Buddhist Fables

Buddhist Classics

Life and Legends of Buddha

The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C. B. Varma Introduction | Glossary | Bibliography


The Abhidhamma Pitaka

It deals with the philosophy and psychology of the Theravada school of Buddhism. The “theravada”, however, refers to that school of Buddhism which, supposedly “adhere to the most original and purest form of the Buddhist teachings”, advocated by those theras (monks) who obtained the erudition directly through the Master. Further, they used the bhasa Magadhika or the mula bhasa (the original language)[1] to record the original text or the pariyaya, (the text of the canons). The term pariyaya, however, when abbreviated became ‘pari’ or ‘pali’; and in course of time was applied to denote the language of the entire gamut of the canons; and the exegeses and other compositions on those texts having the same language.

Aggam bahusuttadinam, kosarakkham mahesino
Sammannitvana attanam thero dhammam apucchi so
Tatha sammanniyattanam dhammasanagato sayam
Visajjesi tam Ananda-thero dhamm’ asesato. (Mahavamsa 34-35)

The other two Pitakas or the collection of the Buddhist canons are the Vinaya Pitaka (Collection of the codes and conducts for the monks and nuns) and Sutta Pitaka (the collection of the discourses of the Buddha).

Anagami One who has attained the third stage in the process of the break up of the samyojanas or the worldly fetters so that one would not be reborn on the sensuous plane or the earth but may be reborn in the highest heaven to attain Arahataship.
Anomadassi One of the Buddha
Arati One of the three daughter of Mara, which literally means Discontent.
Arahata One who has completely destroyed the worldly fetters or samyojanas and thus has attained perfection in the Buddhist sense by realising the Nibbana (Absolute Deliverance).
Asoka The third century emperor of a large part of India with the capital in ancient Patna. Often considered as the greatest of all monarchs of all times whether Indian or foreign. He was the chief patron of Buddhism who spread it in several parts of Asia. Historically, the foundation of the city of Sri Nagar in Kashmir is also ascribed to him.
Atthadassi One of the Buddha


The Buddha is a generic and appelative name, which must not be confused with a proper name. The term has a definite connotation, which refers to “one who has attained Enlightenment”. The Pali commentaries mention four categories of the Buddha, first being the category of the Sabbannu Buddhas or the Omniscient Buddhas, which refers to the class of the Enlightened Buddhas, who preach for the Nibbana for the others. The second category of the Buddhas is that of the Paccheka Buddhas, who are also Enlightened but do not preach for the spiritual evolution of the others. The third group of the Buddhas commonly designated by Chatusaccha Buddhas refers to the arahantas (i.,e., those who have destroyed their defilements or asavas); and finally the category of the Bahussuta Buddhas refers to the learned ones.

The Pali tradition gives the list of twenty-four Buddhas who were born before Sakyamuni Buddha or popularly known Gotama Buddha (Sanskrit: Gautama Buddha). They are Dipankara, Kondanna, Mangala, Sumana, Revata, Sobhita, Anomadassi, Paduma, Narada, Paduma Uttara, Sumedha, Sujata, Piyadassi, Atthadassi, Dhammadassi, Siddhattha, Tissa, Phussa, Vipassi, Sikhi, Vessabhu, Kakusandha, Konagamana, and Kassapa.

Further, the above tradition also adds the names of three Buddhas, namely, Tanhankara, Medhankara and Sarankara, who were born before Dipankara Buddha.

The Buddhavamsa gives the particulars of each of the Buddhas with the details on their first sermons; aura of their bodies; description as to which Bodhisatta became which Buddha and so on. (see Buddhavamsa Atthakatha for more details).

The Lalitavistara gives a list of fifty-four Buddhas; and the Mahavastu tenders a list of over hundred Buddhas.

