The ‘Miracle’ Of The Dhamma – The Kevatta Sutta

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Introduction

For a complete understanding of this sutta within the context intended by an awakened human being, please read the suttas linked at the end of this article. ([x])

The theme of non-physical realms or states of being and the display of psychic powers as significant “achievements” was common during the Buddha’s lifetime and teaching career. This type of speculative and suppositional magical thinking is just as prevalent, distracting, and contradictory today.

Much of modern Buddhism is an adapted, accommodated, and embellished “Buddhism By Common Agreement.” Much of  Buddhism By Common Agreement is founded on an intentionally corrupted and misapplied interpretation of a primary foundational teaching of the Buddha’s. The Buddha’s teaching in the Paticca Samuppada Sutta (and many others) show that confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory life experiences arise from ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [1,2]

Adapting, accommodating, embellishing, diminishing, or dismissing the importance of Four Noble Truths negates the Buddha’s Dhamma. Substituting the Eightfold Path in whole or in part for Buddhism By Common Agreement relegates ‘dharma’ practice to speculation and supposition. [3]

During the Buddha’s teaching career there were many who hoped to continue self-identifying to impermanent phenomena through continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths. This compulsive desire led to establishing hundreds of mystical and magical “Buddhist religion(s)” that accommodated these self-referential views.

About one hundred years after the Buddha’s passing, at the Second Buddhist Council, a group known as the Mahasanghikas desired a more magical and mystical “dharma” that was similar to the teachings rooted in the Vedas. These teachings were rejected by the Buddha one hundred and fifty tears earlier. These teachings that form the basis for modern Hinduism encouraged “dharmas” that continued self-identification in speculative and suppositional realms as the goal of their “dharmas.”  [4]

Approximately one hundred and fifty years later, at the Third Buddhist Council, a group who called themselves Theravadins continued this adaptation, accommodation, and embellishment of the Buddha’s Dhamma by introducing the Abhidhamma as an “authentic” third book of the Pali Canon. A cursory read of this confusing volume quickly reveals the Theravadins own desire for a more magical and mystical “dharma” that would allow and encourage self-identification in speculative and suppositional non-physical reals.

It was during this Third Buddhist Council that the split between Hinayana/Theravadin Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism solidified. While there were many competing sub-groups at this time, these two similar groups continue to be the predominant type of modern “Buddhist” practice.

As shown in this sutta, and the supportive linked suttas, it is clear that a “dharma” practice that encourages self-identification in conceptual, speculative, and suppositional realms was something the Buddha continually cautioned against, but sadly continues and is encouraged by most modern Buddhism By Common Agreement groups.

Siddartha Gotama, Rightly Self-Awakened, understood the cruelty and irresponsibility of misleading others through speculative and suppositional “dharmas” lacking Heartwood and a clear focus. As seen in this sutta, speculation and supposition can only provide distraction and continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [5,6]

The word miracle here is not to infer something unexplained arising from a fabricated and speculated realm. As shown below, miracle refers to the unique and extraordinary nature of a true and effective Dhamma.

My comments below are in italics.

The ‘Miracle’ Of The Dhamma – The Kevaṭṭa Sutta  

Digha Nikaya 11

On one occasion the Buddha was in Nalanda staying at Pavarika’s mango forest. Kevata a householder had a question for the Buddha. He approached the Buddha, bowed, and sat to one side:

“Great teacher, Nalanda is both prosperous and well-populated. Many here have faith in the Buddha. It would be of benefit if you would direct a monk to show a miracle of psychic power. This show of superior human power would deepen the faith that the people of Nalanda have in you.”

The Buddha replied, ”Kevatta, a display of psychic powers is not a dhamma teaching and I do not direct my disciples in this manner.”

Kevatta asked again and then a third time “I will not argue with you but I will tell you that Nalanda is prosperous and well-populated. Many here have faith in the Buddha. It would be of benefit if you would direct a monk to a show a miracle of psychic power. This show of superior human power would deepen the faith that the people of Nalanda have in you.”

