According to this answer for the question "Does Theravada Buddhism accept Jataka Stories?":

The Theravada accepts the Jataka stories as commentarial literature; they are not canonical, but are considered a reliable account by a learned Buddhist scholar. What are canonical are the verses that accompany the stories ...

It's not uncommon for modern Theravada Buddhists to question the authenticity of the stories, especially given their often fantastical content.

Based on the above, it looks like the stories of the Buddha's past lives from Jataka are merely commentarial, and not canonical.

However, I found one possible story of the Buddha's past life as told by him in MN 83, which is part of the Sutta Pitaka, but outside Jataka. Being part of the Majjhima Nikaya, I take it that this is canonical.

It's a story about the just and principled King Makhadeva who started the practice of retiring from the throne at an advanced age to become an ascetic. He practiced the Brahmaviharas, and was reborn after the break-up of the body, after death, in the Brahma realm. He established and passed on this good practice to his descendents who carried on doing it, till King Nimi's son Kaḷārajanaka who stopped this practice.

The plot twist is when the Buddha tells Ananda:

And having developed the four Brahmā meditations, when his body broke up, after death, King Nimi was reborn in a good place, a Brahmā realm. But King Nimi had a son named Kaḷārajanaka. He didn’t go forth from the lay life to homelessness. He broke that good practice. He was their final man.

Ānanda, you might think: ‘Surely King Makhādeva, by whom that good practice was founded, must have been someone else at that time?’ But you should not see it like this. I myself was King Makhādeva at that time. I was the one who founded that good practice, which was kept up by those who came after. But that good practice doesn’t lead to disillusionment, fading away, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in the Brahmā realm. But now I have founded a good practice that does lead to disillusionment, fading away, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. And what is that good practice? It is simply this noble eightfold path, that is: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion. This is the good practice I have now founded that leads to disillusionment, fading away, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. Ānanda, I say to you: ‘You all should keep up this good practice that I have founded. Do not be my final men.’ Whatever generation is current when such good practice is broken, he is their final man. Ānanda, I say to you: ‘You all should keep up this good practice that I have founded. Do not be my final men.’”

The Pali version side-by-side with English:

I myself was King Makhādeva at that time.
Ahaṃ tena samayena rājā maghadevo ahosiṃ.

I was the one who founded that good practice,
Ahaṃ taṃ kalyāṇaṃ vattaṃ nihiniṃ, mayā taṃ kalyāṇa vattaṃ nihitaṃ;


  1. Is my interpretation correct that the Buddha was King Makhadeva in his past life, based on the Pali version?

  2. Are there other such canonical stories of the Buddha's past lives in the Pali Sutta Pitaka, outside of Jataka?

4 Answers 4


Are there other such canonical stories of the Buddha's past lives in the Pali Sutta Pitaka, outside of Jataka?

There's a bit in DN 16 -- not detailed, only that he was reborn here from a previous existence in Tusita heaven (the which event is one of the reasons why a great earthquake can happen):

Furthermore, when the being intent on awakening passes away from the group of Joyful Gods, he’s conceived in his mother’s belly, mindful and aware. Then the earth shakes and rocks and trembles.

Puna caparaṃ, ānanda, yadā bodhisatto tusitakāyā cavitvā sato sampajāno mātukucchiṃ okkamati, tadāyaṃ pathavī kampati saṅkampati sampakampati sampavedhati.

There's also the Buddhavamsa and the Cariyapitaka -- I'm not sure whether you count these as "suttas": i.e. they're in the Khuddaka Nikaya (in the Sutta Pitaka), as are the Jataka tales.

  • The first reason sounds Dubious from modern justices point of view though : “ Ānanda, there are these eight causes and reasons for a great earthquake. What eight? This great earth is grounded on water, the water is grounded on air, and the air stands in space. At a time when a great wind blows, it stirs the water, and the water stirs the earth. This is the first cause and reason for a great earthquake”. ‘Water’ here could be understood as a magma, but then it is on top of air? I suspect this could be a later addition to the sutras. Jul 11 at 17:33

There are 547 past life stories of Lord Buddha are described in sutta pitaka/khuddhaka nikaya/jataka pali section...story of king makhadeva also there, as Makhadeva jataka There were more past lives of buddha,but only that 547 are described in various occasions to advice someone on recently aroused problem..


