Miracles – real or fake?

Or: Why Buddhist Monks Don’t Show off Spiritual Powers

35 thoughts on “Miracles – real or fake?

  1. He’s dressed as a Guru, or ‘Godman’, and inevitably the local villagers respectfully bow down at his feet.

    This is eerily similary to what happens every morning when I go on Pindapāta. Disturbing to notice. Thankfully, this is Sri Lanka, and I’m not expected to be flanked by bodyguards or demonstrate any ‘magical supernatural powers of healing’.

  2. Good to see education being spread in such an ‘entertaining’ manner, although it’s not just the poor gullible villager sterotype who gets suckered into such things – there’s plenty of bling-laden faith healers, gospel preachers, gurus in richer countries. Guess it’s human nature to want to believe in miracles.

    And speaking of which, I read this on the Buddhist channel:

    “Numerous teacher volunteers have been able to meditate to experience nirvana, and get advice from Buddha or the Noble Disciples,” he said. “This is an undreamed of, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

    “Of 16 teachers since the very beginning, six experienced nirvana temporarily. An additional three transcended beyond this world to Dhammakaya, and another three more achieved trance states like heavenly bliss. The remaining four only attained inner peace.”

    Of course, would-be volunteer teachers have to pay for the chance at this privilege…

  3. Isn’t it strange that we tend to single out these type of people when every day all over the world, including in the advanced liberated West, people are duped by so called free-media, economists, financial advisors, religious establishments, doctors, lawyers and of course, politicians? Is it because the charlatans in the modern, sophisticated societies provide a disclaimer in small print and that their counterparts in India fail to provide the small print disclaimers?

    It’s the same old dog – just a different set of tricks!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we had groups of people going around and educating us on how to identify a crooked politician, ‘independent’ media (like BBC!), stock brokers etc these days?

    • Hi Guptila,

      Well, there are – ever heard of wikileaks? What I find interesting about this expose is how cheap and easy it is to fake most so-called ‘miracles’ – something that was pointed out by the Buddha in the kevaddha Sutta (if my memory serves me well.)

    • While I appreciate the significance of Wikileaks and the courage of Julian, that has not made any dent in the ability of war mongers to hoodwink the UN and its members as clearly demonstrated by US/UK/France’s latest adventure games in Libya not to mention the WMD story they sold to the world a few years ago. My point is BBC and the likes are quick to pick on small scale crooks (who probably are trying to find a few Rupees to feed their families) while turning a blind eye to the deeds of Blair, Dubya and their replacements. We are made to believe that these things just happen due to natural causes, like the Global Financial Crisis. There is no one to expose the players who orchestrate these events. After all their work, one would like to believe that Wikileaks and the likes will become so important in this society but ask how many people remember Wikileaks now – they have pushed it into historical insignificance now. Probably by exposing $10 tricksters in India, BBC and the so-called free media can give the people a warm feeling about trillion dollar rip offs occurring right now.

      I think the underlying message is ‘This type of trickery exists only in poorer countries and in developed countries we are lucky that it is all above board’ and I bet many viewers would have felt that way. Smart use of media, I must say!

  4. Bhante Sujato-

    I’m currently in a conversation regarding the supposed “32 marks of a great man” attributed to the Buddha in DN32. I’m of the position that the idea is preposterous and should be dismissed as so without consideration. This is because the very idea that people with say, blue eyes, or people who are male, are somehow kammically superior can be very dangerous.

    Is there any evidence to suggest that this sutta might be a later addition. If seems to make out the Buddha as some kind of freak with webbed fingers/toes, freakishly long arms, and a sheathed genital. Is there something I’m missing?

    Thanks for your reply.

  5. If someone blatantly wants money for doing something spiritually good; that is a sign that I won’t trust them.

    It was very entertaining.. I did enjoy it.. thanks..🙂

  6. Yeah, this guy is a real fraud. A real bank manager wouldn’t produce a bank note out of thin air and just give it away, a real bank manager produces a bank note out of thin air and you’ve gotta give it back plus interest.

