Miracles of Gautama Buddha

Gautama Buddha | Miracles
Gautama Buddha | Miracles

1. Miracles of Gautama Buddha

The Miracles of Gautama Buddha refers to supernatural feats and abilities attributed to Gautama Buddha by the Buddhist scriptures.

The feats are mostly attributed to supranormal powers gained through meditation, rather than divine miracles.

Supranormal powers the historic Buddha was said to have possessed and exercised include the 6 higher knowledges (abhiññā):

  1. psychic abilities (iddhi-vidhā),
  2. clairaudience (dibba-sota),
  3. telepathy (ceto-pariya),
  4. recollection of one's own past lives (pubbe-nivāsanussati),
  5. seeing the past lives and rebirths of others (dibba-cakkhu),
  6. the extinction of mental intoxicants (āsavakkhaya).

Miracles found in Mahāyāna Sūtras generally play a more direct role in illustrating certain doctrines than miracles found in non-Mahāyāna Buddhist texts.

Stories of Gautama Buddha's miracles include miraculous healings, teleportation, creating duplicates of himself, manipulation of the elements, and various other supernatural phenomena.

Many of the Buddha's disciples, as well as some non-Buddhist hermits and yogis who attained high states of meditative absorption, were also said to have had some of these same abilities.

According to Buddhist texts the Buddha frequently utilized or discussed these abilities but talked about them unfavourably as a conversion method.

Instead, the Buddha emphasized the miracle of instruction, or the teaching of the Dhamma, as the superior method of conversion.

2. Pre-Enlightenment

Buddhists texts record several instances of miraculous feats happening to Prince Siddhārtha prior to his Enlightenment as the Buddha.

Miraculous Birth

It is said that immediately after Gautama's birth, he stood up, took 7 steps north, and uttered:

I am chief of the world,
Eldest in the world. This is the last birth.
There will be [henceforth for me] no more re-becoming.

Furthermore, every place the baby Gautama placed his foot, a lotus flower bloomed.

The Still Shadow

One day, when Prince Siddhārtha's father took his young son out into a village area for a ploughing festival, his nurses left the would-be Buddha alone under a tree.

During the festival the young prince noticed various sights of suffering, such as labouring men and oxen, and worms and insects being exposed by the ploughing and eaten by birds.

Seeing these sights he then began to meditate under the tree and attain Jhāna.

As time went by the tree's shadow miraculously stayed in place, sheltering the prince in shade as the sun moved across the sky.

In another version of the story, the would-be Buddha fell asleep under the tree during the festival:

As time went by and the sun moved across the sky the tree's shadow likewise stayed still, keeping the young prince under the shade for the duration of his nap.

The Floating Hair Knot

After Prince Siddhārtha left the palace, he cut his hair to signify his future life as an ascetic in search of Enlightenment.

After cutting his hair, the would-be Buddha took hold of his recently cut Hair Knot and declared:

If I am to become a Buddha [an Enlightened one], let them stay in the sky; but if not, let them fall to the ground.

Throwing the Hair Knot, it went a distance into the air and then stopped, floating in mid-air.

The Golden Bowl

After giving up extreme asceticism prior to his Enlightenment, the would-be Buddha then accepted a meal of rice pudding in a golden bowl from a village girl named Sujāta.

It is said that when he finished, he took the golden bowl and threw it in the river, declaring, If I am to attain Enlightenment, let this bowl go upstream. The golden bowl then flowed upstream.

3. Psychic abilities

Following his Enlightenment, the Buddha was said to have possessed and discussed several supranormal powers attainable through meditation.

Such abilities include walking on water, walking through walls, becoming invisible, levitation, and making copies of himself.

The Buddha discusses these abilities in several texts such as:

  1. the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2),
  2. Kevaṭṭa Sutta (DN 11),
  3. the Lohicca Sutta (DN 12)
  4. the Mahāsākuludayi Sutta (MN 77).

