The name Devadatta

Like in most times and cultures, names have meaning. De cousin of the Buddha is named Devadatta. Which could mean Foolish king or Arrogant king. I can’t imagine parents would give their child such a name. For me this gives the stories a high fairytail characteristics: “The incredible stories of the hero named Buddha and his nemesis Devadatta!”

I tend to think that if I accept the stories are based on true facts, the story tellers at least changed the names of the carracters… GDPR avant la lettre :thinking:maybe?

Any thoughts on this?

I think ‘datta’ in this sense means the past participle of the verb ‘da’, so it means ‘given’ - then it would be something like ‘given by the devas’, which sounds quite nice to me.

Also Devadatta is elsewhere named Godhiputta. So I guess people had different names and epithets (through which they became later known).

EDIT: The dictionary says it is same as the name Theodore

Theodore is a masculine given name. It comes from the Ancient Greek name Θεόδωρος (Theódoros), meaning "gift of God(s) " (from the Ancient Greek words θεός, (theós) “God/Gods” and δῶρον (dṓron) “gift”.


Though it’s true that deva can mean a king and datta can mean a fool, I doubt these are ever the intended meaning when they’re part of someone’s name. In Pali lots of male names end in -datta, e.g., Isidatta, Sudatta, Somadatta, Brahmadatta, Yasadatta, Bhūridatta, Sāmidatta, etc.

The female form -dattā is much less common. The only one I know of is Jinadattā in the Therīgāthā.


It is possible.

It is possible that the story of Siddhartha is a literary invention too. Not saying that it is, but within the realm of possibility - a teaching device.

100+ people named ‘Dev Dutta’ would disagree! :laughing:

‘Dutta/ Datta/ Dutt’ is a very common Indian brahmin caste surname.
Similarly ‘Dev’ is a popular Indian first name.


I have one further thought.

In his paper, A Well-sanitized Shroud, Greg Schopen claims that the name “Devadatta” was likely a tongue-in-cheek appellation on the part of early Buddhists and that it was the equivalent of calling the errant disciple “John Doe”.

Schopen doesn’t offer any arguments for his claim, but I would guess he’s probably basing it on the fact that in India “Devadatta” did indeed serve as a generic or placeholder name of this sort and that this was a practice shared by Brahmins, Jains and Buddhists.

Two problems with the claim are, firstly, that although the use of “Devadatta” in this way is quite ancient (going back at least to Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī) we only ever meet with it in treatises on grammar and logic, with no evidence that it was in general use; and secondly, we don’t find Buddhists using the name this way until well into the Common Era. In Pali sources the first text to do so, Buddhappiya’s Padarūpasiddhi, dates from the 8th or 9th centuries CE.

Anyhow, here’s what Schopen has to say:

The Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya has a particularly rich cycle of stories, mostly preserved in Sanskrit, about the Buddha’s “evil” and none-too-bright cousin named—very likely with tongue in cheek—Devadatta or “John Doe.” His attempts to emulate the Buddha are often ridiculous and have disastrous consequences. When he has engineered Ajātaśatru’s rise to kingship, for example, he says to him “I have established you in kingship. You must also establish me in buddhahood (*tvam mayā rājye pratiṣṭhāpitaḥ. (p.329) tvam api mām buddhatve pratiṣṭhāpaya iti).” The silliness of such a statement could not have been lost on anyone. But Ajātaśatru also at this stage appears as a dope—he thinks buddhahood is a state of the body, and says in response, for example, that the (or a) Blessed One has as a characteristic mark (lakṣaṇa) the shape of wheel on the sole of his feet. Devadatta, undeterred, summons a blacksmith and insists that he brand the soles of his feet with the mark of wheel. The result, of course, is only intense and excruciating pain.

With this and similar stories, it is obvious that the redactors of this Vinaya went to particular trouble to set Devadatta up as a bozo—not so much evil as stupid— and it is almost certainly not accidental that it is he, and he alone in this Vinaya, who forcefully advocates and insists on the necessity of the dhūtaguṇas or extreme ascetic practices for Buddhist monks, or that it is this insistence which is also said to have been the cause of the first serious split in the monastic community. The association of stupidity and disruption with these practices also must have been obvious.

(A Well-sanitized Shroud: Asceticism and Institutional Values in the Middle Period of Buddhist Monasticism)


Ok, so my explanation of the name Devadatta unlikely to say the least. :upside_down_face:

@sujato , if I click on (for example) devatatte in MN 29, I get the explanation for Devadatta from my first post. Is this something to correct in the interactive dictionary?

It means neither ‘foolish king’ nor ‘arrogant king’.

Datta is a homonym in Pali.

The first datta (due to phonetic simplification of the complex syllables of the Sanskrit word dṛpta – formed from the verb root √dṛp) means - to be ‘mad’ or ‘foolish’. This will not normally compound with the word deva to form devadṛpta - as that compound would be meaningless.

There is another datta in Pali (datta in Sanskrit as well, which is formed from the verb root √dā, “to give”). This is the word that compounds with deva to form devadatta (a child “given by the gods”), which was (and to some extent still is) a very common masculine name among Hindus in India - when a baby is born, the parents expressed gratitude to the devas by naming the baby devadatta (these days, when parents name their children Devadatta, it may not necessarily mean the parents are thanking the devas, or even know or care about the meaning of the name, but it was the case in the past).

The name is found also widely attested in Sanskrit literature across millenia.


I don’t actually see that in MN21. But it is in sn6.12.

That dictionary lookup is bad. Or at least it’s not good. It’s really just splitting things into possible pieces using some kind of algorithm. It’s quite misleading in that it is not presented with the huge warning that it needs. It’s attempting to offer help to the non-specialist, however specialist knowledge is needed to evaluate the results.

EDIT: Ok, in fairness, there is a tiny warning if you click on the (?) icon:

EDIT2: And I should say that the feature is certainly useful when used correctly. But it has also spawned many posts with wacky interpretations of Pali over the years. So I can’t imagine all the wrong ideas people have gotten who never made them public.


Sorry, it was MN 29 I wanted to refer to… I corrected my post. Thanks for the remark.

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