Author Topic: Was the Buddha Omniscient?  (Read 1189 times)

Offline Dharmakara

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Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« on: September 13, 2015, 06:02:39 am »
The Buddha and Religious Diversity
J. Abraham Velez de Cea / Routledge (2013)
pp. 140-142

It is interesting to note that the Buddha of the Pali Nikayas never describes himself as omniscient (sabbanna) or all-seeing (sabbadassavi). For instance, the long list of epithets of the Buddha that appear at M.I.386 mentions his great wisdom and triple knowledge, but says nothing about his non-simultaneous omniscience. One has to wait until later works to find such terms applied to the Buddha. The term "cakkhuma" is applied to the Buddha by the recently converted brahmin Sela at the end of the Sela Sutta. However, the term "cakkhuma" does not necessarily mean "All-Seeing One" as Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to suggest with his translation, somehow endorsing the idea of omniscience, but rather "having eyes" or "having vision" in the sense of possessing spiritual wisdom or insight.

Overall, the Pali Nikayas do not portray the Buddha as omniscient, only as someone who has fully understood the four noble truths: suffering, its arising, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation. The Buddha of the Pali Nikayas possesses the threefold knowledge, which does not entail omniscience but knowledge about the processes of rebirth, karma, and the specific conditionality of suffering, i.e., the four noble truths. In other words, the Buddha knew some things about the past, the present, and the future, but not all that was possible to know in the past, the present, and the future.

If the Buddha did not claim to be omniscient, and if the Pali Nikayas do not contain all possible truths about the universe, it seems uncontroversial to conclude that the Buddha was not omniscient. This conclusion does not undermine the Buddha's holiness and wisdom. On the contrary, saying that the Buddha was not omniscient can be understood as making his holiness and wisdom more credible and significant for his disciples. As Nagapriya states:

"So long as implausible claims such as omniscience are made on behalf of the Buddha his true significance cannot be fully understood or appreciated. Instead of being respected, venerated, and emulated as a spiritual exemplar he is more likely to be worshipped as some kind of unreachable superman, even a god. The Buddha was a man who achieved a profound spiritual insight, a spiritual insight that—at least according to Buddhism—all human beings can emulate. This is what makes the Buddha so inspiring and so important. Whether he was able to walk through walls or understand quantum theory is irrelevant."[1]

If the Buddha of the Pali Nikayas was not omniscient, it seems uncontroversial to conjecture that he would be open to new knowledge and new truths wherever they might be found, be it inside or outside Buddhist traditions. This interpretation fits well with the Buddha's inquisitive mind and his refusal to accept dogmatic claims. An omniscient Buddha would not have any need to learn anything new from anybody. On the contrary, a non-omniscient Buddha would certainly keep an open mind and would encourage others to do the same.

Would a non-omniscient Buddha be open to new representations of the Dharma? If Dharma stands for the Truth that includes all truths about the universe, then it is uncontroversial to suggest that Buddha would be open to new representations of the Dharma because he did not claim to be omniscient. He did not know all truths, therefore, he can be interpreted as open to new truths. Since the Buddha did not know everything, and since he did not confine the Dharma to his teaching and discipline, he would be open to new representations of the Dharma whereever they might be found.

[1] Dharmacari Nagapriya. Was the Buddha Omniscient? Western Buddhist Review, Volume 4 (2004)
http://www.westernbuddhistreview.com/vol4/was_the_buddha_omniscient.html

Offline ཨོཾRaZor༄

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2015, 09:56:21 pm »
So, it's better for the Buddha to be non-omniscient than omniscient? I don't understand what is being said. What do you think?


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Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2015, 12:31:46 am »
Hmmm... personally, I would have to say that I lean toward the opinion that the historical Siddhartha Gautama was non-omniscient  --- of course, there's many Buddhists who would take exception to such an opinion being voiced, not to mention that more than a few of whom tend to become street rat crazy at even the mere question of whether it really matters one or another.

A good example of what I'm referring to would be Khenpo Sodargy, such as when he was expounding on the merit(s) related to the mantra of Avalokiteshvara and cited the Mahayana Sutra of Treasured Kingdom, as well as the questions raised by Nivaranaviskambin therein:

Quote
We should be aware of the fact that, with the purpose of emphasizing the merit of some Buddha or Bodhisattva, according to some sutras of Mahayana and Hinayana, the Buddha often said: "I don't know this merit, so you should ask that from the Buddha." Or "I don't know this merit, so you should ask from the Bodhisattva." From this point of view, there are people who don't know the secret meaning or the concealed intention by Buddha, and they may think the Buddha is not omniscient or the sutra is a fake one if the Buddha says "I don't know". Those people who haven't studied and reflected upon Buddha's teachings may only know some superficial things from one point of view, which could generate bad karma by their misunderstandings towards the Buddhism. It is really a pity. So we should try our best to destroy their wrong views. Otherwise, they could use their perverted beliefs to persuade others to follow and that would make those people abandon the real Dharma. Nivaranaviskambin asked: "Why is the Buddha not clear of this question?" and the Buddha said: "Because this is the subtle nature of the heart of Avalokitcshvara. His stage is inconceivable and even for a Buddha it is difficult to know." And then, the Buddha told many other merits of the mantra. For example, the Buddha is capable of counting the numbers of dust in this world, but he cannot account the merit of reciting "Om Mani Padme Hum" even once.


