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Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2012 5:33 pm
by Coyote
I hope that this is the right place to ask this question. I ask it here because I want the answer from an "orthodox" or "traditional" point of view rather than from more modern or scholarly point of view. I don't want a debate on whether or not the Buddha was omniscient.
If this is the wrong place to post this, then by all means move it.
It is my understanding that Classical Theravada states that the Buddha is all knowing, but why is this, or rather how did this come to be?
Is it a quality of being a sammasambuddha rather than an arahant? If the Nibbana attained both by the Buddha and the Arahant is the same, then why would this be so? Or is it more to do with him being a highly "evolved"(if I may use that word) being in the sense that he worked for eons gaining merit and perfections, and that this is why he has gained omniscience, not as a direct result of Buddhahood or the attainment of Nirvana but as a side effect of being meritious enough to become a Buddha? Or some other reason?
Are Buddhas by nature omniscient or perfect in other ways, and why is this so? I can see why a being that has become a Buddha would have to have gained a lot of perfections in order for that to become possible, but is it necessary?

Thank you,

Coyote

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Sun Jan 01, 2012 5:50 pm
by Bhikkhu Pesala
Take a look at The Great Chronicle of Buddhas. That may answer some of your questions.

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 7:59 am
by cooran
Hello Coyote,

These threads, containing posts in which the Tipitaka is quoted, may be of assistance:

Abhidhamma Vipassana – Omniscience
http://www.abhidhamma.org/forums/index.php?showtopic=95" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The Buddha's Omniscience.
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... art=0#p709" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
omniscience of the Buddha
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=3005" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Dr. Buddha? (question about omniscience)
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=1044" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
The Buddha vs Arahants
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=9779" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

with metta
Chris

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:57 am
by Coyote
Thank you both.

Cooran: The threads you have offered have been very helpful - it seems that the Buddha's omniscience is qualified by a "Buddha being able to know" everything knowable, rather than being omniscient in the sense that those with a background in Judao-Christianity would understand God as being omniscient - already knowing everything, not needing or able to learn.
I haven't actually read all of Bhikkhu Pesala's link yet, but my guess would be that this has something to do with the perfections that one aspiring to Buddhahood has to gain?
So omniscience is a quality of Buddhahood but not something related to his attainment of a special Nibbana.

My question would be - why would this make any difference after Nibbana has been reached? Why would an arahant not be "all-knowing", in the sense that he/she is able to know anything knowable - after all, the mind is no longer clouded by avijja.

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 2:25 pm
by Clarence
Well, the Mahayanist would say it is because they have more merit and a different way of practicing insight. This is actually a good question to ask at the other forum. You could try to get Geoff/Nana) to answer your question as he could argue from a Mahayana point of view as well--and back it up with quotations. BTW, I don't mean to say the Mahayana answer is necessary better but it will provide an interesting view. Good question though.

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:10 pm
by BubbaBuddhist
I always thought this was self evident as soon as you read about being able to recall ALL of your past existences with perfect recall. If you had access to the accumulated wisdom/memories of uncountable previous existences, then you would have virtually limitless knowledge. Eh? :sage:

M4

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:07 pm
by daverupa
Metta-4 wrote:I always thought this was self evident as soon as you read about being able to recall ALL of your past existences with perfect recall. If you had access to the accumulated wisdom/memories of uncountable previous existences, then you would have virtually limitless knowledge.
There's a problem here, isn't there? Why didn't the Buddha say "listen everyone, there's this thing called 'writing' and maybe we should write down some of what I've been saying; oh, and here's how to make good paper and ink and here's how to preserve it all in this humid weather..."

For example.

:shrug:

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:20 pm
by perkele
daverupa wrote:
Metta-4 wrote:I always thought this was self evident as soon as you read about being able to recall ALL of your past existences with perfect recall. If you had access to the accumulated wisdom/memories of uncountable previous existences, then you would have virtually limitless knowledge.
There's a problem here, isn't there? Why didn't the Buddha say "listen everyone, there's this thing called 'writing' and maybe we should write down some of what I've been saying; oh, and here's how to make good paper and ink and here's how to preserve it all in this humid weather..."

For example.

:shrug:
going a bit offtopic maybe, i hope not too much...
Do you think better "technological" knowledge and methods would have helped the propagation and realization of the Dhamma?
I certainly don't think so. If the Buddha had come up with fancy ideas and invented paper and maybe typewriters or whatever kind of stuff, there would have been a big fuss about it, people would have been impressed by the wrong thing and distracted from the Dhamma.
The Buddha was not interested in "improving" worldly conditions. The conditions for teaching the Dhamma were perfect. To keep the Dhamma well-preserved for future generations it was not necessary or practical to invent computers and the internet (for example) but to establish the Sangha, to train monks to live by the Dhamma, to dedicate their lives to the Dhamma, who memorized the teachings and learned them by heart.
By the way, this thing called 'writing' was well-known in the Buddha's time. But it seems it was customary to ascetics of all sorts to have an oral mode of tradition. And that has many advantages with a community of monks who strive conscientiously for liberation. Because such monks will preserve the knowledge in their own minds, not just books or hard drives. In such a way, when it is preserved by memorization (together with understanding by own experience) in a living mind, the true knowledge of the Dhamma does not die so easily.

