Why can't monks talk about their past lives?

Is it only because they would be revealing attainments or are there other reasons?

Yeah, that’s the main reason as I understand it.


Thank you! Why is it such a serious offense to reveal attainments? And why isn’t it a problem to reveal the attainments of other monks who have already passed away?

Is it just to prevent people from falsly claiming them to get a cult following?

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Well, revealing your attainments truthfully is a Pacittaya, so a middle-class offense. Same category as e.g. getting into a fight with another monk. People tend to treat it very seriously though because intentionally lying about having attainments is a Parajika: instant defeat. So, since even telling the truth is also an offense, it’s much safer to just avoid the whole topic.

The offense though is worded in such a way as to only cover “your own” attainments.

As to why the Buddha made the Vinaya like this, who am I to guess the intentions of the Buddha?

I can say that the Theravada origin story mentions monks who wished to get food during a famine. So “cult following” is probably part of it. (Which is also possible even when talking about your e.g. deceased master! Though perhaps there the “second hand” nature of the claim makes it “safer” in a way?)

The way I see it is that people either believe you or they don’t. If they believe you, it becomes a cult-like thing and if they don’t believe you that’s equally a problem: “Prove it!” “Phony!” “Fake!” “Charlatan!!”… not very good karma for the skeptic to make either! So, best to just stick to the Dhamma: the four noble truths and the way out of all such messes.


“Why can’t monks talk about their past lives?”

Because most monastics have no insights into their own past lives. Being a monastic is one thing; being an ariyapuggala monastic is far less common; and, being an ariyapuggala monastic with attainments that include such a power is far less common indeed.

Thank you! I thought revealing such attainment is a Parajika offense in both cases, that’s why I misunderstood the rule.


One need not be enlightened to have the ability to recall their past lives. Indeed, past life recall doesn’t even necessarily translate into mundane right view! See: DN1


Even children can do it! :wink:


Agreed, you’re right that past life recall isn’t limited to enlightened individuals and doesn’t automatically mean they have mundane right view; though for the sake of brevity, I was speaking in reference from the perspective of attainments along the Buddhism path. :wink: :pray:

That being the context, in response to the OP about why monastics don’t talk about their past lives, whether it’s because it would be akin to speaking about attainments or “if there are other reasons,” my answer had more to do with the later. :blush: For the most part, many monastics may not have direct insights into their own past lives and so talking about it would be… unskilful at best. :laughing:

I totally get where you’re coming from, and I appreciate the mention of DN1; thank you bhante.

I originally thought the rule against revealing attainments was about good character hygiene. Avoiding monastics getting big heads, bragging, thinking they are special, etc.

Many years ago in another Buddhist Internet forum ( I don’t have any more “proof” than that ) someone told me the rule is about monastics without attainments not getting enough food, clothing, medicine, etc as monastics with attainments.

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I did not want to open a new thread because it is tangentially related, and it’s a bit of a loaded question:

Why don’t monks gather information from past lives / other realms that could help Humanity? For instance, if there is a technology in some alien world or deva realm which allows for the mitigation of the effects of climate change, wouldn’t that be useful to bring back to Earth? Or maybe just share it in some way that does not reveal the power itself?

Or if there was a historical debate on something a monk took part in in their past lives wouldn’t it be helpful if they revealed how that event happened? I understand that this would only convince a few people of the existence of past lives, because if an event can be verified, then one can say that they just got the information from that source, and if it can not be verified one could argue that it is just made up, but still. I would still enjoy hearing about how the dinosaurs went extinct for instance and wait for science to confirm it later on.

To my knowledge there is nothing recorded about monastics having past lives on extraterrestrial worlds, so they couldn’t give us a technological cheat sheet. To my non-expert knowledge devas don’t use any technology, they have what they want through “magic”.

Climate change isn’t a technological program. Subscribe to the right periodical and you can regularly read articles about new green technologies. Climate change is driven by human defilements, desire.

Monastics aren’t allowed to talk about their attainments.

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In Thailand there are a number of such “miracle cures”, mostly medicines. One of them, Yaa Som, was a recipe a famous monk claimed the devas gave to him for curing/preventing cancer. It is made by slowly dissolving various metals and other things in an extremely strong acid. You’re supposed to dissolve a couple drops of the stuff in a glass of water to drink it. Unfortunately, the layman who offered me a bottle failed to inform me of that! I got some serious chemical burns to my gums and lips before I managed to spit it out :grimacing:

The laymen at least got a jolly good laugh out of it.


Maybe, and maybe not :+1:

I imagine, helped by intuition and reason, that revelations like “past life” is very complicated to convey by words alone, and a safe answer is to point to dependent origination here and now, because it can be experienced in silent togetherness.

Edit: Came to think about subtle/mystical experiences, and that these are best kept as a personal secret. Not to close off for any responses, but more for own safety. Memory isn’t reliable, and reasoning can’t grasp beond thought, so in the case of a true experience, I guess it will stay firm and become more visible if left as it is, and when one retells ones own version, this will be a deluded construct that shines brighter with each repetition, and twists or mask the truth.