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Devadatta

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Devadatta

Devadatta - A buddhist monk

Devadatta was a cousin and brother-in-law of Siddhartha Gautama. He was the brother of Ananda, a principal disciple of the Buddha. It is believed that after the attainment of parinirvana by the Buddha, Devadatta along with other 500 Buddhist monks parted actual Buddha Sangha with the purpose to form their own Sangha.

Devadatta as portrayed in Theravada Buddhism

As mentioned in Theravada Vinaya, Devadatta first attained psychic power. He then felt to show his achievement to the person who he could convince to honor him. With clear observation, he decided to approach Prince Ajatasattu, the heir to the Magadha throne. Devadatta then transformed into the young boy and then sat in the prince's lap. The act made the prince very much impressed and later became his disciple.

The prince then began to send great offerings to Devadatta. These offerings and importance made Devadatta obsessed with his own worth. He began to think that he was the greatest and should lead the Sangha instead of the Buddha.

With these thinking in mind, Devadatta asked the Buddha to retire from the Sangha. He also requested him to let him lead the Sangha. The Buddha replied that he is in no state to hand over the responsibility to other even his trusted disciples. Later the Buddha also warned other fellow monks about Devadatta's intention.

With no sign of acceptance by the Buddha, Devadatta then changed the plan. He approached Prince Ajatasattu and encouraged him to take over the place of his father. Their intention was bad but the good king Bimbisara gave over the Kingdome into the Prince's control after learning their bad plans.

After gaining control over the kingdom, Ajatasattu gave mercenaries to Devadatta who ordered them to kill the Buddha. This was the first attempt and the plan was made very cautiously. In order to cover the tracks, he ordered other men to kill the killers, and more to kill them and so on. But the plan was failed since the people who were ordered to kill the Buddha couldn't do their job. They were converted to Buddhism.

Devadatta felt that the plan was not good so he himself tried to kill the Buddha. First attempt was by throwing the rock at him from the high distance. It was done when the Buddha was walking on the slopes of a mountain. This attempt also did not succeed and he decided to have the elephant Nalagiri to kill the Buddha. He intoxicated the elephant and let him loose on the Buddha while he was on alms round. This plan also failed due to the Buddha's loving nature and kindness which overcame the elephant.

With nothing worked as plan, he then decided to create the division in the order. He had a few monk friends with him and demanded the strict rules for the monks. These rules were -

  • The monks should dwell all their lives in the forest.

  • They should live entirely on alms obtained by begging.

  • They should wear only robes made of discarded rags.

  • They should dwell at the foot of a tree and abstain completely from fish and flesh.

The Buddha, on the other hand, refused to make the rules compulsory. Therefore, Devadatta spread the blaming by saying that he was living in abundance and luxury. Since the rules were not accepted in the Sangha, Devadatta decided to create a schism. This newly made sangha had 500 newly ordained monks and followed strictly the rules mentioned above.

The Buddha didn’t show any hatred towards Devadatta. Later he got sick and realized his wrong perspective. Devadatta then set for Buddha's place to apologize but it was too late. He died on the way to the Buddha.

Devadatta as mentioned in Mahayana Buddhism

According to Lotus Sutra, Devadatta was mentioned in chapter 12 where the Buddha explains that in past life, Devadatta was his holy teacher. He set the Buddha on the path and makes a noteworthy statement. It was due to him, the Buddha became fully endowed with the six paramitas, pity, compassion, joy, and Indifference. Other factors were eighty characteristics, the purple-tinged golden color, the ten powers, the four kinds of fearlessness, the four methods of winning people, the eighteen unshared properties, and the transcendental powers and the power of the way. He also mentioned that the credit of all these changes and progress was due to Devadatta who indeed was a good friend.

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