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Schism in Early Buddhist Sangha and Role of Devadatta as Depicted in the Pali Tipitaka by Dr. Arvind Kumar Singh

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In any community where different people are living together there is always a possibility of the existence of different ideas and opinions relating to any arising question. Therefore, in order to maintain a peaceful life for that community the members should have some way to settle down thee differences and throughout the history of human kind, there are many proposals to resolve them, some even resorting to those violent means such as conflicts.

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In this research work, I have made an effort to show the description of dissension in Buddhism with special reference to the role of Devadutta. As a positive development I would like to quote Prof. K.T.S. Sarao who says that ‘split’ does not mean decline but ‘development’. In this connection, I have collected materials from the Buddhist traditional Texts and modern works on the Councils to deal with the above issue. As it is seen, early Buddhist religious Texts reflect the formation and development of Buddhist Sangha. Soon the Buddhist community had grown in number all over Jambudðpa (Ārayavarta) and the organization of the Sangha had become complex. There was a chaotic situation in the Sangha where the Buddhism was to lose its original ideology to organize its ideal community. The presence of the rule Sangharāji and Sanghabheda are the evidences. ‘Dissent’ means “to withhold assent” or “to differ in opinion” i.e., a religious non-conformity. It also carries the meaning of a person’s disagreement with the majority decision. Other aspect of Dissent is a justice’s non-concurrence with a decision of the majority. It is very essential to note that the Buddhists had a very clear conception of dissidence or Dissent (Sangharāji) and schism (Sanghabheda). According to the Pāli Vinaya1, there is a schism when a group of at least nine bhikkhus, possessed of all the religious privileges, belonging to the same persuasion and living in the same district, knowingly and willingly profess a proposition contrary to the law and discipline and, who after a properly established vote, separate from their colleagues in order to perform the ceremonies of uposatha, pavāranā and other official functions of the community on their own. If the number of dissenters is less than nine, there is no schism, but only dissidence2.


Here I would like to focus not only on the doctrinal differences between Buddha’s teachings and the dissenters but also tries to find out differences in practice of doctrines in day to day life by them. An attempt is made to see how far they differ in their religious goal and the influence of external forces on the growth of these two different views. The Dissent in the Buddha’s life time merely reflects a Buddhist doctrine a dynamic ensemble and the life of the monk as a true model of liberty and free-chosen will. Here my aim is not to reconstruct the real history of Buddhism in the ancient time. Perhaps the most striking example of the variations in the early Sangha relates to Devadatta. In the Pāli canon he is remembered as a villain: He urged a rogue elephant to trample the Buddha to death, but Buddha calms the elephant. He set off an avalanche to kill Buddha, but Buddha escapes without serious injury. Devadatta and Buddha also argued over the degree of austerity that monks and nuns should practice. It is said that he asked for extra rules. The first rule he asked for was that it be made compulsory for monks and nuns to be vegetarians. The second rule was that only three robes made of rags should be allowed. The third rule was to be that the only dwelling places were to be at the foot of trees in the forest and there should be no fixed residences. The fourth rule was that only one meal a day should be taken3. In the story told in the Pāli canon it is said that these should be optional practices which can be adopted as wished by monks and nuns. It is interesting that all these rules basically relate to the practices now associated with forest monks and are part of a set of ‘difficult practices’ which were adopted by forest monks and nuns especially during the rainy season. The difference between Mahākassapa and Devadatta seems to be that the former represents a forest tradition that accepts that its hard practices should be optional and Devadatta who wants these practices to be made mandatory. In the process of time, Sangha emerged as the most important citadel of Buddhism even during the time of the Buddha himself. After the demise of the Buddha it emerged as the sole authority of Buddhism because the Buddha had not appointed anybody as his successor. The voices of dissension (Sanghabheda) were already at work within the Sangha during and immediately after the death of the Buddha. By scrutinizing these voices and the state of the Buddhist Sangha as presented in the Nikāyas and the Vinaya, we may point out the fact, which may be the probable cause for the dissension (sanghabheda) in the Sangha are: absence of the supreme head of the Sangha/ community, system of specialization in different branches of the Buddhist literature, grouping around the noted teachers, latitude allowed in discipline austerities made optional and faith instead of formal observances.


In the words of the Buddha, schism is the most hateful crime in punishment of which an aeon (Kappa) of suffering is inadequate.4 In some cases, he goes so far as to forbid the re-ordination of such monks who indulged in schism or followed the schismatics.5 Dispute over the Dhamma and the Vinaya are technically called Vivāda.6 It was a specific type of Vivāda, fulfilling certain pre-conditions that could cause a schism. A schism is properly initiated if at least nine or more than nine qualified monks are involved in it; a lesser number of monks can bring about what is called dissension (Sangharāji).7 Difference of interpretation over the Dhamma, the Vinaya and the Pātimokkha - in all eighteen points of difference of opinion - provides valid ground for the occurrence of schism.8 When a schism takes place, the original order (Sangha) would be divided into two, each holding its congregational ceremony in separate assemblies.9

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This seems to be a strictly orthodox view of the Theravadins that every schism is initiated with an evil intention to disrupt the unity of the order and false doctrines are deliberately propounded in the schismatics.10 In fact, the mere entertainment of a dissident view, which arises due to various reasons such as difference of understanding or interpretation, was sufficient for a dispute to arise and this gives rise to schism and doctrinal confrontation. Schism was perhaps rarely intended to be caused. It followed into automatically if the confrontation was irreconcilable. The Buddha's own verdict on this point seems to have been that initiating schism in the Sangha is not condemnable in itself. What is to be condemned is the evil intention, the mere willfulness to produce a schism without an adequate reason for it.11 It is only a dishonest and intentional schismatic who cannot be saved from the torture of the 'Niraya' (hell) and not all schematics.


The Sanyutta Nikāya records that the Buddha had said that in the course of time his followers would fail to understand the subtle points of his teachings, such as void and would rather take as authoritative the simplified version of his followers and thus his own utterances would disappear to stem this tide, he exhorted the disciples to learn and grasp the doctrine as he had put before them. With his keen insight, he could foresee the specific realms where two monks might differ and give rise to controversy. The Buddha had the apprehension that there might arise some differences of opinion on Abhidhamma, Ajjhojiva and Adhipātimokkha. In case, there arises any dispute over the fruits (Magga), Pāti (Patipadā), it would be a matter of regret. In this case, the Buddha recommended the guidance of the senior monk. For verifying the correctness of his own teachings, he had suggested that it should be compared with the Sutta and the Vinaya learnt by heart by the monks. A little before his death, he had said to have recommended abolishing the minor precepts and to have given an opportunity to the monks clarify their doubts if there were any about the Buddha, the doctrine, the path or the method, so that they might not have to report afterwards. It was also perhaps in the height of this fact that he finally decided not to appoint any decrease or after him and laid down that the Dhamma and the Vinaya ought to be taken as the teacher there forth.


In general, Devadatta is always depicted as a negative character in the Pāli Literature but in the Sadhammapuμæarika Sutta of the Mahāyāna Text he is depicted in a favourable light as an exemplar of the ascetic forest of tradition. In the early scriptures it is mentioned that during the time of the Buddha there were 'sixteen major countries' in the Northern India which reflects a situation in which there were many states coexisting; each state could be classified as either an autocratic kingdom or a republican state with traces of tribalism. The states of the ‹ākya, the Malla and the Koliya tribes, for instance,


belonged to the latter. Again, the Vajjð people, who did so much for the Buddha, were probably a republic made up of a federation of eight member tribes. On the other side were kingdoms like Magadha, Kosala and Kāsi, equipped in varying degrees with an administrative and military organization12.


Devadatta is the most talked about personality in Pāli literature. Major portions of some of the texts are devoted to Devadatta. In most of the references, he is shown in bad light. In Pāli Literature, Devadatta is the cousin of the Buddha as is the Buddha's attendant, Ānanda. But while Ānanda is a much-beloved figure, Devadatta is one of the most notorious villains of the Pāli Canon ranking alongside Mara due to his ambition to overthrow the Buddha. As depicted in his legends, Devadatta is, in fact, an inveterate evildoer who is driven by ambitious and hateful intentions and performs a variety of pernicious deeds. Thus he tries, at various times, to supplant the Buddha, to bring the Sangha to ruin, and even to kill the master through one or another diabolical scheme. Referring to Devadatta, Rockhill rightly remarks that "his name became in later times synonymous with everything that is bad, the object of the hatred of all believers."13 In one of dilemmas discussed in the Milindapañhā, Devadatta is depicted as a mixture of good and evil14. In fact, there are indications, however slight, of another, quite different Devadatta, an impeccable saint whose sanctity is acknowledged by other Buddhist saints, including Sāriputta and even the Buddha himself.

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In the Vinaya of the Sarvāstivāda, for example, we learn that for twelve years following his admission into the order, Devadatta conducts himself with faultless deeds and thoughts. He reads and recites the suttas, lives according to proper discipline, and strives in his practice of the dhamma; in the A¶guttaranikāya, Devadatta reveals himself as one who has the right view and can preach the correct doctrine. Little wonder, then, that Sāriputta praises Devadatta for his saintliness: "Godhi's son is of great psychic power, Godhi's son is of great majesty,"15 a praise that the Buddha affirms is spoken with truth. The theme of Devadatta's saintliness is affirmed in the Udāna, where it is the Buddha who praises him. Devadatta is mentioned as a Buddhist saint among other great Buddhist saints. In this account, eleven saints approach the Buddha, Devadatta and ten others - including the greatest disciples of the Buddha, listed, in the Pāli, as (1) Sāriputta, (2) Mahāmoggallāna, (3) Mahākassapa, (4) Mahākaccāyana, (5) Mahāko»»hita, (6) Mahākappina, (7) Mahācuμæa, (8) Anruddha, (9) Revata, and (11) Ānanda; Devadatta is tenth in this list, between Revata and Ānanda16. The Buddha refers to these eleven as brahmins declaring, "Monks, these are brahmins coming, these are brahmins coming." When asked to define what he means by brahmin, he replies that they are awakened saints: "Barring out evil things, who are ever mindful fare, Awakened, bond-free such in the world are surely brahmins."17 Devadatta also appears with many of the characteristics of a saint even in passages that are openly hostile toward him. For example, he is depicted as one who meditates in solitude.18 Moreover, as we shall presently see, he espouses the dhutagunas, including living in the forest, dwelling under a tree, begging food, and wearing patched clothes. Devadatta is also a realized master and, through his awakening, is in possession of magical power. The laity is enamored of him and shows their devotion through elaborate donations. He is a master who has disciples. He is an eloquent preacher, who "gladdened, rejoiced, roused, and delighted the monks far into the night with talk on dhamma".19 Taken together, these features define not an evildoer, but a realized master who in many respects conforms to the paradigm of the Buddhist saint of the forest. This raises the question of why Devadatta is on the one hand vilified as the very embodiment of evil and on the other depicted as a realized saint. In order to address this question, let us consider the main themes of Devadatta's legend as found in the extant literature. In fact, some references go as far as declaring him as the worst enemy of the Buddha. For instance, the Jātakas have centered on Devadatta20 as follow:

1. Kurungamiga Jātaka (No.21): This Jātaka Story tells about Devadatta's plots to kill the Buddha, the huntsman being identified with Devadatta21.
2. Mahāsðlava Jātaka (No. 51): The story was related to a backsliding monk. Devadatta is identified with the treacherous minister of the Jātaka22.
3. Vānarinda Jātaka (No. 57): The story was related in reference to Devadatta’s attempt to kill the Buddha23.
4. Tayodhamma Jātaka (No.58): Once Devadatta was born as king of the monkeys, and the Bodhisatta was his son. The monkey-king had the habit of gelding with his teeth all his male offspring, lest they should one day supersede him; but the Bodhisatta's mother left the herd before the child was born and brought him up elsewhere. When he grew up he came to see the monkey-king, and on the latter's trying to kill him by crushing him in a false embrace, the Bodhisatta showed greater strength than his sire. Then Devadatta asked him to fetch lotuses from a neighbouring lake, which was inhabited by an ogre, saying that he wished to crown his son as king. The Bodhisatta guessed the presence of the ogre and plucked the flowers by leaping several times from one bank to the other, grasping them on his way. The ogre seeing this expressed his admiration, saying that those who combine the three qualities of dexterity, valour, and resource can never be vanquished. When the monkey-king saw his son returning with the ogre, who was carrying the flowers, he died of a broken heart. The story was related in reference to hunting24.
5. Saccankira Jātaka (No. 73): The story was told in reference to Devadatta's attempts to kill the Buddha. Devadatta is identified with Du»»ha, the snake with Sāriputta, the rat with Moggallāna, and the parrot with Ānanda25.
6. Dummedha Jātaka (No.122): The Bodhisatta was once the state elephant of the Magadha king of Rājagaha. When the king rode in procession, the people had eyes only for the elephant, and the king, in envy, schemed to have the elephant thrown down a precipice. The mahout discovering this, flew on the elephant's back to Benares. The king of Benares welcomed them and, with their help, obtained the sovereignty of all India. The story was told in reference to Devadatta's envy of people's praise of the Buddha. Devadatta is identified with the Magadha king, Sāriputta with the king of Benares and Ānanda with the mahout.
7. Kurungamiga Jātaka (No.206): In a forest lived three friends: an antelope, a woodpecker and a tortoise. One night the antelope was caught in a huntsman's noose, and the tortoise set about biting through the thongs of the noose while the woodpecker, uttering cries of ill-omen, kept the huntsman in his hut. The antelope escaped, but the tortoise, exhausted by his labours, was caught by the huntsman. The antelope thereupon enticed the hunter into the forest and, eluding him, released the tortoise. The antelope was the Bodhisatta, Sāriputta the woodpecker, Moggallāna the tortoise and Devadatta the hunter. The story was told in reference to Devadatta's wickedness27 and the same story is Jātaka is figured on the Bharhut Stupa28.
8. Susumāra Jātaka (No. 208): Through this story, we came to know about Devadatta's attempts to kill the Buddha. The crocodile is identified with Devadatta and his wife with Ciñcā in this story29.
9. Dhammaddhaja Jātaka (No.220): The Jātaka story was related to Devadatta’s attempts to kill the Buddha. Devadatta is identified with Kālaka and Sāriputta with Chattapāni30.
10. Cullanandiya Jātaka (No.222): This Jataka story deals with Devadatta's wickednessand in this story Devadatta was depicted as the Hunter31.
11. Vānara Jātaka (No. 342): The Bodhisatta was a young monkey living on a river bank. A female crocodile in the river longed to eat his heart and her husband persuaded the monkey to go for a ride on his back in search of wild fruits. In midstream he began to sink and revealed his purpose, and the monkey, nothing daunted, said that monkeys did not keep their hearts in their bodies for fear of their being torn to pieces on the trees, but that they Hung them on trees, and, pointing to a ripe fig tree, showed the crocodile what he said was his heart. The crocodile took him to the tree, and the monkey jumped ashore and laughed at him. The story was told in reference to Devadatta's attempt to kill the Buddha32.
12. Latukika Jātaka (No. 357): The story related to Devadatta who was identified with the rogue elephant33. In the accounts of the quarrel between the ‹ākyans and the Koliyans, this Jātaka is said to have been one of those preached by the Buddha on that occasion, showing that even such a weak animal as a quail could sometimes cause the death of an elephant. Perhaps the story was related on more than one occasion.
13. Sāliya Jātaka (No. 367): In this story, Devadatta’s attempts to kill the Buddha are discussed34.
14. Suvannakakkata Jātaka (No. 389): In this story, we find the reference of Ānanda’s attempt to save the Buddha from the elephant (Dhanapāla) sent by Devadatta to kill him, by standing between the elephant and the Buddha where Māra was the serpent, Devadatta the crow, and Ānanda, the crab. Ciñcāmānavikā was the female crow35.
15. Kapi Jātaka (No. 404): This Jataka story tells that once the Bodhisatta and Devadatta were both born as monkeys. One day a mischievous monkey took his seat on the arch which was over the gateway to the park and, when the king's chaplain passed under the arch, he let excrement fall on his head, and, on the chaplain looking up, even into his mouth. The chaplain swore vengeance on the monkeys, and the Bodhisatta, hearing of it, counseled them to seek residence elsewhere. His advice was followed by all except the monkey, who was Devadatta, and a few of his followers. Sometime after, the king's elephants were burnt through a fire breaking out in their stalls. A goat had eaten some rice put out to dry and was beaten with a torch; his hair caught fire and the fire spread to the stalls. The chaplain, seizing his opportunity, told the elephant-doctors that the best remedy for burns was monkey-fat, and five hundred monkeys in the royal gardens were slain by archers for the sake of their fat. The story was told in reference to Devadatta being swallowed up by the earth36.
16. Tittira Jātaka (No.438): The story was related in reference to Devadatta's attempts to kill the Buddha37. In this story the ascetic was Devadatta, the lizard Kisāgotamī, the tiger Moggallāna, the lion Sāriputta, the teacher Mahā Kassapa, and the partridge the Bodhisatta.
17. Mahānāradakassapa Jātaka (No. 544): The story was related in reference to the conversion of Uruvela Kassapa. He came, after his conversion, with the Buddha to La»»hivana, and the people wondered if he had really become a follower of the Buddha. He dispelled their doubts by describing the folly of the sacrifices which he had earlier practised, and, laying his head on the Buddha's feet did obeisance. Then he rose seven times into the air, and, after having worshipped the Buddha, sat on one side. The people marvelled at the Buddha's powers of conversion, which, the Buddha said, were not surprising since he possessed them already as a Bodhisatta. In this story, Angati is identified with Uruvela Kassapa, Alāta with Devadatta, Sunāma with Bhaddiya, Vijaya with Sāriputta, Bījaka with Moggallāna, Guna with the Licchavi Sunakkhatta, and Rujā with Ānanda38.

