Devadatta Sutta – A Monks Greed

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Introduction

With a focused mindfulness of the Buddha’s Dhamma distraction is minimized. To fully develop the innate quality of mindfulness, mindfulness must be exercised. Mindfulness means to hold in mind. Mindfulness as the Buddha teaches mindfulness requires an understanding of what to hold in mind and what to recognize as unskillful and distracting and abandon. [1,2]

Holding in mind the Buddha’s Dhamma one remains focused on first awakening to the Four Noble Truths. One avoids the distractions of other dhammas, disciplines or ideas. [3,4]

Cultivating mindfulness, these qualities or factors of enlightenment incline the mind towards awakening. They all lead to developing discernment as to the what, where and how of Dhamma practice. [5]

With mindfulness of the Dhamma, holding in mind the Dhamma without distraction, investigation of the Dhamma can then bring understanding. As a factor of enlightenment, the Buddha is pointing out the importance of a complete Dhamma practice of incorporating the entire Eightfold Path as the path of awakening.

The Buddha taught to investigate the Dhamma thoroughly without distraction in order to fully understand the Dhamma. The Dhamma is not magically imposed on a mind through unfocused perseverance, endless rituals, teacher (Guru) or lineage worship, magical chants, or imaginary self-establishment in non-physical ideological realms. The Dhamma must be cultivated wholeheartedly within the framework of the Eightfold Path. [6]

With the cultivation of persevering Right Effort generated through Right Intention, the intention to recognize and abandon all causes of stress and unhappiness, distraction is minimized and mindfulness is further deepened.

Through joyful engagement with the Dhamma generated from Right View, clinging to ignorant views is diminished and tranquility deepens. With increasing tranquility, concentration and insight into Three Marks Of Existence deepens.  Within the framework of the Eightfold Path, Shamatha-Vipassana meditation develops a tranquil and well-concentrated mind allowing for insight to occur. [7]

These qualities or factors of enlightenment are taught by the Buddha to remain free of the distraction of craving, aversion, and further deluded thinking. With gentle awareness of self and others, these qualities are mindfully recognized and cultivated with joyful enthusiasm as a practical response to conditioned thinking. The mind’s natural non-distracted state, samadhi, is cultivated and developed and equanimity prevails. [8]

Like today, during the Buddha’s time, there were many distractions to other ideas and practices seemingly helpful or even necessary towards gaining understanding. As a subtle aspect of conditioned thinking it can be very difficult to recognize and abandon contradictory practices that one has become associated with and enamored of. The Eightfold Path provides the framework for recognizing and abandoning unskillful practices. [4]

The story of the distraction and schism caused by Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin, is an archetypal story of the damage done by allowing grasping, aversion and deluded thinking to interfere with the cultivation of the Dhamma. Many well-intentioned but confused and misguided modern teachers and practitioners continue to contribute to distraction and division through craving for and clinging to “Buddhist” practices that contradict what an awakened human being taught as a direct path to end ignorance. [9]

The Buddha’s own search for understanding shows how the Buddha was able to recognize false dharmas and avoid seeking material gain, social status, or power and remain focused on achieving a profound understanding of the true nature of suffering and a clear and direct path that anyone who avoids common distraction can develop. [10]

Through well-focused and joyful engagement with the Buddha’s Dhamma one can quickly overcome the confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing suffering that commonly follows continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths through continued ignorance of an awakened human beings Dhamma.

Devadatta achieved a certain level of intuitive powers through preliminary development but gained little initial wisdom or discernment. He decided that he had a more comprehensive understanding than the Buddha. Devadatta was driven by the need to be acknowledged as an enlightened being rather than actually develop the Dhamma. He wanted to introduce his own “dharma” and gain recognition with his peers and gain material wealth and power. Devadatta plotted to have the Buddha killed so that he could take over the original Sangha and establish his own “lineage”.

He succeeded in distracting 500 monks to follow him. The plot failed and most of the monks returned to the Buddha’s sangha. The Buddha used this situation as an opportunity to teach mindfulness of the Dhamma and point out the dangers of dismissing the Eightfold Path and continuing greed, aversion, and deluded thinking within a Dhamma.

For a complete understanding of this sutta in the over-arching context of the Buddha’s Dhamma please read the linked suttas. ([x])

Devadatta Sutta – A Monks Greed

Anguttara Nikaya 8:7

On one occasion the Buddha was staying near Rajagaha on Vulture Peak Mountain. His cousin, Devadatta had just left the sangha in disgrace after attempting to murder the Buddha to take control of the Buddha’s sangha.

The Buddha, referring to Devadatta addressed those gathered:

“Friends, it is skillful to reflect on one’s failings and it is skillful to reflect on the failings of others. Likewise, it is skillful to reflect on one’s attainments and also on the attainments of others.

“Distracted and overcome by eight untrue dhammas, his mind overcome, Devadatta is headed for a state of endless ignorance and confusion. Which eight?

“Distracted and overcome by clinging to material gain…

“Distracted and overcome by clinging to lack of material gain…

“Distracted and overcome by status…

“Distracted and overcome by lack of status…

“Distracted and overcome by offerings of praise and goods…

“Distracted and overcome by lack of offerings of praise and goods …

“Distracted and overcome by clinging to ambition…

“Distracted and overcome by unwholesome associations, his mind perverted, Devadatta is headed for a state of continued distraction, deprivation, and inescapable ignorance, confusion, and ongoing suffering.”

“It is for this compelling reason that one should keep abandoning, again and again, any craving for or clinging to:

  • Material gain to lack of material gain
  • Gaining status or not gaining status
  • Gaining praise or not gaining praise

“It is for this compelling reason that one should keep abandoning, again and again, any craving for or clinging to unwholesome ambition  and any unwholesome association and unwholesome friendship.”

“You should train yourselves: ‘I will keep abandoning again & again any clinging to material gain… any clinging to lack of material gain… any clinging to status… any clinging to lack of status… any clinging to offerings of praise and goods … any clinging to offerings of praise and goods … any clinging to ambition… any clinging to unwholesome friendship.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”

End of Sutta

 

  1. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  2. Wisdom Of Restraint
  3. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  4. Kalama Sutta
  5. Seven Factors Of Awakening
  6. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  7. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  8. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  9. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  10. The Noble Search For The Noble Path

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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