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Is The Buddha an Omniscient?

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#1

MN 71 says the buddha is not omniscient while walking, standing, sleeping, and waking.

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 (MN 71).

MN 90 says that the Buddha was a omniscient.

Then the king said to the Buddha,
Atha kho rājā pasenadi kosalo bhagavantaṃ etadavoca:
“I have heard, sir, that the ascetic Gotama says this:
‘There is no ascetic or brahmin who will claim to be all-knowing and all-seeing, to know and see everything without exception: that is not possible.’
Do those who say this repeat what the Buddha has said, and 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 evamāha—natthi so samaṇo vā brāhmaṇo vā yo sabbaññū sabbadassāvī aparisesaṃ ñāṇadassanaṃ paṭijānissati, netaṃ ṭhānaṃ vijjatī’*ti; kacci te, bhante, bhagavato vuttavādino, na ca bhagavantaṃ abhūtena abbhācikkhanti, dhammassa cānudhammaṃ byākaronti, na ca koci sahadhammiko vādānuvādo gārayhaṃ ṭhānaṃ āgacchatī”ti?

“Great king, those who say this do not repeat what I have said. They misrepresent me with what is false and untrue.”
(MN 90 )

These two suttas has kind of controversy about the buddha being omniscient. However, omniscience explained in Buddhism is differ from other religions.
Different from Jain concept kevalañāna. Also it is different from gods omniscience explained in theology.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7).

As I see from the buddhism, the buddha is omniscient, but the omniscience is not something that can be there all the time. But he can know what he wants to know using his ñānas.

Sabbaññutañāṇa is explained in Patisambhidamagga. Unfortunately there is no English translation.

Is The Buddha an Omniscient?


#2

Would you explain your understanding of the early Buddhist definition of omniscience?


#3

The above will be of help.
With Metta


#4

As explained in patisambhidhamagga.

The buddha s able to see past present and future when ever and what ever he wants. But he has to pay his attention to it.
He is not omniscient all the time as said in MN 71.

Ex: This one time, Pukkusa, I was staying near Ātumā in a threshing-hut. At that time it was raining and pouring, lightning was flashing, and thunder was cracking. And not far from the threshing-hut two farmers who were brothers were killed, as well as four oxen. Then a large crowd came from Ātumā to the place where that happened.

Now at that time I came out of the threshing-hut and was walking meditation in the open near the door of the hut. Then having left that crowd, a certain person approached me, bowed, and stood to one side. I said to them, ‘Why, friend, has this crowd gathered?’

‘Just now, sir, it was raining and pouring, lightning was flashing, and thunder was cracking. And two farmers who were brothers were killed, as well as four oxen. Then this crowd gathered here. But sir, where were you?’

‘I was right here, friend.’

‘But sir, did you see?’

‘No, friend, I didn’t see anything.’

‘But sir, didn’t you hear a sound?’

‘No, friend, I didn’t hear a sound.’

‘But sir, were you asleep?’

‘No, friend, I wasn’t asleep.’

‘But sir, were you conscious?’

‘Yes, friend.’

‘So, sir, while conscious and awake you neither saw nor heard a sound as it was raining and pouring, lightning was flashing, and thunder was cracking?’

‘Yes, friend.’

On Pukkusa the Malla


#5

But this excerpt you provided isn’t about the Buddha; it’s about his former teacher Āḷāra Kālāma. The Buddha was the one who did the same thing during a bad thunderstorm. But how does this kind of deep state of samādhi relate to omniscience?

If the Buddha was able to see the future, why did he not foresee in SN 54.9 that certain monks would become dejected by the asubha meditation and kill themselves?


#6

Thank you so much for this article.

Edited.