In the Iddhipāda-vibhaṅga Sutta, the Buddha states:

When the 4 bases of spiritual power have been developed and cultivated in this way, a Bhikkhu wields the various kinds of spiritual power:

  1. having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one;
  2. he appears and vanishes;
  3. he goes unhindered through a wall, through a rampart, through a mountain as though through space;
  4. he dives in and out of the earth as though it were water;
  5. he walks on water without sinking as though it were earth;
  6. seated cross-legged, he travels in space like a bird;
  7. with his hands he touches and strokes the moon and sun so powerful and mighty;
  8. he exercises mastery with the body as far as the Brahmā world.

The Buddha states that such powers like walking through walls, levitation and telepathy can be developed through concentration, but a prerequisite to them is the attainment of the 4 Jhānas, or higher states of meditative absorption.

Regardless, the Buddha described most of these powers as being merely mundane.

It is only the power of the extinction of the mental defilements (āsavakkhaya) attained by Arahants that was supra-mundane and leading to the end of suffering.

4. Miracles in the Tipiṭaka

The Tipiṭaka records numerous instances of the Buddha performing miraculous feats after his Enlightenment.

Hiding Yasa in Plain Sight

Soon after giving his first sermon to the 5 ascetics who would become the first 5 Buddhist monks, the Buddha encountered and taught the young noble Yaśa until he attained Sotāpanna, an early stage of Enlightenment.

Not seeing his son in the household, Yaśa's father later follows his footprints to the Buddha's location.

Seeing Yaśa's father approaching, the Buddha exercises supranormal powers so that although Yaśa is in plain sight, Yaśa's father is unable to see him.

The Buddha then teaches Yaśa's father with Yaśa a short distance away, still invisible to his father.

This results in Yaśa's father becoming the first lay follower of Gautama Buddha and Yaśa attaining Arahantship, or the highest stage of Enlightenment, upon hearing the Buddha's sermon to his father.

The Buddha then ceases his supranormal feat and makes Yaśa visible to his father again.

Subduing the Nāga with Fire

During a visit to the region of Uruvela, the Buddha goes to a hermitage of fire worshipping ascetics and asks one of its leaders, Uruvela-Kassapa, to stay in the fire-offering chamber.

Uruvela-Kassapa warns the Buddha that there is a dangerous Nāga living in the chamber, but agrees after the Buddha insists.

The Buddha enters the chamber and begins meditating, the Nāga then appears and angrily creates smoke. The Buddha responds by entering into a fire-element meditation and using his psychic powers to create his own smoke.

The Nāga then fills the chamber with fire, which the Buddha responds to by bursting into flames and becoming fire.

The next morning the Buddha comes out of the chamber with the Nāga reduced in size and harmlessly coiled in his alms bowl.

The Buddha later converts Uruvela-Kassapa, his brothers, and the other ascetics in the hermitage.

The First Twin Miracle and the Miraculous Rain

When the Buddha returned to his home kingdom of Kapilavastu following his Enlightenment, he levitates and performs a version of what would become known as the Twin Miracle.

This results in the Buddha's tribesmen, the Śākya Clan, bowing to him in respect.

After the Buddha returns to the ground and sits down it suddenly starts raining, with the rain only falling on people who wanted to get wet, and no rain falling on those who wanted to remain dry.

Following this event, the Buddha tells the Vessantara Jātaka.

Outpacing Aṅgulimāla

One day while meditating, the Buddha sees through meditative vision that the serial killer Aṅgulimāla will kill his own mother later that day unless the Buddha intervenes.

In order to prevent Aṅgulimāla from committing the grave sin of killing his own mother, the Buddha intercepts him right before he can commit the heinous act and causes the serial killer to go after him instead.

As Aṅgulimāla is chasing after him, the Buddha employs supranormal powers so although Aṅgulimāla is running as fast as he can, he cannot catch up with the Buddha who is walking calmly.

