5 Supernatural Powers of Moggallana (Maudgalyayana)
In the discourse about the disciples who excelled in special capacities and qualities (A. I, 13), the Buddha said that Moggallana was foremost among the Bhikkhus who possessed magical faculties. One day when Moggallana with some of his disciples walked up and down, the Buddha told his monks that Moggallana possessed great supernormal powers, and so did his pupils; thus beings congregate according to their nature and disposition. (S. 14, 15) There were, of course, also other prominent disciples highly skilled in one or the other of the various magical powers. But they mastered only some of them: the monk Anuruddha and the nun Sakula, for instance, possessed the supernormal vision of the Divine Eye; the monk Sobhita and the nun Bhadda Kapilani could recollect far into the past; the monk Sagalo had masterly control of the fire element; Cula Panthaka was skilled in “astral travel”; and Pilinda excelled in communication with heavenly beings. Maha Moggallana, however, was perfect master of the magical faculties in a very comprehensive way. He mastered the various kinds of supernormal powers altogether, surpassing in them the other disciples. He also excelled by far the nun Uppallavanna who was foremost among the nuns in regard to magical faculties.
For appreciating the old reports on Moggallana’s magical (parapsychological) faculties, one ought to know how such things can be possible at all. The world of so-called matter as perceived through our five senses — which to-day’s physicists conceive as a manifestation of energy — is only a small section of that much wider reality which consists of other vibrational forms of energy. Inklings of it, under terms like “anti-matter,” “Psi-power,” the “Astral,” or “Prana,” have penetrated into our range of experience. As we perceive only the narrow sector of our human world, we are inclined to regard its limited laws as absolutes. But the universe as experienced by the wise, is much larger, and the laws in force in it have also an impact upon our own world. It is that impact of different laws which is called a miracle. But whenever a higher or wider world manifests itself, the true miracle is that people can be so imprisoned within their narrow outlook that they just ignore all what is beyond their limited faculties, in spite of the fact that the effects of those other forces and laws are undeniably present. But whosoever, as the Buddha and Moggallana, has highly developed his capacity to experience that wider reality with his higher sense faculties refined by cultivating the Four Ways of Power (iddhipada), will realize a sheer infinite widening of experience in space and time. His horizon and experiential knowledge will grow universal and immeasurable, transcending all boundaries and limitations.
When Sariputta asked (in M. 32) to which type of monk those assembled would give the highest praise, Moggallana replied that from his point of view such a monk would be truly brilliant who can engage best in dialogues and discussions on the Teaching. Later the Buddha confirmed that Moggallana was indeed a very capable speaker on Dhamma. In fact, talks on Dhamma gain in range and depth when they issue from an experience that transcends the realm of the senses. The more one had widened one’s consciousness by such experiences, the more one had to say. One who has personal experience of those many avenues of liberating wisdom will best be able to conduct talks on Dhamma and make them lively and stimulating. Examples of such discourses given by Maha-Moggallana are M. 15 and 37, A, X. 84, S. 35, 202, S. 44, 7-8.
We shall now turn to what the Buddhist canonical texts relate about Moggallana’s supernormal faculties, presenting the material grouped according to the types of faculties concerned.
#1 – Penetration of others’ minds and thought-reading (telepathy)
Once on an Uposatha day, the Buddha sat silently throughout the whole night in front of the assembly of monks. When the morning dawned, he only said: “This assembly is impure.” Thereupon Moggallana surveyed with his mind the entire assembly from monk to monk and saw that one monk was entirely corrupted. He went towards him and asked him to leave. When that monk did not move though asked thrice, Moggallana took him by the arm, led him out of the hall and bolted the door. Then he begged the Exalted One to recite the Rules of Monastic Discipline (Patimokkha), as the assembly was now pure again. (A. VIII, 20)
Once the Master stayed together with a community of five hundred monks who all were saints. When Moggallana joined them, he at once discerned in his heart that all these monks were canker-freed Arahats. Then one of these saintly monks who, on his part, cognized Moggallana’s supernormal perception, rose from his seat and praised Moggallana in the following verses:
“Him who serenely sits on mountain’s slope,
a sage who has transcended ill entire —
to him disciples pay their homage,
themselves of triple knowledge, vanquishers of death.
