitude.

[290] Cullatuṇḍila hearing him, thought, “My brother says so to me: but it is never our custom to plunge into the pool, and by bathing to wash away sweat from our bodies and after taking away old stain to get new ointment: why does my brother say so to me?” So he spoke the fourth stanza:—

But what is that fair crystal pool,
And what the stains of sweat, I pray?
And what the ointment wonderful,
Whose fragrance never can decay?

The Bodhisatta hearing this said, “Then listen with attentive ear,” and so expounding the law with the ease of a Buddha he spoke these stanzas:—

The law is the fair crystal pool,
Sin is the stain of sweat, they say:
Virtue’s the ointment wonderful,
Whose fragrance never will decay.

Men that lose their life are glad,
Men that keep it feel annoy:
Men should die and not be sad,
As at mid-month’s festal joy.

[293] After the lesson, the Master declared the Truths and identified the Birth:—at the end of the Truths the Brother who feared death was established in the fruition of the first Path:—“In those days the king was Ānanda, Cullatuṇḍila was the Brother who fears death, the multitude was the Congregation, Mahātuṇḍila myself.”

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