And a third time the Buddha told Kevatta “a display of psychic powers is not a dhamma teaching and I do not direct my disciples in this manner.”

“Kevatta, there are these three qualities deemed miraculous that I have encountered:

The Drawback Of Seeking Psychic Powers

I have encountered those who believe in the miracle of psychic powers such as appearing in many places at once, walking through solid objects, walking on water, diving into the earth, flying cross-legged through the air, and vanishing at-will. Then someone who believes these as miracles tells another while declaring these qualities as “awesome and astonishing power.” Then this one would tell of a charm called a Ghandhari charm that provided the power for these miracles.  What do you think? Is this what they would consider as “miraculous?”

“Yes, that is just what they would say.”

“Knowing the drawback, the distraction, of believing in these displays as ‘miracles’ I am ashamed, repulsed, and disgusted with a display of psychic powers.

The Drawback Of Seeking Telepathic Powers

“Furthermore, I have encountered those who believe in the miracle of telepathy such as reading others thoughts saying ‘this is what you are thinking here, and this is what you are thinking there.’ Then someone who believes these as miracles tells another while declaring these qualities as ‘awesome and astonishing power.’ Then this one would tell of a charm called a Manika charm that provided the power for these miracles.  What do you think? Is this what they would consider as ‘miraculous?’

“Yes, that is just what they would say.”

“Knowing the drawback, the distraction, of believing in these displays as ‘miracles’ I am horrified, humiliated, and disgusted with a display of telepathy.

Many misguided modern Buddhist practices, both Theravada and Mahayana, specifically teach that one would know of their own supernatural powers as qualifying factors for authenticating their “dharma” practice. As can be seen here and many other suttas, an awakened human being clearly and directly cautions against these self-seeking speculative “dharmas.” He taught in this manner our of great compassion informed by profound wisdom and un-fettered responsibility.

The ‘Miracle’ Of Dhamma Instruction

Then there is this third quality – the ‘miracle’ of Dhamma instruction. Here, a wise one gives instruction on directing thinking in one way and not another. They give instruction on what to be mindful of and what to abandon. They give instruction on what to let go of and what to enter and remain in. (The Heartwood Of The Dhamma) [6]

“This, Kevatta, is known as the miracle of Dhamma instruction.

“A wise one, a worthy and Rightly Self-Awakenedn One teaches the Dhamma that is admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, and admirable in the end. He teaches a life well-integrated with this dhamma in its particulars and its essence that is entirely perfect and pure.

The reference above characterizes the theme of this sutta and an underlying theme of the Buddha’s Dhamma. “Admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, and admirable in the end” is in reference to the uniqueness, unified, complete, and individually accessible Buddha’s Dhamma that is corrupted when any part of the Dhamma is adapted, accommodated, embellished, diminished, or dismissed. These adaptations, accommodations, embellishments, diminishment, and outright dismissal of the Buddha’s Dhamma is made necessary by cultural influences and many charismatic individual’s desire to continue a magical way of thinking seeking “miracles” where nothing miraculous is present while necessarily  dismissing the “miracle” of the Buddha’s Dhamma.  A Dhamma that is “Admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, and admirable in the end does not provide the distraction of a self-referential doctrine craved after by a mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

“Now suppose an ordinary, run-of-the-mill person upon hearing the Dhamma gains conviction in the Dhamma. They see their (present) life as confining and dusty. They see the life well-integrated with the Dhamma as free and clear. They realize the difficulties of remaining entangled with the world. They see the life well-integrated (with the Eightfold Path) as completely pure and perfect. They ask themselves ‘What if I shaved my head, put on the robes, and go forth in the Dhamma?’

