Sutta Searching: Water & Fire Miracle in Pāli Canon

A while ago, @frankk brought something up:[quote=“frankk, post:2, topic:4739”]
I think the shooting out fire and water simultaneously (in Theravada literature) happens in a different locale, different sutta and audience, whose purpose was to convince heretics the truth of dhamma. I could be wrong… someone know for sure?
[/quote]If possible, I would like to highlight and expand this search: does anyone know where in the Pāli Canon there might be found a miraculous display concerning levitation, production of water & fire, and production of light by the Buddha, all concurrently? If so, it is a partial parallel to SA 197.

Here is Ven Anālayo’s account of the āgama-parallel, if it helps jog the memory:[quote]For the miracle of psychic power, the Blessed One entered into an attainment of concentration appropriate for the manifestation of his ascent into the air towards the east to perform [the miracle of psychic power] in the four postures of walking, standing, sitting, and reclining. He entered into concentration on fire and various type of flames emerged in blue, yellow, red, white, crimson, and crystal colours. He manifested fire and water concurrently. The lower part of his body emitted fire and the upper part of his body emitted water, or else the upper part of his body emitted fire and the lower part of his body emitted water. In the same way he kept going around the four directions.[/quote]

The “Twin Miracle”, as it’s called, is in the Paṭisambhidāmagga in the Yamakapāṭihīrañāṇaniddesa of the Ñāṇakathā. There’s an English translation by Ñāṇamoli (Path of Discrimination), but Sutta Central has only the Pali and a Vietnamese translation.


The description is also quoted in the Dhammapada Atthakathā:



Yes, unfortunately we have not been able to locate a copyright-free available translation. Nyanamoli’s translation will enter the public domain in 2030; it was not included among those texts released under a CC BY-NC licence by the PTS. If anyone knows of another translation, please let us know.

The story of the publication of this work, as told in Warder’s introduction, is an object lesson on the complexities of publishing.


Kavee @Kaveenga are you aware of a copyright-free translation?

Bhante, does the “twin miracle” occur in any real suttas or vinaya in Theravada? For the chinese parallel it occurs astoundingly in the fire sermon.

The Patis. is paracanonical commentary, and the Jataka tale account is about as believable as Disney’s Duck Tales (a childrens fictional cartoon).

Jump directly to section “2d” to get to the twin miracles.

It ends with:

Seeing the Teacher perform his miracle thus and hearing him preach the Law, two hundred millions of living beings in that vast throng obtained Comprehension of the Law.

Not only did 200 million beings (supposedly) attain stream entry, during that display of the twin miracle, the Buddha read each person’s mind and performed an additional custom tailored 200 million miracles according to each person’s disposition.

In the Pali Tipiṭaka it’s mentioned in only two places: the detailed description in the Paṭisambhidāmagga’s account of a Tathāgata’s asādhāraṇa accomplishments (i.e., those which are not shared by his arahant disciples), and then a passing mention of it in the Niddesa.

In academic Buddhist studies the term ‘paracanonical’ is usually applied to the Nettipakaraṇa, Peṭakopadesa, Milindapañha and (sometimes) the Suttasaṅgaha.

I’m not personally acquainted with any Buddhist canonical community that regards the Paṭisambhidāmagga as paracanonical. If the canonical community is the theras of the Mahāvihāra and their heirs, then the Paṭisambhidāmagga is impeccably canonical, being regarded as the work of Sāriputta. If it is the community of those who subscribe to modern scholarship’s assessment of which Pali texts are early, then the Paṭisambhidāmagga would usually be viewed as a late addition to the Khuddaka Nikāya and therefore non-canonical.

Yes, it’s usual for the Dhammapada Commentary’s account of something to be rather more grandiloquent than the same thing described in the Suttas. This is the Paṭisambhidāmagga’s account:


What is the Perfect One’s knowledge of the Twin Metamorphosis (Marvel)?

Here the Perfect One performs the Twin Metamorphosis (Marvel), which is not shared by disciples.

He produces a mass of fire from the upper part of his body and a shower of water from the lower part of his body: he produces a mass of fire from the lower part of his body and a shower of water from the upper part of his body. He produces a mass of fire from the east side of his body and a shower of water from the west side of his body: he produces a mass of fire from the west side of his body and a shower of water from the east side of his body.

… from the right eye … left eye … from the left eye … right eye …
… from the right ear… left ear…
… from the right nostril… left nostril…
… from the right shoulder… left shoulder…
… from the right hand … left hand…
… from the right flank… left flank …
… from the right foot… left foot…
… from each finger and toe … each space between the fingers and toes…

He produces a mass of fire from each hair and a shower of water from each hair: he produces a mass of fire from each hair’s pore and a shower of water from each hair’s pore.

