The Dasaratha Jataka Background

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Background of Jatakas
by E. B. Cowell [1895]
 
Introduction
Jātaka legends occur even in the Canonical Piṭakas; thus the Sukha-vihāri Jātaka and the Tittira Jātaka, which are respectively the 10th and the 37th in this volume, are found in the Culla Vagga, vii. 1 and vi. 6, and similarly the Khandhavatta Jātaka, which will be given in the next volume, is found in the Culla Vagga v. 6; and there are several other examples. So too one of the minor books of the Sutta Piṭaka (the Cariyā Piṭaka) consists of 35 Jātakas told in verse; and ten at least

p. viii

of these can be identified in the volumes of our present collection already published; and probably several of the others will be traced when it is all printed. The Sutta and Vinaya Piṭakas are generally accepted as at least older than the Council of Vesāli (380 B.C.?); and thus Jātaka legends must have been always recognised in Buddhist literature.

This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that Jātaka scenes are found sculptured in the carvings on the railings round the relic shrines of Sanchi and Amaravati and especially those of Bharhut, where the titles of several Jātakas are clearly inscribed over some of the carvings. These bas-reliefs prove that the birth-legends were widely known in the third century B.C. and were then considered as part of the sacred history of the religion. Fah-hian, when he visited Ceylon, (400 AḌ.), saw at Abhayagiri "representations of the 500 bodily forms which the Bodhisatta assumed during his successive births 1," and he particularly mentions his births as Sou-to-nou, a bright flash of light, the king of the elephants, and an antelope 2. These legends were also continually introduced into the religious discourses 3 which were delivered by the various teachers in the course of their wanderings, whether to magnify the glory of the Buddha or to illustrate Buddhist doctrines and precepts by appropriate examples, somewhat in the same way as mediŠval preachers in Europe used to enliven their sermons by introducing fables and popular tales to rouse the flagging attention of their hearers 4.

Each story opens with a preface called the paccuppannavatthu or 'story of the present', which relates the particular circumstances in the Buddha's life which led him to tell the birth-story and thus reveal some event in the long series of his previous existences as a bodhisatta or a being destined to attain Buddha-ship. At the end there is always given a short summary, where the Buddha identifies the different actors in the story in their present births at the time of his discourse,--it being an essential condition of the book that the Buddha possesses the same power as that which Pythagoras claimed but with a far more extensive range, since he could remember all the past events in every being's previous existences as well as in his own. Every story is also illustrated by one or more gāthās which are uttered by the Buddha while still a Bodhisatta and so playing his part in the narrative; but sometimes the verses are put into his mouth as the Buddha, when they are called abhisambuddha-gāthā.

p. x

Some of these stanzas are found in the canonical book called the Dhammapada; and many of the Jātaka stories are given in the old Commentary on that book but with varying details, and sometimes associated with verses which are not given in our present Jātaka text. This might seem to imply that there is not necessarily a strict connexion between any particular story and the verses which may be quoted as its moral; but in most cases an apposite stanza would of course soon assert a prescriptive right to any narrative which it seemed specially to illustrate. The language of the gāthās is much more archaic than that of the stories; and it certainly seems more probable to suppose that they are the older kernel of the work, and that thus in its original form the Jātaka, like the Cariyā-piṭaka, consisted only of these verses. It is quite true that they are generally unintelligible without the story, but such is continually the case with proverbial sayings; the traditional commentary passes by word of mouth in a varying form along with the adage, as in the well-known οὐ φροντὶς Ἱπποκλείδῃ or our own 'Hobson's choice', until some author writes it down in a crystallised form 1. Occasionally the same birth-story is repeated elsewhere in a somewhat varied form and with different verses attached to it; and we sometimes find the phrase iti vitthāretabbam 2, which seems to imply that the narrator is to amplify the details at his discretion.

The native tradition in Ceylon is that the original Jātaka Book consisted of the gāthās alone, and that a commentary on these, containing the stories which they were intended to illustrate, was written in very early times in Singhalese. This was translated into Pāli about 430 AḌ. by Buddhaghosa, who translated so many of the early Singhalese commentaries into Pāli; and after this the Singhalese original was lost, The accuracy of this tradition has been discussed by Professor Rhys Davids in the Introduction to the first volume of his 'Buddhist Birth Stories' 3; and we may safely adopt his conclusion, that if the prose commentary was not composed by Buddhaghosa, it was composed not long afterwards; and as in any case it was merely a redaction of materials

p. xi

handed down from very early times in the Buddhist community, it is not a question of much importance except for Pāli literary history. The gāthās are undoubtedly old, and they necessarily imply the previous existence of the stories, though not perhaps in the exact words in which we now possess them.