“Having gone forth, they live restrained knowing the danger in even the slightest faults. Consummate in virtue they are always guarding the senses. Established in Refined Mindfulness they are alert and content. [7]

Abandoning The Five Hindrances

“Consummate in virtue, restrained at the senses, mindful, alert, and content they seek out the root of a tree or an empty hut. Returning from alms they have their meal. They then sit with legs crossed, bringing mindfulness (of the breath) to the fore and begin Jhana.

The Buddha taught a single meditation method, Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, for the sole purpose of deepening concentration. He taught this refined meditation practice to avoid using meditation practices that only encourage fabricating speculative mind-states. These commonly sought-after fabricated states encourage a type of distracted clinging-awareness (unrefined mindfulness) of ordinary impermanent self- referential thoughts, views,  and ideas. [8,9]

“Abandoning craving with regard to the world they dwell in mindfulness devoid of craving. Craving fades from their mind.

“Abandoning ill-will and anger, they dwell in mindfulness devoid of ill-will and anger, sympathetic to the welfare of all beings. Ill-will and anger fade from their mind.

“Abandoning laziness, lethargy, and indifference, they dwell in mindfulness devoid of laziness, lethargy, and indifference. Laziness, lethargy, and indifference, fade from their mind.

“Abandoning restlessness and anxiety, they dwell undisturbed. Restlessness and anxiety fade from their mind.

“Abandoning doubt and uncertainty, they dwell in mindfulness devoid of doubt and uncertainty and free of any confusion with regard to skillful mental qualities. Doubt and uncertainty fade from their mind.

Hindrances are self-created fabrications that can only be continued by a mind clinging to ignorance. One the authentic Dhamma practice is engaged with it becomes possible to recognize and abandon all fabricated views. [10]

“Suppose a person takes a loan and invests it in their business and the business succeeds. They pay off the debt with money left over for maintaining their family. They would think ‘Before, I had debt and now I have repaid my debt. They would be happy, satisfied.

“Now suppose a person falls ill. They do not enjoy food and are weak. Eventually, they recover their appetite and strength. They would think ‘Before I was ill with no appetite or strength. Now I am well – happy and satisfied.’

“Now suppose a person is in prison. Time passes and they are released from bondage. They would think ‘Before I was bound in prison and now I am released, safe and sound. They would be happy and satisfied.

“Now suppose a person is a slave, subject to others and not themselves. Eventually, they are released from slavery. They would think ‘Before I was a slave and now I am free, subject to no other.’ They would be happy, satisfied.

“Now suppose a person was traveling with money and goods in a desolate country worried of their surroundings. Eventually, they emerge from the desolate country and are relieved. They would think ‘before I was in a desolate country, worried, fearful. Now I have emerged from that place with no loss of money or goods and I am relieved, happy, satisfied.’

The Buddha is using these stories to describe a mind rooted in fabrications as being debt-ridden, diseased, enslaved, imprisoned, and dangerous.

“In this same manner, when these five hindrances are not abandoned they are seen as a debt, as a sickness, a prison, slavery, a dangerous path. But when these five hindrances are recognized and abandoned this Dhamma practitioner knows they are debt-free, healthy, unbound, free, and on a safe path. They are joyful and rapturous. Enraptured, their body is calm. Their body calm, they are sensitive to pleasure. sensitive to feeling, they develop concentration.

A well-concentrated mind is mindfully sensitive to what is present while remaining free of grasping, aversion, or agitating reaction. This is a mind united with its body free of clinging to speculative and distracting mind-states.

Liberation form fabricated views arising from ignorance is a direct and knowable experience developed only through a reality-based Dhamma practice.

Enraptured here refers to joyful concentration and mindfulness of being released – unbound – from wrong views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

Development Of Jhana

“Quite secluded from sensuality and other unskillful mental qualities. They enter and remain in the First Jhana. This First Jhana is experienced as rapture born of that very seclusion. It is accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. The joy of seclusion permeates their entire mind and body.

Unskillful mental qualities are any qualities of mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths prone to greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. As a meditator is mindful of their breath they are, in this moment, free of unskillful qualities.