Three Methods of Merit Accumulation
Khenpo Sodargy / BICW (2014)
pp. 3-4

Offline ཨོཾRaZor༄

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2015, 03:34:11 pm »
But that is polemic. It's not really an argument for wether the Buddha is or isn't omniscient.  From my understanding Buddhas appear to beings in a way that benefits them most.  So for some it is better to believe the Buddha is non-omniscient and others it's better to believe the Buddha is omniscient. I know that in the extraordinary practices of the Vajrayana, omniscience is mentioned in regards to enlightenment and can be achieved by all beings.  It's their natural state. 


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Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2015, 12:27:33 am »
Quote
The Problem with Omniscience

An irreconcilable problem with being 'all-knowing', is that you cannot know whether or not you know everything, simply because you may not know what you don't know. For example, if I were to be omniscient, and therefore 'know' that I am the one that knows the most about the 11 secret herbs and spices of KFC, I would have no source to check against as to whether or not I truly knew everything about that subject. Because, the only tangible knowledge that you have as an omniscient being would be true appreciation of your ignorance, as you would have no higher knowledge to check your facts with.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Omniscience


Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2015, 08:50:03 am »
The very same topic is discussed below:

Quote
SN 35.23 PTS: S iv 15 CDB ii 1140
Sabba Sutta: The All
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 2001
"Monks, I will teach you the All. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."

"As you say, lord," the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. [1] Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range."

Note

1.
The Commentary's treatment of this discourse is very peculiar. To begin with, it delineates three other "All's" in addition to the one defined here, one of them supposedly larger in scope than the one defined here: the Allness of the Buddha's omniscience (literally, All-knowingness). This, despite the fact that the discourse says that the description of such an all lies beyond the range of explanation.
Secondly, the Commentary includes nibbana (unbinding) within the scope of the All described here — as a dhamma, or object of the intellect — even though there are many other discourses in the Canon specifically stating that nibbana lies beyond the range of the six senses and their objects. Sn 5.6, for instance, indicates that a person who has attained nibbana has gone beyond all phenomena (sabbe dhamma), and therefore cannot be described. MN 49 discusses a "consciousness without feature" (viññanam anidassanam) that does not partake of the "Allness of the All." Furthermore, the following discourse (SN 35.24) says that the "All" is to be abandoned. At no point does the Canon say that nibbana is to be abandoned. Nibbana follows on cessation (nirodha), which is to be realized. Once nibbana is realized, there are no further tasks to be done.

Thus it seems more this discourse's discussion of "All" is meant to limit the use of the word "all" throughout the Buddha's teachings to the six sense spheres and their objects. As the following discourse shows, this would also include the consciousness, contact, and feelings connected with the sense spheres and their objects. Nibbana would lie outside of the word, "all." This would fit in with another point made several times in the Canon: that dispassion is the highest of all dhammas (Iti 90), while the arahant has gone beyond even dispassion (Sn 4.6; Sn 4.10).

This raises the question, if the word "all" does not include nibbana, does that mean that one may infer from the statement, "all phenomena are not-self" that nibbana is self? The answer is no. As AN 4.174 states, to even ask if there is anything remaining or not remaining (or both, or neither) after the cessation of the six sense spheres is to differentiate what is by nature undifferentiated (or to objectify the unobjectified — see the Introduction to MN 18). The range of differentiation goes only as far as the "All." Perceptions of self or not-self, which would count as differentiation, would not apply beyond the "All." When the cessation of the "All" is experienced, all differentiation is allayed.

See also: SN 35.24


source:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn35/sn35.023.than.html
« Last Edit: September 16, 2015, 08:54:55 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline ཨོཾRaZor༄

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2015, 01:56:11 am »
Amitabha is omniscient.  Guru Rinpoche is omniscient. Shakyumuni must be omniscient!  Any feelings that a fully enlightened Buddha has limitations is absurd. 


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Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2015, 04:07:48 am »
I'm not sure which is more absurd: (1) the fact that you've ignored that many academic and monastic scholars actually subscribe to such an absurdity to begin with; or (2) your rationale in citing the semi-mythological Padmasambhava, as if it would win you any brownie points in this discussion.

