“Then the Bhagavan entered into such a state of meditation that he completely disappeared. He then became visible in the sky in the eastern direction and displayed the four types of noble bearing—that is, walking, standing, sitting, and lying down—all while remaining fixed in meditative equipoise. Then he entered into the fire-element concentration; and once the Blessed Buddha had entered the fire-element concentration, multi-coloured rays of light emanated from his body, rays of blue, yellow, red, white, maroon and crystal. Displaying the Twin Miracle, fire blazed from the lower half of his body and water flowed from the upper half, and then fire blazed from the upper half of his body and water flowed from the lower half. And the same miracles he displayed in the eastern direction, he also displayed in the western, southern and northern directions. He displayed these four miracles of superhuman power in the four directions, and after curtailing his superhuman powers he went back to sitting on the lion throne.”
–Fiordalis, David, The Buddha’s Great Miracle at Śrāvastī: A Translation from the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya, 2014.
Remembering Chotrul Duchen: The Twin (Fire-Water) miracle
Today is Chotrul Duchen (“Great Day of Miraculous Manifestations”) the 15th and full moon of the first Tibetan lunar month and one of the four big anniversaries in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It marks the final day of the first fifteen days of the New Year in which Buddha demonstrated fifteen miracles.
For this day, here is a brief summary and a famous 3rd Century depiction of one of Buddha’s miracles, called the Twin (or water-fire) miracle. According to Buddhist texts, during the miracle the Buddha emitted fire from the top half of his body and water from the bottom half of his body simultaneously, before alternating them and then expanding them to illuminate the cosmos. The miracle was performed during a miracle ‘contest’ between Gautama Buddha and six rival religious teachers. The miracle itself is said to have been performed twice, with the Buddha performing it once at his home town of Kapilavastu before performing the main miracle at Savatthi.
There are two major versions of the story that vary in some details. The Pali account of the miracle can be found in the Dhammapadattakatha and the Sanskrit version in the Pratiharya-sutra. Buddhists believe it was performed seven years after the Buddha’s enlightenment, in the ancient Indian city of Savatthi. In the Sanskrit version of the story, the rival teachers go first to King Bimbasara to host the contest but are turned down, and then go to King Pasenadi of Kosala who agrees to host the tournament if the Buddha agrees. In this version, the Buddha advises his followers against doing such miracles, but states he will do this miracle because all Buddhas are supposed to perform the twin miracle.
Supramundane mental and physical powers of Buddhas and realised practitioners
These days, people use the word ‘miracle’ for all sorts of mundane things. In addition, there are many self-appointed experts and teachers, claiming to be fully awakened and enlightened, when they are merely speaking about personal meditation experiences.
However, the signs of a fully awakened Buddha, or someone who has siddhis/realisations on the bhumi levels lies in their supramundane and miraculous powers and abilities. To name a few, such as telepathy, knowledge of former lives, clairvoyance, ability to emanate subtle/invisible bodies, ability to visit other universes and realms, ability to speak hundreds of different languages and give teachings in those languages in different places at the same time, ability to control the death process and deliberately choose where one’s consciousness is reborn, swift-footedness (ability to travel speedily over terrain) and so on. Great masters, like the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi have sometimes publicly demonstrated such abilities, when he escaped several execution attempts, such as being immersed in fire that would kill ordinary people, for more on that see here.
However, there are only certain abilities that a fully awakened Buddha is said to have, and the twin miracle is one of them. In the Sanskrit Buddhist tradition, it is considered one of the Ten Indispensable Acts that all Buddhas are to perform during their lives, and one of the “Thirty Great Acts” in the Pali commentarial tradition. For those who want to know more about the Twin Miracle there are various sources online.
The miracle of love
It is inspiring and humbling to read about the Buddha’s miraculous powers. Whatever one may believe about miracles and supramundane abilities, one thing the Buddha taught many times, were the miraculous mental states of love and wisdom. If one can really generate true love and compassion for all beings, that is one of the greatest ‘miraculous powers’ of all.
OM MUNI MUNI MAHAMUNIYE SVAHA
Music? ‘Shakyamuni Buddha’ mantra by Deva Premal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3Tb1M4p7MU), ‘Miracles by Coldplay (https://youtu.be/hjdbXdTt48E) and ‘Miracle of Love’ by Eurythmics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtwAjgeBEsc).
Wishing all a happy, love-filled, auspicious and meaningful Chotrul Duchen today!
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 7th March 2023.