#7

The Buddha or Arahants (those who attained Nibbana) are not the people who try to interrupt the laws of nature and they just live with them untill they face parinibbāna.
Ex: Maha moggallana theros death by thieves

Eventhough Ananda Thero criticizes omniscience which is claimed to be all-knowing and all-seeing, to know and see everything without exception, thus: ‘Knowledge and vision are constantly and continually present to someone, while walking, standing, sleeping, and waking.’ MN 76 there still a chance to claim omniscience in a different view. As claimed in Kannakatpala sutta the buddha is omniscient in a different way (“yo sabbaññū sabbadassāvī aparisesaṃ ñāṇadassanaṃ paṭijānissati”). Here the fact that it is present all the time while walking, standing, sleeping, and waking is the part which was criticized.

  1. Devadatta and thereby did not prevent him from creating a schism in the Sangha, an act of considerable consequences for Devadatta himself as well as for the early Buddhist monastic community.
  2. The mass suicide of a group of newly ordained monks. The only way to uphold the Buddha’s omniscience in the face of such events is to adopt the kind of argument criticized in the Sandaka Sutta, assuming that the Buddha “had to do it” (Ven. Analayo, 2006). So problem here is are there any ways to justify the insidant, to back the claim the buddha “had to do it”.

First, why the buddha went to solitary retreat?
The is a case in channasutta where an arahant commiting suicide. Why would an arahant commit suicide where he has no dosa, or moha? Both cases might be sharing same reason that is the kamma. Some may say that this is not backed by any of the suttas. Eventhough certain amount of kamma can be prevented by virtue and practice of the path, there may be some which cannot be. For an example above suicide case, and also the death of Maha Moggallana Thero. The buddha is not someone who can change kamma. Thats why the buddha was in solitary retreat. The same argument can be raised to the case of Devadatta. Don’t misunderstand the argument, kamma could be avoided for a certain extent. For an example, attaining Nibbāna, leaves all the kamma that are yet to come in next lives.

Ven. Analayo argues that to know “all” about the future, however, is feasible only if the future is
predetermined. Suppavāsā sutta indicates Moggallāna
thero’s ability to see the future.

Sace me, bhante, ayyo mahāmoggallāno tiṇṇaṃ dhammānaṃ pāṭibhogo—bhogānañca jīvitassa ca saddhāya ca, karotu suppavāsā koliyadhītā satta bhattāni, pacchāhaṃ karissāmī”ti. “ Dvinnaṃ kho te ahaṃ , āvuso, dhammānaṃ pāṭibhogo—bhogānañca jīvitassa ca. Saddhāya pana tvaṃyeva pāṭibhogo”ti.

If, reverend Sir, master Mahāmoggallāna is my surety for three things—for wealth, for life, and for faith—the Koliyan lady Suppavāsā may make her seven meals, and afterwards I will make mine.”

“For two things, friend, I am your surety—for wealth and for life—but for faith you are the surety.” (Udana 2.8)

Moggallana thero however was not able to see everything of the future. Thats why he could not predict about followers faith but wealth and life. So this indicates even pupils of the buddha had a certain degree of foresight. Buddhism is not a religion that teaches about destined future. It denied pubbekatahetuvāda.

Regarding this, I went up to the ascetics and brahmins whose view is that everything that is experienced is because of past deeds, and I said to them: ‘Is it really true that this is the venerables’ view?’ And they answered, ‘Yes’. I said to them: ‘In that case, you might kill living creatures, steal, be unchaste; use speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical; be covetous, malicious, or have wrong view, all because of past deeds.’ (AN 3.61)

That doesn’t mean there is nothing that certain in the future. There are a some degree of certainty of the future. Stream enterers would never be born in realms of woe. Anagamins would never return to a womb and be parinibbāyīns in brahma realm called Suddavāsa.

In the case of Angulimala thero, he was a thief when he met the buddha. Why would the blessed one visit him if the blessed had no idea about this thief (wearing) a garland of fingers would attain nibbāna in the sāsana? There are few other cases similar.

I think Ven. Analayo thero did not account all the aspects about the buddha being omniscient.


#8

Why do you want to force this idea of the Buddha’s omniscience on the texts? It’s improbable from the suttas, it’s logically problematic. Why to somehow find a way so that still in some way the Buddha was still omniscient? Isn’t it enough that he liberated his mind and taught others how to best do it as well?


