Psychological Aspects of Jātaka Stories

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

Stories are part of a human environment. Human beings have probably been telling stories since the very early days of our civilization. Buddhist Jātaka stories are unique. The Jātaka stories are a voluminous body of folklore concerned with previous births of the Buddha which is based as a collection of five hundred and fifty stories. According to archaeological and literary evidence the Jātaka stories were compiled in the period, the 3rd Century B.C. to the 5th Century A.D. The Khuddaka Nikāya contains 550 stories the Buddha told of his previous lifetimes as an aspiring Bodhisatta.

Literally, the 'Buddha' means "one who has attained Enlightenment". As the Jātakas describe a kaleidoscopic view of the journey of the Bodhisatta undergoing several stages of birth or junctions to become a Buddha, the enlightend one. The central character of every Jātaka story is the Bodhisatta. A Bodhisatta is one who seeks to attain the Enlightenment. Bodhisatta seeks to develop the unique qualifications of the Buddhahood and strives for ten perfections namely charity, right-conduct dispassionateness, wisdom, steadfastness, forbearance, truthfulness, pledge, loving compassion and non-attachability. The struggle for the ten perfections in various births of Bodhisatta is rather the main theme of the Jataka stories.

The Jātaka stories deeply analyze the human mind. It contains a profound psychological content. The renowned Sri Lankan writer Martin Wicramasinghe once said Psychoanalys is initiated not by Freud but by the The Jātaka story teller. Because the Jātaka story teller revealed and analyzed the noble to ignoble characteristics of the human psyche. The Jātaka story teller knew the complexity of the human mind. He described the human behavior in vivid situations. The Jātaka stories represent a broad structure of mental phenomena.

According to Professor Rhys Davids Jātaka stories are one of the olderst fables. Dr D.V.J Harischandra Consultant Psychiatrist in his famous book Psychiatric aspects of Jātaka stories points out that the Western Psychologists should study the essences of mind analysis in Jātaka stories. Because it gives a wider understanding especially existential and moralistic dimensions of human nature which is not broadly discussed in the western Psychology.

Sigmund Freud explained the common features of neurosis. Mental and emotional disorder that affects only part of the personality is accompanied by a less distorted perception of reality than in a psychosis, and is characterized by various physiological and mental disturbances. The neuroses include anxiety attacks, certain forms of depression hypochondriasis hysterical reactions, obsessive compulsive disorders, phobias various sexual dysfunctions and some tics. They have traditionally been thought to be based on emotional conflict in which a blocked impulse seeks expression in a disguised response or symptom. The suffering which is carried by the neurotic is mainly based on his thinking pattern. Neurotic behavior is due to overwhelming stress and anxiety. This can lead to hysteria type of reactions.

In the Jātaka stories there are numerous characters who have displayed hysteria type of reactions. For instance in the Maranabheruka Jātaka one monk shows a postraumatic reaction. This monk displays extreme fear, hyperaroual, avoidance, frightful mental pictures (flashbacks?) and emotional anesthesia. The clinical picture which is given in the Maranabheruka Jātaka much similar to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb. They may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled.

Sexuality is another aspect which had been described by the Jātaka story teller. Sexuality varies greatly by culture, region, and historical period, but in most societies and individuals has a large influence on human behavior. In almost any historical era or culture, the arts, including literary and visual arts, as well as popular culture, present a substantial portion of a given society's views on sexuality. In most societies and legal jurisdictions, there are laws on what sexual behavior is permitted. The dominant world religions treat sexuality as a distraction from the spiritual path. On the other hand, some spiritual traditions integrate sexuality into their spiritual practice. Some regard sexuality as an integral part of life, a gift to be honored and enjoyed. The literature of ancient India deals with a great number of scientific questions. Sensuous love, emotional feeling of attachment. In ancient Indian thought is recognized as the stimulus of action and personified as the god of erotic love. This is the enjoyment of appropriate objects by the five senses of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, assisted by the mind together with the soul.

Sexual Jealousy or pathological jealousy had been described in the Jātaka stories. Jealousy is a universal feeling. The feeling is normal until it is acted upon and the behavior or actions become irrational. Jealousy does not have boundaries. It penetrates all social positions, intellectual levels, ages, races, and economic strata. Chulla Darmapāla Jātaka reveals the sexual jealousy. In this story King Prathapa became extremely angry when his queen cuddled the infant son without taking any notice of him. The angry King Prathapa orders to kill the infant.