    • Dear Peter,

      These stories just indicate that devas mentioned in the texts might not be pure myth after all.

    • I don’t agree.

      I won’t try and explain the first story but I know that there aren’t any forests near to Wat Pho.

      In the second story the rain stopped – nothing special in that really.

      To me these both sound like fledgling urban myths. I wonder if they have been given out of context in the above link or transcribed poorly.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_myth

    • The rain story is a little vague, it can also be a coincidence. But who cares if someone believe it or not. Nevertheless, it is an interesting story .

    • I am not surprise , because the possibility of intervention by Devas is there also. To believe that it is not without substantial evidence can be considered as blind belief as well. Besides , Ajahn Brahm gave more than one real life stories. Don’t we first need to show evidence proving how the other story is also false before arriving at a conclusion ? In the first story about Wat Pho, maybe you can inquire about where the monks stayed during those years. Do they reside in huts surrounded by trees that give the illusion of being in a forest ,is it in a park with lots of trees, etc.. before coming to the conclusion that the story about Wat Pho is not true.

    • iMrditation
      “I am not surprise , because the possibility of intervention by Devas is there also” We could also say that it was Martians and this is proof that morphing Martians exist. Most probably there is a much more mundane explanation. It’s a bit like the video clip but without the intention to deceive. It’s all about our interpretation of events. In my opinion it is also okay to leave things unexplained.

      In the past I have had an extremely strong “ghost” experience, I have had rather odd ESP type experiences (when something has been seen in meditation, which is later confirmed in reality), I’ve been with people when the have died and heard the giant roar and felt the intensity of that moment. I have felt the pain of birth as a meditative experience. I could present or intemperate all these experiences in a certain way to prove a certain point but I don’t see them as proof for anything. It is just more experience. Again I am happy for some things to remain unexplained but in my experience if these experiences were to be explained the answers actually turn out to be rather mundane (like the mouse in a coconut).

    • Another little story: I met a friend earlier this year and he related to me how he had been swimming in the ocean and had been caught in a tide and been taken out far to sea. Thankfully he eventually managed to get back to shore but it had been a bit scary and it had made him reflect on the fragile nature of life. The very next day I listened to a dhamma talk and a monk related how he had had a very similar experience (swimming in the ocean, caught in the tide) and which thankfully had a very similar outcome but which the monk had interpreted in a very different way.

      Possibly we could say that these two stories, which were so similar in the detail and outcome, which I heard within a day of each other, were presented to me as a teaching from the celestial beings or possibly it was just coincidence.

    • Dear Peter,

      Peter wrote: ” I am happy for some things to remain unexplained ”

      When it comes to real life incidence that we can neither explain nor refute, it is best to leave it open and direct our attention to the practice instead.

    • Dear Peter and iMeditation,

      I have heard these stories that Ajahn Brahm told before, and i don’t have any problem with them as stories. I do, however, have a problem with claiming that they ‘prove’ anything. If we are to invoke the notion of ‘proof’ then we must do it in its normal sense, working from clearly established, generally acceptable facts; and explaining those facts with the simplest possible hypothesis.

      Now, if we are to take the first story here, let us generously assume that it is an accurate telling of a person’s actual experience; that is, they are not lying, nor has there been a significant distortion of the story in its various tellings.

      How then are we to explain it? The proffered explanation is that the man concerned met a divine being, one who had in a past life lived in that place, and had been reborn as an deity who still kept the same appearance as their past life, and who had access to a set of keys, and who took an interest in a passing tourist – possibly seeing that he had some special spiritual role.

      This is a highly redundant explanation, which requires that several kinds of controversial things be true – for example, rebirth, life after death, that divine beings take an interest in humanity, and so on.

      It should be noted that some of the details of the story are not a normal part of even Buddhist cosmology. For example, it is not normally said that devas will have the same appearance as their previous human life – on the contrary, appearance changes, and even a well-known person such as Anathapindika was not recognizable to his friends after becoming a deva. I addition, I can’t see any reason according to Buddhist cosmology why a deva would keep a set of keys!

