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Making use of psychic powers for establishing authenticity of Early Buddhist Text (EBT)

Recently I have seen many scholarly works debating over the authenticity of EBT. Some of them have specifically emphasised giving importance to experiential wisdom for making firmer conclusions. I tend to agree with later and wonder whether it is possible to see/listen to the sutta in the past through the means of psychic powers. I understand that one can achieve the ability to see past lives, but does it constitute to see anything in the past or just one’s past lives? Any input on this will be appreciated. Thanks!

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You might be interested in Ven. Analayo’s study of Dhammaruwan, who spontaneously chanted Pali suttas as a boy. See: The Case for Rebirth - Lion's Roar

Monastics are not really allowed to share their recollections of past lives with lay people IIRC. IIRC there are rules in the vinaya about this.

I.e. it may be hard for those most likely to recall past lives to cooperate with non-monastic researchers.

It’s only one’s own past lives, according to both modern research on reincarnation and the suttas. From AN 3.101:

… If they wish: ‘May I recollect many kinds of past lives. That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world expanding, many eons of the world contracting and expanding.

May I remember: “There, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn somewhere else. There, too, I was named this, my clan was that, I looked like this, and that was my food. This was how I felt pleasure and pain, and that was how my life ended. When I passed away from that place I was reborn here.”…

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Haha, I was wondering the same thing. If someone could recollect past life in which he met the Buddha and was a great artist, he could draw the picture of actual Buddha. :slight_smile: And also say how Buddha lectures were exactly without putting them into suttas memorisation patterns. :slight_smile: That would be really great. :smiley:

Sadly there is a big methodological obstacles, first one is exactly that one which Erik already stated (Vinaya restrictions) and second is that we wouldn’t know if the person actually recollect past life as it was, or had some inner vision of it that isn’t exactly like reality was. Third thing is the issue of trust: how can we be sure that person is saying the truth and not lying? Maybe if we got another arahant with psychic powers to confirm that haha. :slight_smile: But then it would have to happen only inside the sangha due to vinaya resctrictions to don’t show psychic powers to lay people. So I suppose even tho it would be amazing, it probably won’t happen.

But probably not everyone who met Buddha must be already an arahant, so theoretically there should exist some beings who met Buddha Gotama at some point and still are in samsara and maybe even in our world as human right now and has that potential past life memory in their citta.

But due to methodological diffuculties I think it will not happen.

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Divine eye can be used to see beings passing away and reborn according to their actions. presumably need to see many past lives of many beings to get to see the pattern of kamma. So in that sense, divine eye could be used as a telescope into the past, pointing at anything.

@Chetaknn nice thinking! Now the trick is, to get a lay person who has divine eye to report these findings! And another to verify the details. Preferably under lab conditions, where the both write down what they saw in the past separately before exchanging information.

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The following is from the book “Dipa Ma. The Life and Legacy of a Buddhist Master”, by Amy Schmidt. In it she quotes Dipa Ma’s student Michele McDonald:

Dipa Ma said she could go back to the time of the Buddha and listen to his sermons. When I asked her how she did this, she smiled and said, “I went back mind-moment by mind-moment.” I must have looked stunned, because she smiled and said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that for Nibbana [enlightenment] to happen.” Then she laughed and added, “It was really fun. It just takes a lot of concentration.” The look in her eyes when she said this—she looked so free, so pure.
Michele McDonald

Interpret it as you wish…

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Vandami Bhante @NgXinZhao and all,
Are there any examples in EBT of laypeople having psychic powers? Are there contemporary examples anyone know?

Here is an excerpt from a book entitled Buddha-Dharma: The Way To Enlightenment. One can notice all the unique adaptations a Disciple of the Buddha has, including what you ask. The Buddha is talking to a brahmana.

(5) At one time, Janussoni came into the presence of the World-Honored One and said, “World-Honored One, is an offering made to a brahmin with the three knowledges a true offering?” The Buddha asked, “What is the nature of the three knowledges?” The brahmin answered, “O World-Honored One, the brahmin of the three knowledges is well versed in the three Vedas: the Rgveda, the Samaveda, and the Yajurveda. On both his father’s and his mother’s side for as far back as seven generations, there must not be a single case where the family lineage has been stained. He must never be the object of derision; his family name must be honorable and his livelihood pure. He must memorize the sacred books and incantations and be well versed in the terminology, rituals, liturgy, interpretations, stories, and accounts contained in the Vedas. He must be clear with regard to the origin of words and grammar. Then, after having learned the lokayata philosophy of materialism, and after having mastered knowledge of the marks of a great sage, this brahmin may well be called a brahmin of the three knowledges.”

The Buddha then stated, “0 brahmin, it is true that this is one version of the three knowledges, but it is not so when seen from the standpoint of the true teachings.” To this the brahmin asked, “O World-Honored One, what then are the true three knowledges?”

The Buddha then gave him the following teaching: “0 brahmin, listen carefully to my teaching. When my disciple, pursuing the way to purity, first abandons desire and impurity, then there may still be remnants of the workings of the mind that questions and reasons, he enters the first level of concentration and experiences joy and happiness. At the second level of concentration, he enjoys the joy and happiness coming from meditation after abandoning questioning and reasoning. Advancing and leaving this joy and happiness, he resides in thoughts that are unbiased. Enjoying the happiness of right mind and right thought, he enters into the third level of concentration. Moving ahead, freed from thoughts of happiness and unhappiness, of joy and anxiety, he enters into the fourth concentration, which is the state of mind that is pure and undisturbed, transcending all suffering and pleasure.

