According to the suttas, did the buddha know the “answers” on all those questions he didnt answer? I suspect that there might not be an answer to these questions but he still knew it nonetheless. Do the suttas say anything about that? Can an Arahant understand these questions in some way?
The reasons for the Buddha to maintain his lifeforce after his enlightenment are: 1) to teach the Dhamma, 2) to make sure that the Dhamma is well explained and established in the world, 3) to make sure no one can legitimately raise up any counter arguments against the Triple Gems.
Therefore, anything that lies outside of that scope above does not involve the Buddha as in even a tiny speckle. Those questions lie outside of that scope so he simply puts it aside.
IF we have any knowledge about “whether the Buddha really knows the answers to these unanswered questions”, it still won’t help us even just a little bit toward the Nibbana. So, do not spend time “suspecting” for such a question regarding the Buddha’s knowledge.
MN63 is a very good sutta for your reference.
A sotāpanna can already understand how to deal with these questions. It’s under right view.
In the earliest suttas, the Buddha seems to hint that these questions are indicative of delusion.
Questioning repeatedly dependent on views,
grasped at again, you’ve arrived at delusion,
not having experienced even a tiny perception of peace,
so therefore you see this as very deluded.
I think its like asking questions about the caloric theory of heat where heat was believed to be a liquid that flows from hot to cold bodies. The questions are meaningless because the notion of heat in the caloric theory is plain wrong. In the end, we are profoundly mistaken about self. Once you realize that, the questions cease to make sense. They are unintelligible, realizing that is enlightenment.
To double down on @ORsEnTURVi 's remark, here is SN 56.31 for reference:
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Kosambi in a siṁsapa grove. Then the Blessed One took up a few siṁsapa leaves in his hand and addressed the bhikkhus thus: “What do you think, bhikkhus, which is more numerous: these few siṁsapa leaves that I have taken up in my hand or those in the siṁsapa grove overhead?”
“Venerable sir, the siṁsapa leaves that the Blessed One has taken up in his hand are few, but those in the siṁsapa grove overhead are numerous.”
“So too, bhikkhus, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are numerous, while the things I have taught you are few. And why, bhikkhus, have I not taught those many things? Because they are unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and do not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. Therefore I have not taught them.
“And what, bhikkhus, have I taught? I have taught: ‘This is suffering’; I have taught: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; I have taught: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; I have taught: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ And why, bhikkhus, have I taught this? Because this is beneficial, relevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and leads to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. Therefore I have taught this.
“Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”
So the implication here is that whether or not he had the answers to all questions didn’t matter to him and shouldn’t matter to us.
Now you will find a lot of Buddhists who believe he was omniscient, but this is the result of the process of deification of the Buddha that took place a very long time ago in various schools such as the Mahasanghikas and their offshoots, some of which eventually crept back into Theravada
Just woke up and still in bed on my phone so can’t post references just now but the is a discussion of omniscience in DN where the Buddha contrasts himself with an ascetic who claims a kind of omniscience, the Buddha states that rather than omniscience they have “3 knowledges”…
Actually Suttacentral to the rescue! It’s MN71:
Sir, I have heard this: ‘The ascetic Gotama claims to be all-knowing and all-seeing, to know and see everything without exception, thus: “Knowledge and vision are constantly and continually present to me, while walking, standing, sleeping, and waking.”’ I trust that those who say this repeat what the Buddha has said, and do not misrepresent him with an untruth? Is their explanation in line with the teaching? Are there any legitimate grounds for rebuke and criticism?”
Ye te, bhante, evamāhaṃsu: ‘samaṇo gotamo sabbaññū sabbadassāvī, aparisesaṃ ñāṇadassanaṃ paṭijānāti, carato ca me tiṭṭhato ca suttassa ca jāgarassa ca satataṃ samitaṃ ñāṇadassanaṃ paccupaṭṭhitan’ti
“Vaccha, those who say this do not repeat what I have said. They misrepresent me with what is false and untrue.”
‘The ascetic Gotama has the three knowledges.’ Answering like this you would repeat what I have said, and not misrepresent me with an untruth. You would explain in line with my teaching, and there would be no legitimate grounds for rebuke and criticism.