The Jātakas are preceded in the Pāli text by a long Introduction, the Nidāna-kathā, which gives the Buddha's previous history both before his last birth, and also during his last existence until he attained the state of a Buddha 1. This has been translated by Professor Rhys Davids, but as it has no direct connexion with the rest of the work, we have omitted it in our translation, which commences with the first Birth-story.

We have translated the quasi historical introductions which always precede the different birth-stories, as they are an essential part of the plan of the original work,--since they link each tale with some special incident in the Buddha's life, which tradition venerates as the occasion when he is supposed to have recalled the forgotten scene of a long past existence to his contemporaries. But it is an interesting question for future investigation how far they contain any historical data. They appear at first sight to harmonise with the framework of the Piṭakas;

 
The Dasharatha Jataka: Introduction
 
The Dasharatha Jataka is different in many ways from the Valmiki Ramayana.  We must remember too that there are a great many Ramayanas and many Ramayanas are considered lost (Hanuman's Ramayana being an example).  Of course we must also remember that this is a Jataka story or birth story, a wholly different genre of spiritual literature only present in Buddhist teachings.
 
Even then, there is a big difference in the stories.  Rama, Laxman and Sita are in brothers and sister, born from the same mother and father.  Dashratha is the King of Varanasi, one of the holiest seats of Shiva and not Ayodhya.   Bharata is the step brother born to another chief queen after the former chief queen (mother of Rama, Lakkhan and Sita) dies.
 
Now in much of Sanskrit literature (as one can see from the above posted images), Rama and Hanuman are both considered aspects of Shiva, and Varanasi is considered to be his kingdom.  So from an Indian perspective and spiritual perspective, it makes more sense for Dasharatha and later Rama to be Kings of Varanasi.
 
In the Valmiki Ramayana, Sita is an adopted daughter of King Janaka who finds her abandoned in the earth.  Valmiki's Ramayana literally becomes mysoginistic tale.. She get's married to Rama, accuses Laxman of trying to get rid of Rama to marry her, doesn't follow directions and is kidnapped by Ravana and is accused of being impure and is eventually abandoned by Rama in the forest while she is pregnant because of mere rumors of a launderer who questions her purity.  She eventually returns to the earth being fully abandoned by Rama.
 
A Genesis Story?
 
In the Buddhist Jataka, Sita is the daughter of none other than Dasharatha himself.  She goes to the Himalayas with both her brothers due to Dasharatha's fear of their step mother trying to kill his children to install Bharata in a palace intrigue.  She is kept perfectly safe, she is never kidnapped or accused of being impure -- the only troublesome catch in the story -- she is eventually married to Rama.upon his return to the palace. 
 
Before we make any commentaries on this story it is important to note that these are a part of spiritual mythography, where a literal meaning is generally not given.
 
CLEAN YOUR FILTHY MIND!  NO IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK!
 
We must always read the Jataka stories in context of Buddha's teachings.  Rama, i.e. the Bodhisata, states,"all comprehending wisdom like mine is not theirs." -- all comprehending wisdom!  So if you think there is something dirty in this story...to the laundry your mind goes.
 
Indeed, when we read the Aganna Sutta on the beginning of sexual relationships due to degeneration, or the story of Kashyap, we also begin to understand the ideals of virtue, as taught in Buddhism in marriage.
So Bhadda was taken to Magadha and the young couple were married. However, in accordance with their ascetic yearning, both agreed to maintain a life of celibacy. To give expression to their resolve, they would lay a garland of flowers between them before they went to bed, determined not to yield to sensual desire....
It is said that the earth, shaken by the power of their virtue, quaked and trembled.
 
And perhaps in the most beautiful passage of all, from the Mahayana Vimalkirti Nirdesh Sutra we have the truest and final meaning of Rama, the divine Bodhisat marrying his "sister" Sita,
 

Of the true bodhisattvas,
The mother is the transcendence of wisdom,
The father is the skill in liberative technique;
The Leaders are born of such parents.

Their wife is the joy in the Dharma,
Love and compassion are their daughters,
The Dharma and the truth are their sons;
And their home is deep thought on the meaning of voidness.

So here, the marriage of Rama and Sita is the union of the joy of Dharma between Dharma and compassion!

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