The Buddha and His Enemy

11 Jun


Devadatta attempts to assassinate the Buddha

The following is my comments after watching the video of Prof. Donald S Lopez explaining about Devadatta in Tsem Rinpoche’s blog:-

In this video, Professor Donald S Lopez tells a clear and vivid story of the Buddha and his infamous nemesis, Devadatta from the Dhammapada Sutta – a collected sayings of the Buddha. I found it amazing that someone so close to the Buddha could still be so hateful of him. Perhaps, the wrong views and negative karma was so strong that Devadatta felt compelled to act in ways that earned his position as one of the most heinous person in all of Buddhism.

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In his lecture, Prof Donald explains how Devadatta attempted to assassinate the Buddha and what I found interesting was the fact that he only came to show his true colors when the Buddha turned 72. In front of an assembly of monks, Devadatta requested that the Buddha retire because he was old and that Devadatta himself would take over. Needless to say, the Buddha refused all of his requests and that angered Devadatta. Before that, Devadatta was described as a devoted monk and follower of the Buddha for decades. This is a reflection of how certain students who have superficial faith in the lama and when they are challenged or put into position where they have to perform or transform, they developed wrong views of the lama and reject what the lama had done for them for many years. It’s particularly sad especially because the student had been in the Dharma for so long but did not practice at all.

As his anger arose, he quickly devised various schemes to avenge his rejection. He attempted to assassinate the Buddha on 3 attempts but failed at each attempt and he even tried to create dissension within the community of monks. He demanded that the Buddha and the community of monks should abide by 5 rules and they are:

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.

However, the Buddha refused to make any of these practices obligatory except for the last rule. I found this to be interesting because not only do some students reject the lama and develop wrong views, many deliberately try to influence others and clearly, Devadatta devised these rules to create dissension out of spite. Many of the monks left the Buddha because they felt the Buddha was living luxuriously by not abiding by these ascetic practices. Hence, we are discouraged from associating with those who have developed wrong views of our lama and this is not to sideline them but to allow them space to think things through. This is especially important for us when our minds and opinion of our lama goes up and down all the time. If we cannot influence them positively, it is better that we leave them alone lest we ourselves are adversely influenced.

The later part of the narrative tells of how Devadatta was swallowed up by the earth and he literally descended into Avichi, the hell of uninterrupted suffering. There in Avichi, Devadetta was subjected to the full force of his karma. What Devadatta did of injuring a Buddha, causing schism within the community of monk, influencing Prince Ajatashatru to kill his father and apparently killing an Arhat constitutes some of the most heinous crimes that one can commit. It is said that if one commits any of these heinous sins, one would take rebirth directly in Avichi without experiencing Bardo. The karma is particularly heavy and this story is often told as a cautionary tale for us to watch our actions and particular our speech so as to never create doubts and misunderstanding within the spiritual community we live and practice and more importantly, between other students and the lama.

In all of his clairvoyance, I am sure that the Buddha foresaw that Devadatta would commit these heinous crimes and he still acted in a way that caused him to react in this manner because I felt that the Buddha was really considering Devadatta for the position but he needed to ensure Devadatta was sincere and suitable to take over. Therefore, I felt that the Buddha was probably trying to gauge him better by refusing him. Sadly, it is clear now that Devadatta was not ready to take over the Buddha’s position and that he would turn on the Buddha just like that shows how he regarded the Buddha all these years. Perhaps, Devadetta had been harboring a deep-seated jealousy of the Buddha and had not expressed it until it was provoked. Whatever it is, his story is perhaps one of the most famous Buddhist tales forewarning of the terrible consequences of creating dissension within any spiritual community.

25 Responses to “The Buddha and His Enemy”

  1. Tenzin Damey June 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    Reblogged this on tenzindamey and commented:
    Very interesting story!

    • Pastor David Lai June 19, 2013 at 5:26 am #

      Thank you. I am glad you find it interesting!

  2. grace leu (KHJB) June 12, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    thanks for the write up, David. it make me more understand the story of Devattada vs Buddha and how jealousy and engar of power push down Devattada.

