1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Devadatta

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DEVADATTA, the son of Suklodana, who was younger brother to the father of the Buddha (Mahāvastu, iii. 76). Both he and his brother Ānanda, who were considerably younger than the Buddha, joined the brotherhood in the twentieth year of the Buddha’s ministry. Four other cousins of theirs, chiefs of the Sākiya clan, and a barber named Upāli, were admitted to the order at the same time; and at their own request the barber was admitted first, so that as their senior in the order he should take precedence of them (Vinaya Texts, iii. 228). All the others continued loyal disciples, but Devadatta, fifteen years afterwards, having gained over the crown prince of Magadha, Ajātasattu, to his side, made a formal proposition, at the meeting of the order, that the Buddha should retire, and hand over the leadership to him, Devadatta (Vinaya Texts, iii. 238; Jātaka, i. 142). This proposal was rejected, and Devadatta is said in the tradition to have successfully instigated the prince to the execution of his aged father and to have made three abortive attempts to bring about the death of the Buddha (Vinaya Texts, iii. 241–250; Jātaka, vi. 131), shortly afterwards, relying upon the feeling of the people in favour of asceticism, he brought forward four propositions for ascetic rules to be imposed on the order. These being refused, he appealed to the people, started an order of his own, and gained over 500 of the Buddha’s community to join in the secession. We hear nothing further about the success or otherwise of the new order, but it may possibly be referred to under the name of the Gotamakas, in the Anguttara (see Dialogues of the Buddha i. 222), for Devadatta’s family name was Gotama. But his community was certainly still in existence in the 4th century A.D., for it is especially mentioned by Fa Hien, the Chinese pilgrim (Legge’s translation, p. 62). And it possibly lasted till the 7th century, for Hsüan Tsang mentions that in a monastery in Bengal the monks then followed a certain regulation of Devadatta’s (T. Watters, On Yuan Chwang, ii. 191). There is no mention in the canon as to how or when Devadatta died; but the commentary on the Jātaka, written in the 5th century A.D., has preserved a tradition that he was swallowed up by the earth near Sāvatthi, when on his way to ask pardon of the Buddha (Jātaka, iv. 158). The spot where this occurred was shown to both the pilgrims just mentioned (Fa Hien, loc. cit. p. 60; and T. Watters, On Yuan Chwang, i. 390). It is a striking example of the way in which such legends grow, that it is only the latest of these authorities, Hsüan Tsang, who says that, though ostensibly approaching the Buddha with a view to reconciliation, Devadatta had concealed poison in his nail with the object of murdering the Buddha.

Authorities.Vinaya Texts, translated by Rhys Davids and H. Oldenberg (3 vols., Oxford, 1881–1885); The Jātaka, edited by V. Fausböll (7 vols., London, 1877–1897); T. Watters, On Yuan Chwang (ed. Rhys Davids and Bushell, 2 vols., London, 1904–1905); Fa Hian, translated by J. Legge (Oxford, 1886); Mahāvastu (ed. Tenant, 3 vols., Paris, 1882–1897).  (T. W. R. D.)