[vii] Long ago I was captivated by the charm of the Jataka Tales
and realized the excellent use that might be made of them in
the teaching of children. The obvious lessons are many of
them suitable for little people, and beneath the obvious
there are depths and depths of meaning which they may learn
to fathom later on. The Oriental setting lends an additional
fascination. I am glad that Miss Babbitt has undertaken to
put together this collection, and commend it freely to
teachers and parents.
[xi] The Jatakas, or Birth-stories, form one of the sacred books
of the Buddhists and relate to the adventures of the Buddha
in his former existences, the best character in any story
being identified with the Master.
These legends were continually introduced into the religious
discourses of the Buddhist teachers to illustrate the
doctrines of their faith or to magnify the glory and
sanctity of the Buddha, somewhat as medieval preachers in
Europe used to enliven their sermons by introducing fables
and popular tales to rouse the flagging interest of their
Sculptured scenes from the Jatakas, found upon the carved
railings around the relic shrines of Sanchi and Amaravati
and of Bharhut, indicate that the "Birth-stories" were
widely known in the third century
B.C., and were then
considered as part of the sacred history of the religion. At
first the tales were probably handed down orally, and it is
uncertain when they were put together in systematic form.
[xii] While some of the stories are Buddhistic and depend for
their point on some custom or idea peculiar to Buddhism,
many are age-old fables, the flotsam and jetsam of
folk-lore, which have appeared under various guises
throughout the centuries, as when they were used by
Boccaccio or Poggio, merely as merry tales, or by Chaucer,
who unwittingly puts a Jataka story into the mouth of his
pardoners when he tells the tale of "the Ryotoures three."
Quaint humor and gentle earnestness distinguish these
legends and they teach many wholesome lessons, among them
the duty of kindness to animals.
Dr. Felix Adler in his "Moral Instruction of Children,"
The Jataka Tales contain deep truths, and are calculated to
impress lessons of great moral beauty. The tale of the
Merchant of Seri, who gave up all that he had in exchange
for a golden dish, embodies much the same idea as the
parable of the priceless Pearl, in the New Testament. The
tale of the Measures of Rice illustrates the importance of a
true estimate of values. The tale of the Banyan Deer,
which offered its life to save a roe and her young,
illustrates self-sacrifice of the noblest sort. The tale of
the Sandy Road is one of the finest in the collection.
And he adds that these tales "are, as everyone must admit,
nobly conceived, lofty in meaning, and many a helpful
sermon might be preached from them as texts."