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:02 pm
by Viscid
Does The Buddha's knowledge of the future mean that it's pre-determined and we haven't the free will to change it?

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:27 pm
by cooran
There's a problem here, isn't there? Why didn't the Buddha say "listen everyone, there's this thing called 'writing' and maybe we should write down some of what I've been saying; oh, and here's how to make good paper and ink and here's how to preserve it all in this humid weather..."
For example.
:shrug:
Hello perkele, all,

Writing can be altered either deliberately or by carelessness and accident. Most people in India couldn't read or write, so most bhikkhus would not have been able to either. He was teaching people of that time. During the Buddha's time some business and government activities employed writing, but important spiritual teachings were always memorised and chanted by groups - so mistakes and alterations were guarded against.

From a previous post:

''The Suttas are teaching vehicles whose meanings are densely packed layer on layer. They are not to be read as an ordinary page of print, but require 'unpacking' by someone learned in the Dhamma. This condensed form was necessary in order that the Teachings would not be lost in the years before they were finally put into writing ~ engraved on leaves in Sri Lanka. It allowed them to be memorised by the large groups of bhikkhus (bhanakas) assigned to each portion of the Tipitaka. They are not verbatim reports of chats and conversations. This memorisation is said to have commenced before the parinibbana of the Buddha. Anything that is repeated is to be seen as something important which was highlighted by the repetition.
The Suttas are rather like the memory prompts - the dot points of the most important information to be transmitted - similar to those a public speaker carries for reference.

"Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata -- deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness -- are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.' That's how you should train yourselves." (Ari sutta).

.... with regard to the accuracy of oral traditions ... Anthropologists agree that oral teachings are generally more accurate and less prone to "improving" than are written teachings

The Pali Suttas are summaries of what the Buddha meant to be passed on - and great care was taken, while he was alive and afterwards, to memorise them in a form that could not be distorted, and by a method that did not allow of deliberate alterations to meaning and content. The recitations were going on for the forty five years of the Buddha's teaching life. The repetitions in the suttas are pointer to the most important parts.

Venerable Mahá Kassapa, the elected head of the First Council. Cúlavagga Xl,1,1 (ii,284) reiterated:
"Come, friends: let us recite the Teaching and the Discipline before what is not the Teaching shines forth and the Teaching is put aside, before what is not the Discipline shines forth and the Discipline is put aside, before those who speak what is not the Teaching become strong and those who speak what is the Teaching become weak, before those who speak what is not the Discipline become strong and those who speak what is the Discipline become weak."

So the system was in place before the Buddha passed away. The Pali suttas are extremely condensed summaries of the Buddha's teachings, packed with meaning, which need to be unpacked by those learned in the Dhamma. They were preserved in that form to aid memorising and chanting by the large groups of Bhikkhus called Bhanakas (Reciters) i.e. Majjhima-bhanakas, Digha-bhanakas etc. Each group was allocated a small portion of the Tipitaka to keep pristine and pass on. This began even while the Buddha was alive.

It was only hundreds of years later in Sri Lanka, in a time of famine and warfare, with many bhikkhus dying, and with Buddhism all but wiped out in India, that the MahaSangha decided the Teachings needed to be written down. They were engraved on Ola Leaves. Many of us have been to Sri Lanka and have had the inestimable good fortune to have seen demonstrations of this being done at the ancient rock temple of Aluvihara Temple (where the Tipitaka was originally written down) in the Matale district 26 km from Kandy.''
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=2948&p=42626#p42626

with metta
Chris

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 2:04 am
by daverupa
If that is the case, why are we treating this holy task of memorization with such a cavalier attitude? Is it not the case that on that view, monastics are to memorize the Tipitaka (or share among them the parts to memorize) and the laity are not to do so ("...teach the Dhamma line by line... it is an offense"), and the laity ought support only those monastics/monasteries who/which perform this essential function of the Sangha?

If such a superior text transmission system is of value, isn't the lack of this a critical problem for modern Buddhism?

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 4:30 am
by Nyana
Clarence wrote:Well, the Mahayanist would say it is because they have more merit and a different way of practicing insight.
Classical Theravāda commentators would basically say the same.
Clarence wrote:This is actually a good question to ask at the other forum. You could try to get Geoff/Nana) to answer your question as he could argue from a Mahayana point of view as well--and back it up with quotations. BTW, I don't mean to say the Mahayana answer is necessary better but it will provide an interesting view. Good question though.
The ideas regarding a buddha's omniscience were developed long before the emergence of the Mahāyāna.

Re: Why was the Buddha omniscient?

Posted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:49 am
by befriend
buddha was also perfect in conduct. and was peerless.