Pāṭihāriya (Supernormal Abilities) of a Buddha – Part I

July 17, 2020

 Pāṭihāriya (prātihārya in Sanskrit and ප්‍රාතිහාර්ය in Sinhala) is a supernormal ability or a miracle. Several suttā in the Tipiṭaka discuss them.

Kevaṭṭa Sutta (DN 11)

1. I will extract a few relevant portions of the text from the English translation, “To Kevaṭṭa (DN 11).” I did not choose the other English translation since it translated “pāṭihāriya” as “a demonstration” rather than a “miracle.” Anyone can do a demonstration. A pāṭihāriya can be performed only by someone with “supernormal capabilities”. As we will see below, these powers are mind-boggling!

  • At the beginning of the sutta, Kevaṭṭa, a young householder, comes to the Buddha and says the Buddha should instruct his disciples to perform “miracles” to convince more people to embrace Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha refuses, but explains that there are three types of “miracles.”
  • The Buddha replies: “Kevaṭṭa, there are three types of miracles which I have taught, having myself understood and realized them. And what are the three? The miracle of psychic power, the miracle of telepathy, and the miracle of instruction.”
The Miracle of Psychic Power (iddhi Pāṭihāriya)

2. “And what, Kevaṭṭa, is the miracle of psychic power (iddhi pāṭihāriya)?

  • Here, Kevaṭṭa, a monk wields various psychic powers: He becomes many and then becomes one again. He appears and vanishes, goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. He can dive in and out of the Earth as if it were water, and he walks on water without sinking as if it were Earth. Sitting cross-legged, he travels through space like a winged bird. He can touch and stroke the Sun and the moon, so mighty and powerful. He exercises mastery as far as the Brahma-world.”

(This verse explaining supernormal abilities appears in many suttā, including DN 2, DN 10, DN 28, MN 6, MN 73, MN 77, SN 12.70, SN 16.9, SN 51.11, SN 51.17, AN 3.60, AN 3.101, AN 5.23, AN 6.2, AN 10.97)

  • Then the Buddha points out to Kevaṭṭa, that someone who has learned the “Gandhāra Charm” (“Gandhāra Trick” would be a better translation) can do some of that too. That is why the Buddha prohibited the display of such abilities. (Apparently, Gandhāra Trick can be compared to the “magic tricks” performed by magicians like David Copperfield today. However, the Gandhāra Trick seems to be much more powerful than any magic tricks performed today.)
The Miracle of Telepathy (Ādesanā Pāṭihāriya)

3. “And what, Kevaṭṭa, is the miracle of telepathy (ādesanā pāṭihāriya)?

  • “Here, a monk reads the minds of other beings, of other people, reads their mental states, their thoughts, and ponderings, and says: ‘That is how your mind is, that is how it inclines, that is in your heart.'”
  • Then the Buddha points out that those who have mastered the “Manika Charm” can read other people’s minds as well. Therefore, that also is not impressive.
The Miracle of Instruction (Anusāsanī Pāṭihāriya)

4. “And what, Kevaṭṭa, is the miracle of instruction (anusāsanī pāṭihāriya)?

  • “Here, Kevaṭṭa, a monk teaches in this way: ‘Reason in this way, do not reason in that way. Consider this and not that. Get rid of this habit, train yourself, and live life like that.’ This, Kevaṭṭa, is what is called ‘The miracle of instruction.’
  • The Buddha goes on to explain in great detail the fruits of such instructions by a learned bhikkhu who has learned Dhamma from the Buddha. How he learns to live a moral life and to cultivate Ariya jhāna by REMOVING defilements. Then the Buddha explains that SOME OF THEM can cultivate all those supernormal powers mentioned above as well.
  • First, let us look at the scope and implications of the “psychic powers” (iddhi bala.) All these are performed by a purified mind. 
Psychic Powers (Iddhi Pāṭihāriya) – Unimaginable

5. Technological advances drive modern society. Scientists have studied properties of MATTER in great detail and have used those new findings to create “innovative devices” that help us work more efficiently. For example, they can build robotic machines that can do a lot of work that cannot be done by humans.

