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Devadatta attacking the Buddha
Devadatta (देवदत्‍त) was a Buddhist monk and the cousin of Gautama Buddha. He was recorded as having created a schism in the sangha, or monastic community. This schism was later undone when all his followers came back to the Buddha, after which Devadatta also wanted to come back, however Devadatta died shortly before expressing his remorse. Devadatta is often described as having been jealous of the Buddha's greatness and wisdom and wanting to become a great religious leader himself.

The original motivation of Devadatta to lead the holy life and become a monk was pure, but later he became corrupted after allegedly developing some supernatural powers.


According to the Pali Canon, he taught his sangha to do five tapas (rules) in their whole life:

  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 Shakya 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 Sakyamuni Buddha. This sect was tolerated, and many listened to the lessons in the Nalandamarker with the others, but they said they were not students of Devedatta.

Anantarika-kamma (Grave Offenses)

Devadatta is noted for attempting to kill the Buddha on several occasions including:
  • Rolling a boulder towards him. Devadatta missed, but a splinter from the rock drew blood from the Buddha's foot. According to Buddhist tradition, this is one of the five ànantarika-kammas, the five most heinous deeds a human can perform.
  • Inciting an elephant to charge at the Buddha. The Buddha was able to pacify the elephant by directing metta toward it.

According to the Suttapitaka, after trying to kill Sakyamuni a number of times, Devadatta set up his own Buddhist monastic order by splitting the monastic community (sangha) in two (another 'anantarika-kamma'). During his efforts to become the leader of his own sangha, he proposed five extraordinarily strict rules for monks, which he knew the Buddha would not allow. Devadatta's reasoning was that after he had proposed those rules and the Buddha had not allowed them, Devadatta could claim that he did follow and practice these five rules, making him a better and more pure monk. One of these five extra rules required monks to be vegetarian.

In the Contemplation Sutra, Devadatta is said to have convinced Prince Ajatasattu to murder his father King Bimbisara and ascend the throne. Ajatasattu follows the advice, and this action (another 'anantarika-kamma' for killing your own father) prevents him from attaining enlightenment at a later time, when listening to some teaching of the Buddha.

Devadatta is the only individual from the early Buddhist tradition to have committed 3 anantarika-kammas.


Due to the loss of reputation and popularity after splitting the Sangha in two, Devadatta felt bad about what he did, and wanted to make a sincere apology to the Buddha. However, after entering the monastery where the Buddha was living at the time, it is said that some of the bad karma (intentional action) he made came to fruition; the earth opened to draw him straight into the deepest hell, known as the Hell of Avici.

Other accounts claim that towards the end of his life, he was struck by a severe remorse caused by his past misdeeds and did indeed manage to approach the Buddha and retook refuge in the Triple Gem, dying shortly afterwards. Because of gravity of his sins, he was condemned to suffer for several hundred millennia in Avici. However, it was also said that he would eventually be admitted into the heavens as a Pratyekabuddha due to his past merits prior to his corruption.

Devadatta in Mahayana Teachings

In the Lotus Sutra found in the Mahayana tradition, the Buddha makes a noteworthy statement about how even Devadatta will in time become a pratyeka Buddha.

Additional uses of the word "Devadatta"

The name Devadatta is often spelled as " Deodatta". The literal meaning of the word "Devadatta" (or "Deodatta") is "divine gift". In the Bhagvad Geeta from the Mahabharata, the conch shell used by Arjuna on the battle-field of Kurukshetramarker was named Devadatta.


  1. Ji Xianlin, 《季羡林自选集:佛》, 华艺出版社
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