    • Pastor David Lai June 19, 2013 at 5:28 am #

      Yeah. It’s interesting isn’t it. Well. I think Devadatta could have succeeded the Buddha had he swallowed his ego and accept the Buddha’s comments with humility.

  3. Aung Kyaw Win June 13, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    You should make further study about Buddha to know Devadatta and his brother in law in many past lives.

    • Pastor David Lai June 19, 2013 at 5:30 am #

      Dear Aung Kyaw Win, I read that before but that connection is not so important as the story itself. However, many Mahayanists consider Devadatta a bodhisattva and that he manifested this way to highlight the special qualities of the Buddha. In the end, even the Buddha predicted that Devadatta would eventually become a Buddha himself.

  4. Ashish June 15, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    Buddha hasn’t any enemy in his life . Those story teller like U create the ememy of Buddha . To make a story . Sorry … Ashish

    • Pastor David Lai June 19, 2013 at 5:32 am #

      Dear Ashish,
      I am not creating the enemy our of the Buddha or Devadatta. It was Devadata’s jealousy and rage that made him into the enemy. Through Devadatta’s attempts to kill and destroy the Sangha made the Buddha shine even more.

  5. Ashok Thapa Magar June 15, 2013 at 3:07 am #

    I like it to collect God Bhudh fotoes and learn about him . thanks.

    • Pastor David Lai June 19, 2013 at 5:32 am #

      I am glad you have learnt something. Hope to see you comment more on my other blog posts.

  6. Karma Dorji June 20, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Nobody deserve trust,except yourself.

    • Pastor David Lai June 20, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      What do you mean by that?

  7. lake June 21, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    but in the end when Devadatta was approaching his death he lamented his ignorance and took refuge from everybone of his body which was a heartfelt, and it is due to his repentance and reguge the buddha has prophesied that devadatta will be reborn in the future and gain the enlightenment of the Sravaka/Pratyekabuddha…ཉན་ཐོས་སམ་རང་སངས་རྒྱས

    • Pastor David Lai June 25, 2013 at 5:48 am #

      Yes, all sentient beings are headed towards enlightenment. I feel that Devadatta’s course towards enlightenment because he met the Buddha and practice under him. He is after all very fortunate to have such strong karma with a fully enlightened being.

  8. Glenn June 21, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Devadatta is not evil or enemy at All in the eyes of Buddha. He was a good friend or influence that makes Gautama great and the Law he preached which makes him a Buddha.

    The line in the “Devadatta” chapter of the LOTUS SUTRA where Shakyamuni explains his attaining Buddhahood, “The fact that I have attained impartial and correct enlightenment and can save living beings on a broad scale is all due to Devadatta, who was a good friend” (LSOC, 223), seems to offer a clue. In other words, had it not been for Devadatta, then even Shakyamuni could not have become a Buddha.

    The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai of China says in the fifth volume of The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra: “Good exists in response to evil. There is no good in isolation from evil” and “Evil supports good. Without evil there would also be no good.”

    Good and evil are not substances. They are relative concepts. Therefore, it cannot be said that a particular person is intrinsically good or intrinsically evil.

    Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the first Soka Gakkai president, said: “Even a good person, if he opposes great good, immediately becomes a person of great evil. Even an evil person, if he opposes great evil, immediately becomes a person of great good.” The true entity of life embodies the oneness of good and evil. Both good and evil exist in life. For precisely this reason, in terms of practice, we have to base ourselves on the nature of enlightenment and strive for good.

