The second vijja - dibba cakkhu - knowledge of beings rising and falling due to kamma

Of the tevijja, I think the second gets the least amount of attention. Let’s discuss…

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Let me start off with an uncomfortable hypothesis: the supernatural faculty of ‘divine seeing’ fulfilled several purposes:

  • establish the knowledge of rebirth as a real, supernatural, yet achievable possibility
  • establish the Buddha (and some of his followers) as authentic spiritual authority
  • scare lay people into donating to the Sangha

The third is probably controversial. But just consider how you’d feel if you heard rumors that some bhikkhus have this mind-reading ability. Of course the bhikkhus are not allowed to talk about their skill - so I’d never know for sure who has the divine seeing and who not. Take for example the Ajahn Mun biography: His monks were scared all the time that the Ajahn would point out this or that impure thought or deed.

Most importantly, let’s read the ‘standard’ text carefully:

These worthy beings who were ill-conducted in body, speech, and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in a bad destination, in perdition, even in hell.
… not revilers of noble ones … reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world

The only concrete example given for a transgression is to slander Ariyans. So if I slander Noble ones I will go to hell. And who is a Noble one? We don’t know, because they are not allowed to talk about it! So it could be anyone. So better not talk bad about any bhikkhu, regardless of their behavior, just to be safe. And further, let’s give the Sangha donations, just to really secure a good spot for next life.

Also, at the night of the awakening the Buddha would have been the only ‘Ariyan’ he was aware of, so the rule of ‘reviling Ariyans - going to hell’ would refer to past worlds only.

This is not a cheap construed theory, since especially the Anguttara is full of declarations that basically non-Buddhists can end up in hell. What is rather disturbing for me is that this formula of the ‘divine seeing’ is quite well attested in all Nikayas. On the other hand again it is the most frequent in the Majjhima, about ten times in the Anguttara, and less in the Samyutta (SN 12.70, SN 16.9, SN 51.11). This could be an indication for the relative age of the Nikayas.

While the ‘divine seeing’ as one of the three knowledges would be old, this specific pericope would be a later development.


I think this is pubbenivanussati nana, literally ‘knowledge of past homes’. It is said to require the divine eye, dibba cakkhu ability according to later commentaries, but seems plausible

The vinaya developed out of people complaining reasonably about the conduct of monks, and there are hundreds of vinaya rules. So this isn’t a gag order, as valid (ie non-slanderous, and without evil intent) complaints were acted upon. People seemed to complain readily, without fear.

with metta

The scary part of mind reading is that one doesn’t know …, which I find as a skillful way of using “fear” to make the scared one look even closer at one’s own mind

Actually, this is the standard text in the EBTs, not only in the commentaries, p. ex. in MN 39:

So dibbena cakkhunā visuddhena atik­kanta­mānusa­kena satte passati cavamāne upapajjamāne hīne paṇīte suvaṇṇe dubbaṇṇe, sugate duggate, yathākammūpage satte pajānāti

With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, he sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate. He understands how beings pass on according to their actions


This isn’t about non-believers going to hell- a western construct if there ever was one, but about their view leading to unwholesome deeds, and thereby bad kamma. For example the Christian view might lead to attacks on non-believers and heretics not only outside but within their own ranks. This is not a simply an assertion but a fact based on observation as crusades and the Spanish inquisition show us. The Muslim doctrine has similar problems nowadays. Of note, Niganta doctrine doesn’t have problems with aggression towards others. Buddhism if anything is susceptible to superstitious beliefs, but thankfully not a belief in God, as it is non-theistic ‘religion’.

Does “Noble one” here just mean “Bhikkhu”, or might it be any of the fourfold assembly, or maybe even further afield?


Hmm, citation please? From everything I’ve seen Jains are non-violent to the extreme.

What exactly is “seeing beings passing away and reappearing”, does this mean the ability to “read” specific beings kamma or just a general vague sense of good kamma good destination bad kamma bad destination?

If it’s the former, then a scientific study would be pretty easy to set up. Take a group of subjects to a monastic that claims (without committing parajika) to possess the power (or that lay supporters claim). Have that monastic “read” their first, second, third past lives. Repeat the experiment for other similarly endowed monks/nuns. Is there any overlap between the reports?

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You are right, ‘ariya’ could mean several things, but other suttas where slander leads to hell, suggest that fully realized arahants are meant.
SN 6.10, AN 8.89 result in hell for resentment against Sāriputta and Moggallāna
MN 12.21 against the Buddha
And never have I come across (to my knowledge) a sutta where a random unexperienced monastic was slandered with the prediction that this would lead to hell. So my tendency would be to take ‘ariya’ as specifically ‘arahant’ in this case (even though it could also mean stream-enterer upwards)


That would be such a cool experiment! But even then there are other ways to explain it, without rebirth: If mind-reading existed it is possible that minds would have a certain ‘signature’, and that based on that ‘signature’ several people would do the same ‘kamma-calculation’ and end up with the same prediction, no matter if there is rebirth or not - after all the most common system only has five realms to reappear: hell, ghosts, animals, human, deva.

So two mind-readers could sense a ‘negative’ mind and then would just need to have the same assessment of the degree of negativity, and if it’s medium both could say ‘animal realm’.

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Well, I was thinking it would be more specific than animal realm - like ‘crocodile’ or ‘man with long ears that played the lute’. Anyway, somebody more clever than me would have to set it up. It would need to be as double-blind as possible. An instance of the way it shouldn’t be set up: the way the new Dalai Lama is selected (“found”), which is scientifically dreadful. A group of monks gazes into the reflection of a magic lake until the place/village of rebirth is divined. Then they find several candidate boys and they “test” them by placing several items or toys that the previous “incarnation” of the Dalai Lama favored, but they do all this with the testing monks present. You mean to tell me that one of the monks couldn’t kind of indicate with eyes or any facial cue which toy to choose? :roll_eyes: Not to mention the n size of such a sampling.

Mentalists can do amazing feats of “mind-reading” and yet don’t claim any supernormal power…


and not to mention, if i recall correctly, that the present Dalai Lama has indicated that he might come back as a girl, or come back not to be public or not come back at all.