Tevijjo samaṇo gotamoti kho, vaccha, byākaramāno vuttavādī ceva me assa, na ca maṃ abhūtena abbhācikkheyya, dhammassa cānudhammaṃ byākareyya, na ca koci sahadhammiko vādānuvādo gārayhaṃ ṭhānaṃ āgaccheyya
And furthermore MN72 addresses these questions directly, saying:
‘They’re reborn’, ‘they’re not reborn’, ‘they’re both reborn and not reborn’, ‘they’re neither reborn nor not reborn’—none of these apply.
Upapajjatīti na upeti, na upapajjatīti na upeti, upapajjati ca na ca upapajjatīti na upeti, neva upapajjati na na upapajjatīti na upeti.
The point, strangely overlooked by those who focus on the “does not lead ton enlightenment” aspect, is that the terms of the questions don’t apply, the reason, repeatedly given in the suttas, that trying to answer these questions doesn’t lead to enlightenment is because the terms used are attempting to go beyond the limitations of language (and conceptualisation) itself.
There’s a 3rd quote about “the scope and limits of language” that i can’t put my hands to right now but to summarise:
- The Buddha denies omniscience in MN71
- The Buddha explains the unanswered questions are unanswerable because language/conceptualisation are dependent on grasping in MN72 and elsewhere
I do not see the Buddha denied omniscience in MN71. In that sutta, what I see is that he denied the knowledge and vision that are constantly and continually present all the time, non stop, never end. However, if he wants to know something, he simply directs his mind to that knowledge and vision, just like how he did with the three knowledges. If not, he simply rests his mind. I do not think that we really want to constantly and continually hear voices, see pictures, ideas in our head all the time without stopping and resting. If that is the case, I think you will run to the doctors soon.
Sir, I have heard this: ‘The ascetic Gotama claims to be all-knowing and all-seeing, to know and see everything without exception, thus: “Knowledge and vision are constantly and continually present to me, while walking, standing, sleeping, and waking.”
Well I think we will just have to disagree @freedom The Buddha clearly states that they have only claimed to know 3 things. Past lives. Other peoples rebirths. And absolute emancipation from suffering.
Omniscience implies a larger number than 3.
The Suttas consistently avow that there are limitations to language and to conceptualisation that make “knowing” the answers to certain questions impossible.
This is one of those areas that is so palpably clear in the suttas that I for the life of me am yet to understand how such a sizeable proportion of people who claim to take them as an authority manage to make them say the opposite of what is there.
If you think that the Buddha only knows this 3 things then you really limit what he can know. If this is the case, he cannot know other people’s mind, he cannot know anything else but that 3 things. Therefore, he does not know what is 1 + 1 = ? because this is not in those 3 things.
Again @freedom I feel like you are hair splitting a bit, if your Buddhism involves believing in an omniscient Buddha then by all means, my reading of the suttas is as I have put above, the Buddha explicitly and decisively rejects omniscience and contrasts it with the 3 special knowledges of the Buddha, and there are numerous and extensive suttas that explain why from the perspective of Buddhist epistemology omniscience is just as impossible as a permanent unchanging self.
Nibbana is clear perception of Reality.
I am not trying to find fault. However, I see your argument is not reasonable, so I point out some simple examples for that. If you can explain them reasonably with your logic or data then I will accept it and change my view.
The Buddha said what he knows is numerous. But many of them are not connected to the goal, so he did not teach them. What are these things that he have not taught? If he only knows that 3 knowledges which he already showed us then why he said this?
So too, bhikkhus, the things I have directly known but have not taught you are numerous, while the things I have taught you are few. And why, bhikkhus, have I not taught those many things? Because they are unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and do not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. Therefore I have not taught them.
To me, when the Buddha points out the 3 knowledges in MN71, he shows us how he knows them. That is by directing his mind to them, not by constantly and continually knowing them while walking, standing, sleeping, and waking, so my view is different than yours.
For, Vaccha, whenever I want, I recollect my many kinds of past lives. That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty,…
And whenever I want, with clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I see sentient beings passing away and being reborn…
Oh I think omniscience is one of those upanisadic things that Buddha rejected. I think this is also settled knowledge by now.
“You’ve gotta learn to lie to make everyone happy.”
And all of those kind sad empty things…
The Buddha’s mind is all pervading like Space. The doctrine of Sunyata defines this in the end. It’s up to the mind.