Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 1.3.9
Saṅghabhedasuttaṃ - The Schism in the Saṅgha

Nālāgiriṃ gajavaraṃ atimattabhūtaṃ;

Dāvaggicakkamasanīva, sudāruṇantaṃ;

Mettambusekavidhinā jitavā munindo;

Taṃ tejasā bhavatu te jayamaṅgalāni

Like a circle of jungle-fire, pitiless like a thunderbolt,

The noble elephant Nālāgiri, being exceedingly intoxicated,

Sprinkling Mettā like extinguishing water the sage of the Munis conquered him,

Through the power of this may joyous victory be yours.1


This sutta introduces a selection from the Udānapāḷi, a collection of events and observations by that the Buddha. These ‘exclamations of joy’ (udāna) uttered by the Enlightened One at the very end of each sutta are collected in the book of the same name. They conclude with verses in metrical form that are introduced with the same formula: ‘Having understood the (deeper) meaning of it (etamatthaṃ viditvā) he expressed that solemn utterance (imaṃ udānaṃ udānesi).’ 

The Saṅghabhedasutta commences with the opening phrase evaṃ me sutaṃ which points to the historical fact that this sutta was witnessed and then reiterated by the Venerable Ānanda, who introduced in this way all texts that were heard by him personally. Ānanda, who had a computer-like memory and supernormal ability of recollection,2 was questioned during the First Dhamma Council by the Venerable Mahā Kassapa about the time, the place and the content of the suttas of the Buddha which were heard by him.

The circumstances and location of this occurrence was called veḷuvane kalandakanivāpe near Rājagaha which was a preferred resting place of Buddha. It had been a pleasure park of King Bimbimsāra. Once the king had gone there alone for a picnic and had fallen asleep. A snake was attracted by the smell of the food and while the serpent was approaching, a squirrel chirped to awaken and save the king. Out of gratitude King Bimbimsāra ordered that food (nivāpa) should be given regularly to the squirrels (kalandakā) in this bamboo (veḷu) forest (vane). At one time after the Buddha’s demise the Venerable Ānanda replied in the following way when asked to describe this grove.

Taggha, brāhmaṇa, veḷuvanaṃ ramaṇīyañceva appasaddañca appanigghosañca3 vijanavātaṃ manussarāhasseyyakaṃ paṭisallānasāruppaṃ. …4

 … Indeed, Brahmin, truly the Bamboo Grove is agreeable, with hardly any disturbing noise quiet and undisturbed by voices, surrounded by an atmosphere of privacy being deserted of people, favorable for seclusion. ...” 

Devadatta was the famous antagonist of the Buddha and a brother or half-brother of Ānanda. They both had entered the order, along with four friends, under their barber Upāli. Devadatta had tried to kill the Buddha three times with the help of his friend King Ajātasattu but never succeeded. The king was finally forced to withdraw his patronage from Devadatta due to the folks of Rājagaha being outraged at his last attempt to have the Buddha killed in public using the king’s intoxicated, powerful elephant Nālāgiri. When it approached, the Buddha gently touched Nālāgiri with an all-suffusing mettā and it kneeled down, paying its respect to the Buddha.

Later on Devadatta decided to create a schism in the order and to start his own Saṅghā by requesting the Buddha to follow stricter rules than laid down in the Vinaya, i.e., never to sleep anywhere else except at the root of a tree, wear only robes of discarded garments, etc.5 After the Buddha refused to make these rules obligatory, Devadatta found a group of followers of about five hundred Bhikkhus then told Ānanda that from that day onward he would create his own Bhikkhusaṅghā as related in this sutta. Later on the Buddha sent the two chief disciples, the Venerable Sāriputta and the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna,6 to Devadatta and the group of five hundred Bhikkhus that had gathered around himUnder the false impression that even those two eminent Bhikkhus were going to join him, Devadatta rejoiced when he saw them approaching. Later on, exhausted by a lengthy discourse to his followers, Devadatta asked Venerable Sāriputta to continue on his behalf. The effect was that this talk re-established faith in the Enlightened One, and they all left Devadatta. When he realized what had happened, he became very sick for a long period of time.7

The animosity of Devadatta towards the Buddha had increased over many lives, starting from their first encounter when both of them had been merchants. At that time Devadatta was the first to come across an extremely poor old woman, with her granddaughter, whose only possession of value was an heirloom, a golden bowl from which they ate. Although the gold was covered, its true value was immediately understood by the hawker, Devadatta, but unknown to its owners. Instead of expressing its true value, he threw it away to convey its worthlessness, planning to come back later and get it for nothing. In the meantime the Bodhisatta, being a hawker himself, came to the same place and exchanged the bowl for its true value and left. When Devadatta returned and found out what had happened, he ran after the Bodhisatta who had in the meantime crossed the nearby river. Realizing that he had missed his chance from pure greed, Devadatta got so upset that his heart burst and he fell down dead. Many Jātakas (birth stories of previous existences of the Buddha) relate further occurrences and how each time the hatred of Devadatta towards the Bodhisatta increased.


Some concluding notes on important terms used in this sutta:

One may note here that the appellation āyasmā is not used for Devadatta but for all other Theras. Āyasmā is the respectful appellation of a Venerable Thera, a Bhikkhu of high standing. The term āvuso is used in a conversation between Bhikkhus of the same standing.

Uposatha (lit. fasting) is an expression to denote the days following the full, half, the eighth and fourteenth night of the lunar cycle, which were traditionally used to observe the five and eight precepts and to dedicate oneself to meditation. It was also the days where the Saṅgha gathered to confess their faults and express their misgivings and recite the Pātimokkha.

1. Jayamaṅgalagāthā, recited on day four of the 10-day course by S.N. Goenka, referring to the incident and ‘attack’ caused by Devadatta.

2. More about the history of the councils and the part that Venerable Ānanda plays here in the introductions starting from 2.1.4 Paṭhama-asappurisasuttaṃ - About an Unworthy Person onwards.

3. appanigghosañca: appa + nigghosaṃ + ca: little + noise, shouting, voices + and.

4. Gopakamoggallānasuttaṃ, Devadahavaggo, Uparipaṇṇāsapāḷi, Majjhimanikāye.

5. See for more details 3.6.3 Parābhavasuttaṃ - The Causes of Downfall.

6. See also 1.3.8 Caṅkamasuttaṃ - Bound Together by Inclinations about the close friendship between the Venerable Sāriputta and Venerable Mahā Moggallāna.

7. It is said that Devadatta later was swallowed up by the earth but in spite of his evilness at the moment of death he declared that he had no other refuge than the Buddha: ‘natthi me saraṇaṃ aññaṃ, Buddho me saraṇaṃ varaṃ’.

Last modified: Saturday, 2 December 2023, 3:15 PM