Devadatta parallel in Jain?

Consider first a new shared feature that Buddhism and Jainism appear to have developed in or around Mathurā. Both preserve the legend of a rival to their respec- tive founders. In Buddhism he is called Devadatta, in Jainism Gosāla Maṅkhaliputta. The story of Devadatta has been preserved in various sources, mainly Vinaya texts;15 Gosāla Maṅkhaliputta is primarily dealt with in the Jaina Viyāhapannatti chapter 15.16 In the case of Devadatta, the source material allows us to make a more or less plausible reconstruction of the development of the legend. In the case of Gosāla Maṅkhaliputta we have little beyond the final version as we find it in the Viyāhapannatti.17
In spite of the differences, the two legends have a surprising number of features in common. Both Devadatta and Gosāla Maṅkhaliputta begin their career as pupils of their respective teachers: Devadatta is accepted as a monk by the Buddha, Gosāla is accepted, be it only after repeated attempts, by Mahāvīra as his disciple. Both Devadatta and Gosāla subsequently distinguish themselves by their magical powers. Both make a bid for the supreme position in their respective communities. Both try to harm their respective teachers in various ways, and seem to come close to succeed- ing, but are ultimately incapable of inflicting more than superficial harm onto them. Both come to a grievous end as a result. To the preceding we must add a final and very important feature: Both leave communities of followers whose existence, centuries after the presumed events and even after the composition of the texts that relate the legends, seems confirmed by independent testimony. Neither of the two legends in the form here presented is particularly old. Both were created at some point in time, and it is not difficult to see why. Both criticize a religious group that was presumably too close for comfort. The followers of Devadatta were essentially Buddhists who criticized the comfortable forms of monastic life that had developed. The followers of Gosāla were the Ājīvikas, about whom we know a certain amount from Buddhist and Jaina sources; the Ājīvikas held views that were close to those of the Jainas, yet different in some essential points.19
As stated above, the development of the story of Devadatta can be retraced.20 This has been done most convincingly by André Bareau (1989; 1991; 1997), whose recon- struction shows that the most striking points of similarity between Devadatta and Gosāla occur in the most recent part of the story of Devadatta, found in the Vinaya texts of various schools.

It is not necessary to repeat Bareau’s analysis of the pertinent Vinaya passages. It allows him to propose three developmental phases in the legend of Devadatta:

  1. The earliest phase merely presents the first schism and does not even mention Devadatta.
  2. In the second phase this schism becomes associated with the name of Devadatta, who is however not yet depicted as a fundamentally evil person.
  3. This changes in the third phase, where Devadatta carries out all the evil deeds mentioned above. It is in this third phase that the parallels we noticed with the story of Gosāla Maṅkhaliputta become part of his legend.
    It is probably impossible to determine with certainty when the third phase of the legend was added. The similarities between the different versions of the legend in the texts of different Buddhist schools allow us to conclude that the legend spread quickly over the subcontinent and perhaps beyond, and reached all the schools whose Vinaya texts have survived.The popularity of the tale in its expanded version, and the virulence with which it attacks Devadatta, may yet give an indication as to the period in which it came about.
    Devadatta is stated to have upheld a number of points, all of them aiming at impos- ing a severe ascetic lifestyle on the monastics, and all of them favouring life in the for- est. His criticism of settled monastic life was threatening, especially at the time when settled monasticism had become a feature of Buddhism. This did not happen at the time of the Buddha, and apparently not until well after Emperor Aśoka. It happened during “the Middle Period of Indian Buddhism, the period between the beginning of the Common Era and the year 500 CE . . . [T]his was the period during which the vari- ous named monastic orders—the Sarvāstivādins, Mahāsāṃghikas, Dharmaguptakas, and so on—appeared in Indian inscriptions as the recipients of what must have been an enormous amount of surplus wealth.”22 We know that, once settled monasticism was in place, settled monks tended to be very critical of forest ascetics.23 We may assume that the name Devadatta came to stand for all that the monks (and nuns) in their monasteries detested: living in the forest, severe asceticism, etc. This does not mean that the schism associated with Devadatta’s name must have taken place during this Middle Period. It merely means that the third phase of the legend was probably added during this period. An additional reason may well be that, as Deeg (2005: 316 ff.) argues, the sect of Devadatta may have been created late, perhaps as late as the Guptas. Elsewhere Deeg (1999: 194 [219]) suggests “that such a group had developed in the time of the Kuṣāṇa-empire”.

The preceding reflections can be amplified with Deeg’s (1999: 194–195 [219–218]) thoughts about the matter: “A really existing saṅgha of Devadatta, institutionalizing itself with the help of the old Devadatta-legend in the Vinaya, would then have had an impact on . . . the [more recent] Devadatta-legend . . .”
It is this third phase of the legend that resembles the story of Gosāla Maṅkhaliputta. Is it possible that the two legends somehow influenced each other? that one of the two was created under the influence of the other? or that both somehow arose more or less simultaneously, each being so to say an adjusted version of basically the same underlying story?

Read more in How the Brahmins Won: From Alexander to the Guptas

It’s interesting right?


I think one of the Buddha’s teachers was Jain, too.


The Jaina parallels are interesting, alkthough not revolutionary. We know that the life stories of the Buddha and Mahavira have much in common, so it is not surprising that the stories of their nemeses would also have things in common; in fact it would be more surprising if they did not.

However, as for the thesis of rehabilitation of Devadatta, this is just wrong. It’s a misreading of the texts and a misinterpretation of the history. I wrote about this at some length some years, and I’ve reposted my old essay here on Discourse for your enjoyment!