Part 17 Devadatta Expelled from the Community

The Master arrived at the city of Kausambi, and there, at first, he was very happy. The inhabitants eagerly listened to his words, and many of them became monks. King Udayana was among the believers, and he allowed his son Rashtrapala to enter the community. Yet it was in Kausambi that the Master met with one of his great sorrows. A monk, one day, was reprimanded for committing some minor offense. He would not own himself in the wrong; so he was punished. He refused to submit to the punishment, and, as he was a pleasant man, of great wit and learning, there were many to take his part. In vain the others besought him to return to the straight path. 

“Do not assume that conceited air,” they said to him; “do not consider yourself incapable of making mistakes. Heed our wise advice. Address the other monks as they should be addressed who profess a faith that is also yours; they will address you as he should be addressed who professes a faith that is also theirs. The community will grow, the community will flourish, only if the monks will take counsel from one another.” “It is not for you to tell me what is right or wrong,” he replied. “Stop reproving me.” “Do not say that. Your words offend against the law. You are defying discipline; you are sowing discord in the community. Come, mend your ways. Live at peace with the community. Avoid these quarrels, and be faithful to the law.” It was useless. They then decided to expel the rebel, but, once again, he refused to obey. He would remain in the community: since he was innocent, there was no need to submit to an unjust punishment. 

The Master finally intervened. He tried to pacify the monks; he pleaded with them to forget their grievances and to unite, as before, in the performance of their sacred duties, but no one paid any attention. And, one day, a monk even had the audacity to say to him: “Keep still, O Master; do not bother us with your speeches. You have arrived at a knowledge of the law; meditate upon it. You will find your meditations quite delightful. As for us, we shall know where to go; our quarrels will not keep us from finding the way. Meditate, and be quiet.” 

The Master was not angry. He tried to speak, but it was impossible, He saw then that he could never convince the monks of Kausambi; they seemed to be possessed with some sudden folly. The Master decided to forsake them, but first he said to them: “Happy is he who has a faithful friend; happy is he who has a discerning friend. What obstacles could two wise and virtuous friends not overcome? But he who has no faithful friend resembles a king without a country: he must roam in solitude, like the elephant in the wild forest. Yet it is better to travel alone than in the company of a fool. The wise man should follow a lonely path; he should avoid evil and should preserve his serenity, like the elephant in the wild forest.”

He left. No one tried to stop him. He went to a village where he knew he would find his disciple Bhrigu. Bhrigu was overjoyed to see him, and the Master was not a little comforted. Then, Anuruddha, Nanda and Kimbala joined him. They gave him every proof of their respect and friendship, and they lived at peace with one another. And the Master thought, “So there are some, among my disciples, who love me and who do not quarrel.” 

One day, as he sat down in the shade of a tree and began thinking of the troublous times in Kausambi, a herd of elephants stopped to rest not far from him. The biggest elephant went down to the river and drew water which he brought back to the others. They drank; then, instead of thanking him for doing them this service, they abused him, they beat him with their trunks, and, finally, they drove him away. And the Master saw that his own experience was not unlike that of the elephant: they were both victims of gross ingratitude. The elephant noticed the sadness in his face; he drew near and looked at him tenderly; then left, to go in search of food and drink for him.

The Master finally returned to Shravasti and rested in Jeta’s park. But it still grieved him to think of the cruel monks of Kausambi. One morning, however, he saw them enter the park. They were in great distress: alms had been denied them, for every one was indignant at their treatment of the Master. They had come to beg his forgiveness. The guilty monk confessed himself to have been in the wrong, and his punishment was light. His adversaries, as well as his friends, admitted the error of their ways, and all promised strictly to obey the rules. And the Master was happy: there was no longer any dissension in the community.

The monk Devadatta was possessed of an arrogant nature. He was impatient of any restraint. He aspired to supplant the Buddha, but the monks, he knew, would not join him in an open revolt. For that he needed the support of some king or prince. “King Bimbisara is an old man,” he said to himself, one day; “Prince Ajatasatru, who is young and brave, is eager to succeed him to the throne. I could advise the prince to his advantage, and, in return, he could help me to become the head of the community.” He went to see Ajatasatru. He addressed him in flattering terms; he praised his strength, his courage, his beauty.

“Oh, if you were king,” said he, “what glory would come to Rajagriha! You would conquer the neighboring states; all the sovereigns of the world would pay you homage: you would be the omnipotent master, and you would be worshipped like a God.” With such words as these, Devadatta won Ajatasatru’s confidence. He received many precious gifts, and he became still more arrogant. Maudgalyayana noticed Devadatta’s frequent visits to the prince. He decided to warn the Blessed One. “My Lord,” he began, “Devadatta is very friendly with Prince Ajatasatru.”