“It is as if one poured bath powder into a brass basin. Kneading the powder into the water, sprinkling more and more powder forming a ball of bath powder saturated and moisture-laden. It would, nevertheless, not lose a drop of its own substance. This is how a follower of the Noble Eightfold Path permeates their entire mind and body from the joy born of seclusion.

“This is called the ‘miracle’ of instruction.

The Buddha would often instruct the meditator to “Find the root of a tree or an empty hut and do Jhana.” The first jhana is the initial quieting of the mind developed from seclusion, solitude, as the meditator becomes mindful of the breath in the body. [11]

“Furthermore, as the stilling of directed thought and evaluation, they enter and remain in the Second Jhana.  This Second Jhana is experienced as rapture and pleasure born of concentration. Free of directed thought and evaluation, the joy of concentration permeates their entire mind and body.

From the initial calming established in seclusion noticeable concentration increases.

“It is as if a lake with no inflow is filled with spring-water welling up within, and from abundant showers. The cool water welling up from within the lake would permeate and fill the entire lake. This is how a follower of the Noble Eightfold Path permeates their entire mind and body from the joy born of concentration.

“This is called the ‘miracle’ of instruction.

“Furthermore, as rapture fades, they remain equanimous, mindful, alert, sensitive to pleasure. They enter and remain in the Third Jhana which is equanimous and mindful, a pleasant abiding. With the fading of rapture, this pleasant abiding permeates their entire mind and body.

Concentration continues to increase establishing a peaceful abiding.

“It is as if a pond is permeated with red, white, and blue lotus, born and growing immersed in the water. They flourish permeated with cool water from their root to tip never standing above the surface. This is how a follower of the Noble Eightfold Path permeates their entire mind and body from the joy born of the fading of rapture.  This pleasant abiding permeates their entire mind and body.

“This is called the ‘miracle’ of instruction.

“Furthermore, with the abandoning of evaluation, they enter and remain in the Fourth Jhana which is pure equanimity and mindful. Being pure, neither pleasure nor pain is seen. They sit permeated in mind and body with pure, bright awareness.

Increased concentration now supports the balanced mental quality of pure equanimity characterized as free of passion. Being free of passion, refined mindfulness is characterized as bright awareness.

“It is as if one were sitting head to toe in a white cloth – their entire body covered. This is how a follower of the Noble Eightfold Path permeates their entire mind and body with pure, bright awareness. 

“This is called the ‘miracle’ of instruction.

Insight – Knowledge -Vision

“With a mind established in jhana, pure, luminous, supple, free of conflict, a Dhamma practitioner can now incline their mind to insight, to knowledge, to vision. With a mind united with the body, this Dhamma practitioner understands the speculation and supposition of (seeking) supernormal powers, hearing voices, awareness of non-physical beings, knowledge of past lives, knowledge of passing away and reappearing.

“They also know the value of knowing the ending of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. From profound Right View they know:

  1. This is stress
  2. This is the origination of stress
  3.   This is the cessation of stress.
  4.   This is the Path leading to the cessation of stress.

(Four Noble Truths) [2]

“With this knowledge, they are released from clinging to sensuality and released from becoming further ignorant. With this knowledge, they know they are released. They know that birth is ended. They know that a life well-integrated with the Eightfold Path has been lived. They know that the task is done and there are no further entanglements with the world.

This refers to the specific and non-speculative insight gained through the Buddha’s Dhamma into Three Marks Of Existence. [12]

“Just as if there was a clear and calm pool of water and a person with good eyesight would see clearly the shells, gravel, and fish. Due to their good eyesight, they would know that they are seeing shells, gravel, and fish. In the same manner, with their mind established in jhana, pure, luminous, supple, free of conflict, a Dhamma practitioner can now incline their mind to insight, to knowledge, to vision. With a mind united with the body, this Dhamma practitioner knows the ending of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking. They know that birth is ended. They know that a life well-integrated with the Eightfold Path has been lived. They know that the task is done and there is no further entanglements with the world.