There are about ten suttas that refer to literal past lives and the language of these suttas appear to share the same language as the Buddhavamsa, which is a later composition.

There are many suttas that appear to be have composed at a later time, including suttas about ultimate truth, such as MN 117.

In short, it is perfectly reasonable to contend not every sutta was spoken by the Buddha. In Christianity, none of the New Testament was written by Jesus. In Islam, millions of Hathids were written claiming to be about teaching of Mohamed. In Buddhism, there are volumes of teachings written after the Buddha, such as Abhidhamma, Jataka, Commentaries, etc. Therefore, why would any reasonable person believe every Pali sutta are the words of the living Buddha?

Importantly, suttas about literal past lives (such as MN 123) contradict other suttas, such as MN 64 and SN 22.79. SN 22.79 literally states recollection of "past abodes" is recollecting in the past when the mind mistakenly clung to one or more aggregates as "self".

Suttas such as SN 23.2, SN 5.10 and SN 22.81 explicitly & literally say the word "satta" and thus "jati" refers to the arising of the view of "self".

The idea of literal past & future lives appears to be a later addition to Buddhism and ultimately contributed to the extinction of Buddhism in India (because Buddhism became the same as Hinduism).

The cherishing & delighting in ideas about "past lives" is "becoming" and maintains "personality-view". It is for puthujjana who fear death and fear the end of ego and consciousness.

  • 1
    By the way there was a different account here of how Buddhism became extinct in India -- not that it became the same as Hinduism (Hinduism and Buddhism remained separate) -- the Hindus were warriors, rulers, and peasants, while Buddhists were bourgeois (middle-class and mercantile townsfolk) -- when the Arabs invaded, the townsfolk converted to Islam within a couple of hundred years (e.g. to avoid extra taxation and because their trade routes were altered), and the Buddhist monastics (no longer supported by lay society) went elsewhere.
    – ChrisW
    May 25, 2018 at 21:12
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Buddhism's distinctiveness diminished with the rise of Hindu sects. Though Mahayana writers were quite critical of Hinduism, the devotional cults of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism likely seemed quite similar to laity, and the developing Tantrism of both religions were also similar. In effect, "the increasingly esoteric nature" of both Hindu and Buddhist tantrism made it "incomprehensible to India's masses," May 25, 2018 at 21:16
  • Do you know why Buddhism disappeared from India? Different people say for this,that or the other reason: for example, because foreign enemies came in and oppressed the religion. I don't think that is the case. I think that Buddhism disappeared from India because the followers of Buddhism began to interpret the principles of Buddhism incorrectly, explaining Paticcasamuppada, the heart of Buddhism, as a form of having a self. This is, I believe, the de facto reason for Buddhism's disappearing from India. Buddhism became simply an appendage of Hinduism May 25, 2018 at 21:20

There is this sutta as well:

“Once upon a time, Ānanda, there was a market town in this spot named Vebhaliṅga. It was successful and prosperous and full of people. And Kassapa, a blessed one, a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha, lived supported by Vebhaliṅga. It was here, in fact, that he had his monastery, where he sat and advised the mendicant Saṅgha.

The Buddha Kassapa had as chief supporter in Vebhaliṅga a potter named Ghaṭīkāra. Ghaṭīkāra had a dear friend named Jotipāla, a brahmin student. Then Ghaṭīkāra addressed Jotipāla, ‘Come, dear Jotipāla, let’s go to see the Blessed One Kassapa, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha. For I regard it as holy to see that Blessed One.’

When he said this, Jotipāla said to him, ‘Enough, dear Ghaṭīkāra. What’s the use of seeing that baldy, that fake ascetic?’


Ānanda, you might think: ‘Surely the brahmin student Jotipāla must have been someone else at that time?’ But you should not see it like this. I myself was the student Jotipāla at that time.”

MN 81

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