11. Kevaddha Sutta (Kevatta Sutta)

Kevaddha’s Request

Once, when the Blessed one was in the village of Nalanda, he was approached by a layman Kevaddha. Kevaddha asked the Buddha if He himself or one of His disciples could reveal some miracle to Nalanda’s laymen. Kevaddha says that in Nalanda – a large village abundant with forest, water, cattle and grain – there are many followers of the Buddha. If the Buddha or one of His disciples could reveal a miracle, then the people of Nalanda would believe even more in the Teachings of the Blessed.

Buddha refuses Kevaddha, but the latter asks again. The Buddha refuses again, and again Kevaddha asks the Blessed. Then the Buddha explains the basis for his refusal.

The three miracles

The Buddha explains to Kevaddha that there are three types of miracles: the supernatural, the miracle of detection and the miracle of instruction (teaching).

Supernatural miracle

Supernatural miracles are as follows: transforming a single body into numerous bodies and numerous bodies into one body; becoming visible or hidden to the eyes; freely passing through a wall, a fence, a mountain; ascending to the sky and sinking into the earth as into water; touching and grasping the Sun and the Moon; even reaching the world of Brahma. Buddha asks Kevaddha: “What if a believer tells about such a miracle to an unbeliever and the unbeliever in return says that this miracle is produced by the magic of the Gandharvas (spirits who can create mirages and enchant consciousness)? Will the believer have something to say as an objection?”

Kevaddha agrees that the believer will have nothing to say in response. Therefore, – the Buddha explains, – I am afraid of a supernatural miracle, I am ashamed of it and I avoid it altogether.

The miracle of detection

The miracle of detection is the ability to know the thoughts and aspirations of others. “What will happen if a believer tells an unbeliever about this miracle, and the latter would object, saying that this miracle was created by the Manika charm?” (Apparently, a mediumic state).

Kevaddha reaffirms that the believer will not have a worthy objection. And the Buddha again explains that for this reason he is afraid, avoids and is ashamed of the miracle of detection.

Miracle of instruction

The miracle of instruction is that a knowledgeable person explains the truth about the cessation of suffering.

1) there is dissatisfaction, anxiety, a state of misery and birth in the lower worlds; 2) there is a cause of suffering, consisting of bad behavior of the body, bad behavior of speech, bad behavior of mind (intellect); 3) there is destruction of the unholy properties of consciousness, liberation from birth and death; 4) there is a perfect Path leading to liberation, which consists in purifying the behavior of the body, purifying speech, purifying consciousness (in this sutta a complete exposition of three sets of instructions is presented: on morality, concentration and comprehension, which constitute the main part of the text; for a detailed presentation see Subha Sutta, Digha Nikaya 10).

The Buddha explains that by knowing all three miracles and having realized them, he is not ashamed, is not afraid, and does not avoid only the miracle of instruction. Such an attitude He ironically illustrates with a story about one of his disciples, which happened in the old days.

The Journey of the Disciple of the Buddha to the Kingdom of Brahma

In the old days in the Buddha’s Sangha, one of the hermits decided to get an answer to the question of where and how the four great initial elements (beginnings) of air, fire, water and earth disappear. The hermit’s concentration was so great that the gates to the higher worlds opened before him, and he entered them to receive an answer to his question.

Approaching the Mount Sumeru, towering above all existence, the yogi saw the four great kings guarding the sides of the world. He asked them his question about the disappearance of the great elements, but the kings who defended the heavenly worlds from the Asuras (demons struggling with light) did not know the answer and offered to ask this question to the thirty-three gods dwelling on the summit of the Sumeru mountain. The hermit entered the abode of the gods and asked them the same question. But the gods did not know the answer either, and they offered him to ask their leader, Shakra. Shakra did not know the answer too. Further, step by step, the hermit ascends the ladder of the kamaloka worlds (kamalokas are the worlds of the gods governing desires of beings): 1) the Yama world, where battles are stopped, is ruled by the son of the gods Suyama. This is the first of the worlds completely separated from the world of people; 2) the Tusita world, where live the joyful and filled with spiritual delight gods. From this world came the Buddha Shakyamuni and, according to the prophecy, the Buddha Maitreya must come. This world is ruled by the son of the gods Santusita; 3) the Nirmanarati world, ruled by the son of the gods Sunirmita. The gods in this heaven have unlimited magical power and are able to create everything they need to obtain satisfaction; 4) the Parinirmita world, ruled by the son of the gods Vasavartin. The gods in these skies control other beings, who perform all kinds of work for them. In addition to deities with sublime wisdom, Maras are born in these skies, who, in order to control people, try to keep them dependant on the activity of the senses.

In all these worlds, however, there was no one who could answer the hermit his question. Then he reaches the world of Brahma, which is outside the Kamaloka (the world of Brahma corresponds to the first Jhāna, i.e., the stage of concentration, free from sensory activity). The gods surrounding Brahma cannot answer the question of the hermit, and he goes to Brahma himself. After the hermit asks Brahma the question of the disappearance of the four great elements – earth, water, fire and air, Brahma answers: “I am the great lord, the invincible, the all-seeing, the best, the ruler, the father of the past and the future.” The hermit answers: “I do not ask, Venerable, whether you are a great and all-powerful lord, the father of the past and the future. I ask about where the four great beginnings – earth, water, fire and air are destroyed without a trace. ”

Brahma replies: “I am the great lord, the invincible, the all-seeing, the best, the ruler, the father of the past and the future.” Again the hermit repeats his question to Brahma. And for the third time the same thing happens again.

Then Brahma takes the hermit by the hand, leads him aside and says: “(You see), these gods think that there is nothing Brahma could not or would not know. Therefore, I did not answer in their presence. I do not know the answer to your question. But, you acted wickedly: ignoring the Blessed One, you went to another place to seek an answer to the question that you’ve had to ask Him.”

Then the ascetic, as quickly as one stretches or bends his hand, returned to the Buddha and asked Him his question.

The Buddha told the disciple that merchants who go out to the sea, take a bird with them, which can see (from the height of the flight) the shore. When they go out into the open sea, they let the bird out. If she sees the shore, she flies towards it, indicating the way to the ship. If she does not see the shore, then she returns to the ship. As a ship, the Buddha means Himself, as a bird – the disciple. Having circled in the higher worlds, and not finding the shore (the answer to his question), the disciple returned to the Buddha.

The Answer to the Hermit’s Question

Answering the question, the Buddha says that the question itself is wrong. It should be set as follows: “Where water and earth, fire and air are unfounded (devoid of reality)? Where are long and short, subtle and gross, pleasant and unpleasant are without foundation? Where are the name and image destroyed without remnant?”

There is an infinite, not hidden wisdom (comprehension). It has no signs, and it does not have the support for either the earth, water, fire or air. In it, there is no basis for long and short, thin and rough, pleasant and unpleasant. Here, the name and the image are destroyed without a trace.

Completion of the Sutta

After hearing the Buddha, Kevaddha experiences joy. This means that he had had not a need to satisfy his desire (what he had been denied anyway), but rather a need to get rid of this desire. His need for supernatural arguments stemmed from an unclear understanding of the purpose of the Teaching, and when clarity is restored, Kevaddha is satisfied.

Vladimir Pyatsky and Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler