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Jataka – Birth Stories

Photo montage Jataka

Introduction: The cradle of Western civilization, Greek philosophy, favored the acceptance of past lives. Let's work on our civilization, even if it takes more than a few years.

Read Max Hauri's introduction letter to this article below.

"I know with certainty where I was and who I was in the last 80 trillion years. The small details of it like what I ate for breakfast two trillion years ago are liable to go astray here and there, but other­wise it’s no mystery to me." – L. Ron Hubbard

"I remembered many previous existences, namely one birth, two…, three…, four…, five…, ten…, twenty…, fifty…, hundred births, etc…. There I was, had that name, belonged to that family, that was my caste, that my livelihood, I have experienced such happiness and sorrow, that was my end; deceased I came again into existence there: there I was, had that name…" – Gautama Buddha

That cradle of Western civilization, Greek philosophy, looked with favor on the acceptance of past lives Pythagoras, the great Greek philosopher and mathematician, vividly re­membered various past lives, for example, the time he fought in the Trojan War and he could still re­cognize in a contemporary temple a shield used in that war.

Past lives were also known to various early Christian groups. This traditional belief of Man was then banned by the Second Church Council of Constantinople in A.D. 553 decreeing that "Whoso­ever shall support the mythical doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul and the subsequent wonder­ful [In the sense of strange or astonishing] opinion of its return let him be anathema." [damned cursed.]

Thus, forcibly, the myth of "one lifetime only" entered the mainstream of western culture with, ultimately, unfortunate results.

Later this one-lifetime-only idea was fertile ground for the rise of soul-denying 19th century materialism.

Happily, in the East the traditional belief in former existences remained unbroken. The greatest example of this traditional spiritual knowledge from the East is the Jataka, a unique Buddhist work.

Jataka is a Pali word (the language of Buddha) meaning birth story (from roots literally meaning "belonging to, connected with what has happened.") So pervasive and popular was the Buddhist use of this word that it came exclusively to mean the story of any previous birth of the Buddha or the name of a book in the Pali Canon, [the earliest scriptures of Buddhism] containing 550 such accounts.

Thus the Jataka is the popularized history of Buddha’s past lives. Orga­nized shortly after his death by his im­mediate disciples, the Jataka is a basic book of Buddhism.

Unknown to many, the Jataka is also a basic book of world culture. It had an enormous influence through­out the non-Buddhist Old World and especially in the West.

Shorter collections of the original stories began to appear in Sanskrit in the first century A.D. These stories then spread into Central Asia where they were translated into Persian and through the subsequent centuries the Jataka was retranslated into Arabic and Hebrew, and then into Latin and Greek and all the modern languages of Europe. In other words, in times gone by it was something of a bestseller!

One of these editions of the Jataka gave, in its introduction, the biography of Buddha. Reaching the Middle East along the trade routes it was trans­lated by St. John of Damascus in the 8th century into Greek under the title of Barlaam and Josaphat.

It was then translated into Latin and various other European languages including Icelandic. The story became so popular and its hero, that is, the Buddha, was so admired that he was canonized as a Christian saint. Thus the original inspiration of the Christian gospel of love, Gautama Buddha, be­came a Christian saint! He is St. Jehosaphat and his day of worship is the 27th of November.

By the way, Buddha was deified by the Hindus as an avatar (god in human form) of the Hindu god of survival, Vishnu. Gautama Buddha was a popular guy!

The Jataka is also the basis of the famous Aesop’s Fables. These were ac­tually compiled in the 14th century at Constantinople by a monk named Planudes who drew largely for his stories upon the Jataka material.

The Jataka itself presents a magnifi­cent series of 547 lives attributed to the Buddha. If we count an average of 50 years per lifetime it would cover a period of some 27,350 years. This re­presented Buddha’s cycle as a Bodhisatta (definition follows below) prior to his becoming a Buddha.

Bodhi means enlightenment. Satta means being. Thus a Bodhisatta is a being who is destined or aspires to achieve the highest state of enlighten­ment or Buddhahood.

These lifetimes were thus depicted as leading up to the final life of the cycle when Siddhartha Gautama [the Buddha’s given and family name] through his own self-effort achieved the long-sought state of bodhi and be­came a Buddha. Buddha is of course not a name but a state of existence. At the same time it became the title of its most famous exponent.

Picture of The Bodhisatta, in one of his previous births

The Bodhisatta, in one of his previous births, was a leader of a group of monkeys who lived on the banks of the Ganges river. Nearby there was a mango tree, and the monkeys used to eat its delicious fruit. Learning of this, a local king sent his men to guard it, and they accordingly surrounded it. In order to save the lives of his trapped fellow creatures, the Bodhi­satta prepared a bamboo bridge which turned out to be a little short.

To overcome this difficulty he tied his own body to the bridge, thus enabling the monkeys to escape in safety. The king was greatly moved by the heroics of the Great Monkey and paid homage to him. The above illustration is done in the ancient style and depicts the entire incident in one drawing.

Gautama Buddha’s message was that life was basically suffering. Death, loss and rebirth were seemingly inevitable. The alternative was to strive to realize one’s own spiritual beingness and, through enlightenment on supreme truths, escape the wheel of rebirth. He preached that by following a certain path a being could achieve his own Buddhahood in one lifetime.