Devadatta and His Dissenting views related to causing Schism/Dessension in Buddhism: The public attitudes of the laypeople were also one of the motives forcing Devadatta to dissent the Sarhgha. It is to believe that When the Teacher and the monks went into residence at Kosambi, great numbers of people flocked thither and said, “Where is the Teacher? Where is Sāriputta? Moggallāna? Kassapa? Bhaddiya? Anuruddha? Ānanda? Bhagu? Kimila?" But nobody said, "Where is Devadatta?" Thereupon Devadatta said to himself, "I retired from the world with these monks; I, like them, belong to the warrior caste; but unlike them I am the object of nobody's solicitude”.39 And then with the help of Ajātasattu he tried to kill Buddha. When all his attempts failed, he went to the Buddha, and with a view to cause a schism in the Order.40 History records that Devadatta approaches the Buddha and, pointing out that the master is now old, suggests that he, Devadatta, assumes leadership of the order. The Buddha utterly rejects this request, remarking that "I, Devadatta, would not hand over the order of monks even to Sāriputta and Moggallāna. How then could I to you, a wretched one to be vomited like spittle?"41 After Devadatta has departed, angry and displeased, the Buddha tells the bhikkhus to carry out a formal act of information against Devadatta in Rājagaha: "whereas Devadatta's nature was formerly of one kind, now it is of another kind; and that whatever Devadatta should do by gesture and by voice, in that neither the Awakened One nor dhamma nor the Order should be seen, but in that only Devadatta should be seen.”42

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The act being carried out, the Buddha asks Sāriputta to inform against Devadatta. When Sāriputta expresses hesitation because he had formerly spoken in praise of Devadatta, the Buddha allows that just as Sāriputta's former praise had been true, now his condemnation will be equally true.43 When Sāriputta enters Rājagaha and proclaims the act of information against Devadatta, Devadatta's lay devotees express the view that "these recluses, sons of the Sakyans are jealous, they are jealous of Devadatta's gains and honours," while others express willingness to trust the Buddha's judgment.44

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Following this, in the Cūlavagga account, Devadatta attempts to instigate Ajātasattu to kill his father Bimbisāra in order to become king, while he, Devadatta, plans to kill the Buddha in order to usurp his position as leader of the sarhgha.45 Ajātasattu is discovered, but instead of being punished, is given the kingship by his father. Devadatta then convinces Ajātasattu to assassins against the Buddha, but they are dissuaded from their intended act by the Lord's charisma, insight, and kindness.46 Devadatta next attempts to roll a boulder from a mountain height down on the Buddha. Although the boulder is miraculously destroyed, fragments draw blood from the Buddha's foot, which prompts the Buddha to remark, "You have produced great demerit, foolish man, in that you, with your mind, malignant, your mind on murder, drew the Truth-finder's blood."47 Following this incident, the Buddha's bhikkhus are anxious lest Devadatta succeed in murdering their master. In order to prevent against this, they pace up and down on every side of the Buddha's dwelling, reciting their texts, "doing their studies together with a loud noise, with a great noise for the protection, defence, and warding of the Lord." The Buddha hears this cacophony and asks Ānanda what is going on. Upon being told, he replies that the bhikkhus are not to worry, as a Buddha cannot be killed before his time by such a one as Devadatta.48 Next, Devadatta arranges to have a mad, man-killing elephant let loose against the Buddha, but this design also fails, as the Buddha tames the elephant with his loving-kindness and the elephant responds with acts of reverence.49 The Cullavagga account next reports of Devadatta's "eating in groups." He wanders among the households, making requests, and is criticized by the people for eating with his friends and "having asked and asked among the households." The bhikkhus report this to the Buddha, who institutes a rule against the practice.50


Then follows the incident reported in the Vibha¶ga: Devadatta approaches his four companions and proposes the splitting of the order through advancing the five ascetic rules as obligatory.51 The story is told in the same words except that it concludes not with the Sanghādisesa rule but rather with the Buddha simply enjoining Devadatta not to bring about a schism, warning, "whoever (does so)... is boiled in hell for an aeon."52 Devadatta, however, pays no heed and shortly thereafter announces to Ānanda in Rājagaha that he plans to split the order by carrying out the Uposatha ceremony, "both in contradistinction to the Lord and in contradistinction to the Order of monks and will (so) carry out the (formal) acts of the Order."53 Devadatta next gives out the salāka (Sanskrit: salākā), voting sticks or tickets, remarking in reference to the obligatory observance of the five rules, "The recluse Gotama does not allow these, but we live undertaking these five items." He continues, "If these five items are pleasing to the venerable ones, let each one take a voting ticket. Five hundred bhikkhus, thinking, “this is the rule, this is the discipline, this is the Teacher's instruction," take the tickets. Thus is the order split.54 These bhikkhus are not irreparably lost, however, for the Buddha, knowing what has transpired, sends Sāriputta and Moggallāna to Devadatta's camp. After arriving, these two seem to approve of Devadatta's dhamma. However, when the usurper goes to sleep, they convince the five hundred bhikkhus to return to the Buddha.55 Kokālika then wakens Devadatta and tells him what has happened, whereupon hot blood issues from Devadatta's mouth and he dies.56 The Buddha subsequently remarks that Devadatta "is doomed to the Downfall, to Niraya hell, staying there for an aeon, incurable."57 However, when he breaths his last nine months later, he makes a dying statement that He has no refuge other than the Buddha: In him, who of the best is far the best The god of gods, the guide of gods and men, Who see all, and bears the hundred marks Of goodness, - ‘tis in him I refuge take Through all the lives, that I may have to live58


