Ven Akaliko and I have been discussing doing a talk on all the mistakes that the Buddha made—or are they? That’s what we’re here to find out!
One of the marks of a good leader is that they are happy to admit their own mistakes and limitations, and to correct themselves when needed. Obviously in the Buddhist texts, the Buddha is overwhelmingly depicted as being in the right. But is that always true? Did he make any mistakes? If so, what did he do about it?
We’re going to have to set some parameters here.
- nothing doctrinal. Sure, Hindus would argue that the Buddha got the teaching on the ātman wrong, but it’ll take too long to sort that one out!
- nothing “otherworldly”. Again, proving the existence or otherwise of different realms would take us way afield.
- nothing of dubious authenticity. Most or all of the controversial statements in the suttas about women, for example, can be contested on text-critical grounds, eg. they are not present in other versions of the text. So let’s stick to things that are on firm textual ground (for which, since I’m the one asking the question, I’ll be the judge of, thanks!)
- nothing pre-awakening: we know he made mistakes before enlightenment.
So far I can think of:
- teaching body contemplation to monks who subsequently committed suicide. (that’s a big one!) (Parajika 3)
- getting the time for pindapata wrong (eg. MN 71)
- the sizes of things such as Mount Sineru (see AN 7.66) or the monsters of the oceans (Ud 5.5) are much too big.
- Vinaya rules that proved unwieldy and required modification. (common in the Vinaya, for example pacittiya 32).
Not saying that the Buddha clearly was wrong here, just that these are possible instances of mistakes.
Are there any others?