“In this state the mind of my disciple is quiescent and clear, free of all wants and desires. His mind is not only clear but also freed of calculation; it is ready to function at all times and is firm and never to be upset by others. And when his mind is directed toward things of the past, then the happenings of the past, from one past life to a million past lives and beyond that can be brought to mind. Matters such as his names and family lineages during past lives are remembered; moreover his professions, experiences, and life spans, even down to their minor characteristics, are clearly recollected. It is at this stage that he acquires the power of knowing his own and others’ past lives, whereby ignorance is destroyed, darkness is dispelled, and light comes into being.

“Next, he will direct his mind toward knowing the births and deaths of other people. With divine eyes that transcend human sight, he is now able to discern that the noble and the base, the beautiful and the ugly, the happy and the unhappy, all appear and disappear according to their actions. Some commit evil with their bodies, mouths, and minds, slander the sages, and harbor impure thoughts. Because of these actions, they fall into the realms of hellish suffering. Others perform good acts with their bodies, mouths, and minds; they refrain from slandering the sages and have right attitudes and understanding. By virtue of their good actions, they are born in the realm of purity. This second wisdom is called knowing others’ thoughts. In it ignorance is destroyed, darkness is dispelled, and light comes into being. “At the next stage, he directs his mind toward the extinction of all defilements. He clearly perceives the reality of suffering, the cause of suffering, the removal of suffering, and the way to the removal of suffering.

“Likewise, he clearly perceives what is defilement, what is the cause of defilement, what is the extinction of defilement, and what is the way to the extinction of defilement. Now, upon having realized this, his mind is freed from the defilement arising from human desires, the defilement arising from existence itself, and the defilement arising from human blindness. Thus, he gains the awareness that he has been freed from these bondages. There arises in him the knowledge that the life of delusion has come to an end; that the pure practices have been completed; that what had to be accomplished has been accomplished; and that he will never again experience birth in delusion. This is the third wisdom, called the extinction of defilements, whereby ignorance is destroyed, darkness is dispelled, and light comes into being. O brahmin, by the expression ‘brahmin of the three knowledges’ we mean a person who possesses these three wisdoms.” To these instructions, the brahmin replied that, when comparing the three knowledges he had spoken of before with those of the Buddha, he realized that they were inferior, not even one-sixteenth as valuable. And he praised the superiority of the Buddha’s teachings.

-Buddha-Dharma: The Way To Enlightenment, 2e. (Available in PDF).

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EBT, dunno, still reading up AN and SN, only finished MN and DN. I don’t see any theoretical reason why lay people cannot develop psychic powers.

Contemporary examples, you might want to read up Dean Radin’s books as well as the various parapsychology research into psychic powers. I doubt if those are the outcomes of 4th Jhana cultivation, but there’s some people who are born with supernormal abilities, likely inherited from past lives. You know, people who claims to see ghosts, asuras, the future etc. Just stories I heard from others, as well as I personally meet some who really claim those but doesn’t think the supernormal powers as cool.

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It seems that it’s just one’s own past lives due to the way that the stream of consciousness works, here’s an answer to this very question by Ajahn Brahmali:

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I’ll try and get the citations later, but there’s at least three examples

One is the Brahmin iddhi who essentially challenges the Buddha to an iddhi exhibition match, but then has to forfeit because he is psychically stuck to his seat and cannot get up.

Another is the Bark Acetic, who could see devas and possibly had preternatural speed. He is one of the examples of a layperson who becomes an Arahant, doesn’t ordain, and then dies the same day.

Finally, and most standard in his lifestyle, is the householder who was preternaturally blessed with grain, such that iirc he could just stand in his granary and conjure grain to fill it up.

EDIT:

Mendaka was the householder with the iddhi of summoning grain. He also has several unnamed members of his household with iddhi - his wife had inexhaustible cooked food, his son had inexhaustible money as payment for workers, his daughter-in-law had inexhaustible rice as payment for workers, and he had a slave who could make seven furrows with one plow.

Bahiya is the bark cloth ascetic. However, it actually seems unclear to me if he is considered to be a layperson. Here he is listed as the foremost Bhikkhu in swift insight. At the very least though, he was a layperson while displaying certain iddhi.

Pāṭikaputta is the one who challenges the buddha to a contest of iddhi. However, I may have been incorrect about his status as a Brahmin - he is described as a naked ascetic, which I understand to be ambiguous with regard to caste. Also, looking at it more closely, it is unclear whether he was simply overpowered by the Buddha and the Devas that surround him, or simply was a lying braggadocio and never had any psychic powers at all.

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This is fantastic! Thank you very much! Metta!

One thing comes in mind is that there is cases of kids remembering past lives and chanting EBT. I wonder if there was one in India saying EBT. :scream:

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I believe this is the closest we got now. You might be interested in this book. It has transcript in pali at the back of the chants of the kid that chanted things from @ 500 AD

Seeing the transcript there is minor difference between what we have.

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