He has discerned them by his mental power,
the master of the supernormal, Moggallana.
He probed their minds with his
and found them free and unattached.”
— Samyutta Nikaya 8, 10
A third report says: Once, while the venerable Anuruddha was meditating in solitude, he considered how, by means of the four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipatthana) the Noble Path that leads to the extinction of suffering can be perfected. Then Moggallana, penetrating Anuruddha’s mind by his own, appeared before him through supernormal power and requested him to describe in detail this method of practice (Samy. 52, 1-2).
#2 – The Divine Ear (clairaudience)
One evening when Sariputta went to see Moggallana, he found his features had such a strikingly serene expression that Sariputta felt moved to ask Moggallana whether he had dwelt in one of the peaceful abodes of mind. Moggallana replied that he had dwelt only in one of the less refined abodes, but that he had been engaged in a talk on the Teaching. On being asked with whom he had such a talk, he replied that it had been with the Exalted One. Sariputta remarked that the Master was now dwelling very far away, in Savatthi, while they themselves were here in Rajagaha. Did Moggallana, by way of his supernormal power, go to the Buddha, or did the Buddha come to him? Moggallana replied that neither had been the case. It was rather the Divine Eye and the Divine Ear, which had been purified and perfected in both of them, that enabled them to have a Dhamma talk on the mental faculty of energy. Then Sariputta exclaimed that Moggallana, being endowed with powers so great, might be able to live through an entire aeon (kalpa), like a Buddha, if he so wished. (Samy. 21, 3)
With the Divine Ear, Moggallana could also hear the voices of non-human beings, deities, spirits, etc., and receive messages from them. So, for instance, a spirit had warned him against Devadatta who harbored evil intentions towards the Buddha and planned a plot against him. (Culla Vagga VII, 2)
#3 – The Divine Eye (Clairvoyance, Second Sight, Visions)
As mentioned above, Moggallana, with his Divine Eye, was able to perceive the Buddha over a long-distance. (Samy. 21, 3)
Once the following happened. While Sariputta was sitting in quiet meditation, a wanton demon (Yakkha) hit him on the head. Moggallana saw it and asked his friend whether he had felt much pain. Sariputta smiled and said that he had just felt a slight touch of headache. Them Moggallana praised his strength of concentration, but Sariputta said that Moggallana had been able to see that demon while he himself could not. (Ud. IV, 4)
Once Moggallana saw with the Divine Eye how King Pasenadi had been defeated in battle by the Licchavis, but that afterwards he had gathered his troops again and vanquished the Licchavis. When Moggallana told this, some monks accused him that he had falsely boasted about his supernormal faculties, which is a disciplinary offense making a monk subject to expulsion from the Order. The Buddha, however, explained that Moggallana had told only what he saw and what had actually happened. (Parajika IV, 95; case No. 17)
Above all, he often saw the operation of the law of Kamma and its fruits. Again and again he saw how human beings, due to their evil actions that harmed fellow-beings, were reborn among unhappy ghosts under-going much suffering; while others by their charitable deeds rose upwards to lower heavenly worlds that were close to the human plane. He often gave instances of this for exemplifying the law of kamma. The reports about this are too numerous for including them here. In two books of the Pali canon, dealing with the ghost realm (the Petavatthu) and the heavenly abodes (the Vimanavathu), nine, respectively fifty-one, of such reports are given. From this it can be readily understood why Moggallana was famous as one who knew the worlds beyond as well as the workings of Kamma. The reports are too numerous for inclusion, but at least one of his recorded in the Samyutta Nikaya should be mentioned here (Samy. 19. 1-21 == Paraj. IV, 9; 15th case).
Once Moggallana lived on Vulture’s Peak, near Rajagaha, together with the Bhikkhu Lakkhana, one of the thousand Brahman ascetics who had been converted together with Uruvela-Kassapa. One morning when they had descended from the peak for going on alms-round in the town, Moggallana smiled when they reached a certain place on the road. When his companion asked him for the reason, Moggallana said that now it was not the right time to explain it, he would tell it in the presence of the Master. When they later met the Buddha, Lakkhana repeated his question. Moggallana now said that at that spot he had seen many miserable ghosts flying through the air, chased around and tormented by various kinds of afflictions and sufferings. The Buddha confirmed this as absolutely true and added that he himself spoke only reluctantly about such appearances because people with superficial minds would not believe it. Then the Buddha, out of his universal knowledge, explained what propensities and behavior had brought those ghosts seen by Moggallana to their present pitiable position.
