BUDDHA AND DEVADATTA

By A.M. Hocart


Indian Antiquary,


vol. 52, Oct. 1923, pp. 267-72.


vol. 54, Oct. 1925, pp. 98-99.



p. 267 DEVADATTA'S constant, but unsuccessful, persecution of the Buddha, his cousin, is one of the main themes of Buddhist legend. It has usually been taken as a simple case of sectarian jealousy, requiring no further explanation. I believe there is a great deal more in it than that. I will preface my remarks with the Buddha's genealogy. Spence Hardy, in his Manual of Buddhism (p.140), relates how the thirty-two sons of Rama of the Koli tribe married their thirty-two mother's brother's daughters of the Sakya tribe. "From this time it became the custom of the Koli and Sakya tribes to intermarry with each other." This is borne out by the following pedigree taken from Rhys David's Buddhism and Spence Hardy(1):-- Jayasena Devadaha (Sakya) (Koli) 旼컴컴컴컴좔컴컴컴컴 旼컴컴컴컴좔컴컴컴컴컴 Sinhahanu=Kancana Yasodhara=Anjana Sinhahanu=Kancana 憫컴컴컴컴컴 旼좔컴컴컴컴 (See left) Suprabuddha=Amirita Sudhodhana=Maha Maya Suprabuddha=Amrita (Sakya) 읕컴 旼컴컨컴컴컴커 (See right) Gautamabuddha=Yasodhara Devadatta Any one who has the slightest acquaintance with kinship systems will immediately diagnose the case. It is the cross-cousin system, under which a man's children are expected to marry his sister's children, but not his brother's children. In technical language a man marries his cross-cousin, a term invented to express the fact that they are cousins through parents of opposite sexes. Such a form of marriage results in a system of reckoning kin, in which the maternal uncle is the same as the father-in-law, the paternal aunt as the mother-in- law, and so forth, as any one can work out for himself on the above pedigree. This mode of reckoning kin is found in its typical form among the Tamils, the Todas, and other peoples of South India(2), among the Sinhalese, ancient and modern, the Torres Straits Islanders"(3), the New Hebrideans, and in Fiji. With a trifling modification it occurs among the Seneca-Iroquois of North America.(4) Species of the same genus, or crosses between this and other species, are found broadcast from South Africa to America across the Pacific. I assume straightaway that all these systems have a common origin. If we maintain that they have arisen independently, then good-bye to all history of civilization. We might just as well be consistent and say that the resemblances between Latin and Sanskrit, or Mala- gasy and Hawaiian are accidental. If all these systems have a common origin, we are justified in drawing inferences from one to another, provided we observe the laws of evidence. Just as we compare the Latin pater, ______________________________ 1 This Pedigree is given in Mahavamsa II, 15ff. 2 Richard's Cross-cousin Marriage in South India; Man, 1914, No. 97; Rivers', The Todas, p. 484; Morgan, Systems of Consanguinity, Pl, X ff. 3 Cambridge Expedition to Torres Straits, VI, p.92, 4 Morgan, cf, cit. Pl. IV ff. p. 268 with the Sanskrit pitar, the Gothic fadar, and, so hark back to an original pater, so we are justified in placing the Sakya custom besides the Sinhalese, the Fijian, and the New Hebridean, and thus restore the original practice from which all these varieties are derived. In a series of papers I have described the beliefs and practices that centre round cross- cousinship in Fiji(5), In Fiji groups intermarry just like the Koli and the Sakya, and this tribal relationship is variously described in different parts as tauvu, veitambani, veimbatiki, veikila. 'People who are so related make a, point of abusing one another , calling each other "cad," " orphan," " body fit to cook"; they pull one another by the hair; they take each other's property without asking leave; on ceremonial occasions a man will seize a lot of stuff and get beaten in a playful way by his cross-cousins.(6) There is a great rivalry between such groups: " they are lands that vie with one another," says a Fijian, "it is a disgrace for them that the report should go forth that they have been overwhelmed in war, or in ex- changes, or in eating, or in drinking."(7) All this rough handling, and rivalry, and abuse is done, mind you, in a friendly way; in fact a man's proper "pal" is his cross-cousin, and tales are told of the endless tricks inseparable cross-cousins played on one another. So essen- tial is this cheating that over and over again tribes will derive their relationship, from two gods of whom one cheated the other, who, thereupon, retaliated with bad language. So essen- tial is the fighting that in the Windward Islands of Fiji, where they have forgotten the mean- ing of veitambani, they will tell you that two tribes are veitambani because they could fight one another! This constant feud between cross-cousins was not a local growth in Fiji, for traces of it are found elsewhere. In the New Hebrides the two halves of society "are said to have dif- ferent characters In the old time members of the two moieties hated one another and even now there is a feeling of enmity between the two."