The Chakkavatti Sihanada Sutta of the Digha Nikaya gives the particulars of Metteya Buddha or the Future Buddha. (The Sanskritised version of Metteya is Maitreya). Further, the Anagatavamsa gives a detailed account of the Future Buddha. Some Singhalese commentaries, however, come out with a list of another nine Future Buddhas in addition to Metteya. They are Uttama, Rama, Pasenadai Kosala, Abhibhu, Dighasoni, Sankaccha, Subha, Todeya, and Nalagiri Palaleyya.

Bodhi tree Tree of Enlightenment. Gotama Buddha attained Enlightenment under the pipal tree (or ficus religiosa belonging to the family Moraceae).
Bodhisatta in Pali Tradition

The protagonist of every Jataka story is the Bodhisatta, which means a being who aspires to achieve the bodhi or Englightenment to become a Buddha. Further, after resolving thus without declaring his intention to others, i.e., manopanidhi he makes a solemn resolution before a Buddha (abhiniharakarana or mulanidhana) for the welfare and liberation of all creatures. As regard to Gotama Buddha his abhinihara was made before Dipankara Buddha; and at that time his name was Sumedha. The Buddha then approves of the abhinihara by the declaration (vyakarana) that the Bodhisatta shall become a Buddha. Then the Bodhisatta seeks to achieve the Buddhakarakadhamma (the qualities of the Buddhahood). These he discovers in ten perfections (dasa-parami), namely, dana (charity), sila (right-conduct), nekkhama, panna (wisdom), viriya (steadfastness), khanti (forbearance), saccha (truthfulness), aditthana, metta (loving compassion), upekkha (non-attachability). In the case of Sumedha Bodhisatta, who became Gotama Buddha, these perfections were best exemplified in Ekaraja, Khantivadi, Chulla Sankhapala, Maha Janaka, Mahasutasoma, Mugapakkha, Lomahamsa, Sattubhattaka, Sasa and Sutasoma Jatakas.

Further, a Bodhisatta has to develop four bhumis, namely, ussaha or viriya (zeal), ummagga or panna (wisdom), avatthana or adhitthana (resolution) and hitachariya or metta (compassion). Then he practices six ajjhasayas or the factors conducive to the maturing of the bodhi.

Budhaghosa: The greatest scholar of the Pali literature. Born in Bodh Gaya in the fifth century AD. He wrote commentaries on most of the texts of the Tipitaka. He translated many Singhalese commentaries into Pali. His mangnum opus is the Visuddhimagga, which is regarded as the “Encyclopedia of Buddhism”.

Bodhisattva (The Mahayana Traditions)

Each of the Mahayana schools, namely, Paramita, Yoga and Anuttara have their unique views of the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas. Yet for all practical purposes it may be said that they believe in the Adi Buddha (having no beginning and no end). The union of the Adi Buddha and the Adi Prajna (Wisdom-having-no-beginning-and-no-end) accounts for the hierarchies of the Buddhist deities.

Further, it is believed that there are five Dhyani Buddhas immersed in deep meditation. They are Vairochana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, which also refer to the families (kula) of the Anuttara Tantra. Vajradhara is further added as the sixth family, which is believed to be of the highest kind. It may be noted that there are varieties of Tantras according to the various families; and kriyas. Eventually, there are Tantras embodying evocations (sadhana) and rites (vidhi) specifically meant for the individual families as well as for the families in general. Each of the family has a kulesha or lord of the family (Progenitor) and the progeny (kulika). In the above system of Tantra Vairochana is the Progenitor and Victor (Jina). The deities and their transformations created by his mudra (seal) are his progeny.

The five families of the Yoga Tantra are Tathagata, Ratna, Padma, Karma and Vajra. The family of the Tathagata is the highest.

Coming back to the five Dhyani Buddhas, who do not take part in the affairs of the world. They are seldom portrayed individually. They may appear on the tiara of the male and the female divinities emanated from them or round their heads in group of five. All the five Dhyani Buddhas are shown seated in Vajrasana, when the legs are closely crossed and locked and soles are visible. Each of the five Dhyani Buddhas has his unique distinctive mark and characteristics. For example, Varirochana is white; Akshobhya is blue; Ratnasambhava is yellow; Amitabha is red; and Amoghasiddhi is green. Further, each represents a direction and has a representative element and a sense-corresponding object.