#9

Had the Buddha been omniscient, the obvious place for him to say so would be in the various “lion’s roar” suttas. As it is, however, the boldest assertion of cognitive prowess in these suttas seems to be the claimed possession of the ten Tathāgata powers. As highly impressive as these are, they don’t amount to omniscience. (They would more than suffice, however, to make possible those things that you say Ven. Anālayo hasn’t accounted for).

Mahāsīhanādasutta MN12


#10

Are there other examples of monks, or the Buddha, being able to see into the future in the suttas? This ability is not listed in the supernormal powers that one can obtain in meditation in suttas that I have read. These powers are also described in minor detail, ie: Those gifted with the Divine Ear can hear far away and into heavenly realms.

I can see how clearly remembering many past lives , and having an ability to see into the future with some degree of certainty would appear omniscient if you combine the two powers, but it would certainly be limited in scope. Is the Abidhamma the place that these ideas get expanded into full omniscience or is it a later phenomena, coming from commentary or Mahayana ideas?


#11

Obviously, I would not be surprised not to see someone who supports the fact that the buddha is omniscient in this forum.
However, I do not see why Patisambhidhamagga is kind of neglected. As I see that is a rich source of information which has much better explainations especially on meditation and practice. Ex: Mindfulness of breathing

However, Ven. Analayo Thero is much certain about not seeing future. (Please do not take this personal. I know you pay much respect to Ven. Analayo Thero. I do also respect him.)

The Buddha foresaw the next sambhuddasasana (Buddha Metteyya) in cakkavattisutta.

The Arising of the Buddha Metteyya

And the Blessed One named Metteyya will arise in the world—perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed—just as I have arisen today. He will realize with his own insight this world—with its gods, Māras and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, gods and humans—and make it known to others, just as I do today. He will teach the Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And he will reveal a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure, just as I do today. He will look after a Saṅgha of many thousand mendicants, just as I look after a Saṅgha of many hundreds today.

Then King Saṅkha will have the sacrificial post that had been built by King Mahāpanāda raised up. After staying there, he will give it away to ascetics and brahmins, paupers, vagrants, travelers, and beggars. Then, having shaved off his hair and beard and dressed in ocher robes, he will go forth from the lay life to homelessness in the Buddha Metteyya’s presence. Soon after going forth, living withdrawn, diligent, keen, and resolute, he will realize the supreme end of the spiritual path in this very life. He will live having achieved with his own insight the goal for which gentlemen rightly go forth from the lay life to homelessness.

Mendicants, be your own island, your own refuge, with no other refuge. Let the teaching be your island and your refuge, with no other refuge. And how does a mendicant do this? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. That’s how a mendicant is their own island, their own refuge, with no other refuge. That’s how they let the teaching be their island and their refuge, with no other refuge (DN 26)

This indirectly support the foreseens from past Buddhas about Gothama Buddha in Apadanas. This confirms the fact that The Buddha could see the future.


#12

Two suttas I always keep close to my heart so as not to take too seriously my own views (or non-views).

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary. There the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus thus:

“Bhikkhus, once in the past a certain man set out from Rajagaha and went to the Sumagadha Lotus Pond, thinking: ‘I will reflect about the world.’ He then sat down on the bank of the Sumagadha Lotus Pond reflecting about the world. Then, bhikkhus, the man saw a four-division army entering a lotus stalk on the bank of the pond. Having seen this, he thought: ‘I must be mad! I must be insane! I’ve seen something that doesn’t exist in the world.’ The man returned to the city and informed a great crowd of people: ‘I must be mad, sirs! I must be insane! I’ve seen something that doesn’t exist in the world.’

“They said to him: ‘But how is it, good man, that you are mad? How are you insane? And what have you seen that doesn’t exist in the world?’

