Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi: Whereas Western intellectuals seek the essence of Buddhism in its doctrines and meditation practices, the traditional Buddhists of Asia absorb the ideas and values of their spiritual heritage through its rich narrative literature about the Buddha and his disciples. The most popular collection of Buddhist stories is, without doubt, the Jātakas. These are the stories of the Buddha’s past births, relating his experiences as he passed from life to life on the way to becoming a Buddha.
The Jataka tales have somehow garnered an undeserved reputation in English speaking countries as fairy tales unfit for adults. I’ve been reading the 1895 translation of these texts by E. B. Cowell to see for myself if they have value. As a lay follower, at this point in my practice, I’ve found these stories to be incredibly refreshing. They’re vibrant, full of life, and welcoming. Young and old householders alike could be more receptive to a wider scope of the teachings if they were transmitted—as they traditionally have been—via talks punctuated by a Jataka tale. These texts deserve far more consideration.