There is a sutta where the Buddha teaches some disciples about loathsomeness of the body. He then goes on a retreat into the forest. On his return, he finds the disciples have committed suicide as they have grasped the teachings incorrectly. The Buddha than proceeded to teach Anapana Sati as it is much safer. Does this prove that even the Buddha was capable of making mistakes? In hindsight, should he have used the ability of omniscience to anticipate the result of his instructions. Or, was this event unavoidable fruition of the disciples' past Kamma.

  • Hi! Why should we assume that the Buddha was omniscient, in the same sense that Christians use the word to describe one the main features of their Creator God? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:30
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    @BrianDíazFlores Isn't it because the Buddha can see and foresee the precise working-out of past kamma?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:50
  • @ChrisW If we accept that, then we should explain why the mass suicide happened and why it wasn't prevented by the Buddha. But putting that aside, remember that not everything is caused by kamma (according to the suttas), so there's a range of phenomena not explanable by knowledge of kamma. The Christian God supposedly knows everything, even what lies beyond kammic relations. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 21:52
  • Just to add, the omniscience of the Buddha is slightly different from the Christian God. The Buddha does not know all about the past, future and present simultaneously at all times. However, if he intends to know about (say) the future at point A, 5 minutes ahead, he has immediate access to it. However, he has to intend to see it before hand.
    – Luv
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 9:11

3 Answers 3


You have misunderstood the sutta SN 54.9.

The Buddha taught the technique of loathsomeness of the body, which is to be used to remove feelings of sexual lust and attachment to the physical form. This technique is useful to be practised by a monk or practitioner who is overwhelmed by sexual lust. However, too much of this practice, especially when it is unnecessary, may lead to depression and suicidal tendencies.

To counteract depression and suicidal tendencies, the Buddha prescribed mindfulness of breathing, which can generate rapture and joy.

So, as you can see, every technique has a different purpose. Any one single technique does not fit everyone at all times. Sometimes, you have to change your technique depending on the circumstances.

For example, a person who is momentarily overcome by one of the five hindrances would have to try some technique to overcome that particular hindrance.

Hence, the Buddha did not make a mistake in this case. He merely prescribed different techniques for different conditions. Please also see this answer.

The Buddha will not make mistakes when it comes to the teachings and practice of Buddhism.

Although the Buddha was known to have some psychic powers, he was not completely omniscient (i.e. knowing all things in the past, present and future), in the way people consider a Supreme God to be. Buddhist enlightenment is about freedom from suffering. It's not about becoming God-like.

  • I don't disagree with you. I consider Asubha a legitimate practice and agree that one practice does not fit one person at all times. However, in that very Sutta, I didn't find the Buddha warning against overdoing it, and switching to say, Anapanasati or Metta when appropriate before he left for retreat. I don't see what is the harm in admitting the Buddha made a mistake. A mistake, being by definition an action done without malice, but the consequences turned out to be detrimental and unforeseen.
    – Luv
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 8:53

Or, was this event unavoidable fruition of the disciples' past Kamma.

The Commentary seems to say it's due to past kamma. From Ven. Bodhi's note citing the Comy.'s explanation to the strange case of SN 54.9:

Spk: Why did he speak thus? In the past, it is said, five hundred men earned their living together as hunters. They were reborn in hell, but later, through some good kamma, they took rebirth as human beings and went forth as monks under the Blessed One. However, a portion of their original bad kamma had gained the opportunity to ripen during this fortnight and was due to bring on their deaths both by suicide and homicide. The Blessed One foresaw this and realized he could do nothing about it. Among those monks, some were worldlings, some stream-enterers, some once-returners, some nonreturners, some arahants. The arahants would not take rebirth, the other noble disciples were bound for a happy rebirth, but the worldlings were of uncertain destiny. The Buddha spoke of foulness to remove their attachment to the body so that they would lose their fear of death and could thus be reborn in heaven. Therefore he spoke on foulness in order to help them, not with the intention of extolling death. Realizing he could not turn back the course of events, he went into seclusion to avoid being present when destiny took its toll.

  • Thanks for sharing, Santa. Maybe, to dig further we can find out which commentary were these words written in? How long after the Buddha's death? How can a commentary know about these nitty-gritty details? Was it an attempt to rationalize past events which may seem problematic?
    – Luv
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 9:02
  • @Luv, the inherent risk with the "dig further" approach is that it tends to be a bottomless diggging with one inquiry to the next ad infinitum, which is that same mistake as warned in SN 36.6 ( accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html ). At our current level of progress, either we'll have to settle with the Comy's explanation OR with some modern monk's analysis that the Buddha's just another common man prone to making mistakes just like us....
    – santa100
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 18:04
  • ....Either way, and we're gonna have to set it aside at some point to get back to the real issue at hand: the existence of Dukkha and what are you gonna do about it!
    – santa100
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 18:05
  • Sadhu x3. The mind likes to get diverted from the root problem.
    – Luv
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 14:47

@ Luv plz read­ Padī­po­pama ­sutta (SN 54.8) I think one may find piece of answer in that sutta related to loathsomeness and anapana sati.

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