1. Godatta Thera.-He belonged to a family of caravan-leaders and, on the death of his father, travelled about himself with five hundred carts, engaged in trade. One day, one of his oxen fell on the road, and seeing that his men could not get it up, Godatta went up and smote it. The ox, incensed by this cruelty, assumed a human voice and, chiding him for his base ingratitude, cursed him. Godatta, much moved, renounced all his property and joined the Order, in due course attaining arahantship (ThagA.i.555f).
The Theragāthā (vs.659-72) contains several stanzas attributed to him, wherein he discoursed to "Ariyan" groups, both lay and religious, on lokadhammā (the nature of things?), illustrating his meaning with a wealth of simile. He is probably the Godatta of the Godatta Sutta.
2. Godatta Thera.-His full name was Abhidhammika Godatta, showing that he was considered expert in Abhidhamma. He was evidently a well-known Abhidhamma commentator and is quoted in the Visuddhi Magga (p.138), but it is said that his explanation was rejected in the Commentaries because it was only the Elder's personal view.
The Samantapāsādika (ii.307, also 478; iii.588), however, relates a story showing that the Elder was recognised as an authority on the Vinaya. A monk of Antarasamudda made a drinking bowl out of a coco-nut shell and, leaving it in the monastery, went to Cetiyagiri. Another monk, fancying the bowl, stole it and also went to Cetiyagiri, where he met the owner and was charged with theft. Unable to settle the dispute where they were, they went to the Mahāvihāra. There, by beating of drums, the monks were assembled near the Mahācetiya, and convicted the accused of theft, holding him guilty of a pārājikā offence.
Godatta, being interviewed, pointed out that the value of the bowl was only a penny or two and that the Buddha had nowhere laid down that the theft of such an insignificant object could be held a pārājikā offence. His decision was greeted with applause, and when the report thereof reached the reigning king, Bhātiya, he decreed that, henceforth, in all their disputes, his subjects should abide by the decision of Godatta. v.l. Godha, Godhaka, Goda, Gotta, Godanta.
3. Godatta Thera.-An incumbent of Kalyāni-mahāvihāra in Ceylon. He would procure his food when the shadow of the sun was two inches long and eat it when it was but one inch. Even when no sun was to be seen, he knew the time exactly. The people discovered this by watching him and set their "clocks" by his movements. MA.i.100.