#4 – Travel by “mind-made body” (“Astral Travel”)
“Just as a person may bend his stretched arm or stretch his bent arm,” so quickly was Moggallana able to depart bodily from the human world and reappear in a celestial realm. Repeatedly he made use of this capacity for instructing other beings and looking after the affairs of the Order. Thus he taught the Gods of the Thirty-three the Factors of stream-entry, or tested Sakka, King of Gods, whether he had understood the teaching about the extinction of craving (Majjh, 37). Once when the Buddha was preaching for three months in one of the heavenly worlds, Moggallana appeared in that heaven and informed the Master of happenings in the Order, asking him for instructions (Jat, 483E). He visited not only the gods of the Sense-sphere, but also those of the Brahma world. Thus he appeared before a Brahma deity who believed that there were no ascetics capable of entering his realm, and through questioning and supernormal feats Moggallana shook the self-assurance of that deity (Samy. 6,5). Or he appeared in front of a Brahma named Tissa — who formerly had been a monk and had died recently — and gave him instructions about stream-entry and the realization of final deliverance. (Anguttara IV, 34; VII, 53).
#5 – Telekinesis (Supernormal locomotion)
Moggallana also had mastery over, what appears to be solid matter. Once there were monks staying at a monastery, who were negligent and of distracted minds, busying themselves too much with material trifles. Learning of this, the Buddha asked Moggallana to shake their excessive faith in materiality by a supernormal feat and to stir them on to renewed and serious effort. In response to the Buddha’s request, Moggallana pushed the building with his big toe, so that the entire monastery, called “The Terrace of Migara’s Mother,” shook and trembled as if there was an earthquake. By this experience the monks were so deeply stirred that they became again receptive when the Buddha instructed them, explaining the four Roads to Power (iddhipada), from which Moggallana’s great supernormal prowess derived (Samy, 51, 14; Jat. 299E).
When Moggallana visited Sakka in his heavenly realm and saw that Sakka was living rather light-heartedly and was captivated by the heavenly sense pleasures of his world, forgetful of the Teaching, Moggallana performed a similar magic feat by shaking slightly the celestial palace, called “Banner of Victory,” in which Sakka took much pride. This had a “shock effect” on Sakka too, and he now recalled the teaching on the extinction of craving, which the Buddha had briefly taught him not long ago. It was the same teaching by which the Buddha had once helped Moggallana to attain sainthood (Majjh 387).
Once there was a famine in the area where the Buddha and his community of monks stayed, and the monks could not obtain sufficient food. On that occasion Moggallana asked the Buddha whether he may overturn the ground, so that the nourishing substance underneath would be accessible and could be eaten. But the Buddha told him not to do so, as this would cause the destruction of a large number of living beings. Then Moggallana offered to open by his magical power a road to the (mythical) Uttara Kuru country, so that the monks could go there for alms. This, too, was rejected by the Buddha. But all survived the famine unharmed, even without such supernormal devices. (Paraj. I, 2) This was the only occasion when the Buddha disapproved of Moggallana’s suggestions.
Moggallana’s supernormal power expressed itself also in his ability to bring things from long distances by his magical locomotion. Thus for instances he brought lotus stalks from the Himalayas when Sariputta was ill and needed them for medicine (Maha Vagga VI, 20; Cula Vagga V, 34). He also fetched a shoot of the Bodhi tree for Anathapindika to be planted at the Jetavana Monastery (Jat. 78E). But when his fellow-monk Pindola asked him to prove the superiority of the Buddha’s Sangha over the sectarians by magically bringing down a precious bowl that had been hung up in town so high that nobody could take it down, Moggallana refused, saying that Pindola himself possessed sufficient powers to do it. But when Pindola actually performed that feat, the Buddha rebuked him: a monk should not display supernormal powers for the sake of impressing the laity (Cula Vagga V, 8).
Source: Access to Insights