Brahamana/brahmin a priestly caste, which the Buddha never accepted on the theory of birth.
Chaddanta six-tusked elephant.
Chataka a favourite Indian bird for the poets for comparison with the lover having lost his beloved.
Chakkavala the world-system. The Pali tradition believes that there are ten thousand world-systems, which sustain life like ours.
Deva radiant beings. Wrongly translated as God.
Chitrakuta In the Jataka context this is a mountain peak in the Himalayan region, which does refer to the mountain peak of the central India.
Dighabhanakas those who compiled and recited the Digha Nikaya (a book of the Sutta Pitaka) which contains the discourses of large size.
Dhammadasvsi One of the Buddha
Dhamma The latter two pitakas, collectively called the ‘Dhamma’ (or the doctrine), are the collection of the recitations given by the thera Ananda (the closest disciple of the Buddha) in the same council. The recitations of the aforementioned two monks, as a matter of fact, are the answers by way of the explanations and elucidations to the questions posed by the President of the council – Mahathera Mahakassapa.

Dhyani (Meditating) Buddhas A Dhyani Buddha is one who does not take part in the affairs of the world. The five Dhyani Buddhas are Vairochana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, who also refer to the families (kula) of the Anuttara Tantra. Vajradhara is computed as the sixth family, which is believed to be of the highest class. A Dhyani Buddha is seldom portrayed individually. He may appear on the tiara of the male and the female divinities emanated from them or round their heads in a group of five. All the five Dhyani Buddhas are shown seated in Vajrasana, legs being closely crossed and locked and the soles visible.
Dipankara One of the Buddha

Eugenia Jambolana.

Khandha (Aggregate Mara), Kilesa (Defilement) Mara, Abhisankhara (Accumulated Karma) Mara, Macchu (Death) Mara, and Devaputta (four archangels of Yama). Mara is called Namuchi as no one can escape him. He is called Vasavatti, because “he rules all”. Whenever, he finds some one treading the path of virtuosity he creates obstacles and hindrances.

Kakusandha One of the Buddha
Kassapa One of the Buddha
Khattiya/Ksatriya One of the four varnas of the traditional Indian society designative to the warrior class.
Kokanada Lute It is called so perhaps because it has a colour of red lotus or it is derived from the name of the country where it originated. See Kusa Jataka No.531.
Konagamana One of the Buddha
Kondanna One of the Buddha
Mahavamsa A Sinhalese chronicle and a principal source for the construction of the history of ancient India. This chronicle presents the history of India, particularly of Chanakya, Chandra Gupta Maurya and Ashoka the Great and so on. It may be pointed out that without the existence of these chronicles, we would not have known the history of ancient India, particularly down to the Mauryan Age.
Mangala One of the Buddha

Mara See story of Mara
Matanga the world’s first crusader against the untouchability. See Matanga Jataka
Metteya/Maitreya The future Budddha. See Metteya.
Metta (compassion).
Nagas Serpants with spiritual powers and not the ordinary snakes
Niddesa a book of the Khuddakanikaya, generally, ascribed to Sariputta and Mahakacchana.
Paccheka Buddha A Paccheka Buddha is one who has attained the supreme and perfect insight but dies without proclaiming the truth to the world. He is, therefore, called “the Silent Buddha.
Paduma One of the Buddha
Padumav One of the Buddha
Panna (Sanskrit: Prajna): wisdom.
Panchavaggiya bhikkhus The five monks, who first learnt the teachings of the Buddha in Sarnath and became his first followers. They were the companions of the Buddha when he practised penance in Uruvela before his Enlightenment.
Parami The unique qualities of the Buddhahood (Buddhakarakadhamma) to be developed by a Bodhisatta by way of ten perfections or parami-s, namely, dana (charity), sila (right-conduct), nekkhama (dispassionateness), panna (wisdom), viriya (steadfastness), khanti (forbearance), saccha (truthfulness), aditthana (pledge), metta (loving compassion), upekkha (non-attachability). The Bodhisatta’s struggle for those perfections are well exemplified in Ekaraja, Khantivadi, Chulla Sankhapala, Maha Janaka, Mahasutasoma, Mugapakkha, Lomahamsa, Sattubhattaka, Sasa and Sutasoma Jatakas.
Paticcasamuppada the Buddhist theory of causality. See C.B.Varma, A Concise Encyclopedia of Early Buddhist Philosophy for details.
Pataliputta (Sanskritised: Pataliputta; modern Patna). The capital of the Mauryans (321 B.C.185 B.C.)
Phussa One of the Buddha
Pitaka The Buddhist canons, namely, Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Jataka is one of the fifteen texts of the Khuddaka Nikaya, which is a book of short (khuddhaka) discourses of the Buddha.
Piyadassi One of the Buddha
Raga One of the three daughter of Mara, which literally means Lust.
Revata One of the Buddha
Sacchakiriya Act of Truth. To obtain the desired result the force of an act is invoked.

