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Jātaka Tales

Introduction to Volume 3

by Eric Van Horn

One of the things that stands out to me about the stories of the monks and nuns of the Buddha’s time is the different temperaments and how an individual’s personality leads them to the Dharma through a different doorway. Subsequently this different doorway leads to the Dharma expressing itself in different ways. It is like artists, all of whom create different art.

We have a vast literature from the Buddha’s time, many thousands and thousands of pages of teachings that have been preserved by the Saṇgha over the past 2500 years. Students of the Buddha’s teaching will know the iconic teachings: the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the four elements, dependent co-arising, and so forth. But for any one student, one approach may speak to her or him in a uniquely personal way.

One of the stories from this collection that speaks to a unique path is Jātaka 124, The Fruits of Selflessness. In this story an unusually selfless monk finds his doorway to the Dharma through service. He spends his time taking good care of the monastery:

He was meticulous in the performance of the duties of the Dharma Hall, the monastery’s bath house, and so forth. He was perfect in the observance of the 14 major and the 80 minor disciplines. He used to sweep the monastery, the cells, the walkways, and the path leading to their monastery.

The Dharma is not all about supernormal powers and meditative accomplishments. Sometimes it is about the simplicity of selfless service. This is the lesson of this particularly simple and profound story, and it is through stories like this that we see one of the many doorways to the Dharma.

This is part of the challenge of following the Buddha’s path. In the beginning it can be overwhelming. The Buddha’s teachings are not simple. They have great depth and great breadth. And we have to keep pushing – gently – in order to find our unique doorway, and our own unique expression of the Dharma.

The way we do that is one step at a time. One of the great values of this wonderful literature is that we can nibble away at the edges of the Dharma. We see people just like us, even though these stories are centuries old. We see that in 2500 years, the human mind has not changed at all. We know these people all too well. They have the same foibles and challenges that we do. And it is in these common traits that we connect to followers of the Buddha throughout time.

Eric K. Van Horn

Rio Rancho, NM

August 2019