Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Buddha On Miracles

The Buddha On Miracles Image
The Buddha was once staying in the City of Nalanda, in Pavarika Grove. Kevaddha came, bowed respectfully, and said: "Bhagwan, Nalanda is a successful city. The people living in Nalanda are prosperous. They have confidence in the Blessed One. Lord, it would be good if the Blessed One appointed a noble disciple to work a miracle. In that way, the people of Nalanda might become even more confident and place greater faith in the Blessed One."

The Buddha replied, "Kevaddha, I do not teach the DHARMA to my disciples in that way." Kevaddha repeated his entreaty up to a third time as the Buddha gave the same reply. Thereupon, the Buddha explained that there are three kinds of miracles:

* The marvel of paranormal displays -- to be one and appear as many, to pass through walls unhindered, to walk on water as if on land, or to fly through the air, and so on. These are all things many ascetics are able to perform
* The marvel of reading minds
* The supernatural power to guide people, according to their development, for their own good, using suitable methods of instruction to fit their abilities

The first two powers, if displayed for their own sake merely to impress people, are no different than the performances of tricksters and magicians. A disciple who practices such worldly marvels is a source of shame, fear, and humiliation. Such actions may well impress and win over converts. But they in no way bring about enlightenment that puts an end to suffering.

The third kind, however, is indeed an invaluable power in that it helps people overcome suffering once and for all.

These, then, are the only miracles fit to be practiced:

* When you see someone full of passion, craving, and greed, use your powers to teach that person to be free of passion, craving, and greed.
* When you see someone who is a slave to hatred and anger, use your powers to help that person control that hatred and anger.
* When you come across a person who is ignorant and unable to see the true nature of things (that everything is radically impermanent, vulnerable to suffering, and impersonal; in other words, that things are deceptive because, while seeming otherwise, they are in fact passing, unsatisfactory, and void), use your marvellous powers to help that person overcome ignorance.

These, indeed, are worthy miracles, fitting marvels, appropriate magic to perform and display.

This advice to Kevaddha was added to the Code of self-discipline (Vinaya). It rules out for monastics the performance of miracles to gain converts or impress people without helping them become enlightened. This became very clear in the case of Ven. Pindola, an enlightened disciple of the Buddha.

The arhat Pindola Bharadvaja was famous for his miraculous psychic powers. On one occasion, a rich man wanted this bhikkhu to prove he had such abilities. So he placed a beautiful bowl [monks bowls at that time were commonly made of clay, and the "Vinaya" has many rules regarding their care so that they do not accidentally break] at the top of a high pole. He challenged any holy man to get it. If he could, his reward would be to keep the prized bowl.

Pindola Bharadvaja, rather than trying to bring the bowl down, flew up and easily took it from its perch. He did this not so much for the bowl but to prove to the rich man that there are in fact saints ("arhats") in the world, which the rich man did not believe.

When the Buddha came to know of this incident, he called for Pindola Bharadvaja. And there in front of a large assembly of "bhikkhus", he broke the clay bowl to pieces saying: "It is not fitting that one should demonstrate psychic abilities. One must never show off with miraculous displays simply to impress people.

* Who was Pindola Bharadvaja?
* About Bharadvaja (SN XXXV.127)
* Wayward thoughts on the Way:

MODERN BUDDHIST MIRACLE: Local villagers crowd around an amazing image of a revered Buddhist monk that survived a devastating blaze at Paknam Temple in Thailand's Rayong Province. The fire destroyed the 100 year-old sermon hall but left this image untouched and still beautiful (Thai Rath).

The Pindola Sutra("Inspired Utterances", Udana, IV.6)

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Buddha was residing near Savatthi at Jeta's Grove, in Anathapindika's monastery. At that time Ven. Pindola Bharadvaja was sitting not far off, his legs crossed, his body erect -- a forest dweller, an alms seeker, a rag-robe wearer, an possessor of only one set of robes, of few wishes, content, solitary, unentangled with the world, persistence aroused, advocating the ascetic practices, devoted to the higher mind.

The Buddha saw Ven. Pindola Bharadvaja sitting there....Then, on realizing the significance, he exclaimed:

Not reviling, not injuring,
with the Patimokkha,
Moderation in food,
Dwelling in seclusion,
Devoted to the higher mind:
This is the Teaching
of the Awakened Ones!

NOTE: It is said that Ven. Pindola Bharadvaja, in spite of the Buddha's inspired utterance, did not in fact enter nirvana in that lifetime. That is, he was not actually an "arhat" but rather a noble disciple of a lesser degree. He was persuaded by the Buddha to stay on and teach.

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