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Before Buddha Was Buddha

Learning from the Jataka Tales

Published by Wisdom Publications
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

Discover how ordinary beings—a deer, a robber, a monkey, a parrot, and more—make up the past lives of the Buddha before he was Buddha.

The jataka tales are ancient Buddhist stories found in both the Pali Canon and Sanskrit tradition, recounting the many past lives and ongoing spiritual work of Shakyamuni Buddha on his way to his final birth as Siddhartha Gautama. In them we find the Buddha facing difficulties, making tough choices, doing hard work, falling down and getting back up—the kind of continuing effort of spiritual practice that all beings face.

Before Buddha was Buddha focuses on a selection of particular jataka tales in which the Buddha in past lives faces temptations and struggles with self-doubt as well as his own shortcomings. In these tales he’s not beyond life’s messes—its challenges and disasters—but is down in the mix, trudging through the mud with the rest of us. Each story, presented in brief, is followed by a commentary pointing to its relevance to our lives and practice-realization today.

About The Author

Rafe Martin is the author of over twenty award-winning books for adults, children, and young adults. He is also a lay Zen teacher in the Harada-Yasutani koan line and founding teacher of Endless Path Zendo, Rochester, NY. A personal disciple of Roshi Philip Kapleau (Three Pillars of Zen) and the editor of Roshi Kapleau’s final two books, he later trained with Robert Aitken Roshi, completing the Diamond Sangha koan curriculum and receiving inka (authorization to teach) from Danan Henry Roshi, a Kapleau lineage teacher and a Diamond Sangha (Aitken line) Dharma Master. Rafe’s books have been cited in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, and USA Today. He is the recipient of the Empire State Award for his body of work as well as multiple ALA Notable Book Awards and Storytelling World Awards. He has spoken at such events and places as the Joseph Campbell Foundation Festival of Myth and Story, The American Museum of Natural History, The Freer Gallery/Smithsonian, the National Storytelling Festival and International Storytelling Institute, the American Library Association Annual Conference, The American Booksellers Annual Conference, many Zen and Dharma Centers around the country, and numerous literary and storytelling festivals. His writings have appeared in Buddhadharma, Tricycle, Lion’s Roar, The Sun, Zen Bow, Inquiring Mind, Parabola, and other journals of note.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Wisdom Publications (March 20, 2018)
  • Length: 176 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781614293729

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Raves and Reviews

“Storyteller and Zen teacher, Rafe Martin, offers a fresh set of stories to contemplate – and what stories they are! These amazing old tales enter the heart directly and prepare our minds for the wisdom of the author’s contemporary commentary. His deeply felt connection to these ancient Buddhist tales enhances his message to all of us, and integrates traditional teachings with our lives today. Before Buddha Was Buddha is a pleasure to read. Plus a close reading reveals not only wise teachings but also valuable insights into ancient metaphors and symbols.”

– Pat Enkyo O’Hara Roshi, Abbot of the Village Zendo NYC, Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Family

Before Buddha Was Buddha is a most welcome addition to contemporary Zen Tradition – Zen in the Art of the Jatakas! It offers us a source of inspiration and courage when we must face the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” seeing them not as interruptions or obstacles, but as the Way itself. With this book, Rafe Martin has made it possible for us to go directly to the Big Boss, (the Buddha himself), before his supreme awakening, and learn how he, too, struggled to find his way when he was swamped by the “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” An excellent and most useful book!"

– Danan Henry Roshi, Founding Teacher, Zen Center of Denver

"Before Buddha Was Buddha is clearly the result of decades of practice and insight. Written by a very mature teacher, it can help spiritual practitioners deepen their understanding of the nature of Mind. As a lifelong student of Zen Buddhism, I am personally impressed and inspired by it!"

– Hogen Bays Roshi, Co-Abbot Great Vow Zen Monastery and Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple Portland, Oregon

“As a teacher of Eastern philosophy to diverse students, I’ve struggled with how to present the abstract, challenging, and sometimes counter-intuitive concepts that Buddhism presents in a way that brings them to life in a classroom. Karma, impermanence, dependent co-arising and the rest, can feel colorless without narratives to ground them. Rafe Martin’s illuminating, thoughtful, and inspiring new book on the wisdom of the ancient Jataka tales does just that: reveals how the core ideas of Buddhism actually play out in the realities of our lives. This is just the book my students need to put flesh on the Buddhist bones. I recommend it enthusiastically!”

