Devadatta had just lost his royal patron for good. He, of course, had not repented in the slightest but was in fact still scheming and plotting to restore his former fortunes.

Ajatashatru then said to the ministers, “From this day forward, I seek my refuge in the World Honored One and his disciples. From now on, we must invite the World Honored One and his disciples to my palace, but we must not allow Devadatta and his cohorts to enter the palace.

Unaware of this, one day Devadatta arrived at the palace gates. The sentries who guarded the gates repeated what the king had said and blocked Devadatta’s path. Seething inside with anger, he stood outside the gate. Just then the nun Utpalavarna, who had finished her round of begging, came walking out of the gate. When he spied the nun, instantaneously he exploded with anger. “What hatred do you harbor toward me that prompts you to bar me from passing through the gate?” Using abusive language, he clenched his fist and struck the nun’s head. The nun endured the pain and told him that this was unreasonable, but in the end Devadatta broke her head. The nun endured the pain and returned to her nunnery. She said to the nuns who were horror-struck and grieving, “Sisters, one’s life span cannot be calculated; all things are impermanent. A quiescent place free of defilement is nirvana. All of you, exert yourselves with diligence and cultivate the virtuous path.” After speaking these words, she entered nirvana. (Ibid, pp. 568-569)

The nun Utpalavarna, was in fact an arhat, someone who had attained liberation in their lifetime. By killing her, Devadatta had committed yet another of the five grave offences, for a total of three. There was no evil that he was not capable of, and he still hoped to kill the Buddha.

Finally Devadatta smeared poison onto the nails of his ten fingers and plotted to draw near the World Honored One, who was staying at the Jeta Grove Monastery. The disciples spied Devadatta’s figure, and because they were concerned about the safety of the World Honored One, they felt great fear. However, the World Honored One said, “There is no need to be afraid. Today, Devadatta will not be able to see me.” Meanwhile, Devadatta approached the monastery and went to the shore of the lake where disciples washed their feet. There for some time he rested under the shade of a tree. Repeating what he had said before, the World Honored One pacified his fearful disciples. At this moment, the great earth on which Devadatta stood of itself sank down and burst into flames. It soon buried his knees, then it reached up to his navel and finally his shoulders. Burned by the fire, Devadatta repented his grave offences and sank down. Two gold levers squeezed Devadatta from the front and back, pulled him downward into the great earth, which was consumed in flames, and dragged him down into the Avichi Hell. (Ibid, p. 569)

That was the end of Devadatta according to the Ekottaragama Sutra. The Pali commentaries simply say that he was ill for nine months and that when it was apparent that he was going to die he asked to be taken on a litter to see the Buddha in order to repent, but that before this could be done he was swallowed up by the earth and fell into hell as in the above version. The Pali commentaries further state that in the far future Devadatta would be released from the Avichi Hell and attain liberation as the private-buddha named Atthissara. After such a tale of incorrigible evil, it is remarkable that even the more conservative Theravadin tradition insists that the chief villain of the story will eventually expiate his evil karma and attain enlightenment.

The Lotus Sutra is even more hopeful than any of the previous works. The Lotus Sutra opens with the Buddha giving a discourse on Vulture Peak outside of Rajagriha. It would seem to be set in a period after all of the above events, because Devadatta is not present but King Ajatashatru is in the assembly. Many of the Buddha’s monastic disciples receive predictions of buddhahood either by name or as part of a group in the first nine chapters of the Lotus Sutra. In chapter ten, all who are present have their buddhahood predicted providing that they rejoice upon hearing the sutra. Presumably this would extend to King Ajatashatru as well.

Thereupon the World Honored One said to Medicine King Bodhisattva in the presence of the eighty thousand great men:

“Medicine King! Do you see the innumerable gods, dragon-kings, yakshas, ghandharvas, asuras, garudas, kimnaras, mahoragas, men, and nonhuman beings, and [the four kinds of devotees:] monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, and those who are seeking to become voice-hears or private-buddhas or the enlightenment of the buddha in this great multitude? If in my presence any of them rejoices, even on a moment’s thought, at hearing even a verse or phrase of the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra, I will assure him of his future buddhahood, saying to him, ‘You will be able to attain perfect and complete enlightenment.’” (Lotus Sutra, p. 171)

In chapter twelve the Buddha reveals something even more startling. He explains that in a past life, he was a king who had renounced his throne in order to attain enlightenment while Devadatta was a seer who taught him and introduced him to the Lotus Sutra. The Buddha goes so far as to attribute his attainment of buddhahood to Devdatta’s past teaching. Furthermore, in the future, Devadatta will himself attain buddhahood.

The Buddha said to the monks:

“The king at that time was a previous life of myself. The seer at that time was a previous life of Devadatta. Devadatta was my teacher. He caused me to complete the six perfections. He caused me to have loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. He caused me to have the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks [of the Buddha]. He caused me to have my body purely gilt. He caused me to have the ten powers and the four kinds of fearlessness. He caused me to know the four ways to attract others. He caused me to have the eighteen properties and supernatural powers [of the Buddha]. He caused me to have the power of giving discourses. I attained perfect enlightenment and now save all living beings because Devadatta was my teacher.”

He said to the four kinds of devotees:

“Devadatta will become a Buddha after innumerable kalpas. He will be called Heavenly-King, the Tathagata, the Deserver of Offerings, the Perfectly Enlightened One, the Man of Wisdom and Practice, the Well-Gone, the Knower of the World, the Unsurpassed Man, the Controller of Men, the Teacher of Gods and Men, the Buddha, the World Honored One.” (Ibid, p. 197)

In the Lotus Sutra, the tale of Ajatashatru and Devadatta comes to a triumphant conclusion. There is no denying that they performed heinous acts, and they do in fact have to suffer for them. In the end, however, Buddhism sees even the icchantika or incorrigible evildoer as redeemable, even if not necessarily within this lifetime. The view taught in the Lotus Sutra is that not only are they redeemable, they are in fact future buddhas, who have yet to bring out their true qualities.