Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 941,039 words

This page describes “why the buddha treated devadatta as khetashika (kheliasaka)” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Appendix 6 - Why the Buddha treated Devadatta as kheṭāśika (kheḷāsaka)

Note: This appendix is extracted from Chapter XLI part 1 (digression on a case brought against the Buddha):

The Buddha said to Devadatta: “You are a fool (mūḍha), a corpse (śava), a swallower of spit (kheṭāśika).”

1) A ‘fool’ because, due to the gravity of his sins, Devadatta had to fall into the Avīci hell: hence the triple insult.

2) A ‘corpse’ because, in the appearance of a living man, Devadatta did not accumulate the roots of good. With his shaved head and his monk’s robes, one would have said he was a saint, but inwardly he had no wisdom: he was, therefore, a corpse.

3) He was also a ‘swallower of spit’. Devadatta, coveting gain and honor, changed himself into a young boy (kumāraka) of heavenly appearance and appeared in the arms of prince Ajātaśatru. The prince breathed into his mouth and gave him his spit to swallow. This is why Devadatta was a swallower of spit.

The story of Devadatta, cousin and rival of the Buddha, has been told above (p. 868–878F), but here we must return to the detail of why the Buddha treated him as kheḷāpaka (kheḷāsika, kheḷopaka) in the Pāli Vinaya (II, p. 188, 333), kheḷāsaka in the Samantapāsādikā (VI, p. 1275), kheḷāsika in the Commentary of the Dhammapada (I, p. 118).

In his Samantapāsādikā (l.c.), Buddhaghosa has the following explanation: Kheḷāsako ‘ti micchājīvena uppannapaccayā ariyehi vantabbā kheḷasadisā, tathārūpe paccaye ayaṃ ajjhoharatī ‘ti katvā keḷāsako ‘ti bhagavatā vutto: “The foods which are procured by wrong livelihood must be spat out up by the Noble Ones like spit. In regard to the fact that Devadatta ate such food. Devadatta was treated by the Lord as kheḷasaka ‘to be spat out like spit’. Hence the translation of ‘evil-living’ proposed by Rhys-Davids and Oldenberg (Vinaya Texts, III, p. 239) and the translation ‘to be vomited like spittle’, better and more literal, given by I. B. Horner (The Book of the Discipline, V, p. 264). Thus it would seem to be just a ‘swear word’ not corresponding to an actual fact.

Nevertheless, taken literally, the expression kheḷapaka or kheḷāsika can mean ‘eater of spit’ and Rhys Davids-Stede in their Pāli-English Dictionary render it as ‘an abusive term meaning eating phlegm’.

I. The accusation:

In the case with which we are dealing here, the accusation claims that Devadatta never swallowed spit and as a result, treating him as kheḷāpaka is an unwarranted insult and a falsehood. The accusation can be based on an entire series of canonical texts:

1) According to the Pāli Vinaya (II, p. 184–185), the Dhammapada Commentary (I, p. 118), the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (T 1421, k. 3, p. 17c21–25), the DharmaguptakaVinaya (T 1428, k. 4, p. 592a9–18) and the Ekottarāgama (T 125, k. 47, p. 802c21–24), Devadatta, in order to win over prince Ajātaśatru, transformed himself into a youth clothed with a waistband of snakes and appeared on the lap of the prince. The latter, frightened, asked who he was, and Devadatta made himself known. The prince said: “If you are really Devadatta, take your original form.” Putting off the form of a youth, Devadatta reappeared dressed in monastic robes and carrying a begging bowl in his hand. From then on, the favors of Ajātaśatru were granted to him.

2) According to the same sources, several days later, Devadatta asked the Buddha to retire and hand over the Community to him.

The Buddha, indignant, said to him:

“I would not entrust the Community even to Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana, so why should I entrust it to you, you corpse (chava), to be spat out like spit (kheḷāsaka).”

– This is the version of the Pāli Vinaya (II, p. 188–189) and it is confirmed by the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (T 1421, k. 3, p. 18b20) which, in the edition of the Souei and the Ming, render the expression kheḷāsaka by jou sien t’o, ‘like spit’, as does the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (T 1428, k. 4, p. 592b13–14) which translates it as t’i t’o tche chen ‘a mass of tears and spit’.

