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    Psychic powers of meditation

    November 12, 2019

    Psychic powers of meditation

    Dr Senarath Tennakoon

    According to Pali sources, at the fourth level of trance (dhyana) in deep meditative practices, eight kinds of psychic power generated in the human mind. These powers are: to project replicas to oneself to become invisible; to pass through solids; to sink into solid ground, to walk on water; to fly; to touch the sun and moon, and to ascend to the world of god Brahma respectively.

    Not only the Buddha and some of his disciples but also some non-Buddhist ascetics were said to have possessed these psychic powers. However, the Buddha prohibited his disciples performing these psychic feats before laymen. But the Mahayana adopted a different attitude and promoted their display by a Bodhisattva as a legitimate claim to attract converts. There are non-Buddhist texts which describe miracles performed by religious leaders and saints.

    An ordinary person living in the 21st century would refuse to believe such magical displayed or without the aid of scientific technology. In the original Pali texts, and the classical Sinhala texts the amazing feats performed by the Buddha and the Arahant have been described using appropriately relevant semiotic linguistic signs, idioms, proverbs and metaphors so that the readership is inspired to believe because of their ardent faith in the Triple Gem. The ordinary laymen are no Arahant endowed with psychic power.

    These descriptions carry pragmatic meanings – presuppositions, implicatures and entailments, not only the literary meanings. The communicated message differed that he acquired the ability to know the minds of others (para-citta-vinnaya), knowledge of soullessness (vidarshana nana), radiating his astral body to a desired place (manomaya-erdi nana), divine eye (divya cakku nana), ability to hear distant voices (dibbasota nana), divine eye (divya cakku nana), ability to recall previous births (pubbenivasntsatti nana), divine eye (divya cakku nana), ability to recall previous births (pubbenivasntsatti nana), and the ability to eradicate defilements (asavakkshayakata nana).

    It has been said that a Licchavi bhikkhu at Vesali named Sunnakattha insulted the Buddha that the Buddha did not possess supramundane psychic powers. Arahant Sariputta on hearing this comment had to take this bhikkhu to the presence of the Buddha. The Buddha clarified the insult by giving a lucid account of his psychic powers, such as: Ten powers of knowledge (dasabala nana) which include his knowledge of karma, rebirth, death and meditation; fourfold wisdom (chaturvidaradha nana) pertaining to his incomparable supreme wisdom, four forms of birth (chatur yoni paracceda nana) and his knowledge about the five worlds where beings were reborn (pancagathi paraicitta nana).

    The miraculous psychic mental states actualized by yoga, meditation, jhana and concentration have been overlooked by modern scientists. The Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas (silent Buddhas) and Arahant (Holy Ones) who developed their minds to the highest level were the greatest minds. Those yogis and ascetics, who had attained higher mental states, lost their psychic power the moment a blemished thought occurred to them as it happened to King Mahamandhatu. It has been said that Sakka the king of gods being pleased with the righteous rule of King Mahamandhatu, accompanied him to heaven and offered half of his kingdom. King Mahamandhatu while enjoying a heavenly life of supreme bliss became jealous of Sakka and the moment he developed the thought of usurping Sakka than he dwindled from heaven back to his earthly kingdom.

    The legend says that after his enlightenment (bodhi) the Buddha spent a week revolving the complex higher doctrine of (Abhidharma) in all their details in his mind. The Buddha just before the 7th annual rain retreat (vas) I.e. Seven years after enlightenment ascended to the Tavatimsa heaven to deliver the sermon on Abhidhamma to Devas, Brhamas and his mother. By that time his mother was born as a Deva in Thusita Heaven and had come to Tavatimsa Heaven to listen to the Buddha.

    The Buddha seated on the Pandukambala stone seat of God Sakra preached the Abhidhamma for a continuous period of three months. In the Tavatimsa Heaven, one day equals 100 years in the human plane. The Buddha returned every day to this world to the shore of Anotatta lake, Sankassapura in north India for his meals and to attend to other needs. At the same time, the Buddha gave rev. Sariputta, a gist of his Abhidhamma teachings to the gods on the previous day. Thus the Buddha had been ascending and descending heaven daily for three long months. The twin miracle (Yamaka-pathihariya) of the Buddha, in which he caused fire and water to issue from opposite sides of his body, has been described in exquisite figurative language. So is the battle of the Buddha with his arch-enemy Death (Mara).

    The Buddha’s second-best disciple Mahamoggallana was renowned for miraculous psychic powers (riddhi). He could change himself into any form at will. He could travel and penetrate other worlds any fly about like a bird. The Vimanavattu describes his visits to the heavens and there are accounts of his encounters with non-human subjects like the petas.

    There was another disciple, Pindola-Bharadvagga, who displayed a miraculous flight in Rajagaha when he ascended into the air to retrieve a sandalwood bowl placed on top of a tall bamboo pole. Originally Pindola-Bjaradvalga had been a greedy monk who carried a large bowl which he kept under his bed at night. In due course, he conquered his lion’s appetite and by perseverance became an Aahat.

    When he performed this miracle he was an Arahant. However, the Buddha came to know of this act and rebuked him, not to display miracles before the public. Once the Buddha was dwelling in the mango groove called Pavaraka near Nalanda when a householder named Kevaddha appealed the Buddha thrice and urged him to order his disciples to perform miracles. The Buddha refused. The Buddha even ridiculed an ascetic who walked on the water of a river to, cross over to the other bank. He verified from the ferryman that the fee charged by him was just one half a maska (a coin of very low value to take one across the river. The Buddha observed that the endeavour of the ascetic has been wasted and its worth was just half a maska.


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