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Personalities of the Buddhist Suttas

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Devadatta

From: The Dictionary of Pali Proper Names: Devadatta: Son of the Sakyan SuppaBuddha (maternal uncle of the Buddha) and his wife Amita. He had a sister Baddakaccana, who married Prince Siddhattha. [i.e., he was the Buddha's brother-in-law and cousin];. When the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu after the Enlightenment and preached to the Sakyans, Devadatta was converted together with his friends Ananda, Bhagu, Kimbila, Bhaddiya, Anuruddha, and their barber, Upali, and he sought the Buddha at Anupiya and entered the Order. During the rainy season that followed, Devadatta acquired the power of iddhi possible to those who are yet of the world. For some time he seems to have enjoyed great honor in the Order and in one passage he is mentioned in a list of eleven of the chief Elders of all of whom the Buddha speaks in praise. Devadatta was later suspected of evil wishes. About eight years before the Buddha's death Devadatta, eager for gain and favor and jealous of the Buddha's fame, attempted to win over Ajātasattu [another great story, the king of Magadha, urged by Devadatta to kill his father Bimbasara];. He assumed the form of a child having a girdle of snakes, and suddenly appeared on Ajātasattu's lap frightening him. He then resumed his own form, and Ajātasattu, much impressed, paid him great honor and, it is said, visited him morning and evening with five hundred chariots and sent him daily five hundred dishes of food. This encouraged Devadatta in his schemes, and he conceived the idea of taking the Buddha's place as leader of the Sangha. As soon as this thought occurred to him, his iddhi-power disappeared.

Sometime later, Devadatta went to the Buddha and suggested that the leadership of the Order should be handed over to him in view of the Buddha's approaching old age. The Buddha scorned the suggestion saying, "Not even to Sariputta or Moggallana would I hand over the Order, and would I then to thee, vile one, to be vomited like spittle?" Devadatta showed great resentment and vowed vengeance. Thereupon, at the Buddha's suggestion, a proclamation was issued to the Sangha that in anything done by Devadatta in the name of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, none but Devadatta was to be recognized.

It was at this time that Devadatta incited Ajātasattu to kill his father Bimbisara, while he himself prepared to kill the Buddha.

Ajātasattu agreed, and provided Devadatta with royal archers to shoot the Buddha. These were placed on different paths, one on one path, two on another, and so on up to sixteen, and the plan was so laid that not one of them would survive to tell the tale. But when the Buddha approached the first man, he was terrified by the Buddha's majesty, and his body became stiff. The Buddha spoke kindly to him, and the man, throwing away his weapons, confessed his intended crime. The Buddha thereupon preached to him and, having converted him, sent him back by a different path. The other groups of archers, tired of waiting, gave up the vigil and went away one after the other. The different groups were led to the Buddha by his iddhi-power, and he preached to them and converted them. The first man returned to Devadatta saying that he was unable to kill the Buddha because of his great iddhi-power.

Devadatta then decided to kill the Buddha himself. One day, when the Buddha was walking on the slopes of Gijjhakuta, he hurled down on him a great rock. Two peaks sprang up from the ground, thereby arresting its' rushing advance, but a splinter struck the Buddha's foot, causing the blood to flow. Being in great pain, he was carried to Maddakucchi, and from there to Jivaka's Ambavana, where Jivaka attended him. After this event, the monks wished the Buddha to have a guard, but this he refused, saying that it was impossible for anyone to deprive a Tathagata of his life.

Devadatta's next attempt on the Buddha's life was to persuade elephant-keepers to let loose a fierce elephant, Nalagira drunk with toddy, on to the road by which the Buddha would pass. The news spread rapidly, and the Buddha was warned, but refused to turn back. As the elephant advanced he pervaded it with love, and thus completely subdued it.

This outrage made Devadatta very unpopular, and even Ajātasattu was compelled by the force of public opinion to withdraw his patronage from Devadatta, whose gain and honor decreased. Thereupon he decided, with the help of several others ... to bring about a schism in the Order. These ... went accordingly to the Buddha and asked for the imposition of five rules on all members of the Sangha: 1. that monks should dwell all their lives in the forest, 2, that they should accept no invitations to meals, but live entirely on alms obtained by begging, 3, that they should wear only robes made of discarded rags and accept no robes from the laity, 4, that they should dwell at the foot of a tree and not under a roof, 5, that they should abstain completely from fish and flesh. The Buddha's reply was that those who felt so inclined could follow these rules — except that of sleeping under a tree during the rainy season — but he refused to make the rules obligatory. This refusal delighted Devadatta, who went about with his party, declaring that the Buddha was prone to luxury and abundance. He was believed by the foolish, and in spite of the Buddha's warning against the dire sin of causing schism in the Order, Devadatta informed Ananda of his intention of holding an uposatha meeting without the Buddha, and, having persuaded five hundred newly ordained monks from Vesali to join him, he went out to Gayasisa ... .The Buddha sent Sariputta and Moggallana to Gayasisa to bring back the deluded ones. Devadatta, believing that they had come to join him, rejoiced, and, in spite of Kokalika's warning, welcomed them. That night he preached very late to the monks, and, wishing for rest, asked Sariputta to address the assembly. Sariputta and Moggallana preached to such effect that they persuaded the five hundred monks to return with them. Kokalika kicked Devadatta on the chest to awaken him and tell him the news. When Devadatta discovered what had happened, hot blood came from his mouth, and for nine months he lay grievously ill. As his end drew near, he wished to see the Buddha, though the latter had declared that it would not be possible in this life. Devadata, however, started the journey on a litter, but on reaching Jetavana, he stopped the litter on the banks of the pond and stepped out to wash. The earth opened and he was swallowed up in Avici (The Uninterupted, i.e., uninterrupted painful sensations, Hell), where, after suffering for one hundred thousand kappas, he would be reborn as a Pacceka Buddha called Atthissara ...

The Jataka Commentary contains numerous stories showing that Devadatta's enmity towards the Buddha was not confined to this life. It has existed during many kappas, and though sometimes he was foiled in his attempts to harm the Budhisatta, in many cases he succeeded in working his will. The beginning of this enmity, which increased with time, is described in the Serivanija Jataka.

Only once is mention made of the text of a sermon by Devadatta. Candikaputta reports this to Sariputta, who makes it an occasion for a talk to the monks. (A.iv.402)

See also: Ajātasattu


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