This message of hope, although sel­dom attainable and never stable, re­vitalized the highest spiritual aspira­tions of those who came in contact with it. It is not surprising that it dominated subsequent Eastern thought And like the Jataka, the philosophy of Buddhism also stretched westward where it motivated the spiritual quest of Christianity.

Returning to the Jataka, we find it presents the theme of a great bene­factor of Man whose personal influence was felt through succeeding eras. In the story No. 50 Buddha states "This is not the first time Brethren that the Buddha has acted for the world’s good; he acted in like manner in bygone times as well."

Each story opens with a preface or a "story of the present" which relates the particular circumstances in the Buddha’s life which prompted him to describe such and such past life and thus shed light on the present time circumstances. And always at the end of the story the Buddha reveals who he was and the parts those around him played in the same lifetime. For ex­ample the conclusion of story 176 states: "The Master, after this discourse was at an end, identified the Birth: ‘In those days Ananda was the king, and the wise councillor was I myself!’"

The range of lifetimes represented the entire panorama of human and animal existence. Wise man, king, mer­chant, robber, monkey, deer, bird, even a bright flash of light, a child, etc. were among the past life identities ascribed to the Buddha. But through­out most of these stories the wise and benevolent beingness of Buddha shines out.

Quite a few of these stories are directly attributed to Buddha from his own sermons and discourses. Others were obviously added by his immediate disciples out of their veneration for the Master.

The birth stories are not chrono­logical nor do they exceed in content the culture and locale of ancient India. They were evidently used to popularize the Buddhist ethics and aspirations as well as the heroic figure of the founder of the religion.

These stories are rich in humour, in­spiring and very alive. They make mar­velous fables and tales.

Picture in one of Buddha's earlier lives preaching to people

In one of Buddha's earlier lives, he was a king. Here we see him lying discouraged, preaching to his people about the transience of earthly glory.

In its concept of past lives, nothing exceeds the Jataka until the appear­ance – 2,500 years later – of L. Ron Hubbard’s trilogy of books, Mission Into Time, Have You Lived Before This Life? and History of Man which give the first full and accurate account of the whole track as well as the verifi­cation of past life recall.

In bygone times only exceptional individuals had an ability to recall past lives. Such extraordinary ability was considered the mark of a fully de­veloped spiritual awareness.

Now through Dianetics and Scientology anyone can be freed from that prison more confining than any bars or walls: the myth of one life only.

Through Ron’s work this worst-of-all amnesias has been resolved technically. The above trilogy, coupled with the materials of the Advanced Courses at long last reveal Man’s most profound mystery: the actual content and charac­ter of the whole track.

Buddha and his disciples would greatly welcome this technical break­through. Man’s Scientologically re­leased ability to recall previous exist­ences is a vital part of the advance across the Bridge to Total Freedom.

L. Ron Hubbard has arrived to give us the key to the past as well as the future.



The Birth Stories vary in length from one to several pages. No. 84 is a short one. The preface states that a child asked his father who was a Treasurer what were the Paths leading to spiritual welfare. The father was at a loss to answer this question. Bringing gifts of perfume, flowers and oils as an exchange, he went with his son to the Buddha for guidance. The father repeated his young son’s question and the Master answered:

"Lay-brother," said the Master, "this selfsame question was asked me by this very child in former tunes, and I answered it for him. He knew the answer in bygone days, but now he has forgotten because of change of birth." Then, at the father’s request, he told this story of the past.

"Once on a time when Brahmadatta [name of a king] was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was a very wealthy Treasurer; and he had a son who, when only seven years old, manifested great intelligence and anxiety for his spiritual welfare. One day the child came to his father to ask what were the Paths leading to spiritual welfare. And his father answered him by repeating this stanza:

  • Seek Health, the supreme good; be virtuous;

  • Hearken to elders; from the scriptures learn;

  • Conform to Truth; and burst Attachment’s bonds.

  • – For chiefly these six Paths to Welfare lead.

In this wise did the Bodhisatta answer his son’s question as to the Paths that lead to spiritual welfare; and the boy from that time forward followed those six rules. After a life spent in charity and other good works, the Bodhisatta passed away to fare thereafter according to his deserts."

His lesson ended, the Master identified the Birth by saving, "This child was also the child of those days, and I myself the Lord Treasurer."


Dear friends,

Our civilization is based more on philosophy and even religion than on our modern science. It's almost like the famous quote "Money isn't everything, but without money, everything is worthless." In other words, if people can't humanly handle technological advances, what good are they?

I assert that it is precisely because we do not pay enough attention to philosophy and religion these days that we have once again found ourselves in a situation where a wrongly directed missile can drive the human world to extinction.

I am so optimistic that the worst case scenario will not happen, but we live with a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads constantly. And so it makes sense to address this. It is not a matter of hiding in a monastery and praying in silence, but of living and practicing a modern and contemporary philosophy and religion. This is precisely why Scientology was developed.

The text below begins with the paragraph:

"That cradle of Western civilization, Greek philosophy, looked with favor on the acceptance of past lives Pythagoras, the great Greek philosopher and mathematician, vividly re­membered various past lives, for example, the time he fought in the Trojan War and he could still re­cognize in a contemporary temple a shield used in that war."

Let's work at our civilization even if it takes more than a few years.

Much love,

Max Hauri

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