  • So, it is indeed a “miracle” that Ven. Cūḷapanthaka created a thousand “copies” of himself to do work around the temple. Once the work is complete, he can make them disappear. That is what is referred to as “He becomes many and then becomes one again” in #2 above. Relevant information on Ven. Cūḷapanthaka at, “Cūḷapanthaka” and “Dhammapada Verse 25 – Cūlapantaka Vatthu.”
  • Let us discuss a few more of these “miracles” to see how amazing they are.
Traveling Through the Air With Physical Body

6. Another modern technological advance is to be able to travel long distances with cars, airplanes, and rockets. These became possible due to the collective efforts of many thousands of scientists starting from the time of Galileo and Newton, over 300 years ago.

  • However, as stated in the above accounts of Ven. Cūḷapanthaka, traveling through the air with one’s physical body is possible after cultivating iddhi bala. That is what is referred to as, “Sitting cross-legged, he travels through space like a winged bird” in #2 above.

7. All these “psychic powers” have their basis in highly concentrated energy produced in the javana citta of the yogi. Yes. even other yogis at the time of the Buddha had cultivated SOME of these powers via cultivating anariya jhāna. They could, for example, travel through the air carrying their physical bodies.

  • As we know, javana cittā generate kammic energies that lead to future births. See, “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.”
  • The intensity or the power of javana citta can be vastly increased for those who have cultivated pāṭihāriyā powers. Such a yogi can set up an “energy field” around his physical body, and that energy-field can be controlled to move the physical body as he wishes.
  • The video below demonstrates the basic idea of “electromagnetic levitation.” A yogi would create such an “energy field” around his body and control it to move the body.

  • By the way, these days one can buy various “levitating things” like “levitating globes.”
Traveling to a Star System “In an Instant” – With Manomaya Kāya

8. The closest star (possibly with a set of planets) to us is four light-years away. That means if a rocketship travels at the speed of light, it would take four years to get there. For comparison, the distance from the Earth to our Moon would take only 1.5 SECONDS. Therefore, a rocketship traveling at the speed of light will take only 1.25 SECONDS to arrive at the Moon! But our rocketships take about 3 days to get to the Moon. Therefore, with a modern rocketship, it would take about 600 YEARS to get to the NEAREST star.

  • The capabilities of the Buddha (and some of his disciples with pāṭihāriyā powers) can be truly astounding. The Buddha could travel anywhere among the 10,000 “world-systems” (dasasahassi lokadhātu). A “world-system” is a set of planets associated with a star, where one planet would have life. In our “Solar system,” the Sun is the star, and life is based on Earth. See, “31 Realms Associated with the Earth.”
  • Therefore, it is mind-boggling to even imagine someone traveling to a star that is thousands of light-years away in an instant. Of course, the Buddha would travel such vast distances only with his “mental body” (manōmaya kāya or gandhabba.)
  • By the way, Brahmā from such 10,000 world-systems can visit Earth too. They have “bodies” that are equivalent to our mental bodies. They do not have dense physical bodies. Brahmā from the 10,000 world-systems came to listen to the first discourse of the Buddha, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
  • Many suttā state that the Buddha would arrive in a Brahma world within the time taken for someone to straighten a bent arm, i.e., less than a second! That is how Brahmā from other world systems came to listen to Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. “Brahma bodies” are almost equivalent to manōmaya kāya of a gandhabba. (In comparison, a modern rocketship takes three days to get to the Moon.)
  • Nothing analogous to such fast travel has been even discussed in modern physics yet. I suspect that this is related to the recently established “non-locality” (or “quantum entanglement”) in quantum mechanics: “Quantum Mechanics and Dhamma – Introduction.
Going Through Walls, Mountains, etc.

