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.1 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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