Buddha’s view of Psychic Powers

From “Stillness Flowing” Ajahn Jayasaro

On many occasions, the Buddha enumerated the various supernormal powers that were possible – but not inevitable – bi-products of deep meditation, and the fact that they are, essentially, mundane: their attainment bears no direct causal link to liberation. Of the two great disciples, Ven. Mahā Moggallāna was acknowledged as foremost amongst all the monks who possessed psychic powers, while Ven. Sāriputta was never known to exhibit any at all. Although the Buddha praised arahants who possessed such powers for having realized all that the human mind is capable of, he emphasized that such powers should never be made a goal of practice.

Psychic powers such as telepathy may be of some use in teaching the Dhamma, but on the path to liberation, they are at best, tangential, and at worst, obstacles, to the realization of truth.

There have always been a certain number of monks in the Thai Forest Tradition who have possessed psychic powers, although few have been willing to demonstrate or even speak about them. Indeed, the Discipline only permits monks to reveal such abilities to fellow monks. The reason given for this injunction is that while people might be drawn to Buddhism by a display of miraculous powers, the faith that arises from exposure to the marvellous is not the kind that readily translates into the nurturing of wisdom that the Buddha wished to promote. In addition, a monk who reveals psychic powers will draw upon himself a great deal of distracting attention, and thereby both hinder his own path to liberation and threaten the tranquillity of the monastery in which he lives.

Ajahn Chah emphasized that the power of fascination, irrespective of its object, is a serious obstacle to letting go. Fascination with psychic phenomena and unusual abilities bind the mind to saṃsāra (cycle of birth and death) every bit as tightly as fascination with coarse sensual pleasures. The acquiring of psychic powers tends to lead to an overestimation of spiritual attainments and a lack of urgency in pushing on further to realize true liberation.

In more intimate meetings with groups of monks, Ajahn Chah would occasionally recount marvellous stories of the psychic powers of the arahants, but afterwards he would make clear that he had spoken for their information and enjoyment and repeated his warning: On one occasion, during a conversation with a senior Sri Lankan monk, the talk turned to the subject of psychic powers. Ajahn Chah was asked whether people in Thailand were interested in such matters. He replied, “There are people who would like to acquire psychic powers, but myself, I feel that that kind of practice is not in agreement with the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha taught us to abandon every kind of greed, aversion and delusion. Those people’s practice leads to the growth of those things”.

abstract art background blue

On one occasion, a monk came to ask Ajahn Chah why it was that, despite putting great effort into his meditation, he had still never seen the lights and colours that others claimed to see. Ajahn Chah replied, “See light? What do you want to see light for? What good do you think it would do you? If you want to see light, go and look at that fluorescent lamp. That’s what light looks like”.

After the laughter had died down, he continued, “The majority of meditators are like that. They want to see light and colours. They want to see deities, heaven and hell realms, all those kinds of things. Don’t get caught up with that stuff”.

%d bloggers like this: