Devadatta—the Buddhist Judas

There have been many personages who have been consigned to the Buddhist Hells, but perhaps none more notorious than one of the Buddha’s own disciples—Devadatta, who clearly resembles that of a Buddhist Judas. Devadatta was a cousin and brother-in-law of Gautama Siddhārtha and also the brother of the Buddha’s chief disciple—Ānanda. Devadatta conspired to break ranks with the original Sangha and attempted to form his own community with 500 other monks. In time he enjoyed supernormal powers of the mundane plane (puthujjana-iddhi), and convinced of his own superiority, decided to assassinate Gautama Buddha. Devadatta attempted to kill the Buddha himself by dropping a large boulder upon him from on high, but the Blessed One walked away unharmed. Undeterred, Devadatta set upon him an aggressive elephant named Nālāgiri, but the Blessed One simply covered Nālāgiri with the loving compassion of his own mind, wherewith the mighty creature bowed to the ground and worshipped him. Thereafter, however, the tables soon turned on Devadatta. Kokālika, a main disciple of Devadatta, died of ulcers all over his body and was reborn in the Lotus hell because he spoke ill about the Buddha’s disciples Sāriputta and Moggallāna. As for the fate of Devadatta himself:

He fell ill, and blood issued from his mouth, but he somehow repented and wished to be reconciled with the Lord. But the Lord did not wish to see him, and Devadatta, lying on a litter, wishes to ease his pains with drink and a bath. He gets up, but before he can drink, fires flare up from the deepest hell, Avīci. The earth opens, and even though he takes refuge in the Buddha in that moment, he is swallowed by the earth, and with five hundred families of his followers he is reborn in the deepest hell. (Jens Braarvig, The Buddhist Hell: An Early Instance of the Idea?) Hence, as was stated earlier in this series, the principle of karma is merciless and impossible to change.

Coinciding with the principle of Karma, it is not the Buddha who condemns, but the force of one’s own evil [actions]:

Devadatta is described as the main culprit also in the Suttas, the speeches of the Buddha, as deserving the worst of punishment in the deepest of the hells, Avīci, for his saṅghabheda, but most of all for his thirst for gain, honour and praise (lābhasakkārasiloko) — the topic of the Devadattasutta in the Aṅguttaranikāya. But it is not the Buddha, of course, who punishes — one is punished by the force of one’s own actions — the Buddha is only forgiving and friendly, even when the elephant attacks him. (ibid)

But wait! The saga of Devadatta the Buddhist Judas ends on a positive note—for in the Lotus Sutra series we read how after his consignment in Avīci Hell, Devadatta would come to be honored by the Blessed One and eventually become a Tathāgata:

The Buddha addressed the fourfold assembly, saying: “After immeasurable kalpas have passed, Devadatta will then become a buddha called Devarāja, a Tathāgata, Arhat, Completely Enlightened, Perfect in Knowledge and Conduct, Well-Departed, Knower of the World, Unsurpassed, Tamer of Humans, Teacher of Devas and Humans, Buddha, Bhagavat. His world will be called Devasopānā. At that time the Buddha Devarāja will abide in the world for twenty intermediate kalpas and extensively teach the True Dharma to sentient beings. Sentient beings equal in number to the sands of the Ganges River will attain arhatship. The thought of a pratyekabuddha has awakened in incalculable numbers of sentient beings. The thought of the highest path will awaken in sentient beings equal in number to the sands of the Ganges River, and they will become convinced of the nonarising of all dharmas and reside in the stage of nonretrogression.

Yes, transfiguration from all evil springs eternal in Buddhism.

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2 Responses to Devadatta—the Buddhist Judas

  1. Metatron says:

    The Lotus’ reversal on Devadatta is really the height of Mahayana
    As you say, ” Yes, transfiguration from all evil springs eternal “

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