This image from a Laotian monastery depicts Devadatta attacking Gautama Buddha
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Devadatta (Sanskrit and Pali: देवदत्त devadatta; Sinhalese: දේවදත්ත) was by tradition a Buddhist monk, cousin and brother-in-law of Gautama Siddārtha, the Śākyamuni Buddha, and brother of Ānanda, a principal student of the Buddha. Devadatta is said to have parted from the Buddha's following with 500 other monks to form their own Sangha, most of whom are said to have been Shakya clan relatives of both Devadatta and Siddhartha.


Devadatta in the Jātakas

Devadatta is villainized in some Theravāda sources. Such stories occur primarily in the Jātakas, a collection of folktales about the lives of Buddha, which were written centuries after his death and originate in various nations. In these stories, Devadatta is set up as the opponent of the Buddha. The Jaataka tales are not part of the Tripitaka, the orthodox Buddhist canon, and are not taught as part of orthodox doctrine. Conflicts presented in the tales are not found in the earliest Buddhist canon redactions, and were not included in the first or second Sangha conferences that were held to determine the orthodox doctrine of Buddhism. Orthodox reference to the supposed conflict originate in the Thera pitaka within the Majjhima Nikaaya, but Devadatta is not referred to by name within these sutras.

Devadatta in the Mahāsanghika sources

In the Mahāsanghika sources, Devadatta is portrayed as a devoted and purist monk. Those of the Mahāsanghika formed the majority of the Buddhist Sangha at the time when Sthaviravāda monks proposed changes to the Vinaya, or monastic rules.

The original Vinaya Pitaka sutras record Devadatta as an earnest monk who wishes the Sangha to keep to a rigorous purity and not mingle deeply with mundane matters. There are several sutras in the Mahjjima Nikāya of Theravāda schools which are said to be negative commentaries on Devadatta, but only one which actually cites a conflict by name, which was in the forum of a public debate on determining monastic rules. None of texts in the Buddhist canon corroborate the violent accusations found in the folk tales about Buddha's life.

Siddhārtha Gautama is recorded in the Mahāparinirvana sutra, Discourse of the Great Decease to have died after violating two of the monastic rules which Devadatta is recorded to have insisted on retaining, and which Gautama rejected: eating meat and accepting invitations to private households. Devadatta and his followers outlived Buddha by a number of years. No account of any portion of their lives was recorded in their own times. More than a century passed before the first written Buddhist texts, none of which contain the accounts given two centuries later by Sthaviravāda revisionists, nor in the Mahāyana texts eight to twelve centuries afterward.

Theravāda account

According to the Pāli Canon, he taught his sangha to adopt five tapas (literally, austerities) throughout their lives:

  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.

His followers (including bhikkhus and bhikkhunis) came mainly from the Śākya clan. His closest four companions did not come back to the Buddha. According to Faxian, Xuanzang and I Ching's writings, some people practised in a similar way and with the same books as common Buddhists, but followed the similar tapas and performed rituals to the past three buddhas and not Śākyamuni Buddha. Many followers of that sect listened to the lessons in the Nālandā with the others, but it is believed by many that they were not students of Devedatta. However, there are still those who say they follow Devadatta today at Bodh Gaya.[1]

The name Devadatta

The name Devadatta has the meaning god-given in Palī and Sanskrit. It is composed from the genitive of deva and the past participle datta of the verb da, give. In the Bhagavad Gītā, the conch shell used by Arjuna on the battle-field of Kurukshetra was named Devadatta. The name Devadatta is still given today, and is often spelled Deodatta.

Early history

The story of Devadatta has been viewed by some scholars as a later addition derived from a later account made in the vinayas of the various early Buddhist schools. The Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya mentions the figure of Devadatta, but the description and attributes of this figure are entirely different from those in the vinayas of sects from the Sthavira branch.[2] In fact, there is no overlap in the characterizations of Devadatta between the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya and the other five extant vinayas which all come from the Sthavira branch. In addition, modern scholarship is generally in agreement that the Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya is the oldest.[3] This has led some scholars to conclude that the story of Devadatta was a legend produced by the Sthaviras after they split from the Mahāsāṃghikas in the 4th century BCE.[2] André Bareau has discovered that the earliest vinaya material common to all sects simply depicts Devadatta as a Buddhist saint who wishes for the monks to live a rigorous lifestyle.[4]

Faxian and other Chinese pilgrims who travelled to India in the early centuries of the current era recorded the continued existence of "Gotamaka" buddhists, followers of Devadatta. Gotamaka are also referred to in Pali texts of the second and fifth centuries of the current era. The followers of Devadatta are recorded to have honored all the Buddhas previous to Śākyamuni, but not Śākyamuni.

Portrayals in Mahāyāna teachings

Lotus Sūtra

In the Lotus Sūtra, chapter 12, found in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition, the Buddha teaches that in a past life, Devadatta was his holy teacher who set him on the path, and makes a noteworthy statement about how even Devadatta will in time become a Buddha:[5]

"The Buddha said to his monks: "The king at that time was I myself, and this seer was the man who is now Devadatta. All because Devadatta was a good friend to me, I was able to become fully endowed with this six paramitas, pity, compassion, joy, and indifference, with the thirty-two features, the 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. The fact that I have attained impartial and correct enlightenment and can save living beings on a broad scale is all due to Devadatta who was a good friend."

Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra

In the Mahayana Buddhist text, Contemplation Sutra, Devadatta is said to have convinced Prince Ajātasattu to murder his father King Bimbisāra and ascend the throne. Ajātasattu follows the advice, and this action (another anantarika-kamma for killing your own father) prevents him from attaining stream-entry at a later time, when listening to some teaching of the Buddha. These are, however, tales that are not recorded in any of the first centuries following the demise of Gautama Siddārtha, but which appear later.


  1. ^ 佛教开创时期的一场被歪曲被遗忘了的“路线斗争”
  2. ^ a b Ray, Reginald. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. 1999. p. 168
  3. ^ Skilton, Andrew. A Concise History of Buddhism. 2004. p. 48
  4. ^ Ray, Reginald. Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. 1999. p. 169-170
  5. ^ "The Lotus Sutra, Translated by Burton Watson, Chapter Twelve: Devadatta". Retrieved 2009-12-28. 


External links

  • Devadatta entry in the Buddhist Encyclopedia.

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