First of all, to quote the Ven. Shravasti Dhammika:

Quote
Omniscience (sabbannutà) is the ability to know everything and is usually believed to be an attribute of God, although there have been religious leaders who have claimed to be omniscient too. The Buddha said that no being, human or divine, can be all-knowing. He denied that God is omniscient (D.I,17), for if he were, religion would become meaningless. If God knows everything, he must know how we are going to act long before we do, which means that we have no freedom to act otherwise. And if we have no freedom to choose how we are going to act, there would be no point in teaching people to be good and to avoid evil. Mahàvãra, the founder of Jainism and a contemporary of the Buddha, claimed to be omniscient (M.II,31), a claim which the Buddha said was without foundation (M.II,127).

Interestingly, in the centuries since his passing, some unlearned and over-enthusiastic Buddhists have claimed that the Buddha 'knows everything that has been seen, heard, sensed, thought, attained, sought and searched by the minds of those who inhabit the entire world of gods and humans'. Although the Buddha never made this claim for himself (M.I,482), he did say he was 'one who knows the worlds' (lokavidu).

http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=293


As for Padmasambhava, the following comment from Robert Mayer of Oxford University pretty much sums up the opinion of most academics:

Quote
When did the figure of Padmasambhava first become mythologised, when did he first become incorporated into ritual, when did his apotheosis begin?

For Tibetan tradition, the answers are simple. Padmasambhava was a peerless guru with the vidyādhara’s control over lifespan, who became revered in Tibet when Emperor Trisongdetsen invited him, by which time he had already been a living legend in India for many centuries.

Modern academics are denied such beautiful and easy answers.  In general we are permitted to accept as valid evidence far less data than traditional Tibetan historians, and in few places is this felt more acutely than the history of Padmasambhava: for modern scholarship, the admissible historical evidence for the person or even for his representation is very slight indeed.

http://www.chinabuddhismencyclopedia.com/en/index.php/Padmasambhava_in_early_Tibetan_myth_and_ritual:_Part_1,_Introduction_by_Rob_Mayer


Offline ཨོཾRaZor༄

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Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2015, 04:56:22 pm »
It's very sad that you think citations are a discussion and that academic scholars are authorities on Buddhism.  There are many histories of great visionary masters.  If you look at interdependence and emptiness.  There is unity among all these separate phenomena.  They are all dependent upon one another. If the mind is truly seen and enlightened, all can be known through interdependence.  If this is not possible then Buddhism is just quiet, calm, breathing and academic study.  It's very dry.  It's lacking enlightenment. 


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Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Was the Buddha Omniscient?
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2015, 06:04:53 pm »
In hindsight, after looking back over my previous post, it seems prudent to clarify what I was referring to when it comes to my statement in regard to what many academic and monastic scholars subscribe to, namely that in the earlier stratum of Buddhist scripture the Buddha says nothing about having omniscience, but simply asserts that he has the three knowledges or wisdoms (tevijja or tivijja), that is: (1) he is able to recollect his manifold past lives or abodes (pubbe-nivāsanussati); (2) he is able - with his divine eye - to see the passing away and reappearing of beings and he understands how beings pass on according to their actions (dibba-cakkhu); and (3) having realized for himself with direct knowledge, he knows that he has destroyed the taints or mental intoxicants (āsavakkhaya).

The Majjhima Nikaaya not only focuses on the formula of the three knowledges as a means to describe the content of the Buddha's knowledge, but it is also within this earlier stratum of Buddhist scripture that we likewise find the Buddha dismissing the type of omniscience claimed by Naataputta (Mahavira) and other ascetic wanders, where he states: "There is no recluse or brahmin who knows all, who sees all, simultaneously; that is not possible."

As for my comment in regard to Padmasambhava, Amitabha, Guru Rinpoche, ect., such claims are part of a later stratum of Buddhist scripture, where at times it can be very hard to see a difference between such claims of omniscience and that of Naataputta and other ascetic wanders --- in other words, there are indeed limitations to be acknowledged.

As for your criticism of academic scholarship, please keep in mind that this thread was orientated in that direction to begin with --- as a side note, you will even find the following mentioned within the Dalai Lama's book entitled "The Opening of the Wisdom-Eye":

On the question of All-knowing-knowledge, (Pāli: sabbannutānāna). It is clear from the study of the most ancient Pāli texts that in them Lord Buddha never claimed omniscience. Later Pāli treatises such as Patisambhidāmagga contain elaborate accounts of how the Buddha is omniscient. In Majjhima-nikāya, I. 482, Lord Buddha specifically disclaims that he is omniscient and all-seeing while stressing that he has the threefold knowledge (tisso vijjā).

 


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