The Jataka tales is a large collection of Buddhist morality stories in which the Buddha recounts some of his past lives on his long road to enlightenment. Even though they’re a part of the Pali Canon (the Buddhist equivalent of the Bible) and contain words attributed to the Buddha himself, they’re more folktale than religious text and their popularity stems more from their entertainment value than their messages. Often compared with Aesop’s fables (Aesop’s and the Jataka tales even share some plots), the Bodhisatta (what a Buddha-to-be is called) is often born as an animal and he frequently overcomes difficult situations or solves problems in creative and comical ways.
This website features abridged versions of all 547 Jataka tales, the first-ever complete collection of this sort in English. They’re much easier and, I think, more enjoyable to read than the stodgy translations done by scholars more than a century ago. And that’s why I wrote them.
Where to Begin
You could start at the beginning with the Apannaka Jataka (#1) or go to the end and read the Vessantara Jataka (#547), by far the most important and famous Jataka. But since the stories are not told in chronological order it makes just as much sense to jump in and read any story. To get a quick taste of the Jataka tales, here are twelve of my favorites.
Though the stories stand on their own, reading a little background information about the Jataka tales and about these versions of the Jataka tales might add to your enjoyment. And if you’re looking for a particular story, there are also very brief summaries.