Jatakas and Previous live stories

Hello, Everyone.

I want to get the insights of Scholars and Readers here regarding the concept of “Previous lives of Shakyamuni Buddha”.

Is it Agreed among all Buddhist sects (Extinct or not) that Shakyamuni Buddha lived previous lives before? and if Yes. is there any sect that consider only the Human former lives authentic but disregard the non-human former lifeforms?

are all of the Previous Lives mentioned in the Jatakas considered not EBT? (are all of Jataka tales are not EBT?)

Is there among the EBTs any other texts besides the Jataka tales that give detailed information about some of “Previous lifes of Shakyamuni Buddha”?

is there any book that collected and listed all the mentions and details of previous lives of Shakyamuni Buddha wherever they are mentioned in the Canon?

Thank you very much.


It may be that this occurs to you, Ānanda: ‘At that time King Makhādeva by whom that lovely custom was founded was someone else.’ But this, Ānanda, must not be understood thus. I, at that time, was King Makhādeva, I founded that lovely custom; the folk that came after maintained that lovely custom founded by me.

It may be, Ānanda, that this will occur to you: ‘Now, at that time the brahman youth Jotipāla was someone else.’ But this, Ānanda, should not be thought of in this way. I, at that time, was Jotipāla the brahman youth.

It may be, bhikkhus, that you think: ‘On that occasion the chariotmaker was someone else.’ But you should not think in such a way. On that occasion, I myself was the chariotmaker.



Very lovely Quotes from you, Sir.

as you may notice also with me, the Previous lifeforms which are in these quotes are all Human lifeforms.

is there any quotes from EBTs that may confirm that the previous lifeforms that the Shakyamuni Buddha lived as contains non-human lifeforms also, (Tree, Ghost, Cat, Bird) besides the Jataka?

Hi Muhammed, thanks for the question.

Indeed: all sentient beings live an ongoing series of lives, and the Buddha was no exception.

I don’t believe so. Stories of the Buddha’s lives as animals or other forms are, so far as I know, popular in all traditions.

Generally speaking, yes, although it’s a little more complex than that. Most of the Jatakas are drawn from the oral storytelling traditions of folktales and legends. They usually depict social and economic conditions that prevailed in India in the few centuries before the Buddha. For example, many stories speak of “King Brahmadatta at Benares”. Now, Benares was probably a royal city from perhaps 800 BCE up to the generation before the Buddha, when it was invaded by the Kosalans, so this story-telling trope must stem for that period.

If we consider the “jataka” as a “story of the Buddha’s past lives”, then there are a number included within the EBTs, for which faujidoc1 has supplied some of the best examples. So these are “jataka” stories in terms of their form and content, but not found in the “Jataka” collection, i.e. the book of that name in the Khuddaka Nikaya.

However, there is overlap, as some of these stories are also included in the “Jataka” collection. In addition, some stories that are not framed as Jatakas in the EBTs are depicted as such in the Jataka collection. There are, however, only a few such cases and the bulk of the Jataka collection is not found in the EBTs.

The classic discussion of such issues is found in Rhys Davids’ Buddhist India, which is well worth a read.

Not in the EBTs, just the few stories alluded to above and discussed in Buddhist India.

However in the later section of the Pali canon we also have the Cariyapitaka, which tells some stories in the context of the development of the paramis. In addition, there are many Jatakas found throughout the Tibetan and Chinese Tripitakas, as well as in later collections.

I’m not aware of such, but Buddhist India should have most references at least for the Pali.

Indeed, and this is another issue discussed by Rhys Davids. I believe that in all the early Jatakas, the Buddha is always in human form. I’m not sure what we can infer from this, though, given that there are only a few such stories.


Well, having a human birth is certainly rare…

Mendicants, suppose the earth was entirely covered with water. And a person threw a yoke with a single hole into it. The east wind wafts it west; the west wind wafts it east; the north wind wafts it south; and the south wind wafts it north. And there was a one-eyed turtle who popped up once every hundred years.

What do you think, mendicants? Would that one-eyed turtle, popping up once every hundred years, still poke its neck through the hole in that yoke?”

“It’s unlikely, sir.”

“That’s how unlikely it is to get reborn as a human being.


Yes, Ven. Sujato.
The question is: the lives we lived before, were they a demo or training to make up and build our reflexes and sensual capacity and awareness as a starting point bonus at this live? had we all lived a fixed same number of lives before coming into this life? or is the previous lives count differed between every one living as a human now and the other?.
if the count of previous lives before getting into this life differs between every one of us, then this will help in confirming the lives moving-Karma concept which will explain that some of us lived as animals and lesser lifeforms for more or less that the other. for example: I lived as a cat for 10 lives before coming a human because my Karma as a cat was not good enough, while Ven. Sujato lived as a cat once or twice before becoming a human because his cat-Karma was very good.

But for example, if we lived as a cat 10 times for each one of us, before transporting into our human form, in disregard to our Cat lives-Karma (for everyone of us, every lifeform has been lived the same count), then the previous lives were a demo, a training, an optional bonus to begin with. for those who wants to take experience.