Though Devadatta falls into Niraya Hell, yet he is assured that after a hundred thounsand aecons he would be born as a Paccekabuddha by the name of A»»hissara.59 Now what turns out is that the nature of the Vinaya rules should essentially be reconciliation between the two extremes of sensuality, and self - mortification. But a study of the Vinaya rules, however, gives an altogether different impression. They seem to echo the rules of the ascetics. When one looks into the Nissayas it came to kind that it allowed the monks of the Sangha and the Dhutaμgas implied by them. The first of the four Nissayas was Piμdiyālopaphojans which asked a monk rely only on begging not only for provisions but practically for all his needs. The second was Pamsukulacivara which prescribed roles prepared only from rags taken from dust - heaps in the villages and cemeteries. The third was Rukkhamulasenāsans which demanded that a monk should take recourse only to the foot of a tree as his shelter. And that last Nissaya, the putimuttabhesajja, a monk should use only urine as his medicine.60


We have not found and precepts which say that the Buddha did not have supersdeing Devadutta's demand nor we came across a reference to the Dhutaμgas either in the Nikāyas or in the Vinaya texts, was most probably the concession granted to those who were in favour of rigorous ascetic practices. Devadatta's proposals61 were, as a matter of fact, pertaining to:

a. Food i. Piμæapatika kassu (let the monks depend on alms)
ii. Macchama´sa´ na khādeyyu´ (Let the monks not take fish and meat)
b. Dress iii. Pa´sukullikā assu (Let the monks wear rags)
c. dwelling iv. Āraññikā assu (let the monks be forest dwellers)
v. Rukkhamulikā assu (Let the monks live at the foot of as a tree)

The Dhutaμgas, which are thirteen in number, too, have special vows regarding the same three needs of the monastic life. Though it is clear that the five proposition of Devadatta and the Dhutaμgas, both of them fundamentally correspond to the four Nissayas which also pertain to food, dress and dwelling were virtually uniform. If it was so, then the question arises what was the reason which persuaded the Buddha to refuse Devadatta's appear. Buddhist Sangha was organised on a democratic basis. In the process of time, Sangha emerged as the most important citadel of Buddhism even during the time of The Buddha himself. The voice of dissension (Sanghabheda) was already at work within the Sangha during and immediately after the demise of the Buddha. The Buddha had this apprehension in his mind. That is why, in the Mahāparinibbāna Suttānta, the Buddha told his disciples that as long as the monks adhered to the practices mentioned below, the sangha would thrive and not decline." These practices were:

i. Avoid fruitless talks.
ii. Hold assemblies as frequently as possible.
iii. Perform all ecclesiastical acts in concord (Samagga), and.
iv. Listen to, and be respectful to, the senior monks and particularly to the head of the Sangha.

These four instructions implied his anxiety about the well - being of the Sangha in the future. During his life time there were two occasions when a split in the Sangha became imminent but he did not regard them as actual dissension (Sanghabheda). The first took place when he was at Ko›āmbi, on account of a minor difference of opinion between the Dhammadhara and the Vinayadhara62 and the other was one initiated by Devadutta that the monks should lend a more austere life,63 about which we have already mentioned above in detail. In fact the Sangha was an assemblage of a renegades and apostates, who came from different sects and schools and joined the Buddhist Sangha. Some of them, although adopted the new faith, could not resist the temptations for their previous faiths. The first converts of the Buddhist faith were Pañcavaggiya monks, who were brāhmaμical ascetics so also were the Kassapa brothers and a hest of others. They were no doubt, in minority, but still dominated over the Sangha. Once a monk, who might have belong to or have been influenced by ascetic ideals came to the Buddha and requested him to introduce nakedness in the Sangha.64 Next to him was Buddha's cousin 9 Devadatta who was very likely a Jaina - minded monk took the lead. He approached the Buddha boldly with his five propositions that forest dwelling, relying on food received only in begging - tours, wearing cloths made of rags taken from dust - heaps, living at the root of a tree and complete abstinence from fish and meat should be made compulsory.65 When he came to know that his demand was not going to be fulfilled, he raised a schism in the Buddhist Sangha on the ground that the Buddha's teaching was conducive to luxury.66 This led the Buddha to realize that it was not the voice of an individual, but of a large and influential minority.67 Their strong leaning towards ascetic practices constrained him to make allowance for those who were inclined that way.

The four other vinaya accounts parallel the Pāli version quite closely. Apart from incidents that are idiosyncratic and can be left aside as likely later additions and not part of the early tradition, these accounts differ mainly in the details of the incidents and in their order. For example, whereas the four other accounts agree that Devadatta promoted five ascetic practices (with the exception of the Chinese version, which mentions four), there is disagreement on the precise members of the list. Thus the Dhammaguptaka Vinaya agrees with the Pāli in mentioning begging food, wearing robes made of rags, and eating no fish or flesh but does not mention living in the forest or under trees, including instead living in the open and taking neither butter nor salt. The other traditions similarly show some agreement and some disagreement with the Pāli and Dhammaguptaka lists. Nevertheless, here, throughout the variations, the dramatic intent and meaning of the story are the same: Devadatta uses the proposal of the ascetic practices to bring about a split in the order.


One also finds differences among the five vinaya traditions in the arrangements of the incidents. Mukherjee points to two subgroupings within the five traditions: on the one hand are the Theravāda, Dhammaguptaka and Mahusāsaka; on the other, the Sarvāstivāda and Mulasarvāstivāda. It will be recalled that the Pāli account in the Cullavagga describes Devadatta's attempted murder of the Buddha and follows this with his efforts to cause a schism in the order by proposing compulsory adherence to the five ascetic rules. This same sequence is followed by the Dhammaguptaka and Mahusāsaka. Mukherjee points out that this does not make sense, because after Devadatta had attempted to kill the Buddha, he certainly would have been expelled from the community, thus making it impossible for him to have approached the Buddha as a bhikkhu in good standing who could propose a matter of discipline. The Sarvāstivāda and Mulasarvāstivāda accounts, on the other hand, have these incidents reversed in the dramatically more logical order.