      Might there be another explanation? If we were to attempt an empirical explanation, we would start with the usual assumption that the best explanations are those that are based on ordinary, well-understood phenomena.

      In this case, it seems to me that two things could explain the story perfectly well. First, that the subject was mistaken in identifying the mysterious visitor with the picture of the previous king; and second, that the monk did not know that someone else had access to a set of keys. If these perfectly ordinary kinds of mistakes were made, then the ‘mystery’ suddenly vanishes.

      (It might be relevant that as a royal sponsored monastery, it could be the case that one of the very many relatives of royalty in Thailand would be there, that they should bear a resemblance to their ancestor, and that they might possess the key to a locked room.)

      Was it a deva? Who knows? But i don’t think this kind of anecdote ‘proves’ anything. At most it is suggestive. If we are to accept such a loose notion of proof, we end up with a basic problems: every religion and spiritual tradition has its own versions of these stories, many of which are directly incompatible. This is one of the reasons why science developed more rigorous standards of truth in the first place, and why, i believe, as Buddhists we should also require a more careful examination of evidence before claiming that it is ‘proof’ of anything.

    • Dear Bhante Sujato,

      I do agree that proving the existence of devas would require more evidence and investigation. However, in the end it is our practice that effect our progress on the path , that is why I don’t want to spend too much time on this topic.

      Bhante Sujato wrote: ” For example, it is not normally said that devas will have the same appearance as their previous human life ”

      We shouldn’t assume that Devas can’t assume any form they want, whenever they want. For example, there is mention that Sakka assume the form of a common villager so that he can offer alms to one of the Arahant.

    • Fair enough. But i do think that it is an important matter, which we should spend time to investigate. The cosmology is an essential part of early Buddhism, and i think it is crucial that we consider how this fits in with our modern world.

    • Dear Bhante Sujato,

      Bhante Sujato wrote: ” But i do think that it is an important matter, which we should spend time to investigate. ”

      I consider it a distraction that waste time and energy that could be channel toward practicing. So what if we prove that devas exist, that does not take me any closer to enlightenment.

      The story of the poison arrow comes to mind when it comes to spending time and energy on this subject.

      Bhante Sujato wrote: ” The cosmology is an essential part of early Buddhism”

      We can practice and experience the benefit of the dhamma right here and now in this life without knowing anything about cosmology or referring to cosmology.

      Bhante Sujato wrote: ” and i think it is crucial that we consider how this fits in with our modern world.”

      Why is it crucial ? If it doesn ‘t fit in with the modern world does it necessarily mean that it is false ? Is it a good idea for us to make the assumption that the modern world have a through knowledge of everything there is to know, and that there is nothing undiscovered in the modern world.

    • Bhante Sujato, when you say that “it is an important matter” I guess you mean from an academic perspective?

      I also don’t have a problem with such stories when they are given in a way as to open up the possibility of the non-rational (mythical anecdotes?) or for fun. But when they are presented as “proof” or in such a way that people will hold on to them as “facts” I think they are counterproductive.

    • Here someone who is just providing some examples.

      I still haven’t seen any substantial evidence proving that devas do not exist . Just because something is beyond our normal range of vision does not prove that it does not exist. So one can’t say, because I can’t see it therefore it does not exist.

    • iMeditation, I think I have missed a post. Where does it say that devas do not exist?

      When you say “Here someone who is just providing some examples.” examples of what exactly?

    • Bhante Sujato, okay what I had understood your meaning to be with “important matter” & “cosmology” was to study and familiarize ourselves with the various levels of beings/worlds as presented through the texts.

      “Belief in kamma and rebirth is one of the basic tenets of right view.” Yes if we were fundamentalist. If we are practitioners it all takes some much deeper investigation.

  7. Dear Peter,

    Peter wrote: “But when they are presented as “proof” or in such a way that people will hold on to them as “facts” I think they are counterproductive.”

    We have a problem when someone tries to present cases that would indicate the existence of devas, but as long as we haven’t provide any concrete evidence showing that these cases are false, then the possibility is of it being a ” fact” exists.

    We can always try to prove that they are false though.

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