Jealousy is a complex human emotion that is provoked by a perceived threat to an exclusive dyadic relationship (Daly & Wilson, 1983). Although the emotional experience of jealousy may involve varying degrees of sadness, anger, and anxiety, many psychologists have defined it globally as the sense of "distress" or "discomfort" experienced over a partner's real or imagined involvement with another (Clanton & Smith, 1977;). Jealousy can occur in any type of relationship, but it is most commonly associated with romantic relationships. Here the King Prathapa's emotion was anger and as a result of rage he killed his own son.

According to Asanaga Jātaka Prince Asanaga dislikes and fear of women. Prince Asanaga's character could be described as a person with Gynocophobia. A phobia is an irrational, persistent fear of certain situations, objects, activities, or persons. The main symptom is excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. The prince Asanaga had marked and persistent fear that was excessive and unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of women. Exposure to company of women invariably provoked an immediate anxiety response. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, and distress in the feared situations interfered significantly with his normal routine, social activities and relationships. In the Asthramanthra Jātaka an old woman was seduced by a young apprentice in order to study the level of seduction in the old age. The old woman attempts to kill her own son to have sex with the young apprentice. Here the Jātaka story teller describes the old woman' s sexually inclined mind and her criminality better than Fyodor Dostoyevsky the world's greatest novelists and literary psychologist.

Here again the eminent Sri Lankan writer Martin Wicramasinghe sees the similarity between Asthramanthra Jātaka and Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, which is a tale of bitter family rivalries. The Brothers Karamazov, was written on two levels: on the surface it is the story of a parricide in which all of a murdered man's sons share varying degrees of complicity but, on a deeper level, it is a spiritual drama of the moral struggles between faith, doubt, reason , and free will. In this novel Dostoevsky specifically questions whether good and evil can exist in a world in which there is no God. In Asthramanthra Jātaka the senile woman was highly aroused sexually. She was attracted by the young man and has an urge to have a physical relationship with him. She sees her own son as an obstacle. Therefore she decides to kill her son. The old landowner in Brothers Karamazov and the old woman in Asthramanthra Jātaka have similar characteristics with regard to sex.

The Seggu Jātaka is about incest. The traditional definition of incest is sexual intercourse between blood relatives. There is now an evolving definition of incest that takes into consideration the betrayal of trust and the power imbalance in these one-sided relationships. One such definition is: "the imposition of sexually inappropriate acts, or acts with sexual overtones ... by one or more persons who derive authority through ongoing emotional bonding with that child." (Blume, 1990) This definition expands the traditional definition of incest to include sexual abuse by anyone who has authority or power over the child. Freud, in 1896, was the first to recognize the connection between adult survivors' mental health problems and their past histories of child sexual abuse, thus explaining the problem of hysteria. This led to his seduction theory. Later Freud denounced the seduction theory and replaced it with the oedipal theory. In Seggu Jathaka a father wants to know whether his young beautiful daughter is a virgin. He takes her to the forest and tries to make love to her. His daughter cries with fear and shame, and then later he realized the daughter is a virgin.

In Maha Palohana Jātka the Prince Annithagantha suffers from hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Prince Annithagantha had absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity. He was given a treatment which was some what similar to modern day sex therapy by Masters and Johnson. Masters and Johnson pioneering research team in the field of human sexuality. They emphasized social and cognitive causes of sexual dysfunction.

Thakari Jātaka tells about a young man named Thundila who shows positive psychological features of pathological gambling. Forms of gambling are recorded through the ages and across cultures. "Pathologic gambling" and "gambling addiction" are terms used to describe gambling-related behaviors. Suicide attempts, felony convictions, spouse and child abuse, and unemployment are common in pathologic gamblers. Evidence points to the common existence of narcissistic personality characteristics and impulse control problems in pathologic gamblers. Thundila the gambler shows most of the above mentioned features.

In Khanthivadi Jātaka King Kalabu who is a sadist derives satisfaction torturing a hermit. The essential feature of sadism is a feeling of excitement resulting from administering pain, suffering, or humiliation to another person. The pain, suffering, or humiliation inflicted on the other is real; it is not imagined and may be either physical or psychological in nature. Khanthivadi hermit bears the torture without losing his temper. Although his limbs were cut still the Khanthivadi hermit harbors no anger with the King Kalabu. The type of reaction displayed by Khanthivadi hermit is less described in the Western Psychology may be due to the Semitic influence. Also Hamurabi's code of law promotes an eye for an eye. Even Sigmund Freud could have found it difficult to understand the hermit's reaction of non violence.