9. Compared to “traveling through air with the physical body” discussed in #6,#7 above, a much more complex technique comes into play when “going through walls or diving into the Earth.” I have not seen such an action attributed to anariya yogis. In this case, one breaks down the physical body to the elementary level of suddhāṭṭhaka.

  • “Matter” is mostly empty space. An atom is virtually empty. This basic idea is illustrated in the first 3 minutes of the following video.

“Solid Matter” Is Mostly Empty Space!

10. We can get an idea about “how empty” and atom is, by just watching the first 3 minutes of the above video. As shown there, an atom is more than 99.999% empty!

  • Then why is it that we cannot go through a wall? The answer is that two atoms cannot get too close to each other due to electromagnetic forces. That is not discussed in the above video. In a solid, two atoms cannot come too close, because the outer “electron cloud” of one atom will repel that of the second atom. Therefore, even a steel bar is mostly empty space.
  • However, the Buddha taught that matter can be reduced a level below that of electrons and protons. That is the suddhāṭṭhaka level where there are no electromagnetic interactions (like the repulsion among electrons.) All the “material stuff” in a physical body can be reduced to an invisible suddhāṭṭhaka level. Scientists now know that an atom is divisible to smaller parts.  The recently detected Higgs boson could be at the suddhāṭṭhaka level.
  • But scientists cannot reduce bulk matter to the suddhāṭṭhaka level. Moreover, they cannot take an object like an apple, break it down to below the atomic level, and then put it all back together. But one with high-end iddhi powers can do that!
  • Such a yogi can reduce one’s own body to the suddhāṭṭhaka level, move it all to another location very quickly and then put it back together! This was discussed in a bit more different way in #6 through #10 in the post, “Mystical Phenomena in Buddhism?
  • That approach of reducing the “material stuff” in a body to a form that can be transported to far destinations at high speed and then “re-assembling” back to the original form is part of science fiction these days, see “teleportation.” I remember watching the popular movie “The Fly (1986 film).” In that movie, a fly gets into the “teleportation machine” with the human, and the “re-assembly” at the other end produced a “human fly”!
Comparison With Modern Technology

11. As we can begin to see, modern science and Buddha Dhamma have two very different approaches for dealing with even material phenomena. Science is exclusively based on the study of inert matter. Buddha Dhamma can explain material properties in terms of mental phenomena. Of course, the scientists are still way behind the Buddha.

  • From what we discussed above, just think about one comparison. While the Buddha was able to visit Deva and Brahma worlds within a split-second, scientists have only made it to the Moon and that takes three days.
  • The scientists are not even aware of the existence of Deva and Brahma realms.
  • Deva and Brahma realms are up there above the Earth. They have very little “matter” and that is why scientists cannot see them or their habitats. Our rocketships can go through their habitats without them even noticing it.
  • The closest analogy that we have is the depiction of a gandhabba in the 1990 movie “Ghost.’ See, “Ghost 1990 Movie – Good Depiction of Gandhabba Concept.” We can get a good idea of why we cannot see Devā or Brahmā (or their habitats) from watching that movie. Devā or Brahmā have “bodies” even more subtle compared to a human gandhabba.
  • Unless the scientists can figure out how to implement teleportation, they will not be able to even travel to the nearest star with rocketships. The “mind-based” technique of the Buddha is based on a different paradigm.
  • In the Sīsapāvana Sutta (SN 56.31), Buddha stated that he taught only a small fraction of what he knew. See, “In a Rosewood Forest.”

There is no need to study or learn about iddhi pāṭihāriya in detail. I am providing this account to establish the following point. By controlling the mind, even a single person can get ahead of many hundreds of years of scientific effort. We will discuss the other two “miracles” in the next post.

Additional Resources

1. There is a Wikipedia article, “Miracles of Gautama Buddha.

2. The above video is the second of a series of videos. More information on atoms in the following set of videos:

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