    Buddhism is concerned with victory or defeat. It is a boundless struggle. Because Shakyamuni defeated Devadatta, Devadatta’s “evil” helped prove Shakyamuni’s “good.” On the other hand, had Shakyamuni been defeated by evil, it certainly would not have been possible for him to call Devadatta a “good friend.”
    President Toda clarified this matter as follows:

    “Devadatta was the slanderer in Shakyamuni’s lifetime; he cut all the roots of goodness in the world. The pre-Lotus Sutra teachings say: ‘Without the existence of evil, wise actions of good cannot be manifested. For this reason, Devadatta had for immeasurable kalpas always been together with Shakyamuni, and when Shakyamuni practiced the Buddha way, Devadatta practiced injustice. In this way, they mutually inspired each other.’ However, once good is completely revealed, evil in its entirety becomes good. Therefore, the Lotus Sutra teaches the oneness of good and evil, the oneness of the erroneous and the true, and the oneness of a reverse relationship and a positive relationship. This is the inner doctrine that had not been revealed in the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings” (Toda Josei Zenshu, vol. 6, pp. 360–61).

    If evil functions to reveal good, then evil can be transformed into good. This is truly the oneness of good and evil. But if evil is simply allowed to run its course, then it does not become good. Only when evil is thoroughly challenged and conquered does it become an entity of the oneness of good and evil. In that sense, the enlightenment of evil people presented in the “Devadatta” chapter is great proof of the victory won by Shakyamuni.

    The oneness of good and evil does not mean that good and evil are the same. Such a way of thinking amounts to an affirmation of evil. The Lotus Sutra’s doctrine of the oneness of good and evil is about constantly striving to create good and even changing evil into good.

    • Pastor David Lai June 25, 2013 at 5:50 am #

      I don’t think you understood the intent of my article. It was not to demonize Devadatta but for people to come to an understanding of why Devadatta did what he did and similar patterns of behavior that we may have towards achieving the same end as he did. I never said he was evil.

  9. Pem June 21, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    When one doesn’t have the ability to receive, it doesn’t happen even if one spends a lifetime with the Buddha!Devadatta is the classic example of that for me personally 🙂

    • Pastor David Lai June 25, 2013 at 5:51 am #

      You are right. Even Devadatta had such obscurations that he did what he did but the blessings of having met the Buddha have blessed him to be fully enlightened in a future lifetime. Perhaps, even quicker than some of us.

  10. Quang Hue June 22, 2013 at 3:51 am #

    Devadatta is not qualified to lead community of monks. Therefore, he hated Buddha. His Wisdom is absolutely much lower than Buddha.

    • Pastor David Lai June 25, 2013 at 5:54 am #

      That’s true. His intentions to lead the Sangha was really to take revenge and split the Sangha. Hence, the Buddha did not accept Devadatta’s proposal. However, some people consider Devadatta to be an emanation of a Bodhisattva because his actions revealed the special qualities of the Buddha. I myself am not sure but I can see the destructive behavior that he harbored that led him to commit those heinous acts.

  11. Quang Hue June 22, 2013 at 3:53 am #

    Hi everyone, you can visit my Vietnamese Buddhist website if you love to and

    • Pastor David Lai June 25, 2013 at 5:55 am #

      Welcome to my blog. I don’t normally allow advertisements here but I am making an exception for you.

  12. Hendrix Lato June 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Interesting story. It’s sad that even the closest person Buddha had been with, was also the vilest one. I feel sorry for Devadatta and empathic with Buddha. Buddha must have loved Devadatta in a manner that a mentor nurtures his disciple. It’s just sad, Devadatta had chosen the bad side.

    • Pastor David Lai June 25, 2013 at 5:58 am #

      Dear Hendrix,
      That was very sensitive of you. Yes, I must agree with you. I even think the Buddha was considering Devadatta to take over. However, he had to make sure he was ready and so the Buddha called him a clod of spittle to put him down and to see how he’s going to react. Leaders must be able to withstand slander and so on, especially if one is of the Sangha. Hence, I believe the Buddha was testing him out. Too bad, he reacted so badly.

      • Glenn June 26, 2013 at 6:07 am #

        I think Devadatta is not the rightful nor he was considered to take over Buddha.In the Nirvana sutra, the Buddha onced asked who would succeed him after death. He said: to rely on the Law(his teachings) and not person and be lamp unto ourselves. To take refuge to ourselves and to seek truth taught by the Buddha.

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