What the Bodhisatta was Born as in the Jataka Tales

mural painting of a gold-trimmed elephant and a man taking one of his tusks

This list records the main past-life incarnations of the Buddha as recounted in each of the 547 Jataka tales. Any list of this sort will be inexact because it is not just a simple tabulation: a lot of judgment is required.1Many Jataka tales contain more than one lifetime, and some particular past lives are recounted in multiple Jataka tales; however it is often not clear whether apparent duplicates are actually the same life told more than once or if they are different lives that just happen to have had the same circumstances. So this total required making many assumptions and is simply my best estimate: the actual number of lives in the Jataka tales is unknowable.

Past-Life Duplicates
The following stories take place during the same past life.
-#8 and #462
-#28 and #88
-#30 and #286
-#42, #274, #275, #375, and #395
-#46 and #268
-#52 and #539
-#57 and #224
-#68 and #237
-#82, #104, #369, and #439
-#86, #290 and #330
-#90 and #363
-#96 and #132
-#99 and #101
-#102 and #217
-#110, #111, #112, #170, #192, #350, #364, #452, #471, #500, #508, #517, and #546
-#147 and #297
-#173 and #250
-#249 and #365
-#263 and #507
-#264 and #489
-#282, #303, #351, and #355
-#283 and #492
-#328 and #443
-#346 and #405
-#367 and #368
-#371 and #428
-#429 and #430
-#441 and #545
-#470 and #535
-#502 and #534

Multiple Lives
The following stories contain more than one past life. I did not count instances where the only mention is saying that the Bodhisatta was reborn in heaven; the story needed to tell something, however small, about his time there.
-#31 contains 2 lives
-#68 contains 3,000 lives
-#134 contains 2 lives
-#135 contains 2 lives
-#136 contains 2 lives
-#159 contains 2 lives
-#291 contains 2 lives
-#415 contains 2 lives
-#421 contains 2 lives
-#449 contains 2 lives
-#450 contains 2 lives
-#458 contains 2 lives
-#468 contains 2 lives (It is unclear how many lives are discussed. When the king talks about his bad behavior in the past, he is likely discussing a single life, but these events could have happened over several lifetimes.)
-#498 contains 4 lives
-#506 contains 2 lives
-#524 contains 2 lives
-#531 contains 2 lives
-#535 contains 2 lives
-#536 contains 6 lives (Nine lives in total, but three are also told as their own Jataka tales.)
-#538 contains 4 lives
-#541 contains 2 lives (Three lives in total, but one is also told as its own Jataka.)
-#547 contains 2 lives
In about half of the stories the Bodhisatta is more than one thing in a lifetime, such as a prince rising to become king, a wealthy brahmin giving away all he owns to live as an ascetic, or a chaplain who is crowned king and then abdicates the throne to become an ascetic. And sometimes he has multiple identities simultaneously. In one story the Bodhisatta is born as Indra, king of the gods, but takes the form of a parrot to visit earth; in another he is both a student and an untouchable. In these situations, I always chose the character most crucial to the plot.

The Main Embodiment in Each of the 547 Jataka Tales

Ascetic – 92 lifetimes
King – 58
King’s Advisor – 46
Tree Fairy – 31
Merchant – 27
Indra – 24
Prince – 23
Teacher – 19
Chaplain – 15
Man (unspecified) – 13
Monkey – 12
Lion – 10
Treasurer – 10
Deer – 9
Goose – 9
Parrot – 9
Elephant – 7
Bird (unspecified) – 6
Pigeon – 6
Student – 6
Boy – 5
Farmer – 5
Ox – 5
Quail – 5
Untouchable – 5
God in Heaven – 4
Vulture – 4

Chaplain’s Son – 3
Crow – 3
Fish – 3
Horse – 3
Lizard – 3
Musician – 3
Naga – 3
Peacock – 3
Rich Man – 3
Spirit of the Sea – 3
Acrobat – 2
Antelope – 2
Fire God Worshipper – 2
Garuda – 2
Jackal – 2
Judge – 2
Mahout – 2
Mallard – 2
Partridge – 2
Poor Man – 2
Potter – 2
Rat – 2
Spirit of the Air – 2
Thief – 2
Woodpecker – 2
Appraiser – 1
Archer – 1

Barber – 1
Blacksmith – 1
Buffalo – 1
Carpenter – 1
Cuckoo – 1
Dog – 1
Flying Horse – 1
Forester – 1
Frog – 1
Gambler – 1
Grass Fairy – 1
Hare – 1
Kinnara – 1
Naked Ascetic – 1
Sailor – 1
Snakebite Doctor – 1
Stone Cutter – 1
Traveling Salesman – 1
Wild Boar – 1
Wild Chicken – 1

Human – 359 (66%)
Animal – 117 (21%)
Deity – 71 (13%)

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