“This is called the ‘miracle’ of instruction.

“This is the ‘miracle’ of Dhamma instruction that I declare having directly known and realized this for myself.

Realms Of Speculation And Supposition

“Once, Kevatta, there was a certain monk distracted by speculative achievement. He wanted to know where the Four Great Elements cease without remainder. In his mind he traveled to different realms, deva realms, seeking an answer:

He asked the devas of the Four Great Kings. They did not know.

He asked the devas of the Thirty-Three. They did not know.

He asked Sykka, the ruler of the devas. He did not know.

He asked the deva of the Hours. He did not know.

He asked the Tulsita devas. The did not know.

He asked the Santusita devas, the Nimmānaratī devas, and the Paranimmitavasavattī devas. They did not know.

He asked the deva Vassavatti. he did not know.

He asked the devas of the Brahma’s retinue, They did not know.

“Finally, he asked the Great Brahma: ‘Friend, where do the Four Great Elements end without remainder?’ The Great Brahma replied ‘I am the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.’

“A second and third time the monk asked the Great Brahma for an answer. The Great Brahma took the monk aside and told him ‘The Devas Of The Great Brahmas Retinue believe there is nothing I do not know or have realized for myself. This is why I did not say in their presence that I, too, do not know where the Four Elements cease without remainder. But know this, it is your mistake, your wrongdoing that you ignored the Buddha’s teachings and looked outside of your self and outside of the Dhamma for your answer. Return to the Buddha and his Dhamma. There you will find your answer.’

The use of imaginary non-physical beings in imaginary non-physical realms as a metaphor for fabricated mind-states rooted in ignorance is a common theme of the Buddha’s Dhamma. [13]

This is another influence from the Vedas that the Buddha studied and rejected on his Noble Search For Understanding. [14]

“Then this monk was released from the realm of speculation and supposition. He came to me, bowed, and sat to one side. After a time he asked ‘Great Teacher, where do the Four Great Elements cease without remainder?’

Leaving the realm of speculation and supposition, Kevatta now has the rare opportunity to actually learn the Buddha’s Dhamma.

“I said to him, ‘Once there were some sea-faring merchants. When land could no longer be seen, they released a short-sighted bird. It searched, east, west, north, south. It searched everywhere it could and finally returned to the ship. In the same way, having searched in every realm you could imagine, you have returned here to me.

“The question should not be asked ‘Where do the Four Great Element cease without remainder.’

Those fortunate to realize their self-inflicted distractions can then return mindfulness to the Dhamma and ask appropriate questions framed by the Eightfold Path:

“The proper question: ‘Where does the Earth Property, the Wind Property, the Fire Property, and the Liquid Property have no footing? Where are long and short, coarse and fine, pleasant and unpleasant, where is name and form brought to an end?

“The answer to this, and the ‘miracle’ of Dhamma instruction is this: ‘Unbound consciousness, luminous, pure. Here the Four Great Elements have no footing. Here,  long and short, coarse and fine, pleasant and unpleasant, and form are brought to an end.

“Have no footing” means that no fabricated view remains to support ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Free of ignorance, the conditions supporting confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing stress and disappointment simply fall away.

This last relates directly to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths. The Buddha’s intent and purpose of the Eightfold Path is to provide the framework and guidance to recognize and abandon ignorance of Four Noble Truths and develop profound wisdom resting in concentration and Refined Mindfulness – Unbound Consciousness. [1,2,6]

“This is the ‘miracle’ of Dhamma instruction that I declare having directly known and realized this for myself.”

This is what the Buddha said. Kevatta the householder was delighted with these words.

End Of Sutta

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  4. Pail Canon
  5. Nothing Personal – A Buddha’s Analysis Of Self
  6. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  7. Wisdom Of Restraint
  8. Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation
  9. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  10. Five Hindrances To Awakening
  11. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  12. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  13. Mara And Metaphor
  14. The Noble Search For The Noble Path

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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