Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Jainism in Buddhist Literature
                                                                By Dr. Hiralal Jain

Jain Friends Home   Books Index  Articles Index

Jain Friends

The Concept of Omniscience In Buddhism 

The Buddha is said to have declaimed omniscience in the sense of knowing everything at once and all the time as claimed by Nataputta1, though he never denied the possessing of supernatural power. The Buddha himself said that he had a three-fold knowledge (tisso vijja). He has remarked that "those who say that the Recluse Gotama is omniscient and all-seeing and professes to have an infinite knowledge and insight, which is constantly and at all times present to him, when he walks or stands, sleeps or keeps away--are not reporting him properly and misrepresent him as claiming what is false and untrue." On being asked how he could be reported correctly in this matter, he replied "in proclaiming that the Recluse Gotama has a three-fold knowledge" (tisso vijja)2. It is said therefore that whatever is well-spoken is the word of the Buddha (yam kinci subhasitam, tam tassa bhagawato vacanam).3

The very familiar Abhinna in Buddhist literature has an "older and wider meaning of special supernatureal power of a perception and knowledge to be acquired by training in life and thought.4 "It has been interpreted as the following six powers called Chalabhinna attained by the Buddha5 "

(i) Iddhividha (psychokinesis).

(ii) Dibbasotadhatu (clairaudience).

(iii) Cetopariyanna (telepathic knowledge).

(iv) Pubbenivasannussatinana (retrocognitive knowledge).

(v) Dibbackkhu (clairvoyance) also known as cutupa-patanana (D. i, 82) or knowledge of decease and survival of beings and

(vi) Asavakkhayanana (knowledge of the destruction of defiling impulses).

All these six powers have a close relation with the five knowledge of Jainism. The first two are similar to Matijnana and Srutajnana. The fourth and the fifth correspond to Avadhijnana, the third to Manahparyaya jnana, and the last to Kevalajnana of the Jainas.

On the basis of possessing the Pubbenivasanussatinana and Dibbacakkhu, the Buddha claimed to see and know the decease and survival of beings and their karmas.6 Anuruddha, who is said to have attained the dibbasotadhatu, is believed to have to power of "seeing a thousand worlds."7 All the characters of these two abhinnas resemble the avadhijnana of Jainism.

Manahparyayajnana corresponds to Cetopariyanana in Buddhism. The general and particular characters of another's mind can be known through this jnana. The Anguttara Nikaya gives four ways by which another's thoughts can be known viz. (i) by observing external signs (nimittena), (ii) by getting information from others or from an intermediate source, (iii) by listening to the vibration (vippharasaddam) of the thoughts (vitakka) of another as he thinks and reflects (vitakkayato vicarayato), and (iv) by comprehending with his mind the mind of another and observing how the mental dispositions are placed in the mind of a particular individual (manosan-khara panihita imassa antara) on the part of one who has attained the state of concentration free from cognitive and reflective thought (avitakham avicaram samadhim). Here the third and the fourth seem to be identical with rjumati and vipulamati of manahparyayajnana.8

The sixth abhinna Asavakkhayanana is a knowledge acquired for the destruction of defiling impulses. Atmajnana9 (attanava janeyyatha) is essential for destroying the impulses and then for the attainment of salvation10. The Buddha is also called the nanavadin in the Nikayas11. The power of knowing and Perceiving everything (janati passata) is a distinguishing characteristic of the Buddha12. This knowing and perceiving is connected with the Four Noble Truths (ariyasaccani avecca passati13). After being eliminated the five impediments (pancanivaranepahaya14) the Buddha is said to have known and perceived the Four Noble Truths with the last three abhinnas. He knows "this is the truth of suffering, this is the cause of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, and this is the path leading to the cessation of defiling of impulses.15

The Buddha is one who has knowledge and insight into all realities (sabbesu dhammesu ca nanadassi),16 which can be comprehended by mental concentration (samadhi). Through this insight the Buddha could know that Sunakhatta would die after seven days, and that of epilepsy and on dying he would be reborn as one of the Kalakanjas, the very lowest of the Asura groups17. Once when the bhikkhus were conversing in his absence, he was able to say that they hed been discussing18. In the Kevaddha Sutta he is said to have claimed to answer a quesion which even Brahma was ignorant of19.

All these references indicate that because of some short of insight the Buddha could know and perceive things. He is said to have a three-fold knowledge (tisso-vijja),20 six intellectual powers (cha imani.........Tathagatabalani),21 ten intellectual powers (dasa balani)22 and so forth. He is therefore considered sometimes an omniscient. Keith refers to a passage from the Anguttaranikaya23 where the Buddha is compared to a granary, whence men every good word, and points out the same view.24

These are the negative references to the Buddha's omniscience. They have been the stepping stones to establish omnisceince positively in the Buddha in later Pali as well as Buddhist philosophical literature. The Patisambhidamagga says in this respect that the Tathagata's omniscience consists in knowing everything conditioned and unconditioned, and also knowing everything in the past, present and future. Further it tries to prove omniscience in the Buddha, and says that he knows everything that has seen heard, sensed, thought, attained, sought and searched by the minds of those who inhabit the entire world of gods and men.25 "Likewise, the Kathavatthu describes the two epithets "sabbannu" (omniscient) and "sabbadassavi" (all-seeing) as occurring in a list of eight epithets of the Buddha.26" As a matter of fact, the Buddha never claimed himself to be omniscient. His discipline explained his supernatural power or threefold knowledge as omniscience and supplemented some references to establish it in the Buddha at the compilation of the Tripitaku, especially the Abhidhamma. This happened so because of saddha or faith and bhatti or devotion in the Buddha.

The Pali Canon refers to saddha as synonymous with bhatti (devotion), pema (affection) and pasada (propitiousness) or appreciation27. The Milindapanha28 and the Atthasalim29 show that the saddha has two characters, appreciation (samupasadanalakkhana) and endeavour (samupakkhan-danalakkhana). Datta observes that "saddha carries two distinct meanings (1) one is faith (pasada) producing piti (pleasure), and (2) the other is self confidence proving virya (energy)30. Likewise, Jainism sradda31, bhakti32, anuraga6,33 seva34, and vinaya35 are said to be indentical words.

The conception of Dammanana (knowledge of ariyasaccani) in the Buddha was gradually developed in Buddhist philosophical literature. Dharmakrirti supports this view that the Buddha was a Dharmajna as well as Margajna in the sense that he knower of Caturaryasatya, but he did not deny the omniscience of the Buddha. He said that spiritual knowledge should be recognised as an essential element of a Teacher.36

Prajnakaragupta, a disciple of Dharmakirti further observes that omniscience is possible, if one has destroyed all worldly attachments. This requires great effort.37

Santaraksita emphasises sarvajnatva more than Dharma-jnatva. He says that an omniscient being can know everything that he intends to know, since he has already destroyed all the obstructions of knowledge38. He then refutesthe view of Kumarila, and establishes complete omniscience in the Buddha. The later Buddhist Philosophers followed Santaraksita's view.

In the sixth century B. C. omniscience was considered one of the essential characteristics of a Teacher or Prophets. The Buddha criticised this view and said that no one can know an perceive everything at once. But his disciples were anxious to give their teacher a position of greater recognition, and gradually went onto establish the theory of the perfect omniscience of the Buddha on the basis of the superhuman powers. There is no doubt that this was done with a view to stand the Buddha in the linw of the other Prophets,

Jain Friends Home   Books Index  Articles Index