to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas!
Grand and glorious, of inexhaustible praise and charm,
comprising excellent virtues and thereby auspicious,
are the wonderful exploits that the Muni performed in his
His praiseworthy deeds teach the way leading to to Buddhahood;
they are the landmarks along the road for softening even the hardest of
No one bent on self-interest can ever imitate His beautiful practice of
virtues for the sake of all other beings;
His blaze of glory reveals his
true name: The All-knowing One."
Adapted from the
19th century translation by J. S Speyer
episodes from Arya Sura’s Jatakamala
are portrayed in the first 135 panels on the upper register of
Borobudur's first gallery balustrade. This entire panel series extends
all the way from Borobudur’s eastern entrance to the southwest corner
of the monument.
the idea being that the
stories of the difficult deeds accomplished in the former lives of the
Bodhisattva (afterward the Buddha) are strung (or collected) together
in one place," wrote the 8th century Chinese pilgrim I-Tsing. "The
object of composing the Birth stories in verses is to teach the
doctrine of universal salvation in a beautiful style, agreeable to the
popular mind and attractive to readers.”
Each of the Jatakamala stories presents emphasizes one aspect
of the requisite perfections (paramitas) that a Bodhisattva must master
on his or her way to achieving enlightenment. For a detailed
explanation of the perfections of the Bodhisattva, see Buddhism 101.
are based on J. S.
Speyer's English-language translation, which was published in 1896. In
addition, many of the photographs of the Borobudur reliefs that appear
in our modern rendition of these timeless stories are from "A Garland
of Birth Stories" by Marie Musaeus Higgins, which was published in 1914.
During the time
prior to his becoming Lord Buddha, the Bodhisattva was born into a most
eminent and mighty family of Brahmans. Achieving purity through the
religious sacraments, and owing to the innate quickness of his
understanding, he eventually obtained mastery over the eighteen
branches of science as well as all arts that were compatible with the
customs of his family.
The Brahmans regarded him to be the Holy Word, while those of royal
blood venerated him like a king. To the masses he appeared as the
embodiment of the thousand-eyed Lord of the Devas; to those who
thirsted for knowledge he was a helpful father.
In consequence of prosperous destiny and as a result of merit earned
during previous births, he had inherited a storehouse full of wealth,
distinction and fame. However, the Bodhisattva took no delight in such
With a clear mind he perceived the many kinds of sin which can come
from indulging in worldly pleasures. Shaking off the worldly life as if
it were a sickness, he retired to a plateau from where his
wisdom-brightened tranquillity and friendliness radiated outward. It
penetrated the hearts of ferocious animals, thereby causing them to
cease all injurious activities and live like ascetics in the forest.
Having abandoned all desire for gain, glory and pleasure and therefore
wanting little, the Bodhisattva knew not the art of hypocrisy. For this
reason even the Devas were worshipful.
Upon hearing of the Bodhisattva's new life as an ascetic, those whose
affections he had previously gained left their families and, embracing
the Bodhisattva as the embodiment of salvation, became his disciples.
He taught them all as best as he could, through his good conduct,
chastity, purification of the sense organs, constant attentiveness, and
detachment from the world. By means of mind concentration, meditation
on friendliness and the rest, the holy road to salvation was revealed
so that the disciples could attain perfection.
One day the
Great-Minded One (mahatman) went
rambling alongside the shrub strewn caverns of the mountain in the
company of his disciple Agita. Well adapted to the practices of yoga,
the Bodhisattva enjoyed the existing order of things at his ease.
Then the Bodhisattva spied a young tigress in one of the mountain
caverns below him. Having given birth earlier to a litter of cubs, she
was thoroughly exhausted by her labors. Hungry for food to fill her in
her emaciated belly, she began to regard her own offspring as food
through sunken eyes. Thirsting for the milk of her udders, her
offspring began to drawn near, fearless and full of trust for their
mother. But the tigress responded to their approach by unleashing
prolonged harsh roars as if the approaching cubs were strangers.
Upon seeing the starving tigress, the Bodhisattva, though composed in
mind, was shaken with compassion by the suffering of this fellow
creature. It was as if Meru, the Lord of the Mountains, had been shaken
by an earthquake.
It is a wonder how the compassionate, their constancy ever so evident
in the midst of the greatest of their own sufferings, can be touched by
the grief, however small, of another!
"My dear, my dear," exclaimed the Bodhisattva to his pupil. "Behold the
worthlessness of Samsara! This animal seeks to feed on her very own
young ones. Hunger causes her to transgress love's law. Alas!
"Fie upon the ferocity of self-love, that makes a mother wish to make a
meal of the bodies of her own offspring! Who would foster the foe whose
name is self-love, by whom one may be compelled to an action like this?
