Now, if the Buddha was indeed omniscient, it seems surprising that he would have had to ask Ananda what happened. This is especially true considering that Mahavira, who was also said to be omniscient, is ridiculed for going to an empty house for alms, asking for directions, etc. In fact, it is surprising that he did not simply give them a talk on mindfulness of breathing in the first place in order to avoid such a thing from even happening. The "orthodox" position that is supported by the commentaries, however, states that the Buddha already knew this was going to happen and basically played dumb.
The story given is that these monks were hunters in a past life that were reborn in hell, but due to some wholesome kamma, they gained rebirth in the human realm and became renouncers under the Buddha. Knowing that a portion of their original unwholesome kamma was about to ripen bringing on their deaths via homicide and suicide, and that there was nothing he could do to prevent this, the Buddha spoke of the foulness of the body in order to remove their attachment to the body so that they would lose their fear of death, to help them. Sounds like b.s. to me. Bhikkhu Bodhi even admits that "... the idea of kammically predetermined suicide seems difficult to reconcile with the concept of suicide as a volitionally induced act" (1951-52).
Furthermore, in MN 71, the Buddha rejects the assertion that he claims to be "omniscient and all-seeing." He says, "... those who say thus do not say what has been said by me, but misrepresent me with what is untrue and contrary to fact" (Bodhi), but the commentary states that all knowable things are potentially accessible to him. The issue, of course, is whether the Buddha is rejecting the claim that he is omniscient in the sense that all things are knowable to him at all times without interruption (i.e., that he is omniscient in the sense that all knowable things are potentially accessible to him) or whether he is simply rejecting the claim altogether.
There are suttas that supposedly support the commentarial position regarding the Buddha's omniscience. As Bhikkhu Bodhi notes, "At MN 90.8, the Buddha says that it is possible to know and see all, though not simultaneously, and at AN 4:24/ii.24 he claims to know all that can be seen, heard, sensed, and cognized. This is understood by the Theravada commentators as an assertion of omniscience in the qualified sense" (1276). But, I fail to see how MN 90.8 affirms this possibility. The Buddha does state that it is not possible for a recluse or brahmin to know and see all simultaneously, but he never explicitly asserts his own omniscience, and I have since found that many modern scholars share this view.
One example, from Edward Thomas in History of Buddhist Thought, states:
- "Already the Jains claimed omniscience for their leader. They are said to have held that he was "omniscient, all-seeing, and possessed complete knowledge and insight; that whether walking or standing, asleep or awake, knowledge and insight were continually present". This claim is ridiculed by the Buddhists, and the omniscient teacher is described as so ignorant that he goes for alms to a house not knowing that it is empty, or as having to ask his way to a village. Buddha is represented as denying that he claims such omniscience. What he claims is the three knowledges, (1) that he remembers numberless past existences, as far back as he wishes, (2) that with his divine eye he can see beings passing away and being reborn according to their karma, (3) that with the destruction of the asavas he has of himself attained and realized release of mind and knowledge in this life and abides in it." (148)
- "The terms sabbannu, sabbavidu ("all-knowing") and sabbadassavi ("all-perceiving") occur in the early discourses. The general tendency among modern interpreters of Buddhism is to assume that this is a knowledge-claim comparable to the "omniscience" claimed by Mahavira or in the theistic tradition, where it is attributed to divinity. Although the Buddha disclaimed such knowledge in the Tevijja-Vacchagotta-sutta, insisting that he possessed only the threefold higher knowledge ... scholars are more inclined to interpret the last, namely, wisdom (panna), as "omniscience." It is true that some of the later Buddhist metaphysicians like the Sarvastivadins propounded ideas that can serve as a basis for such knowledge-claims. Modern interpreters therefore attempt to attribute these ideas to the Buddha himself despite a mass of evidence against doing so.
"To understand what the Buddha meant by "all-knowing" or "all-perceiving," it is first necessary to analyze the use of the term "all" (sabbam) in the early discourses. Interestingly, an important discourse relating specially to this problem is attributed to the Buddha:
- Thus have I heard. Once the Fortunate One was living at Savatthi, in the monastery of Anathapindindika, [situated] in the Jeta's Grove. Then the Fortunate One addressed the monks: "O, monks!" They responded: "Yes, O Venerable One!" and the Fortunate One spoke thus: "Monks, I will preach to you 'everything.' Listen to it. Listen to it. What, monks, is 'everything'? Eye and material form, ear and sound, nose and odor, tongue and taste, body and touch, mind and concepts. These are called 'everything.' Monks, he who would say, 'I will reject this everything[/i] and proclaim another everything,' he may certainly have a theory [of his own]. But when questioned, he would not be able to answer and would, moreover, be subject to vexation. Why? Because it would not be within the range of experience."
"This is the implication of a disciple's statement: Na tuyham adittham asutam amutam va ato avinnatam kincanam atthi loke. This statement is sometimes interpreted as "You are omniscient," that is, "There is nothing that you have not seen, heard or conceived." This is an extremely superficial and reckless rendering of an important statement. The statement is to be understood in light of the definition of an "enlightened one" in the early Buddhist context. In fact, the term akincana, "one who does not look for something" (kinci; other than what is given in sensory experience, a la discourse on "everything" quoted above), is used to refer to the enlightened one. Hence, the above statement in Pali is more appropriately rendered as: "You do not have (or recognize) something (na kincana) that is not seen, heard, conceived or cognized in this world," which would be a negation rather than an assertion of the very metaphysics that serve as the basis for "omniscience." This idea was highlighted centuries later by the famous Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (see Chapter XVI)." (43-4)
Any thoughts, comments, criticism?