Devadatta is not only a forest saint but one who strongly advocates forest Buddhism as the only authentic type of Buddhist renunciation, seen in his proposing the dhutaguna-type practices as obligatory for all renunciants. His unwavering advocacy of forest Buddhism is also seen in the issue of leadership. Unlike his Buddhist critics, Devadatta - in his request to the Buddha to become leader after the Buddha is gone - assumes that the transmission of authority in Buddhism must pass from teacher to disciple; the more collective, textual, and institutional forms that came to characterize settled monasticism are not part of his thinking. Devadatta's identification with forest Buddhism is seen finally in the fact that - as explicitly seen in his rules - he is deeply distressed to see some bhikkhus taking up residence in villages, living in dwellings, receiving robes as gifts from the laity, accepting invitations from the laity to come to meals, and so on. As Bareau remarks, he is concerned that certain bhikkhus are enjoying the donations of rich laity too much and are becoming too attached to the things of this world, phenomena he "considers a form of laxity, a danger for the future of the community and of Buddhism altogether." In this, his reaction is not dissimilar to the distress felt by Pārāpariya and Phussa in the Theragāthā over a similar movement to the village in their day. Like these two, Devadatta feels that the true dhamma is to be found solely and strictly in the forest, and he appeals to the Buddha to back him up. Devadatta, then, is a classic forest saint who, like the other Buddhist renunciants we are examining in this book, identifies normative Buddhism with forest Buddhism. This strict identification of Devadatta with forest Buddhism undoubtedly provides one important reason for his vilification by later Buddhist authors. It is not just that he practices forest Buddhism, is a forest saint, and advocates forest renunciation. Even more, and worse from the viewpoint of his detractors, he completely repudiates the settled monastic form, saying in effect that he does not judge it to be authentic at all. Moreover, his loyalty to forest Buddhism cannot be shaken: even when he meets with intense resistance, he will not be moved.

This explanation is confirmed when we notice that his attackers are, among the Buddhists, precisely those most identified with settled monasticism. His most enthusiastic vilifiers are, first of all, those monastic schools deriving from the conservative, monastic Sthaviras. In addition, it is in precisely their vinayas, those texts in which the form of settled monasticism is consolidated and articulated, that this critique is carried out. In other words, Devadatta becomes significant as an enemy within the specifically monastic context and set of concerns. Further, it is clear that settled monastic values drive the Devadatta story even in its earliest form: the issue in question has to do with central authority and institutional unity, something that more or less presupposes just the kind of centripetal force provided by settled monasticism. Finally, the predominant values evinced by Devadatta's attackers are those of settled monasticism: although toleration of forest life is given lip service, the preferred - indeed, assumed - renunciant form is clearly the settled monastic one. It is no accident, then, that when the monks are worried about the Buddha's safety; they wander back and forth in front of his cave, reciting their suttas, studying. The Buddha may be alone in his cave, but his disciples exist in a large group noisily going over their homework. It is also typical that the dramatis personae of the conflict square off as the solitary individual - Devadatta (his four friends and his gain and loss of the five hundred only highlight his aloneness) - versus the crowd of the Buddha's disciples. It seems clear that the core of the Devadatta legend, and particularly the vitriolic nature of the condemnation of this saint, is best understood as the expression of a controversy between a proponent (and his tradition) of forest Buddhism and proponents of settled monasticism, a controversy that in the sources is seen from the viewpoint of the monastic side.

There can be no doubt that Devadatta's schism is not an event imagined by Buddhist authors, but is a historic fact, as shown by the evidence provided by the two Chinese pilgrims, Fa-hsien and Hsuan-tsang. Fa-hsien, for example, reports that near Sāvatthi there was a community of disciples following Devadatta who rendered homage to the three previous Buddhas, but not to Sākyamuni.68

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As Bareau notes, this information gives indirect confirmation to the historicity of the ancient controversy that resulted in the disciples of Devadatta separating them from the mainstream, monastic Buddhist tradition. Hsuan-tsang, some two hundred years later, in the seventh century CE, confirms the existence of disciples of Devadatta living in three monasteries in Bengal "in which, in accordance with the teaching of Devadatta, milk products were not taken as food."69 This passage suggests adherence to a code more strict than those typical of Buddhist monks (though in Hsuan-tsang's time Devadatta's disciples live in monasteries!) and reveals a rule similar to one attributed to Devadatta in the Mahusāsaka and Mulasarvādin vinayas. It also suggests that the reason for Devadatta’s schism was indeed his adherence to certain austerities of the dhuraguna type, which the mainstream community from which he and his group seceded was not willing to follow. These references also reveal the great success of Devadatta and his tradition: it was still in existence long (at least a millennium) after its separation from mainstream Buddhism.70 The recognition of the historicity of Devadatta's schism leads naturally to the question of its rough date. The Khandhakas of the various Sthavira-derived schools, of course, depict this schism as having occurred during the lifetime of the Buddha. They wish us to believe that the essential conflict occurred between Devadatta and the Buddha himself. However, as mentioned, in the earliest core of the Khandhaka discussion of Sanghabheda, as reflected in the Mahāsanghika version, Devadatta does not appear. This raises at least the possibility that Devadatta's schism arose not only after the death of the Buddha but also after the split between Mahāsanghikas and Sthaviras. The fact that this story suggests the existence of a settled monasticism in a dominant form, which took some time to occur, also perhaps points to a similar conclusion. As far as the Nikāya Vinayas are concerned, Devadatta is more or less totally condemned as "incurable" and relegated to outer darkness. It is interesting, then, that Devadatta is not always condemned in Indian Buddhism.