(8) Among the Thonga, of South Africa, just as in Fiji, the uterine nephew steals the offering and gets pelted by the others(9). This therefore looks like an original feature of the cross-cousin system sufficiently ancient to have spread to South Africa at one end, and Fiji at the other. The reader will long ago have seen what we were coming to, namely to the conclusion that the rivalry of Buddha and Devadatta is an echo of the friendly and ceremonial antagonism of cross-cousins. We must leave it undecided, however, whether there existed between the Buddha and his cousin a friendly feud, which, with the disappearance of the custom, was misinterpreted as a bitter enmity; or whether in those days an originally friendly opposition had degenerated into hate; or whether, finally, there never was such a rivalry between the two, but traditions of cross-cousin rivalry became attached to the pair. It matters little to our purpose what may have been the case, for we are not concerned here with events, but with customs, and it is sufficient if we can show that the legend of Buddha and Devadatta. is evidence that similar customs once prevailed in Northern India as they do now in the Pacific. At the suggestion of Rao Saheb S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar let us consider the exact form taken by the feud between Buddha and Devadatta. "Shin-i-tian'' quoted by Klaproth and Remusat, in their edition of Fa Hian (p.201) records a rivalry in mighty deeds between Nanda, the Buddha's brother, and Devadatta, in which, of course, Nanda surpasses his cousin. Late in life, according to Spence Hardy (Manual of Buddhism, p. 326) Devadatta thought thus:--"I am equally honourable as to my family with Buddha; before I became a priest I was treated with all respect, but now I receive even less than my previous ___________________________ 5 "The Fijian Custom of tauvu, " JRAI., 1913, p. 101; " More about tauvu,'' Man, 1914, No. 96; "The Uterine Nephew," Man, ibid., 1922, 6 "Chieftainship in the Pacific, " American Journ, of Anthropology, 1915, p.631. 7 "The Common Sense of Myth," ibid., 1916, p. 316. 8 Rivers' History of Malanesian Society, I, p. 22. The author probably took it more seriously than it was meant. 9 Junod, Life of an African Tribe, I, p. 162. p. 269 followers. I must take to myself 500 disciples; but before I can do this, I must persuade some king or other to take my part; great monarchs of Rajagaha, and other places, are all on the side of Buddha; I cannot therefore deceive them, as they are wise. But there is Ajasat, the son of Bimsara; he is ignorant of causes, and disobedient to his parents; but he is liberal to his followers; so I must bring him over, and then I can easily procure a large retinue." Thus Devadatta enters into rivalry with the Buddha: the Buddha founds a monastic order, Devadatta, must do the same; the Buddha is patronised by a great monarch, Devadatta, must also seek such an exalted patron. Devadatta preaches " in imitation of Buddha " (p.339): but like our Fijian veitambani, Devadatta must go one better than the Buddha, only he does so in the spiritual, they in the material. When he finds his Order fall to pieces he comes to the Buddha, and says (p.337): "I have hitherto been refused that which I asked at your hands, but this is not right, as I am the nephew of Sudhodana:" (here I must interrupt to inquire whether this is not an echo of the right a man's sister's son has of taking everything of his uncle's without his uncle being allowed to say him, nay; otherwise what is the meaning of Devadatta's words? ). Devadatta then proceeds to ask that on five points the discipline of the Order should be made more severe. The Buddha calls on men to leave the world and retire into monasteries; Devadatta wants them to retire to the forest. Buddha allows his disciples to eat what is brought by the people to the monasteries; Devadatta wants them to eat nothing but what they have begged from door to door, and so on. The only motive that influences Devadatta from beginning to end is rivalry, a desire to surpass his cousin. If the hostility of Devadatta is merely the record of ordinary hatred, it is difficult to under- stand why Devadatta, possesses the power of flying through the air and of performing miracles (Spence Hardy, Manual of Buddhism, p.326). Here we have a man who, according to existing accounts, is utterly wicked, so wicked as to oppose the Saviour of the World, yet endowed with a power which is normally attained only after treading the path of meditation and renunciation towards the goal of sanctity. Buddhist tradition seems to have felt the difficulty, for it is at pains to explain that to him the power of passing through the air and of assuming of any form was only a curse, which " led him on to do that which involved himself in ruin." If on the other hand this antagonism is really the echo or the continuation of an old sporting feud involving no moral stigma on either side, it is only natural that the rival chiefs should both be endowed with wondrous power; only one surpasses the other. When at a later time it came to be interpreted as the malice of the Evil One against the Good One, a difficulty arose which had to be explained away. A similar difficulty beset our theologians of old, who accepted the wonders tradition ascribes to "Osiris, Isis, Horus and their train;" yet deeming them to be devils, were perplexed by the