Himalayan Art Resources

Item: Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)

ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། 释迦牟尼佛
(item no. 65816)
Origin Location Tibet
Date Range 1700 - 1799
Lineages Buddhist
Material Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
Collection Rubin Museum of Art
Notes about the Central Figure

Classification: Person

Appearance: Buddha

Gender: Male

Interpretation / Description

Previous Life Stories of the Buddha (Tibetan: kye rab. Sanskrit: Jataka): A painting from a large set of approximately twenty-one paintings depicting one-hundred and eight stories, created in a Central Tibetan Menri School painting style. (See the Jataka Stories Main Page and Jataka Outline Page).

In Himalayan and Tibetan culture the Jatakas are commonly depicted in art and follow a famous Indian text called the Jatakamala narrating thirty-four morality tales often using animals as the central subject. This set of paintings depicts the original thirty-four stories along with an additional seventy-four making one hundred and eight stories in all, compiled by the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. See blockprint images of all one hundred and eight Jataka stories.

Story number #33: The Buffalo: A Tale of Patience (at the lower left).

Story number #34: The Woodpecker: Kindness Without Thought of Reward (at the lower right).

Story number #35: The Story of the Lion King (at the top left)

Story number #36: The Trader Mahavirya: Great Diligence (at the top right).

Story number #37: King Suvarnavarna (at the bottom center).

Jeff Watt 11-2007

A Tale of Patience (#33 The Buffalo)

Despite countless lifetimes of selfless and virtuous action, perhaps due to the ripening of karma from ancient and forgotten misdeeds, the bodhisattva was once born in a low state as a large buffalo. Yet even in this brute animal state where ignorance prevails, he treated all who he encountered with compassion.

With a grim appearance and always caked with mud, the buffalo was quite intimidating. One malicious Monkey however, aware of the buffalo's natural goodness, was not afraid and liked nothing more than to tease him. The monkey knew that the Buffalo would be forgiving and not take action against him. The Monkey would climb on the Buffalo and swing from his horns, stand at his feet and keep him from grazing when hungry, and would even poke the buffalo's ears with a sharp stuck. The monkey would mount the Buffalo's back and ride him, holding a stick in his hand like the Lord of Death. It is said that the wicked consistently walk the path opposed to discipline, while the good-hearted, due to their practice of virtue, patiently aim to benefit even the wicked.

One day a yaksha spirit saw the monkey riding that buffalo and was scandalized by the indignities being heaped upon the great being. He wanted to know why the buffalo would not defend himself from such torture. The yaksha appeared in the path of the two and told the Buffalo that he would easily be able to kill the monkey if he chose to and asked him why he had not done so already. Did he not know his own strength? Was he the monkey's slave? Did the monkey win him in a game of chance? Was he for some reason afraid of the monkey? Was he not aware the monkey was wicked? The Buffalo replied that none of these were the case, and the fact that the monkey was devious, unstable, and powerless was actually the reason he put up with him. He wanted to help the monkey.

The Buffalo stated that it is easy to be patient with those who are more powerful but that when enduring injuries from the powerless, it is an opportunity to show real patience and virtue, however uncomfortable it may be. This satisfied the Yaksha who then threw the monkey from the buffalo's back, taught the buffalo a protective charm and vanished.

Monty McKeever 6-2005

Kindness without Thought of Reward (#34 The Woodpecker)

Born as a woodpecker, a notoriously sinful bird, the Bodhisattva had not lost sight of virtue. He always showed compassion to every being he encountered.

One day, as the woodpecker was flying in search of food, he saw a lion on the ground below, writhing in pain and discomfort. The lion was suffering greatly. He asked the lion what was wrong and the beast replied that he had a bone stuck in his throat and that the pain was agonizing. The woodpecker offered his assistance and at great personal risk, crawled in inside the lion's mouth and dislodged the bone with his beak.

Some time later, as the woodpecker was near starvation from not being able to find suitable food, he saw the lion eating a deer. Although too proud to simply ask the lion he had saved if he could share in the meal, he hinted that he was starving. Surely the lion would share his food with him, for the woodpecker had saved his life and was also so small he would only require the tiniest morsel. Seeing the woodpecker, and aware of his intentions, the lion became angry and threatened him. The ungrateful lion proclaimed that the woodpecker was lucky to be alive after being in his mouth and that if he did not fly away, he would kill him right then and there. The woodpecker did as he was told and left.

A local forest god, having witnessed the woodpecker save the lion, saw this rude and selfish behavior and became enraged. The god then flew up in the air and questioned the woodpecker. The god told him that he could easily pluck out the lion's eyes and blind him for being so ungrateful, and would not be wrong in doing so. The woodpecker responded that he would never do such a thing. The woodpecker explained that when he saved the lion it was an act of pure compassion, and that he did not feel he deserved anything in return. The woodpecker further stated that generosity with the thought of reward is not generosity at all, it is nothing more than a loan.

Monty McKeever 9-2005

Secondary Images
Related Items
Thematic Sets
Shakyamuni Buddha: Jataka Stories (Masterworks)
Shakyamuni Buddha: Jataka Painting Sets
Collection of Rubin Museum of Art: Painting Gallery 4
Shakyamuni Buddha: Jataka Stories Main Page
Painting Set: One Hundred Jataka Stories (Central Tibet)
Collection of RMA: Best of Collection 3
Subject: Narrative Examples (Greyscale)
Shakyamuni Buddha, 释迦牟尼佛:, ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ། Painting (Masterworks)