“‘Here, sirs, I left Rajagaha and approached the Sumagadha Lotus Pond … as above … I saw a four-division army entering a lotus stalk on the bank of the pond. That’s why I’m mad, that’s why I’m insane, and that’s what I’ve seen that doesn’t exist in the world.’

“‘Surely you’re mad, good man! Surely you’re insane! And what you have seen doesn’t exist in the world.’

“Nevertheless, bhikkhus, what that man saw was actually real, not unreal. Once in the past the devas and the asuras were arrayed for battle. In that battle the devas won and the asuras were defeated. In their defeat, the asuras were frightened and entered the asura city through the lotus stalk, to the bewilderment of the devas.

“Therefore, bhikkhus, do not reflect about the world, thinking: ‘The world is eternal’ or ‘The world is not eternal’; or ‘The world is finite’ or ‘The world is infinite’; or ‘The soul and the body are the same’ or ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another’; or ‘The Tathagata exists after death,’ or ‘The Tathagata does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this reflection is unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and does not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

“When you reflect, bhikkhus, you should reflect: ‘This is suffering’; you should reflect: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; you should reflect: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; you should reflect: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this reflection 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, 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.’”
SN56.41

Mendicants, these four things are unthinkable. They should not be thought about, and anyone who tries to think about them will go mad or get frustrated. What four?

The scope of the Buddhas

The scope of one in absorption …

The results of deeds …

Speculation about the world …

These are the four unthinkable things. They should not be thought about, and anyone who tries to think about them will go mad or get frustrated.”
AN4.77


#13

Puna caparaṃ, sāriputta, tathāgato atītānāgatapaccuppannānaṃ kammasamādānānaṃ ṭhānaso hetuso vipākaṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti. Yampi, sāriputta, tathāgato atītānāgatapaccuppannānaṃ kammasamādānānaṃ ṭhānaso hetuso vipākaṃ yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti, idampi, sāriputta, tathāgatassa tathāgatabalaṃ hoti yaṃ balaṃ āgamma tathāgato āsabhaṃ ṭhānaṃ paṭijānāti, parisāsu sīhanādaṃ nadati, brahmacakkaṃ pavatteti.

(2) “Again, the Tathāgata understands as it actually is the results of actions undertaken, past, future, and present, by way of possibilities and causes. That too is a Tathāgata’s power… (Ven. Analayo translation)

And again, Sāriputta, a Tathāgata comprehends as it really is the acquiring of deeds for oneself, past, future and present, both in their causal occasion and their result. (I. B. Horner)MN 12

pajānāti shares somewhat close meaning with passati.

Pajānāti [pa+jānāti] to know, find out, come to know, understand, distinguish D i.45 (yathābhūtaṁ really, truly), 79 (ceto paricca), 162, 249; Sn 626, 726 sq., 987; It 12 (ceto paricca); Dh 402; Pv i.1112 (=jānāti PvA 60); J v.445; Pug 64. — ppr. pajānaṁ Sn 884, 1050, 1104 (see expln at Nd1 292=Nd2 378); It 98; Pv iv.164; and pajānanto Sn 1051. — ger. paññāya (q.v.) — Caus. paññāpeti; pp. paññatta; Pass. paññāyati & pp. paññāta (q. v.). Cp. sampajāna (PTS dictionary).

bhikkhu gacchanto vā ‘gacchāmī’ti pajānāti.
when a mendicant is walking they know: ‘I am walking’ (DN 22).

There are other suttas that uses this meaning. Ven. Analayo explains how satipaṭṭhāna become more subtle and how passati become pajānāti. However, pajānāti is the word used in both suttas and the meaning as I think is somewhat close. Translating pajānāti to know in MN12 would not be that wrong.
Therefore it seems selecting words is upto the translator.

About foresight,
DN 24 has a number of examples to suggest that the buddha foresaw things.

