Buddhist Studies Review, Vol 29, No 1 (2012)

The Multi-life Stories of Gautama Buddha and Vardhamana Mahavira

Naomi Appleton
Issued Date: 13 Jul 2012

Abstract


Like Buddhist traditions, Jain traditions preserve many stories about people’s past lives. Unlike Buddhist traditions, relatively few of these stories narrate the past lives of the tradition’s central figure, the jina. In Jainism there is no equivalent path to the bodhisatt(v)a path; the karma that guarantees jinahood is bound a mere two births before that attainment, and the person who attracts that karma cannot do so willfully, nor is he aware of it being bound. There is therefore no Jain equivalent to the ubiquitous jātaka literature. In this paper I will explore what the absence of a jātaka genre in Jain traditions tells us about the genre’s role in Buddhism. Focusing upon the multi-life stories of Gautama Buddha and Vardhamāna Mahāvīra, I will ask how these two strikingly similar narratives betray some fundamental differences between Buddhist and Jain understandings of the ultimate religious goal and the method of its attainment.

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DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v29i1.5

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