Religions of South Asia, Vol 12, No 1 (2018)

Contemplating the Buddha in the Jātakas

Eviatar Shulman
Issued Date: 13 Nov 2018


This study takes a fresh look at the ideology of (semi-)canonical Jātakas assembled in the Jātaka-aṭṭhakathā, arguing that they are rather un-interested in biography. Although this notion is normally at the centre of the study of Jātaka in modern scholarship, these texts are not driven by an historical approach and do not attempt to relate the Buddha’s path to enlightenment in linear, logical fashion. Rather, Jātakas are interested in what a Buddha actually is, in an inquiry into his very nature, and thus offer a contemplation of his unique form of being. Most specifically, they strive to depict Buddha’s omniscience, which is evident in the narrative framework of the genre, in which Jātakas appear as explanations provided by the Buddha for events in the present. Omniscience is also present as a motivation behind some of the Bodhisatta’s great acts; much of his action can be interpreted as an opening of his mind to its full omniscient potential. Jātakas focus on the conditioning between lives, which the Bodhisatta is often aware of, and which the Buddha observes through his unique knowledge, thereby offering an observation on the patterning of consciousness that develops over time. This includes the very nature of the awakened mind, whose omniscience is shaped by actions carried out in previous existences.

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DOI: 10.1558/rosa.37510


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