In one of the dilemmas in the Milindapañhā, king Milinda asks Nāgasena: But, venerable, Nāgasena, your people say that Devadatta was altogether wicked, full of wicked dispositions, and that the Bodhisattva was altogether pure, full of pure dispositions. And yet Devadatta, through successive existences, was not only quite equal to the Bodhisatta, but even sometimes superior to him, both in reputation and in the number of his adherents.”71 Nāgasena replies: “Devadatta was a protection to the poor, put up bridges and courts of justice and rest-houses for the people, and gave gifts according to his bent to the Samanas and Brāhmanas, to the poor and needy and the way-fares, it was by the result of that conduct that, from existence to existence, he came into the enjoyment of so much prosperity. For of whom, O king, can it be said that without generosity and self-restraint, without self-control and the observance of the Uposatha, he can reach prosperity?”72

In the Saddhammapuμæaruka Sutra, Devadatta is presented in a former life as a forest renunciant who assisted Buddha Sākyamuni to Buddhahood.73 In chapter 11 of the text the Buddha is preaching the Mahāyāna to an assembled gathering, among who is the bhikkhu Devadatta, whom the Buddha now praises.74 In a former life, the Buddha says, there was a forest renunciant, a rsi, whose spiritual life was oriented around the Saddhammapuμæaruka Sutra itself. At that time, this rsi taught the Saddhammapuμæaruka Sutra to the bodhisatta (Sanskrit: bodhisāttva) in return for which the bodhisatta acted as his devoted servant for a thousand years. This seer was none other than Devadatta, whom the Buddha terms his kalyāμamitra,75 or "spiritual friend", in effect, his teacher. It was through training under Devadatta as his teacher, the Buddha tells us, that he was able to perfect the qualities76 by which he eventually became a Buddha.77 In future times, the Buddha continues, Devadatta will be greatly revered and honored and shall become no less than the greatly revered Tathāgata Devarāja, who shall lead innumerable beings to enlightenment. After he has passed away, the dhamma of this Buddha shall remain for twenty intermediate kappas. Moreover, his relics will not be divided, but will be kept together in a single, gigantic stupa, worshiped by gods and humans. So holy will be this stupa that those who circumambulate it may hope for realization as an arhat, a paccekabuddha, or a Buddha. Finally, in the future, a great blessing shall come to those who hear about Devadatta: for those hearing this chapter of the Saddhammapuμæaruka Sutra, and gaining from it shall be liberated from rebirth in the three lower realms.78 For at least one Buddhist tradition, then, Devadatta is clearly neither a Vinaya- breaker nor the archenemy of the Buddha but is a simple bhikkhus in good standing, present in an assembly in which the Buddha is preaching the Mahāyāna of the Saddhammapuμæaruka Sutra. Moreover, he is identified as having been in a previous lifetime a forest saint devoted to the principal Mahāyāna text of this tradition, one who made possible the present Buddha and his central Mahāyāna teaching. Does this textual image of Devadatta, though written down much later, retain a tradition relating to this saint that antedates or is contemporaneous with his vilification in the various vinayas? This question, particularly in light of the Mahāyāna associations of Devadatta in the Saddhammapuμæaruka Sutra is stimulating.

Overall, the possible reply toward the role of Devadatta seems to be satisfied the reader if the question of the Dissent focuses on him. The event in Kosambð will be dismissed as the motive behind the schism in early Buddhism due to the limited result carried out the Kosambi monks. It will be a perfect answer if the reader is willing to see the next Chapters in which we consider how the meanings of Dissent and Protest caused the Buddhist Councils and the establishment of different Buddhist schools. While it would be extremely valuable to examine the exact meanings of Dissent and Protest in the following chapters we will consider the interplay and interconnections between the two terms. As objects of investigation, Dissent and Protest are much as a product of western need and interests in debate about Early Buddhism and in this context, Devadatta is the first Dissenter in Ancient Buddhism.