Sakka/Shakra Indra
Sakidagami the second step towards the Arahatahood in course of the destruction of the samyojanas or fetters. A Sakidagami is born for the maximum of one birth on the earth.
Sal Assakarni; Shorea rubusta gaertin belonging to the family of Dipterocarpaceae.
Sal a kind of tree.
Shastras the scriptures or the works on some knowledge systems.
Siddhattha One of the Buddha
Sikhi One of the Buddha
Sobhita One of the Buddha
Sotapanna the first step towards the Arahatahood in course of the destruction of the samyojanas or fetters. A Sotapanna is born for the maximum of seven births on the earth.
Sujata One of the Buddha
Sukara-maddava Sukara-maddava” served to the Budddha before his death is sometimes interpreted as the “pig’s meat”. But such inference cannot be conclusive because sukara-sali means “wild rice”; and maddava (Skt. Maardava, derived from mridu, means “sweet”)]. The Pali-English Dictionary (T.W.Rhys Davids & William Stede pp.721; 518-19) interprets maddava as “soft”; and “withered” [or parched]. So, it is quite likely that the food, which the Buddha took before his death was the parched rice (bhoonja, a popular food-item of north Bihar and Eastern Uttara Pradesh, where the Buddha breathed his last. Besides, the Buddha had categorically condemned the profession of the pork-butcher Chunda Sukarika, who had to grunt like a pig for seven days before his death because of his cruel profession; and was finally “consumed by the fire of the hell”. [See Dhammapada Atthakatha i.105 ff]. Last but not least, the rules for the acceptance of the food in the Buddhist order were very severe those days. For example, Sariputta was allowed to take the garlic just for the medical reason).
Sumana One of the Buddha
Sumedhav One of the Buddha
Tanha One of the three daughter of Mara, which literally means Craving.
Tavatimsa The heavenly world where the Buddha first taught the Abhidhamma.
Tinduka tree diosperos embryopteris.
Tissa One of the Buddha
Tusita loka

Tusita heaven
Upaveda medicinal science, military science, music and architecture.
Uposatha The sacred day of the Buddhists for the recitation of the Patimokkha; and fasting.
Uttara One of the Buddha
Vayu Wind; also reckoned as one of the devas like Agni etc.

Vassavasa Literally means, “dwelling place for the rainy-season”. A monk is not supposed to undertake a journey in the rainy season; and is bound by the rule of the order to spend the season in a fixed place.
Vessabhu One of the Buddha
Vidyadhara The fairest women believably dwelling in the Himalayan region and possessing the power of special sciences to perform spells
Vihara monastery
Vinaya Pitaka
deals with the Buddhist codes and conduct and may be regarded as the Corpus of the Discipline. It supposedly records the recitations made by the thera Upali in the council.

Vipassi One of the Buddha
Yakkha/ Yaksa a non-human being often identified with ogres or ghosts with varied appearances with great supernatural powers. See ‘The Man who Read Foot-Prints’.
Yamaraja the Lord of Death.

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