The Untapped Potential of the Jātakas
Early Buddhism made accessible
Whereas Western intellectuals seek the essence of Buddhism in its doctrines and meditation practices, the traditional Buddhists of Asia absorb the ideas and values of their spiritual heritage through its rich narrative literature about the Buddha and his disciples. The most popular collection of Buddhist stories is, without doubt, the Jātakas. These are the stories of the Buddha’s past births, relating his experiences as he passed from life to life on the way to becoming a Buddha.
— Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Jataka tales have somehow garnered an undeserved reputation in English-speaking countries as fairy tales unfit for adults. I have been reading the 1895 translation of these texts by E. B. Cowell to see for myself if they have value. Frankly, after trudging through countless discourses in the Sutta Pitaka on the countless pitfalls of worldly desire, at this point in my practice as a lay follower, I have found these stories to be a much needed breath of fresh air. They are vibrant, full of life, and welcoming. Young and old householders alike could be more receptive to a wider scope of the teachings if they were transmitted — as they traditionally have been — via sermons punctuated by a Jataka tale. These texts deserve far more consideration.