– Dr. Abigail Levin, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Niagara University

"This is a delightful book—read it for the stories as well as the gift of life it presents. Rafe Martin reveals a way of play as well as fully exploring the deepest corners of our human hearts."

– James Ishmael Ford, author of Introduction to Zen Koans

“The Long Maturation, in which we align our behavior, speech and thought with what we realize in our ongoing Zen practice, is a vital yet so often ignored aspect of that practice. With Before Buddha Was Buddha, Rafe Martín Sensei gives us rare and valuable guidance in this process, using the examples of the Buddha’s previous lives as told through the Jataka Tales. An important book for anyone doing spiritual training!”

– Mitra Bishop Roshi, founding teacher of Mountain Gate-Sanmonji

"Before Buddha Was Buddha is an alarm clock for the soul. Its words wake you up and lead you out into bright daylight. Its clarity and maturity brings Buddhism down from the realm of the gods and makes the profundity of this Path an actual lived reality. Thank you so much!"

– Richard Wehrman, poet, artist, author of Talking To The Wind and Light Was Everywhere

“Rafe Martin offers a book that exactly meets the needs of modern Buddhist practitioners. Zen Master Dogen wrote that the enlightened ones of the past were like us and we will, in the future, be like them. But what were they like? With this book, Sensei Martin shows us that even the most supremely enlightened being, the Buddha himself, had difficult moments in former lives. He felt anger, loss of faith in himself, fear, lust. He made errors and lacked courage. He was, in other words, human—just like us. But he also had tremendous resilience, and a determination to keep practicing through whatever hardship and pain might come his way. This is deeply affirming of our own humanity and is also something we desperately need to hear in these trying times. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, Before Buddha Was Buddha is an uplifting, important book.”

– Sunyana Graef Roshi, founding teacher and spiritual director of Vermont Zen Center, as well as spiritual director of Casa Zen, Costa Rica.

“Compelling, charming, and often surprising, the gem-like stories found in Before Buddha Was Buddha: Learning from the Jataka Tales, alongside Rafe Martin’s excellent commentary, offer a welcome window into the teaching of Buddhism and the oral tradition that shaped it over many centuries. A valuable resource for anyone seeking a deeper understanding.”

– Dinty W. Moore, author of The Mindful Writer

"Those who thought the jatakas were just morality tales for another age should, given Before Buddha Was Buddha, take a fresh look. Rafe Martin draws upon his insight, his knowledge of the jatakas, and his long immersion in the Dharma to create, through these stories and commentaries, vivid constellations we can use to navigate our own dark times."

– Bodhin Kjolhede Roshi, Abbot and Spiritual Director, Rochester Zen Center

Sensei Rafe Martin’s, Before Buddha was Buddha, is a most wonderful commentary on the Jatakas, intimately connecting us with the rich history and heritage of the Buddha’s own path. The commentaries help us see that the path of practice/realization has always had challenges and pitfalls, and that the Buddha himself, (before he was the Buddha), had to learn from experiences just like those we face today. Together, the stories and commentaries help us develop the courage, fortitude, and understanding we need to make our own life a Way of walking the path of realization, just as it was for the Great Sage in his previous lives. Highly recommended!

– Taigen Henderson Roshi, Toronto Zen Center

“The magic within Rafe’s Martin’s offering is the same magic that is within us when we face the challenges of life and of meeting our heart pain in the same way that the Buddha did. When we meet the Buddha in these stories, we met our self in our life. Thank you Rafe for your guiding stories and dharma teachings that embody the wisdom of the Buddha and inspire us to look within when all of our troubles seem to be without.”

– Ron Hogen Green Sensei, Zen Center of New York City/Fire Lotus Temple

"In my work as a transpersonal psychotherapist, I've seen people discover that their psychological issues are actually doorways to aspects of their True Nature. “Nothing is in the way; everything is on the Way!” says Rafe Martin. In Before Buddha Was Buddha, he skillfully uses the very human predicaments shown in the Jataka Tales and embodies them as his own, to show the Way. I believe that many people, Buddhist or not, are going to find this book a useful and encouraging companion on their own path of personal growth."

– Dale Goldstein, LCSW, Director of The Heartwork Institute and author if Heartwork: How To Get What You Really, REALLY Want

“A great gift. Rafe Martin’s wise and down-to-earth commentary humanizes the Jataka tales, letting them speak directly to our daily experience. Numerous aha! moments arise as we recognize in the Buddha’s previous lives our own imperfect and stumbling selves."

– Barbara Bonner, author of Inspiring Generosity and Inspiring Courage

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