This is what Gandhi says about non violence. "The religion of nonviolence is not meant merely for the rishis and saints. It is meant for the common people as well. Nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law-to the strength of the spirit. Nonviolence is the law of the human race and is infinitely greater than and superior to brute force".

Freud described that savage part of the human nature. Similarly in the Jātaka stories the dark side of the human mind is revealed. In Suthasoma Jātaka. Porisada, the cannibal shows series of anti social personality traits. Antisocial personality disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by chronic behavior that manipulates, exploits, or violates the rights of others. This behavior is often criminal. In this story Porisada was reformed by Bodhisatta.

In the Ummagga Jātaka the Jātaka story teller shows the power of wisdom .The king Vedeha's young advisor Mahaushada Pandit launched a series of psychological operations. Psychological Operations are techniques used by military to influence a target audience's emotions motives objective reasoning, and behavior. This concept has been used by military institutions throughout history in the battle which led to a giant victory.

Assaka Jātaka desribes about a King who suffered from pathological grief after his queen's death. Pathological grief is an abnormal response to loss events. Many varieties of pathological grief have been noted in Jātaka stories. Persons with a preloss combination of both contradictions in relational schemas about the deceased and tendencies toward excessive control to stifle unwanted affect will tend to have unsuccessful processes of mourning. Other forms of "pathological grief" occur when the original grief is not felt; when it is suppressed or delayed. In this story the King's emotions associated with the loss find expression through inappropriate channels and it has been vividly described the Jātaka storyteller.

Death is a universal phenomenon. Sujātha Jathaka discusses the meaning of death in an existential view. Death is the irredeemable loss of consciousness. The existential level is organized around life on earth itself and the social, cultural and spiritual ramifications of it, that is, the "human condition." People's existential issues are related to their mortality and impermanence, their experience of freedom of choice their sense of worthiness, and their sense of separation/connection with others. Work at this level is to loosen the rigidity of the self-image, to expand the relationship to the sacred, and to integrate one's relationship with death.

Dadara Jātaka reveals a monk with an Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Intermittent Explosive Disorder falls in the category of Impulse-Control Disorders. The condition is characterized by failure to resist aggressive impulses, resulting in serious assaults or property destruction. In Dadara Jātaka this monk is easily provoked and goes in to violent impulsive tantrums. Later this monk was healed by the Bodhisatta.

Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliere, French actor and playwright, considered the greatest writer of comedy wrote the famous story Tartuffe. A religious hypocrite, tries to get title to his friend's estate by sending him to jail. So effective was Moliere's satire, that the word Tartuffe has become part of the English language. The con man by the name of Tartuffe pretends piousness and deceives a well-to-do gentleman named Orgon. Tartuffe tries to seduce Orgon's wife, Elmire, and gets Orgon to sign over to him all of his property. Moliere was influenced by a specific story from the Jātaka stories. This story is called Somanassa Jātaka. In Somanassa Jātaka a hypocrite hermit has double standards. He is deceptive and pretends that he has morals and acts like Moliere's Tartuffe.

Literary genius Martin Wicramasinghe says there is much similarity between Voltaire's Candide and Dhiṭṭhi Mangalikā from Jathaka stories. Dhiṭṭhi Mangalikā was a beautiful girl from a high caste. When she meets Marthanga Pandit of a lower caste at the street she turns back thinking that he was a bad omen. Then the servants of Dhiṭṭhi Mangalikā assaults Marthanga Pandit. With pain and humiliation Marthanga Pandit launches a hunger strike until he was given Dhiṭṭhi Mangalikā as his wife. Eventually her parents agreed to give Dhiṭṭhi Mangalikā the beautiful high caste girl to Marthanga Pandit in order to resolve the crisis.

Voltaire wrote Candide against the tenets of the then-eminent German philosopher Leibniz, who claimed that mankind lives in the best of possible worlds. Voltaire tried to dismantle this notion, and thus created Candide. The Bantam Classic edition offers a highly informative forward by Andre Maurois, with caustic wit and hyperbole. The Tale of Candide begins in Westphalia, from which young, naive and gullible Candide is forced to flee. A disciple of his tutor, Pangloss, Candide explains his misfortunes and those of others, determined to find links between cause-and-effect.

Thus the Jātaka stories discuss the wide rang of human psychological problems. Most of the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is a guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders in the United States) illnesses are described in here. Also it gives a profound philosophy which is everlasting. The Western world should carefully study this priceless piece of work.