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No place for miracles in Buddhism

Courtesy : Vesak Lipi (2007 Edition)

By Prof: Y. Karunadasa PhD.(Lond.)
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No place for miracles in Buddhism

There is another important aspect of the Buddha as a religious teacher, to which I must draw your attention. It is that as a religious teacher the Buddha did not endorse the exhibition of miracles to propagate his teachings. One day when the Buddha visited the city of Nalanda, the people of Nalanda came to the Buddha and said: Venerable Sir, This city of Nalanda is very affluent and prosperous, it is teeming with people. It would be a good thing if the Buddha could perform some miracles, so that the Buddha would be able to convent many people to his religion. On this occasion the Buddha said: There are three kinds of miracles.

The first is the miracle called iddhipatihariya This means the ability to perform such super natural acts as levitating, that is, going in the air like a bird, or walking on water, like a fish, or going through walls and parapets, or appearing in two different places at one and the same time The second kind of miracle is called adesana patihariya. It is some kind of hypnotism or mesmerism It is the ability to hypnotize or mesmerize someone and reveal the kind of thoughts that the person is having. Then the Buddha goes on to say that, he does not recommend, he does not endorse two kinds of miracles. The Buddha says that he is ashamed of these kind of miracles, that he 'detests1 them, that he rejects them categorically. Further, the Buddha goes on to say that there is another kind of miracle. It is called anusasani patihariya. Anusasani patiyariya means the miracle of instruction. It has nothing to do with exhibiting supernatural acts in order to win over others or to convert others. What is called the miracle of instruction is nothing but teaching the Dhamma through rational persuassion. Thus we see that the Buddha has elevated what we call teaching, through rational persuasion to the level of a miracle.

The Buddha said that this is the only miracle that he recommends, that this is the only miracle that he endorses. If the Buddha endorsed only the Miracle of Instruction, this has many implications. One implication is that the Buddha did not resort to unethical conversion by resorting to cheap and vulgar exhibition of supernatural power. If people resort to unethical conversion, this shows the bankruptcy of the message that they want to propagate. What I say here has great relevance to modern times when we see all around us some fundamentalist religions, resorting to unethical conversion. If the Buddha is called the Buddha, it is also because He attained the highest level of moral perfection, and the highest level of wisdom. Therefore the Buddha is considered and venerated as the Highest among all living beings, whether they are human or whether they are divine. Although Buddhism does not believe in a Creator God, according to Buddhist cosmology, there are gods or divine beings. Most of these divine beings are pre-Buddhistic gods. They have been adopted and assimilated by Buddhism, under certain conditions, in such a way that their recognition in no way goes against the fundamental teachings of Buddhism.

According to pre-Buddhist Hindu/Brahmanical teachings, these gods are eternal, all-powerful; some are omniscient. By performing petitional prayers people could get favours from them. But according to Buddhism they are no more eternal; they are no more all powerful; they are no more omniscient; they are no more the objects of petitional prayers. Like us human beings, they are all wayfarers in samsara. What is more, all these gods are inferior to the Buddha. Why? Because they are not free fom raga (passion), dosa (aversion), and moha (delusion). Buddhism even recognizes the Creator God of Hinduism who is called Mahabrahma. However, according to Buddhism he is no more the creator world, nor is he omniscient. There is this interesting story in one of the early Buddhist discourses to show that the Buddha is superior to Mahabrahma whom the followers of Brahmanism regard as the creator of the world. According to this account during the time of the Buddha there was a monk who was very much prone to metaphysical speculations. One day he came to be disturbed by a serious metaphysical problem.

The problem was this: where do the four primary elements of matter come to cessation without any residue. In modern terms, this means where does matter come to end. As you all know, this is a question to which nether religion, nor philosophy, nor science can give a satisfactory answer. So this monk thought no one in this human world will be able to solve this problem. Therefore he thought of referring this problem to gods. Since he had powers of levitation he first went to the lowest heaven, and put this question to the gods living there. There said that they themselves do not know the answer to this question. And that he should go to the next heaven. In the next heaven too he got the same answer. So he went from heaven to heaven, until he came to the topmost heaven where the Mahabrahma lives.

You may not believe this hilarious story. What matters is the message that is sought to be conveyed by it. Through this hilarious story, a profound message is sought to be conveyed. The message is that exalted humanity is very much higher than divinity. A human being who is free from passion, aversion, and delusion is superior to Mahabrahma whom the followers of Brahmanism consider as the creator God.

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