26. The Buddha's Attitude to Miracles
When the Buddha
was once living at Nalanda in the Pavarika Grove, a man by
the name of Kevaddha went up to him, paid homage, and said, "Lord, Nalanda is a successful city. The
people living in Nalanda are prosperous, and they have confidence
in the Blessed One. Lord, it would be good if the Blessed
One appointed a monk to work a marvel of supernormal power,
so that the people of Nalanda might become much more confident
in the Blessed One."
The Buddha replied,
"Kevaddha, I do not teach the Law to bhikkhus in that
way." The Buddha gave the same reply when the question
was put to him the second and third time. After the third
question, the Buddha replied that there were three kinds of
1. The marvel
of supernormal power to appear as many persons, to pass through
walls, to fly through the air, walk on water. All these are
physical actions the ordinary people cannot perform.
2. The supernormal
power to read other people's minds.
3. The supernormal
power to be able to guide people according to their mental
development, for their own good, using suitable methods to
fit these people.
The first two supernormal
powers, if displayed for their own sake in order to impress
people, are no different from the performance of magicians.
A monk who practices such worldly miracles is a source of
shame, humiliation and disgust. Such actions may impress and
win converts and followers, but they do not bring enlightenment
to help them put an end to suffering.
The third kind of
supernormal power, though, which may be called a "miracle", helps
people to get rid of suffering. This is the only supernormal
power that is fit to be practiced.
The only miracles
that should be performed are these: when you see a man full
of passion, craving and greed and you teach him to free himself
from passion, craving and greed; when you see that a man is a slave
to hatred and anger and you use your powers to help him control
his hatred and anger; when you come across a man who is ignorant
and who cannot see the true nature of the world (everything
in this world is impermanent, sorrowful and egoless) and you
use your powers to help him overcome his ignorance. These
are worthy "miracles" you can perform.
This advice to Kevaddha
was also extended to the Vinaya rules that forbid monks from
performing miracles to impress people and gain converts, without
helping them to be enlightened. This was clear in the case
Bharadwaja was famous for miraculous psychic powers. A rich
man, wanting this monk to prove his psychic powers, placed a
beautiful bowl at the top of a high place and challenged any
holy man to get the bowl down. If he could do it, he could
keep the bowl.
flew up and took the bowl down easily. This was also done
to prove to the rich man that there are saints in the world,
a fact that the rich man did not believe. When the Buddha
came to know about this incident, he called Pindola Bharadwaja
to bring his bowl. He broke the bowl into pieces in front
of a large gathering of monks, saying, "I am displeased
about the demonstration of your psychic powers. You must never
show off your powers just to impress simple ignorant people."