Nothing in Devadatta’s previous conduct seems to justify such an outrage. Thus the accusation would seem to be an unwarranted insult and lie.

However, the matter is more serious in that the Buddha himself said in the Majjhima, I, p. 395:

Yaṃ Tathāgato vācaṃ jānāti abhūtaṃ… na taṃ Tathāgato vācaṃ bhāsati:

“The Tathāgata never pronounces a word that is false”, no matter whether that word is pleasant or unpleasant to others.

II. The defense:

In order to refute this major accusation, the defense produces here some articles unknown to the prosecutor and apparently taken from more recent canonical sources. These articles allow it to be established that Devadatta really had swallowed Ajātaśatru’s spit and that consequently the Buddha, treating him as kheḷāsaka (in Sanskrit kheṭāśika) spoke the truth.

1) In the words of this source, the intention of Devadatta was not to frighten but to seduce the crown prince. For this purpose, he multiplied the transformations and changed successively into an elephant, a horse, an ox, which came to Ajātaśatru by passing through the wall and going out through the door or vice versa. He also changed into a monk and even into a veil or a hat, which Ajātaśatru made into a turban. Finally he took the form of a child adorned with a necklace of precious stones. Charmed, the crown prince took him in his arms, played with him and invariably ended up by putting some spit into his mouth. Out of love for honor and gain, Devadatta agreed to swallow it.

This new version first appeared in the Chinese Udāna (T 212, k. 14, p. 687c23–28) and a Vinaya of unknown origin (T 1464, k. 2, p. 859b22–29), each translated into Chinese in the years 382 and 383 by Tchou Fo-nien.

It also appears in the Saṃyuktāgama of the Kāśyapīya school (T 100, k. 1, p. 374b13–19), translated by a translator, whose name has not been preserved, about 400 C.E.

Finally, it was repeated and developed in the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya (T 1435, k. 36, p. 257c4–12) translated between 404 and 405 by Kumārajīva, and the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya (T 1450, k. 13, p. 168c7–16) of which an incomplete translation was made by Yi-tsing between 700 and 712.

It was to this evidence that the great exegetists of the 4th century turned, the five hundred Kaśmirian arhats who compiled the Mahāvibhāṣā (T 1545, k. 85, p. 443a1–8) and, as we will see, the author or the authors of the Traité.

2) When Devadatta asked the Buddha to retire and entrust the Community to him, the Buddha refused curtly and treated his cousin as mūdha ‘fool’, śava ‘corpse’ and kheṭāśika ‘eater of spit’. Those who remembered the kiss exchanged between Ajātaśatru and Devadatta could not help but see an allusion in it to this repugnant action.

This is why the translators of the previously cited sources translated kheṭáśika by the following characters:

  1. Tan t’o ‘eater of spit’ (Sarv. Vin, T 1435, k. 36, p. 258b7),
  2. Che t’o tchö ‘eater of spit’ (Mūlasarv. Vin., T 1450, k. 13, p. 169b26).
  3. Che jen t’o tchö ‘eater of human spit’ (Mahāvibhāṣā, T 1545, k. 85, p. 443a6–7).
  4. Seou t’o jen ‘swallower of spit’ (Traité, T 1509, k. 26, p. 252c3).

If the Buddha treated Devadatta as a swallower of spit, it is because the latter took Ajātaśatru’s spit, and because the Buddha spoke only the truth.

In the Majjhima, I, p. 395, the Buddha stated:

Yañ ca kho Tathāgato vācaṃ jānāti bhūtaṃ…, tatra kālaññāTathāgato hoti tassā vācāya veyyākaraṇāya: “Every word that the Buddha knows to be true, he waits for the opportunity to offer it”, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant for someone else.

In this case, the Buddha had the perfect right to treat Devadatta as kheṭāśika and the accusation made against him is invalid. In the words of the 14th āveṇikadharma, all vocal actions of the Buddha are preceded by knowledge and accompanied by knowledge.

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