One text states the Buddha used his powers to contract and expand the earth, thus keeping a distance with Aṅgulimāla.

After a teaching, Aṅgulimāla becomes struck with guilt over his actions as a serial killer and becomes a monk.

Teaching Khema Impermanence

The Buddha meets Khema, a beautiful consort of King Bimbisāra who would later become one of his chief female disciples.

The beautiful woman was disinterested in spiritual matters given her life of sensual indulgence.

So, as the beautiful Khema approaches the Buddha, he uses his psychic powers to conjure up an image of an even more beautiful woman in front of her and then ages the image into an old woman before her very eyes.

Khema, who was very vain, then comes to understand the nature of impermanence.

The Buddha then preached to her about the impermanence of beauty and the problems of attachment to worldly desires eventually leading her to become a Bhikkhunī.

Knowing Anāthapiṇḍika’s Real Name

As his future patron Anāthapiṇḍika approached him for the first time, the Buddha called him by his birth name Sudatta, which was not known to the public.

Surprised to hear his real name, Anāthapiṇḍika then concluded it could only be the Buddha who was calling him and went forward.

The Twin Miracle at Sāvatthī

The Twin Miracle is considered to have been the Buddha's foremost miracle.

Unlike some of his other attributed abilities, it said that only Buddhas had the ability to perform the Twin Miracle.

According to Buddhist texts, the Buddha performed the miracle at Sāvatthī after being challenged by a group of 6 leaders of rival religious sects.

The Buddha starts by creating a jewelled walkway in mid-air, and then emits fire from the top half of his body and water on the lower half and then starts to alternate them.

The fire and water then shoot up to illuminate the cosmos while the Buddha teaches the Dhamma to the observers.

In one version of the story, he creates several duplicates of himself that fill the air, with some walking, lying down, and sitting.

At the conclusion of the miracle, it is the rival religious leaders' turn to perform a miracle but they flee.

Following the miracle, the Buddha proceeds to create a single duplicate of himself and then have the duplicate ask him questions which he would answer in order to teach the observing audience.

Ascending to Heaven and Creating a Duplicate

The Buddha ascends to Tāvatiṁsa Heaven to preach the Abhidhamma to his deceased Mother.

He recites the Abhidhamma to the Devas for the full rains-retreat without stopping, taking a break daily to go on alms-round and eat.

During the daily lunch hour, the Buddha creates a duplicate of himself and orders it to preach in his place while he is away.

Descent from Heaven at Sankassa

Following the Buddha's visit to Tāvatiṁsa Heaven, it is said that he descended to earth at the city of Sankassa.

Texts relate that the deva king Sakka created 3 staircases for the Buddha's descent, one gold, one crystal, and one silver.

The Buddha was said to have made the descent on the crystal staircase in the middle, with Devas descending on the gold staircase on the left and Brahma beings descending on the silver staircase on the right.

During the descent it is said that humans and various beings in Buddhist cosmology were able to see each other.

A shrine was erected at the site the Buddha was said to have set his right foot upon reaching the Earth.

Chinese pilgrims who visited the site a few centuries later reported that the staircases had nearly sunken completely into the ground by the time they visited the site.

Levitating over the Rohiṇī River

One day, while surveying the world with his psychic powers, the Buddha sees that a War is about to break out between the Śākya clan and a neighbouring kingdom.

The region was in drought and the 2 kingdoms were on the verge of fighting so that they could divert the water from the Rohiṇī River for their own use.

As the 2 armies gather on opposite sides of the river, the Buddha sets off by air to stop them and appears before them, levitating over the river.

The Buddha then asks the rulers of each side if water or human life is more valuable.

When each side replies that human life is more valuable the Buddha persuades them to make a deal to share the water.

Teleporting Across the Ganges

The Mahāparinibbāna Sutta recounts a story of the Buddha and his monks crossing the Ganges River by disappearing and reappearing on the other side, rather than searching for boats or creating rafts as other people were doing.