1 Vin.II.204.
2 Etienne Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, Tr. From French by Sara Webb.Boin. Universite’ Catholique de Louvain, Institute Orientaliste, 1988, p.518.
3 Vin.III.171.
4 Cullavagga. 299-307. cf. A¶guttara Nikāya.IV.157 (Hence referred as A). 5 Ibid. 307.
6 Ibid, p. 170-172.
7 Ibid, p. 305-306.
8 Ibid, p. 306.
9 Ibid. 306, Mahāvagga .370.
10 Sacred Book of the East. Vol. III. 27.
11 C. 269, Milindapañho -- p. 112.
12 Trevor Leggett, Conditions in India after the Buddha, Middle Way. 2001, vol. 76:3, 2001, p.149. 13 W.W. Rockhill, The Life of the Buddha and the Early History of His Order, London, 1884. p.83 14 K.T.S. Sarao, op. cit. p.107.
15 V 2:189, I.B.Horner .Vol.5 p.265.
16 This list, containing the same saints given in the same order, appears in the Majjhimanikāya 3:78-79, Horner 1954-59, 3:121, - except for the fact that Devadatta is absent from his position as number ten. The two most reasonable explanations for this discrepancy are (1) that the Majjhimanikāya list represents the original list and that Devadatta was later added to the Udāna list and (2) that the Udāna list represents the earlier configuration, with Devadatta being removed in the Majjhimanikāya version. This latter option seems more likely for three reasons: (1) the antiquity of Udāna in relation to the Majjhimanikāya, Etienne Lamotte, Histoire du Bouddhisme indien, Louvain, 1958, p. 172; (2) given Devadatta's odious character in developed Buddhism, he is much more likely to be removed from a list like this than to be added to it; and (3) Devadatta does have a positive side, as we have seen, but as time goes on, it is increasingly hidden under a covering of vitriolic condemnation.
17 F.L. Woodward, Tr. The Minor Anthologies of The Pāli Canon, 2: Udāna. Verses of Uplift and Itivuttaka. As It Was Said, London, 1935, pp.4-5.
18 Vin.II:184, trans. by I.B.Horner .Vol.5 p.259.
19 Vin.II.200, ibid., p.280.
20 ,K.T.S.Sarao, Origin and Nature of Ancient Indian Buddhism, R&R Publisher, Delhi, 1999. p.107. 21 J.I.173f.
22 J.I.261-8.
23 J.I.278f.; cp. Kumbhula Jātaka. 24 J.I.280-3.
25 J.I.3227.
26 J.I.444f.
27 J.II.152ff; DhA.III.152f.
28 Cunningham: p.67 and PL XXVII.9. 29 J.II.159f.
30 J.II.186-96.
31 J.II.199-202.
32 J.III.133f; cf. Susumāra Jātaka No. 208. 33 J.III.174-77.
34 J.III.202f.
35 J.III.293-8.
36 J.III.355f; cp. Kāka Jātaka. 37 J.III.536f
38 J.VI.219 55; see also J.I..83.
39 Buddhaghooea's Dhammapada Commentary, Brlingame, Proc. of the American Academy: 45--20, p. 504.
40 Kalipada Mitra, Cross-Cousin Relation between Buddha and Devadatta, 1976, p.127. 41 Vin.II.:188.Ibid p.264.
42 Vin.II.189. Ibid. pp.264-265.
43 Vin.II.189.Ibid p.265.
44 Vin.II.190.Ibid p.266.
45 Ibid.
46 Vin.II.191-193, ibid.pp. 268-271.
47 Vin.II.193, ibid.p. 271.
48 Vin.II.193, ibid. pp.271-272.
49 Vin.II.194-95, ibid. pp.272-274.
50 Vin.II.196, ibid. pp.274-275.
51 Mukherjee, episode 13.
52 Vin.II.196-198, ibid. pp. 275-279.
53 Vin.II.198, ibid. p.278.
54 Vin.II.199, ibid. p.279.
55 Vin.II.199-200, ibid.pp. 279-281.
56 Vin.II.200, ibid. p. 281.
57 Vin.II.:202, ibid. p.283. See Buddhagosa's rendition of these events, Dhammapada commentary, E.W. Burlingame, trans., Buddhist Legends, London, 1921, 1979 reprint, 1:230-42. Hsuan-tsang visited a place to the east of Jetvana monastery where there was a deep pit through which Devadatta was said to have dropped into hell, Thomas Watters, On Yuan Chwang's Travels in India, 629-645 A.D., ed. by T.W. Rhys Davids and S. W. Bushnell, London, reprint Delhi, 1973, vol 1, p. 390.
58 Mil. 111. translation from the Questions of King Milinda, Oxford University Press, 1890, Sacred Books of East, XXXV. P. 167.
59 Mil. 111 DhA.I. 125, However, according to the Saddhammapundadrīkasutta, Devadatta would be born as a Buddha by the name of Devarāja, Chapter XI. Stanza 46.
60 Mahāvagga 1.22.73, p. 35.
61 Cullavagga 7.9.14, pp. 297-300.
62 Mahāvagga X; Majjhima Ko›ānbi Sutta, Dhammapada»»akatha, Kosambivatthu in the Gilgit Ms. of the Mulasarvastivāda V. The story remains substantially the same with right variations in geographical details.
63 Cullavagga VII. 3.14 M; Jātaka.I.34 (Hence referred as J). 64 Mahāvagga, 8.24.45, p. 319-20.
65 Cullavagga 7.9.14, pp. 297-300.
66 Ibid p. 299 of Samaμo pana gotama bāhulliko bāhullāyah. 67 Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. I, pp. 218-19.
68 Samuel Beal, (Tr.) The Travels of Fah-hian and Sung Yun, London, 1869, p. 82.
69 On Yuan Chwang's Travel in India, Thomas Watters, 629-645 A.D., 2 vols ed. by T.W. Rhys Davids and S.W. Bushnell, p. 191.
70 Other scholars tend to agree with this interpretation (cf., e.g. Etienne Lamotte, History of Indian
Buddhism, Tr. From French by Sara Webb.Boin. Universite’ Catholique de Louvain, Institute Orientaliste, 1988, p. 374 and 572), A.M. Shastri, An Outline of Early Buddhism, Varanasi, India, 1965, p. 44-45.
71 Mil. 200.Translation from SBE. XXXV. p.284.
72 Mil. 204.Translation from SBE. XXXV.291. Both footnotes 99&100 are quoted at KTS Sarao, Origin and Nature of Ancient Indian Buddhism. p.108.
73 The importance of the Saddhammapundarīka Sūtra mention of Devadatta to a full discussion of Devadatta's identity has been noticed by Sugimoto (T. Sugimoto, "A Re-evaluation of Devadatta: the Salvation of Evil Men in Buddhism," in Ronshu: Studies of Religion East and West, 1982, 9:pp.360-76). 74 Saddhammapundarīka Sūtra, 157.15-161.33 in H. Kern, trans. The Saddhammapundarīka or The Lotus of theTrue Law, pp. 243-48.
75 Ibid.
76 The six pāramitās, great compassion (mahākarunā), the thirty major and eighty minor marks, the ten powers, the four confidences, the eighteen special dhammas, and so on.
77 Saddhammapundarīka Sūtra, trans by H. Kern, pp.158 ff.
78 For the good and evil personalities of Devadatta, one text states that Stupid men believe wrongly and assert that Devadatta has been an opponent or enemy of the Buddha. That the sublime bodhisattva Devadatta during five hundred births, in which Buddha was going through the career of a bodhisattva, inflicted on him all possible evil and suffering was simply in order to establish the excellence and high qualities of the bodhisattva." Edward J. Thomas, The Life of Buddha as Legend and History, 3e, London, 1949, p. 135.


Author: Dr. Arvind Kumar Singh