Contrasting Modes of Textual Classification: The Jataka Commentary and its Relationship to the Pali Canon

Author: 
Aronoff, Arnold L.
Year: 
1982

     Why . . . are the jataka stories excluded from the Pali tipitaka? Formulating an adequate response to this question is the first goal of my study. The second goal is to move beyond an interpretation of the traditional classification of the jataka stories as non-canonical texts in order to propose an alternative, critical classification of the stories which relates them to the wider corpus of Buddhist narrative literature. The dynamics of textual classification therefore forms the over-arching theoretical concern of this study. By interpreting the traditional classification of these texts and proposing alternative critical classifications for them, I hope to make a contribution to the larger study of textual classification in the history of religions."
     I contend that the exclusion of the jataka stories from the Pali canon may be best understood in light of the tipitaka's relationship to religious authority, to religious community, and to the traditional legacy of that authority to the community of followers. . . . My argument . . . proceed[s] in the following manner: in the second chapter of the study, I . . . analyze major trends in past scholarship on the jataka stories, discussing attempts to reconstruct the origin, history, and transmission of the jataka stories and the fifth-century A.D. jataka commentary, interpretations of themes within stories, and classification of the jatakas in relation to Buddhist and non-Buddhist literature -- classificatory attempts, which, I . . . argue, differ substantially from the traditional and critical classificatory goals of my study." In the next two chapters, "I . . . examine the fifth-century jataka commentary, highlighting the features of the text which assimilate the jataka tradition to the rupakaya legacy of the Buddha rather than to the canonical texts which comprise the Buddha's dhammakaya legacy. Chapter 3 . . . center[s] on the Nidanakatha, a biography of Gotama Buddha which prefaces the Jatakatthavannana's collection of 547 jataka prose stories, an important cycle of which forms the focus of Chapter 4. I . . . argue in these chapters that the commentary (both the introductory biography and the jataka stories themselves) presents a very specific vision of the relationships between moral action, the bodily, natural, and physical spheres, and the soteriological goal (i.e., nibbana) in the life of the Buddha." After examining "a major cycle of jataka stories depicting the bodhisatta's interaction with the future Devadatta," the study looks at "the commentary's depiction of ethical action in the life of the founder -- a depiction which . . . distinctively highlights the rupalogical consequences of the founder's previous actions -- in relationship to concepts of the founder's life, bodies, and legacies found in the canonical and post-canonical texts of the early Indian and Theravada Buddhist traditions."
     I . . . argue that the commentary assimilates the jataka tradition to the rupakaya legacy of the Buddha by dramatizing the rupalogical effects of past action as the leitmotif of the stories while presenting the dhammological sphere (advancement on the path towards the goal) as an implicit, assumed, and 'silent' structure. An answer to the first problem at the heart of this study -- the exclusion of the jataka stories from the canon -- [is] . . . proposed: the stories are not part of the canon because their most stabilized textual rendition assimilates them to the traditional legacy of the religious founder primarily associated with his physical, natural, and bodily 'traces' rather than to the legacy of the founder associated with his teachings as embodied in the dhammakaya or scriptural legacy of the canon. This assimilation is accomplished by the commentary's stabilization of the jataka tradition around a rupalogical leitmotif. This rupalogical leitmotif, I . . . argue . . . suggests the thematic dimension of a proposed generic classification of the jataka stories. I . . . call this genre 'rupalogical text' and . . . delineate its thematic and rhetorical features.

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