BuddhismFolktales

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

These are all the past-life incarnations of the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) as recounted in the Jataka tales. The first of the two lists simply records his main character in each of the 547 stories while the second tallies all the individual lifetimes found in the Jataka tales taking duplicates, multiple lifetimes, and passing mentions into account.

Any list of this sort will be inexact because it’s not just a simple tabulation: a lot of judgement is required. 1 In about half of the stories the Bodhisatta is more than one thing, such as a royal advisor rising to become king, or a king abdicating the throne to live out his final years as an ascetic, or a chaplain who becomes king and then becomes an ascetic. And sometimes he has multiple identities simultaneously. In one story he’s born as Indra, king of the gods, but takes the form of a parrot to visit earth; in another he’s both a student and an untouchable. For these lists, 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
Snake-bite Doctor – 1
Stone Cutter – 1
Traveling Salesman – 1
Wild Boar – 1
Wild Chicken – 1

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

The Main Embodiment for All Lives Revealed in the Jataka Tales

Man (unspecified) – 3014
Ascetic – 88
King – 57
King’s Advisor – 32
Tree Fairy – 29
Merchant – 26
Prince – 21
Indra – 20
Teacher – 19
Chaplain – 14
Monkey – 11
Treasurer – 11
Deer – 10
Lion – 10
Goose – 8
Parrot – 8
Elephant – 7
Bird (unspecified) – 6
God in Heaven – 6
Student – 6
Farmer – 5
Poor Man – 5
Quail – 5
Untouchable – 5
Boy – 4
Naga – 4

Vulture – 4
Chaplain’s Son – 3
Crow – 3
Fish – 3
Garuda – 3
Horse – 3
Lizard – 3
Musician – 3
Ox – 3
Peacock – 3
Rich Man – 3
Spirit of the Sea – 3
Acrobat – 2
Antelope – 2
Fire God Worshipper – 2
Jackal – 2
Judge – 2
Mahout – 2
Mallard – 2
Partridge – 2
Pigeon – 2
Potter – 2
Rat – 2
Thief – 2
Woodpecker – 2
Appraiser – 1

Archer – 1
Army Commander-in-Chief – 1
Barber – 1
Blacksmith – 1
Buffalo – 1
Carpenter – 1
Cuckoo – 1
Dog – 1
Flying Horse – 1
Frog – 1
Forester – 1
Gambler – 1
Goldsmith – 1
Grass Fairy – 1
Hare – 1
Kinnara – 1
Naked Ascetic – 1
Osprey – 1
Sailor – 1
Snake-bite Doctor – 1
Spirit of the Air – 1
Stone Cutter – 1
Travelling Salesman – 1
Wild Boar – 1
Wild Chicken – 1

Share this page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *