Once the Buddha was a Monkey
Arya Sura’s “Jatakamala”
Here is one of the most entertaining masterpieces of Sanskrit literature rendered in an English translation that fully captures the original’s artistry and charm.
Written most probably in the fourth century A.D., the Jatakamala is generally considered the masterpiece of Buddhist literature in Sanskrit. In elegant, courtly style, Arya Sura retells thirty-four traditional stories about the Buddha in his previous incarnations, human and animal. Whether as a king, a brahmin, a monkey, or a hare, the Great One is shown in assiduous pursuit of virtue and compassion. Though primarily intended as exemplary tales illustrating the Buddhist virtues, these stories also provide a vivid picture of life at a high point in ancient Indian culture—city life in ordinary households or at the royal court, and country life against a backdrop of mountain, desert, and jungle. Translated by Peter Khoroche (U of Chicago Pr, Sept 2006, Pbk, 294 pp)