power wielded by the enemies of God, and were reduced to suppose that only "Through God's high sufferance, for the trial of man, By falsities and lies the greatest part Of mankind they corrupted to forsake God their Creator." But to return to our problem, can we find in Modern India any evidence that the kinship customs mere similar to those that now prevail in Fiji, any trace of that playful antagonism of cross-cousins? Unfortunately kinship and its customs has not received the attention it deserves, and therefore there is a dearth of evidence. I have made inquiries in Ceylon and this is the result: "If cross-cousins are of equal age they talk to one another like chums. If they are of different ages, the younger one treats the older as if he were his elder brother. Brothers don't discuss private matters, such as love affairs, with each other; but cousins of equal age discuss such matters freely. They call each other names, if they are angry. Brothers abuse one another when they are very young."All that survives then in Ceylon is a p. 270 greater familiarity between cross-cousins, and even that is restricted by the respect for age, which is such that " a, man will address his servant as ayya (elder brother), if he is older. " Thanks to Rao Saheb S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar, I am able to produce more definite evidence from South India. I will quote his letter:--" Whether they actually marry or no, these cross-cousins usually enjoy that license, particularly as between men, to indulge in free talk, which between others would be regarded as insulting. As between these cousins there is infinitely more freedom of talk. This habit has even invaded the castes to whom marriage between cross-cousins is a prohibition, such as, for instance, the Brahmans. The habit is almost general among all classes other than that of the Brahmans." Another way of approaching the problem is by looking for divisions that fight one another. The only case I know of is the hostility between the right-hand and left-hand factions of Southern India, as described by Dubois in his Hindu Manners and Customs (Oxford ed., p. 25). The left-hand includes the Vaisyas, a, high caste, and also the lowest of all. The right-hand consists of most of the higher Sudras and of the Parias. Their disputes centre, it should be noted, round religious ceremonies. It may be objected that these two groups do not intermarry and that there is no evidence that they ever did; on the other hand there is no evidence that they did not. The rigidity of caste is admittedly not early. Even at the present day cases of intermarriage are not uncommon, and I need not dwell upon them beyond quoting Mr. H. Codrington's information as regards Ceylon:--"The castes used to intermarry, i.e., a higher caste man took a wife from the caste next below. This is still done in parts of Ceylon by the Hali (Salagama. Tamil, Saliyar) and Vahunpurayo." But whether caste ever intermarried or not, the Tamil and Sinhalese kinship system is there to prove that there must at one time have been in the South intermarrying groups like the Sakya and Koli, for the Tamil system is based on the dual organization and is sufficient evidence of its former existence. If in Tamil land this system divided the clans into two intermarrying groups, we should get back to a state of society such as exists in Fiji. There each state is divided into two groups of clans: the nobles and their councillors or heralds are always in one,(10) the vanguard in the other; it can be shown that marriage into the other half was, until recently, the proper thing; but the nobles have tended to form alliances with the nobles of foreign states and thus to become endogamous within their rank or caste; the car- penters are strictly endogamous because no one will marry into them, they are so despised. ` The Todas, who have the cross-cousin system are divided into Tartharol and Teivaliol. These two divisions do not now intermarry, but the following custom is significant. When a girl reaches a certain age "a man belonging to the Tarthstrol, if the girl is a Teivali, and to Teivaliol, if she is a Tarthar, comes in the day-time to the village of the girl, and, lying down beside her puts his mantle over her so that it covers both and remains there for a few minutes. Fifteen days later she is deflowered by a man of either division."(11) This looks very much like a survival of the time when a woman's proper husband came from the opposite division. She still, in the majority of cases, finds her official paramour in the opposite divi- sion.(12) The Todas therefore constitute the first link in the chain with which we want to connect the Tamil social organisation with the Fijian. Students of Indian society may well find some more links among the backward tribes of India, for those who are out of the swim of civilization move more slowly and are often to be found now exactly where their neighbours stood thousands of years ago. The use of the terms 'right' and 'left' as applied to social divisions, lends probability to my suggestion. Among the Elema, of New Guinea the clubs are divided into right and left. __________________________ 10 It is quite possible that they have the same origin as the Ksattriyas and Brahmans of India. 