Go quickly and look about for some means of appeasing her hunger so
that she may not injure her young ones and herself. I too shall
endeavor to avert her from committing such a rash act."
Promising to do so, the pupil Agita went off in search of food.
However, the request was merely a diversion for turning his disciple
away while the Bodhisattva considered thus:
"Why should I
seek out the meat of another's body, while the whole of my own body is
available? Not only is the finding of meat in itself a matter of
chance, but I should also lose the opportunity of doing my duty.
Further, this body being brute, frail, pithless, ungrateful, always
impure, and a source of suffering, what wise man would not rejoice at
its being spent for the benefit of another?
"There are but two things that make one disregard the grief of another:
attachment to one's own pleasure and the absence of the power of
helping. I am unable to have pleasure while another grieves, and I also
have the power to help. Why should I be indifferent? And if able to
succor I were to be indifferent even to an evildoer immersed in grief,
my mind I suppose, would feel the remorse for an evil deed, burning
like shrubs caught by a great fire. Therefore I will kill my own
miserable body by casting it down into the precipice. My own corpse
will serve as the food for preventing those young ones from being
ripped to death by the teeth of their own mother.
"By so doing I shall set an example for those who long for the good of
the world. I shall encourage the feeble and cause rejoice in the hearts
of those who understand the true meaning of charity. I shall stimulate
gladness in the hearts of those who love the Buddha-virtues. I shall
confound those who are absorbed in selfishness and subdued by egotism
and lusts, causing disappointment to the great hosts of the deceiver
"I shall give a token of faith to the adherents of the most excellent
of vehicles, and well as astonish those who sneer at charitable deeds.
I shall clear the highway to Heaven in a manner pleasing to the
charitible have I ever had such an the opportunity to benefit others
with the offering of my own limbs? I shall accomplish it now, and so
acquire Complete Wisdom before long.
"This determination does not proceed from ambition, nor from thirst for
glory, nor is it a means of gaining Heaven or royal dignity. I care not
for obtaining supreme and everlasting bliss for myself, but rather for
securing the benefit of others may I gain power over the world's sorrow
and the world's happiness, just as the sun dispels darkness and imparts
light unto the world! Whether or not I shall be remembered whenever
virtue is practiced or made conspicuous when the tale of my exploit is
told, in every way may I constantly benefit the world and promote its
After making up his mind and delighting in the thought that he was
about to destroy even his life for the benefit of other beings, the
Bodhisattva gave up his body to the amazement even of the calm minds of
The sound of his body falling down the cliff stirred the curiosity and
the anger of the tigress. She desisted from the contemplation of the
slaughter of their whelps, and cast her sunken eyes all around. As soon
as she perceive the Bodhisattva's lifeless body, she sprang to its side
and began to devour it.
Unable to find
any meat, the Bodhisattva's disciple, returned to the side of the cliff
and looked around in vain for his teacher. When Agita failed to see the
Master, he gazed downward and spied the young tigress feeding on the
Bodhisattva's lifeless body. Driving back his own sorrow and pain, the
disciple admired the extraordinary greatness of the performance.
"Oh how ever merciful the Great-Minded One was to people afflicted by
distress, how indifferent to his own welfare. He has brought to
perfection the virtuous conduct of the pious, and dashed to pieces the
splendid glory of their adversaries. He has displayed, clinging to
virtues, his heroism, fearless, and immense love. His body, which was
already precious in its virtues, has now forcibly been turned into a
vessel of the highest veneration. And although by his innate kindness
he was as patient as the Earth, how intolerant he was of the suffering
of others. The roughness of my own mind is hereby revealed in contrast
to this splendid act of heroism. Verily one need not commiserate with
the creatures now, for they have that illustrious Great Being
(Mahasattva), of exuberant compassion, of boundless goodness, as their
Protector and their refuge. The Lord of all sensual desires is now
without doubt sighing away, disturbed and in dread of defeat."
The disciple Agita related the Bodhisattva's exploit to his
fellow-disciples and thereafter to his own disciples as well as the
Gandharvas, the Yakshas, the snakes, and the even chiefs of the Devas,
whose shining countenance expressed their admiration for the good deed,
and who covered the ground where the treasure of his bones laid with a
profusion of wreaths, clothes, jewel ornaments and sandal power.
So then, even in former births the Lord identified himself with all
creatures toward whom he revealed his innate and immense love. For this
reason we ought to have the utmost faith in the Lord. "And having
obtained this faith in Buddha we ought to strive for feeling the
highest gladness. In this manner our faith will attain its sanctuary."
Likewise we must listen with attention to the preaching of the Dharma
since it has been brought to us by means of hundreds of difficult
hardships. And in sermons on the subject of compassion, thus is to be
said: "In this manner compassion, moving us to act for the benefit of
others, is productive of an exceedingly excellent nature."