Challenging the Brahma Being

In the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta (MN 49), the Brahma being Baka had become deluded into thinking that he was immortal and that he had attained the highest state.

The Buddha then travels to the Brahma realm of Buddhist cosmology to correct Baka's views by displaying various powers such as identifying realms the Brahma was not aware of,

identifying Mara whenever he possessed a member of Baka's assembly,

identifying the full extent of Baka's abilities, and making himself invisible to Baka Brahma and his assembly to prove that the Buddha's powers were greater than Baka Brahma's.

Neutralizing the Gandhāra Charm

In a Pāḷi commentary, the ascetic Pilindavaccha was in possession of the Lesser Gandhāra Charm (Pāḷi: Cūḷa-Gandhāra-Vijja) which allowed him to levitate and read minds.

However, after the Buddha attained Enlightenment, Pilindavaccha finds that his powers no longer worked.

Pilindavaccha then goes to the Buddha thinking he was in possession of a greater charm.

Instead, Pilindavaccha ends up becoming a monk under the Buddha and attains Arahantship.

The story suggests that the Buddha's presence was said to neutralize lesser magic, lesser magic being powers not attained through meditation.

Taming the Drunken Elephant

The Buddha's jealous cousin Devadatta sets loose the drunken elephant, Nāḷāgiri, to trample the Buddha.

In one account of the story, when Nāḷāgiri charged at the Buddha, the Buddha created an image of 2 lions and a sea of fire in front of the elephant to frighten it into staying still.

In another account, the Buddha created a roar resembling that of an elephant queen, which caused Nāḷāgiri to stop and bow to the Buddha.

In one version of the story, the monk Ānanda tries to protect the Buddha by jumping in front of him. The Buddha orders Ānanda to move but he refuses. The Buddha then employs psychic powers to move Ānanda to safety.

Afterwards, the Buddha gently tames the elephant with loving-kindness.

The Miraculous Healing

The faithful laywoman Suppiyā had promised to provide meat to an ailing monk.

After realizing there was no meat available at the market that day, she cut some flesh from her own thigh to make the offering and hid her injury.

Knowing what had happened, the Buddha asked Suppiyā be brought to him.

Upon seeing the Buddha, Suppiyā's wound healed, with the laywoman's flesh returning to what it was before with no scarring.

Afterwards, the Buddha sets a rule forbidding his monks from accepting offerings of human flesh.

Putting Out the Forest Fire

The Buddha was walking through the forests of Māgadha with a large assembly of monks when a large forest fire breaks out.

While monks that had not attained any stages of Enlightenment panicked, the Enlightened monks of the assembly remained calm and told the unenlightened monks of the assembly that there is nothing to fear when walking with the Buddha.

The monks then gather around the Buddha, who had stopped at the sight of the fire.

As the fire rages toward them, the fire miraculously extinguishes whenever the flames approached a distance of 16 lengths around the Buddha.

The Buddha credits this feat to an act of Sacca-kriyā, or a solemn declaration of truth, he made in a past life and then tells the Vaṭṭaka Jātaka.

Attempting to Save the Śākyas

While surveying the world with his psychic powers, the Buddha sees that the Śākya clan is about to be massacred by King Virūḍhaka of Kosala, who had a grudge against them from childhood.

According to some versions of the story the Buddha intercepts King Virūḍhaka once and convinces him to turn back, but the king later changes his mind and continues the invasion.

In other versions of the story the Buddha intercepts King Virūḍhaka 2 times, and in some versions 3 times before ceasing to intervene in the next attempt.

When the Buddha does not intervene, Moggallāna, one of the Buddha's disciples, offers to save the Śākya clan using his own psychic powers

but the Buddha discourages this, stating that the massacre is the result of the Śākyas' past karma and that no amount of supernatural powers can stop the power of karma.