11 Riversa ' The Todas, p. 503. 12 Ibid., p. 526 p. 271 If I understand Dr. Seligman's note, the right and left intermarry, but not right with right, or left with left.(13) The Galla of East Africa also divides society into a right and left wing, each of which can only marry into the other.(14) I must apologize, for producing such flimsy supports to the argument. As a matter of fact, they are intended not as proofs, but as clues for dwellers in India and. round the Indian Ocean to follow up, and thus link up Africa and the Pacific with Northern India. Such a result might have far reaching consequences, so far reaching indeed that I am almost afraid of hinting at them, for fear of being utterly discredited, but here goes. The antagonism of the Buddha and Devadatta is that of Good and Evil, which appear again in the persons of Osiris and Seth, Ahura Mazda and Angro-Minyus, Christ and Satan, the Devas and Asuras. If it is based on the rivalry of two intermarrying groups, may not those other antagonisms go back to the same source. In Fiji we have seen that the gods of intermarrying tribes over-reach one another just as their descendants do. May not the same have happened in other parts of the world, and the rivalry of t he tribesmen be shared by their gods? I must insist that this institution is essentially religious: in Fiji the relation of tauvu is defined as " having gods in common;" and a man who resents the seizing of property by his cross-cousins is made ill by the spirits. In South Africa the pelting of the uterine nephew is part of a religious ceremonial. The story of the malice of Devadatta has only been preserved by the Buddhist religion. It is not therefore surprising that a feud, which is essentislly religious, should have been preserved in the annals of religion; nor that, once the custom had died out, the tradition should have been misunderstood, and an animus crept in which was not there before. Scholars may fail to see how a theory of good and evil can have arisen out of a mere system of intermarriage; but it is not a mere system of intermarriage; it is an elaborate theology of which the intermarriage of two tribes or families is only one consequence. That theology is only beginning to unfold itself. As the picture becomes clearer and more detailed we shall cease to fin.d it difficult to believe that the powers of good and evil go back to the ceremonial antagonism of intermarrying groups. Appendlix A. I should like to draw the reader's attention to Vinaya, vol. II, p.188, where Devadatta approaches Buddha most respectfully and offers to relieve his age of the burden of administering the Order. The Buddha, replies with abuse, calling him "corpse, lick-spittle" (chavassa). This seems scarcely in keeping with the character of the Buddha, but it is with that of a cross-cousin. Devadatta is hurt and one day when Buddha is walking up and down on Grdhrakuta hill throws a stone at him (op. cit., p. 193). Hiuen Tsiang saw the stone which was 14 or 15 feet high.(15) Evidently we have here an old world legend of a type that covers a good part of the world, and is far more ancient than Buddhism, An example from the. Pacific will be found in my '; Cult of the Dead in Eddystone Island," pt.II(16) It is remarkable that in Fiji this kind of legend is often told to account for the cross-cousinship. Thus the people of the island of Nayau and of Vanuavatu intermarry a great deal and are relations (veiwekani); they tell a legend which is the nearest approach I can think of to the legend of Grdhrakuta. The gist of it is that the ancestor god of Nayau stole the water which the ancestor god of Vanuavatu had hung on a tree while he was at work. When the god of Vanuavatu discovered this he looked towards Nayau and saw the god, of Nayau fleeing towards Nayau. He picked up a stone and therew it, and struck the bottles so that they broke. The stone broke in two and one; half is in Nayau. ________________________________________ 13 The Melanssians of British New Guinea, p.28 14 A. Werner, Some Galla Notes, 1915, No.10. 15 Beal, Buddhist Records of the Western World, II, 153. 16 JRAI., July-December, 1922. p. 272 A similar legend without the stone throwing is told to explain why Undu in Totoya and Natokalau in Matuku are tribal cross-cousins (tauvu). Appendix B. Rao Saheb S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar has given me further particulars about the abuse usual among cross-cousins, from which it appears that they indulge in obscenities; for he says, "These expressions have reference more or less to matters of banter not usually permissible except as between husband and wife." Among the hill tribes of Fiji the banter of cross- cousins alludes to sex.(17) I think enough has been said to show that the use of abusive language among cross- cousins is a very ancient feature of the cross-cousin system, as ancient as the nearest common ancestor of the people who introduced the system into India, the New Hebrides, and Fiji. It follows that normally Siddartha and Devadatta would have behaved in this characteristic manners. ________________________ 17 Man, Note on various definition of Totemism, 1920, No. 12.