Amid the six colours of blue and yellow and red and white and pink and transparent the Blessed One walks while his created image stands or sits or lies down, the Blessed One stands while his created image walks or sits or lies down, the Blessed One sits while his created image walks or stands or lies down, the Blessed One lies down while his created image walks or stands or sits, the created image walks while the Blessed One stands or sits or lies down, the created image stands while the Blessed One walks or sits or lies down, the created image sits while the Blessed One walks or stands or lies down, the created image lies down while the Blessed One walks or stands or sits.

This is the Perfect One’s knowledge of the Twin Metamorphosis (Marvel).
(Ñāṇamoli, Path of Discrimination 126-7)


If he performed such an act it would definitely be mentioned in the suttas many times! It would only promote blind faith, not stream entry, IMO!

With metta


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Exactly, something like this would not be easy to forget, and one would know exactly where and when it happened, and which sutta. So the Agama has it in the 3rd discourse of the Buddha, fire sermon, but not the Pali.

the ending of the Agama version of agrees with the pali, that 1000 fire ascetics became arahants.

At that time, hearing what the Buddha had said, by not clinging the minds of the thousand monks were liberated from the influxes. When the Buddha had spoken this discourse, hearing what the Buddha had said the monks were delighted and received it respectfully.

@frankk, I don’t want to try to persuade you to my approach to reading these ágamas, or to argue that this approach has any kind of highly reliable scholarly insight behind it, but from reading the ágamas, and reading about them, I think one can conclude that they can be considered Buddhavacana, or at least early attestations of purported Buddhavacana, but only really the sections of them that are Buddhavacana.

Almost all of the ágamas feature pseudo-scribal apocryphal postludes after a section of Buddhavacana, similarly, many of them have at-odds or unconventional preludes, but the Buddhavacana itself is in-tact and largely corresponds to the Páli equivalent, generally.

It’s too much simplification to say: “Anything not in quotation marks is immediately suspect as later,” but it is not utterly wrong either. After all, in several of his translations, Ven Análayo chooses to omit almost all non-Buddhavacana ágama text in his English renderings, probably because it is scribal material.

(Actually, at the end of one of the ágamas, I’ll get the citation in a bit, the text says “so ends the report on this sútra”, meaning that the postlude of that one is definitely commentarial.)

Not sure if that would help but this conversation reminded me of the case of venerable Dabba Mallaputta’s mastery of fire element.

It is mentioned in both Udana Ud8.9 and Ud8.10) and Bhikkhu Vibhanga (Ss8).

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This story is closely related to the Vinaya narrative of the conversion of the Kassapa fire ascetics found in Kd 1. Even in the Pali version of this, we see the Buddha depicted as performing a series of psychic wonders, prominently his mastery over fire and water. This is a conversion narrative, which quite explicitly establishes the Buddha’s superiority over the brahmins in the own special fields, i.e. ritual bathing and fire worship. While the addition of the Twin Miracle is obviously late, it’s easy to see how it could have slipped in there.

In fact, this might give a hint as to the historical origin of the Twin Miracle. To hypothesize: The original depicted the Buddha in a specific cultural setting, challenging and overcoming the relevant religious incumbents. Later, this became less significant, so the miracle was transformed to become a generic display of mastery over the elements.


Later still, in the Sadhammatākathā of the Madhuratthavilāsinī, the performance of the Twin Miracle comes to be included in the “thirtyfold regularities [that feature in the career] of all Buddhas” (sabbabuddhānaṃ samattiṃsavidhā dhammatā). Apparently they always do it at the gates of Sāvatthī.

[quote]Idāni pana sabbesaṃ buddhānaṃ sādhāraṇadhammataṃ pakāsayissāma. Sabbabuddhānaṃ samattiṃsavidhā dhammatā. Seyyathidaṃ…


Sāvatthinagaradvāre yamakapāṭihāriyakaraṇaṃ.[/quote]


I found this unbelievable (I am speechless…)

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For anyone curious, the episode is reported in MA 62, but with Ven Uruvela Kassapa performing the twin miracle.

In the MA reciter tradition the twin miracle ability is not exclusive to a samma sambuddha, but to anyone with strong enough supernormal powers?

I don’t think Pali EBTs state that the twin miracle is only accessible to a sammasambuddha.

In AN3.101 we read a list of all special things that may be accessible to someone who fulfills the path, including:

“If he wants, he wields manifold supranormal powers. Having been one he becomes many; having been many he becomes one.
He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space.
He dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting crosslegged he flies through the air like a winged bird.
With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful.
He exercises influence with his body even as far as the Brahma worlds. He can witness this for himself whenever there is an opening. (…)"

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I think the point was that only the Buddha could alternate extremely rapidly between the fire and water kasina. But it looks like the suttas don’t support this. In the east this particular ‘miracle’ is expected from anyone who thinks they are the Buddha!

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