Regardless, Moggallāna attempts to save some Śākyas by using his powers to move several hundred of them to safety, only to find that they had died anyway.

According to one source, the karma that caused this massacre was that in a past life, the people of the Śākya clan had collectively poisoned the river of an enemy city-state.

Following the massacre, the Buddha predicts that King Virūḍhaka will die in fire in 7 days. Upon hearing about this, King Virūḍhaka builds a house on the water to live on for 7 days.

On the last day, a fire starts from sunlight hitting a magnifying glass on a cushion and burns down the house, killing King Virūḍhaka.

5. Miracles in Mahāyāna Sūtras

Miracles generally play a larger role in Mahāyāna Buddhism than in Theravāda Buddhism, with miracles often being used to directly illustrate specific Mahāyāna doctrines.

The miracles found in Mahāyāna Sūtras typically have much more symbolism and put more emphasis on the direct use of supranormal powers to teach and help other living beings.

Showing the Buddha Field

In the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, the Buddha performs a miracle to display the Buddha field to people on earth. He does this to show the purity of mind Bodhisattvas must attain to reach Buddhahood.

Various Bodhisattvas from the Sūtra then take over the narrative and perform various supernatural feats such as switching bodies, magically transporting objects and transformation in order to teach about Mahāyāna concepts such as non-duality.

In the Sūtra, Vimalakīrti states that all Buddhas possess a Divine Eye that lets them see all of the other Buddhas' lands.

Shaking the Earth and Bringing Light

In the Lotus Sūtra, the Buddha shakes the earth and brings forth a ray of light which illuminates thousands of Buddha-fields in the East.

According to the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī from the Sūtra, the single ray of light represents that the various practices and paths of Mahāyāna Buddhism can be met with a consistent meaning throughout the cosmos.

The light also symbolizes the equivalence of all the Buddhas.

Mañjuśrī points out in the Sūtra that he recognized the light from a previous Buddha who performed the same feat in the distant past and that the feat shows that Gautama Buddha is about to expound his ultimate teaching.

Levitating Across the Ganges

In the Lalitavistara Sūtra, shortly after his Enlightenment the Buddha heads to Vārāṇasī to deliver his first sermon.

As he reaches the Ganges River he approaches a ferryman to cross the river, who demands he pay the fee to cross the river.

The Buddha responds by saying that he has no money on him and proceeds to cross the river through levitation.

6. Buddhist view on miracles

Most of the Buddha's miracles are seen in Buddhism as being the result of extraordinary psychic abilities gained through advanced meditation, rather than miraculous powers.

According to Buddhist texts many of the Buddha's disciples, as well as some non-Buddhist hermits and yogis who attained high meditative states, also had some of these same abilities.

While texts state that the Buddha still utilized supranormal powers at times and that they are considered signs of spiritual progress, the Buddha also described them as dangerous and something that could lead to self-glorification.

According to one text, when the Buddha encountered a non-Buddhist ascetic who proudly showed off his ability to cross a river by walking on water (an ability the Buddha was also said to have had), the Buddha rebuked him and said the ascetic's feat was worth little more than the few cents it cost to cross the river by ferry.

In the Buddhist monastic code, the Buddha laid down a rule forbidding his monks from showing off supranormal powers to laypeople and compares conversion through such powers unfavourably with converting through teaching.

In the Kevaṭṭa Sutta, the Buddha describes there being 3 types of miracles:

  1. the miracle of psychic powers,
  2. the miracle of telepathy,
  3. the miracle of instruction.

While the Buddha acknowledged the existence of the 1-2 miracles, he stated a sceptical person could mistake them for magic charms or cheap magic tricks.

Instead, the Buddha praised the miracle of instruction as the superior miracle.

According to the Kevaṭṭa Sutta, the miracle of instruction can lead the observer to harmlessness, virtue, and meditation; and can even eventually lead observers to the attainment of the powers of the 1-2 miracles for themselves.