Does Buddhism Emphasize Miracles?

In Buddhism, miraculous events are ascribed to spiritual powers or miraculous powers.[1] Buddhism acknowledges the existence of spiritual powers and their effects.

Buddhism divides spiritual powers into six general categories, as follows: (1) unimpeded bodily action [such as the ability to fly, transform oneself, move through walls, etc.], (2) divine vision, (3) divine hearing, (4) awareness of the minds of others, (5) knowledge of previous lifetimes, and (6) extinction of impurities or “outflows.”

Buddhists believe that all spiritual beings possess a number of special powers due to their karmic recompense. Accomplished seers, Daoist immortals, and even ordinary people can develop such spiritual powers through practicing the dhyānas, namely, meditative states of absorption. (Christian prayer can also induce meditative absorption when one’s mind is in a concentrated, unified state.) But ordinary people and spiritual beings can only manifest to lesser or greater degrees the first five spiritual powers. Only noble ones who have transcended birth and death through the Nikāya or Mahāyāna paths are equipped with an additional power—the extinction of impurities—and can have all six powers.

On the other hand, Buddhists do not think one can accomplish everything with spiritual powers. In accordance with the law of karmic cause and effect, the destinies of sentient beings come about because of their own karma. While spiritual powers can be great, they cannot nullify the law of cause and effect. For fixed, heavy karmic retribution, even the Buddha himself cannot completely alter the results with his spiritual power. Otherwise, the law of cause and effect would not be valid. So although the Buddha demonstrated his spiritual powers during his life, he was very judicious about showing them. Many of his great arhat disciples also had spiritual powers, but the Buddha did not allow them to manifest their powers in the presence of ordinary people.[2] This is because the Buddha knew that displaying spiritual powers had to be done in right proportion; while spiritual powers may create a sensation, if used unwisely they might also bring devastating results.[3]

  1. Other phenomena we might think of as “miracles” in Chinese Buddhism are the results of gaˇnyìng. For history and accounts of miracles in early Chinese Buddhism, see Kieschnick 1997, 67–111. Trans.
  2. See the Monastic Code of the Mūlasarvāstivāda, Miscellaneous Matters, scroll 2, T 1451: 24.213cI0–22; and the Compendium of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Precepts, scroll 9, T 1458: 24.576b3. Author.
  3. If you would like to learn more about spiritual powers, you may refer to another publication of the author, titled “Shéntōng de jìngjiè yuˇ gōngyòng神通的境界與功用” (The classes and functions of spiritual powers), contained in Sheng Yen 1999a. Author.


Orthodox Chinese Buddhism: A Contemporary Chan Master's Answers to Common Questions. (2007)
by Master Sheng Yen | Translated by Douglas Gildow and Otto Chang. | ISBN 978-1-55643-657-4


Lists of errata, suggested changes and comments by Douglas Gildow