The Blessed One interrupted him. “Let Devadatta do as he pleases; we shall soon know the truth. I am aware that Ajatasatru pays him homage; it does not advance him a single step in the path of virtue. Let Devadatta glory in his arrogance! It will be his ruin. As the banana-tree and the bamboo-tree bear fruit only to die, so will the honors Devadatta is receiving simply hasten his downfall.” Devadatta soon reached the height of vanity. He could not abide the Buddha’s grandeur, and, one day, he made bold to say to him: “Master, you are now well along in years; it is a great hardship for you to rule the monks; you should retire. Meditate in peace upon the sublime law you have discovered, and the community let me take charge of.”

The Master smiled quizzically. “Be not concerned about me, Devadatta; you are too kind. I shall know when it is time to retire. For the present, I shall stay in charge of the community. Besides, when the time does come, I shall not give it even to Sariputra or Maudgalyayana, those two great minds that are like blazing torches, and you want it, Devadatta, you who have such a mediocre intelligence, you who shed even less light than a night-lamp!” Devadatta bowed respectfully before the Master, but he could not hide the fire of anger in his eyes. The Master then sent for learned Sariputra.

“Sariputra,” said he, “go through the city of Rajagriha and cry in a loud voice: ‘Beware of Devadatta! He has strayed from the path of righteousness. The Buddha is not responsible for his words or for his actions; the law no longer inspires him, the community no longer interests him. Henceforth, Devadatta speaks only for himself.'” It grieved Sariputra to have such a painful mission to perform; however, he understood the Master’s reasons, and he went through the city crying Devadatta’s shame. The inhabitants stopped to listen, and some thought, “The monks envy Devadatta his friendship for Prince Ajatasatru.” But the others said, “Devadatta must have committed a serious offense, for the Blessed One thus publicly to denounce him.”


Kosambi or Kausambi: The capital of the Vatsas or Vamsas. In the time of the Buddha its king was Parantapa, and after him reigned his son Udena. Kosambi was evidently a city of great importance at the time of the Buddha for we find Ananda mentioning it as one of the places suitable for the Buddha’s Parinirvana. It was also the most important halt for traffic coming to Kosala and Magadha from the south and the west. Already in the Buddha’s time there were four establishments of the Order in Kosambi – the Kukkutarama, the Ghositarama, the Pavarika-ambavana (these being given by three of the most eminent citizens of Kosambi, named respectively, Kukkuta, Ghosita and Pavarika), and the Badarikarama. The Buddha visited Kosambi on several occasions, stopping at one or other of these residences, and several discourses delivered during these visits are recorded in the books.

Udena or Udayana: King of Kosambi. He was the son of Parantapa. Some time after he became king, Udena married, in very romantic circumstances, Vasuladatta, daughter of Canda Pajjota, king of Ujjeni. The Dhammapadatthakatha contains a whole story-cycle of Udena.

Ajatasattu or Ajatasatru: Son of Bimbisara, King of Magadha, and therefore half-brother to Abhayarajakumara. He succeeded his father to the throne. His mother was a daughter of Mahakosala, and he married Vajira, Pasenadi’s daughter, by whom be had a son Udayibhadda. Ajatasattu grew up to be a noble and handsome youth. Devadatta was, at this time, looking for ways and means of taking revenge on the Buddha, and seeing in the prince a very desirable weapon, he exerted all his strength to win him to his side. Ajatasattu was greatly impressed by Devadatta’s powers of iddhi and became his devoted follower. He built for him a monastery at Gayasisa and waited upon him morning and evening carrying food for him, sometimes as much as five hundred cartloads in five hundred cooking pans. Devadatta incited him to seize the throne, killing his father if necessary. When Bimbisara learnt of the prince’s intentions he abdicated in his favour. But Devadatta was not satisfied till Bimbisara, who was one of the Buddha’s foremost supporters, was killed. Ajatasattu helped Devadatta in several of the latter’s attempts to kill the Buddha.

Devadatta: Son of Amitodana and brother of Ananda. The books give several stories of his youth which show his malice. When the Buddha visited Kapilavastu after Enlightenment and preached to the Shakyans, Devadatta was converted together with his friends Ananda, Bhagu, Kimbila, Bhaddiya, Anuruddha, and their barber, Upali, and he sought the Buddha at Anupiya and entered the Order. During the rainy season that followed, Devadatta acquired the power of iddhi. For some time he seems to have enjoyed great honour in the Order, and in one passage he is mentioned in a list of eleven of the chief Elders of all of whom the Buddha speaks in praise. Devadatta was later suspected of evil wishes. About eight years before the Buddha’s death, Devadatta, eager for gain and favour and jealous of the Buddha’s fame, attempted to win over Ajatasattu.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from the website of the Buddhist Relief Mission, shows Devadatta and Prince Ajatasattu plotting to kill Bimbisara and the Buddha. It was done by the famous Japanese artist Kosetsu Nosu, as part of a collection of paintings at the Mulagandha Kuti Vihara, in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh.