(Skt.). A genre of Buddhist literature that recounts moral stories about the previous lives of various saints. One of the twelve types of literary composition traditionally found in Buddhist Sanskrit literature, the avādanas are thought to have been compiled for the edification of lay audiences. The stories avoid complex doctrinal matters and depict instead the ways in which good deeds motivated by love and devotion are rewarded, and bad deeds performed out of ill-will and hatred are punished.
The avadāna style of literature seems to have become popular among the schools of early Buddhism prior to the rise of the Mahāyāna.which would locate it approximately at the beginning of the Christian era. In the avadānas we see the beginning of a devotional attitude towards the Buddha which was to become more pronounced in the Mahāyāna. The absence of Bodhisattva-figures and the down-to-earth flavour and setting of the tales also argues for a pre-Mahāyāna date. There is no reference to a doctrine of salvation through the intercession of the Buddha; instead the avadānas stress the necessity of a long process of moral development in which the individual is personally responsible for his spiritual progress. Modern scholars thus believe that this genre represents a literary transitional phase between Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna. The most important examples of this type of literature include the Avadāna-śataka, the Aśoka-avadāna, Divya-avadāna, and the later Avadāna-kalpalatā.