That naked ascetic Korakkhattiya, who you imagine to be a true holy man, will die of flatulence in seven days. And when he dies, he’ll be reborn in the very lowest rank of demons, named the Kālakañjas. And they’ll throw him in the charnel ground on a clump of vetiver. If you wish, Sunakkhatta, go to Korakkhattiya and ask him whether he knows his own destiny. It’s possible that he will answer: “Reverend Sunakkhatta, I know my own destiny. I’ll be reborn in the very lowest rank of demons, named the Kālakañjas.”’

That naked ascetic Kaḷāramaṭṭaka, who you imagine to be a true holy man, will shortly be clothed, living with a partner, eating rice and porridge, having gone past all the shrines near Vesālī. And he will die after losing all his fame.
You may read the sutta to see complete story. Pāthika Sutta DN 24

These are some example that the buddha know as it actually is the results of actions undertaken, past, future, and present, by way of possibilities and causes.

Ven. Analayo Thero’s below conclusion is doubtful with above evidences from EBTs.

For future events to be directly perceptible at present, by whatever supernormal means or powers, these future events would have to be already predetermined in their entirety right now and thus be totally removed from the influence of causes and conditions that manifest at any time between the present moment of direct perception and the moment when the event takes place.


#14

Are you suggesting that the Budhha knew that the monks were going to commit suicide as a ripening of their kamma when the Buddha left for solitary retreat?.
If that is the case, you will also have to accept that the Buddha lied to Venerable Ananda because when the Buddha came back and noticed that the Sangha had depleted, the Buddha asked Ven; Ananda as to why the Sangha had depleted.
In other words, according to you, the Buddha was just pretending that he did not know when he actually knew the whole thing.
With Metta


#15

I do not see any lie here. How would asking a question be a lie? :thinking:

Jānantāpi tathāgatā pucchanti, jānantāpi na pucchanti, kālaṃ viditvā pucchanti, kālaṃ viditvā na pucchanti; atthasaṃhitaṃ tathāgatā pucchanti; no anatthasaṃhitaṃ. Dvīhi ākārehi buddhā bhagavanto bhikkhū paṭipucchanti—dhammaṃ vā desessāma, sāvakānaṃ vā sikkhāpadaṃ paññapessāmāti.

Truthfinders (sometimes) ask knowing, and knowing (sometimes) do not ask; they ask, knowing the right time (to ask), and they do not ask, knowing the right time (when not to ask). Truthfinders ask about what belongs to the goal, not about what does not belong to the goal. There is bridge-breaking, for Truthfinders in whatever does not belong to the goal. Awakened ones, Lords, question monks concerning two matters: “Shall we teach dhamma ?” or “Shall we lay down a rule of training for disciples?”
Ācariyavattakathā


#16

Ven. Anālayo’s paper grants that in the EBTs it’s accepted that there can be yogic foreknowledge of some things:

… a few particular events can be foretold with certainty, and a few others with a high degree of probability…

But this falls well short of asserting omniscience regarding the future, which I had thought was the claim you intended to defend in this thread.


#17

If it is not a lie, it is a false pretense. If the Buddha had foreknowledge about the incident it would have been the most opportune time for him to give a discourse on Kamma to Ven: Ananda. But he did not.
With Metta.


#18

Answer already given.
Vinaya says the occasions that the buddha ask questions.

Musāvādaṃ pahāya musāvādā paṭivirato samaṇo gotamo saccavādī saccasandho theto paccayiko avisaṃvādako lokassā
The ascetic Gotama has given up lying. He speaks the truth and sticks to the truth. He’s honest and trustworthy, and doesn’t trick the world with his words.
DN1


#19

Just a reminder that it is ok to disagree :slight_smile:

There doesn’t have to be a mutually agreed upon ‘correct’ interpretation :anjal: :dharmawheel:


#20

It is hard to decide what exactly is the correct interpretation. however, mostly what we do is presenting information to suggest our idea or understanding is correct. It is not necessarily true.
Thats why people use P hacking to publish research data. For an example,
Feeling the future
Results might just be uncertainty, but they suggest that people could feel the future.
This one would help you to understand the research and P value