Simply, the question is: does our previous lives karmas affect the count of lives and lifeforms we will go through before becoming humans? or is the count of previous lives we go through before becoming humans is not related to previous-lives-karmas and is fixed all the time (for example: 25000 lives for everyone of us in different 25000 fixed lifeforms)

in one of them, the previous live was King Brahmadatta himself.

while in some jataka tales, we have the same quote “when King Brahmadatta was reigning at Benares”, in other jataka tales, this quote is not mentioned. is it possible for us to analyze the jataka tales and filtering them according to this quote -for example- using textual criticism to rearrange the jataka tales in khuddaka nikaya by older and later, or is this quote of btahmadatta king is non relevant to Jakata text layers, and the Jataka tales are all considered one layer bulk of text without later additions among scholars?

Dear Sir, Ven. Sujato, I’m very pleased that it this something is noticed before among scholars, You, Rhys Davids. The previous lives of Shakyamuni Buddha mentioned in EBTs are usually only Human-form Lives.
I hope this notice makes it way into filtering the already available Jataka Tales in Khuddaka nikaya, taking only Human Lifeforms into consideration, in search of EBTs elements in it.

before some time, I made a list containing all the jataka tales numbered, with every birth lifeform mentioned. I’ve noticed a unique uniform among the tales which had Shakyamuni Buddha and the other mentioned characters at his time (Like ananda, devadatta, mahamaya, sudodhanna…etc) live before as a Human Lifeform. these tales felt more logical, non-complicated, non-myth. I fear that some of the jataka tales were EBT originally, but were passed by scholars, classified as a Later not EBT Texts, because of another Tales.

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Being Born as a Human is a very rare and good Opportunity that must not be ignored. only fool will pass his human lifeform without benefit in searching for truth. Because The normal odds are that one will born as non-human lifeform. I’m grateful for this opportunity, and thankful.

Sir, faujidoc1.
as you quoted for my question, and also as the quote by Ven. Sujato. The EBTs mentions only Human lifeforms in regatd to Shakyamuni Buddha’s Previous lives.

This quote from Ven. Sujato needs to be discussed further. what we can infer from this knowledge.

why in EBTs, non-human lifeforms are not mentioned as Previous lives lifeforms?
Previous lives of Shakyamuni Buddha in EBTs needs to be further searched in.

I’ve benefited a lot from both of your and Ven. Sujato’s quotes and analyzes.

Thanks a lot.

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The count of lives isn’t fixed, and is generally assumed to be “numberless”: those who can recollect past lives (even the Buddha) just keep going back and finding more!

Yes, although we would want to look at multiple independent indications. The one line about Brahmadatta might easily be inserted by an editor. But taken together with other factors—geographical knowledge, technology, commonalities with other stories, and so on—then it is definitely one important element in the mix. However I am not aware that such detailed work has been undertaken for the Jatakas. They remain understudied and underappreciated.

Yes, it could well be the case.


the confirmation of non fixation in previous lives count among all living Humans means that the Karma which prevails and transports non affected-by transporting in lifeforms between various lives is the Truly accepted concept of Karma among other Karma concepts in various Dhammas of the world. which is The Karma concept according to Buddhism.

here comes another question: Did Shakyamuni Buddha recounted all of his past lives? or did he keep recounting until he was satisfied with the experience he got from the recounting process, taking into his mind: “i will not got a benefit from delving more in my past lives, so i need to come back to my present form instead of wasting my time without benefit in delving, because i reached a level of knowledge and experince that i can’t get any higher from delving into more past lives”.

if he was able to recount all of his previous lives, this will make the previous lives which was stated as “numberless” numbered in essence. even a google is a number. and every number can be counted with hard work and diligence.

Thanks, Sir.
Your opinion is highly appreciated.


What became significant to me in reading the EBTs is that the Buddha himself found counting his own past lives limited. On the night of his enlightenment, he undertook and broke free from considering his own past lives.

AN8.11:14.2: I recollected many kinds of past lives. That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world expanding, many eons of the world contracting and expanding. I remembered: ‘There, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn somewhere else. There, too, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn here.’ And so I recollected my many kinds of past lives, with features and details.

Breaking free of the consideration of his own lives, the Buddha then proceeded to investigate the death and rebirth of all sentient beings. These too the Buddha relinquished in order to investigate the Four Noble Truths in the final watch of the night.

Later in his life, the Buddha distilled his experience of breaking free by warning against getting caught in the net of views, which includes getting tangled in the consideration of past lives:

DN1:3.72.4: In the same way, all of these ascetics and brahmins who theorize about the past or the future are trapped in the net of these sixty-two grounds, so that wherever they emerge they are caught and trapped in this very net.

I can only conclude that counting past lives is informative but ultimately unsatisfactory. It is the Noble Truths that lead to the end of suffering. Considering past lives simply points out the futility of rebirth and the hopelessness of counting past lives. Understanding this, I would only look to the Jatakas and previous life stories for examples of how to solve day-to-day problems. I would not study them for ending all suffering.