Buddha made mistakes?

I am recalling in the vinaya the story when the Buddha went on a 2 week retreat. Before he went on retreat he taught asubha and while he was on retreat many monks commited suicide.

Ajahn Brahm tells the story here. Starting around 8min 2022 October (3/24) | 9 day Retreat | Ajahn Brahm - YouTube

I wonder about why the Buddha made some errors in how he taught? Shouldn’t he have known a more skillful way of teaching? Isn’t Buddha supposed to be a supreme teacher?

No, the Buddha didn’t make mistake.

Mistake can be made by wrong view, wrong perception, wrong mindfulness, wrong intention, wrong understanding… The end result is less than the original aim. That’s called an error or a mistake.

Meanwhile, the Buddha didn’t have any wrong view, wrong perception, wrong mindfulness, wrong intention, wrong understanding while he taught. The end result with those arahants are not less than the original aim of the teaching which is to cease suffering definitely. This can’t be called an error or a mistake.

The Buddha improved his approach with the breath meditation afterwards.

He improved. So, what he did before the improvement is not a mistake.

In the Saha World we are all bound to commit mistakes.

However those who are Eternally Liberated are Infallible. Such is Buddha. He does not commit a mistake.

Well a teaching mistake as if he is supposed to be a supreme teacher then he should know how minds would take up that practice and teach more skillfully from the start?

Yes he should know. The result speaks for itself. His aim is to teach Dhamma to end suffering definitely. The monks reached arahant level so the aim was obtained and the Buddha taught with pure mind. This was not a mistake.

He improved his teaching due to his compassion, not because it was a mistake. Right from the start, he already taught very skillfully (otherwise those monks won’t reach arahant level).

It will be a mistake from us to judge the Buddha and demand him to do this / do that from our standards which originated from defiled mind.

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It seems he could have just started with anapana sati and it would have prevented so many deaths and suffering.

Does anyone have any other explanation?

This is your standard. This is also a projected demand from a normal person.

Please read again what I said above. Proclaiming that the Buddha was making a mistake while he didn’t make a mistake is a terrible mistake. It destroys faith to the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha in yourself and also in other people listening to you.

I will not repeat anymore.
If you can’t drop this, I hope someone else more skillful will help you then.

See Ven. Analayo and comments by Prof. Gombrich:

Gombrich 2007: points out that “the idea that the Buddha was omniscient is strikingly
at odds with the picture of him presented in every Vinaya tradition”, which “show that the Buddha
… occasionally made a false start and found it necessary to reverse a decision. Since omniscience
includes knowledge of the future, this is not omniscience.” That tradition had to grapple with this
problem can be seen in the dilemma raised at Mil 272,18


I assure you I’m not trying to change the subject, but what is the difference between the asubha talk prior to a two week retreat and any other talk that didn’t have the effect of leading the listener on towards development? There were certainly plenty of those accounts in the suttas. Is opting for suicide any worse than dying at the end of a long life in which there was no development in the Dhamma because the practice didn’t seem worth it? I don’t think so. Both are cases of the listener failing to bear the weight of what they were told. Sure, one had an immediate deadly consequence with no second chances, but the other was no less damaging. Both continued wandering on.

At what point does meddling in one’s own salvation fully become their own responsibility? Who’s responsible for what is or is not understood during a Dhamma talk? Did the Buddha force them to ordain? To listen to his words? Those monks chose to ordain. They opted for taking on the greatest responsibility of all (by far), which means they needed to be ready to relinquish comfort and endure hardship. What’s to say they would have fared any better with mindfulness of breathing? I don’t think delivering the talk on that subject, at that time, was any worse than delivering a talk on generosity that was unappreciated by even just one listener. In the end, receptiveness is the listener’s responsibility.

(I recall recently someone mentioning a sutta where the Buddha was giving a talk and this person got up and left. Afterwards, the Buddha said that had that person stayed they would have gained the right view. Anyone recall that one?)


Ah so true good point.
Yes I remember that sutta too. Forget which one.

Good point though. The Buddha teaches and then many get it, some don’t etc. :slight_smile: it is all an empty process without a self in it. At least the Buddha gave the first teaching. Remember he was reluctant to even give his first teaching as he didn’t think people would understand. Imagine if he didn’t teach at all. How unfortunate it would be.


Oh yes! A Brahma asked the Buddha to teach his Dhamma for the world, for humans (according to Brahma Samyutta) . One may greatly thank to the Brahma for that.

Actually replying to my own question. Coincidentally someone asked Ajahn Brahm the same question. If Buddha was the supreme teacher then why did monks commit suicide. Ajahn Brahm answers “you can’t blame the teacher but blame the monks for not understanding the teaching. You can lead a horse to water but can you make them drink?”

That’s a good answer too :slight_smile:

37 minutes 2022 October (7/24) | 9 day Retreat | Ajahn Brahm - YouTube

I can’t remember which sutta this is from, but the Buddha placed limits on his omniscience.

When asked if he was all seeing and all knowing all the time, he answered no. He could know what is knowable and what is not knowable. Of what is knowable, he would only know it if he pointed his mind at it; i.e. if he asked the question.

E.g. suppose he wanted to know what was happening in a distant city. His mind would need to incline towards the city or topics relating to it for him to know what is happening.

In the case of the monks and their suicide, it seems that nothing about the situation alerted him to the possibility of suicide. Since he is not all knowing, he would have had to ask the specific question: would these monks pick up my teaching the wrong way and kill themselves…

To call this a mistake would be inaccurate, as it implies that it was common sense to know that suicide was the likely outcome. As with most unknowns, what is evident in retrospect is not obvious prior to the event occurring.

The thought that the Buddha just made a plain old mistake and people ended up killing themselves actually makes the Canon more believable to me by suggesting that Awakening is specific and has limitations.


If there was a mistake, I would say it was in underestimating the limits of human intelligence. That is possible, considering that he was said to be generally good at everything, and may not have anticipated the monks’ train of thought.

A ‘mistake’ is a judgement or label we put on things though. It’s not objective, like, we don’t say a rock falling down a cliff made a mistake, it’s just the laws of nature playing out.

So the questions becomes, should the Buddha have known that teaching those monks asubha would lead some of them to suicide?

I guess this depends on what assumptions people have about the nature of a Buddha and their psychic powers.

Personally, I’m comfortable with the idea of the Buddha trying one approach, seeing it wasn’t optimal and then changing the approach. To me, this is sane and a good example for others.

It make sense to me that Buddhas have perfect intentions but the external world is just inherently unstable and the outcomes can’t be perfectly controlled. If they could, Buddhas could just enlighten everyone they met, which we know didn’t happen.


I wonder if that passage is an actual EBT? Is it in the paralelles?

Any mistakes the Buddha has admitted according to EBTs?

the buddha was the supreme teacher, but we’re all clearly not the supreme students.

one can teach in the most skilful way, but some students will disregard the teaching, others will misunderstand the teaching, some will wilfully try to pervert the teaching.

only the smallest fraction will actually take the teaching and run with it, appropriately, as fast and as far as they can.

the buddha saw this on enlightenment - he was tempted not to teach as so few would be able to take advantage of his teaching. he did his best but the rest remains with us, the students.

Interestingly enough, SN 54.9 is an almost identical account of what is found in Bu Pj 3 of the vinaya, but is not listed as a parallel. Both take place in Vesālī and begin with the ashuba description, but differ on the number of monks who die, with SN 54.9 making no mention of Migalaṇḍika or his killing spree. I’m wondering if @Brahmali @sujato are aware of any reason why these accounts are not formally associated, because it seems unlikely that this occurred more than once.