A talk on Psychic powers

David Young and Ven. Pemasiri

Yogi: Can you explain Edgar Cayce’s abilities? He used clairvoyance to heal the sick.

Teacher: That ability was possessed by many, even before Lord Buddha came into being. That has nothing to do with Buddhism. That is an ability that some people get from their births. Even some animals have such abilities. Many deformed men have such abilities. Only thing, when they speak of such things, nobody believes them. Buddhists who look at this with Dhamma in mind these abilities ~ see that they are of no value whatsoever. Those who haven’t studied Dhamma consider these abilities as great. When someone writes about supernormal abilities, these abilities become a big story. But looking at these abilities from a Dhamma point of view, they have no value at all.

There was a boy in my village. In his day-to-day things was very foolish. He didn’t go to school, or complete any formal education. However, he had an ability to say something with certainty. He will talk about something that will happen in the future. With details, on such and such a date, such a thing will happen. Nobody took him seriously. Nonetheless, always he was true and right.

There was another man. He was blind. He was blind from birth. When Sumathipala Na Himi was in Gampola temple, a monk little senior to him was also in that temple. This blind man was always helping that senior monk by pulling water from the well. This temple was upcountry and the wells are very deep. He drew water for washing and bathing. That blind worker developed the ability to teach up to the Pandita level of education in Pirivena schools.

In the traditional temple education, there is a level called Pandita, which is like equivalent to a degree. This blind person had learned enough Dhamma to teach up to one level below that. He was blind from birth, but wouldn’t tolerate a student making a mistake with a single letter in their writing. And even a full stop, a period, had to be in the right place for him. But he was not a moral person; he was also doing immoral things. If you want to find out more details about him, talk to Mr. Samaranayake. He is very familiar with this man’s lifestyle. Mr. Samaranayake is the older gentleman who heads our board of trustees.

Everybody now values what is written in English and not what is written in Sinhala. Consequently, when books are written in English about these sorts of abilities, many people value them. And even in Sri Lanka, they start talking about it. I had many, even among the monks who are here, bringing these types of books on super-normal abilities, and they are even arguing about and discussing various super-normal abilities. I feel sorry for them, thinking how foolish they are.

Even that blind man, who was drawing water from the well and helping monks at Gampola Temple, could learn sufficient Dhamma to teach. Comparing to that, in this case, Edgar Cayce’s abilities are nothing. That particular blind man was so bad (!) in his behaviour. And you wouldn’t want to associate with him, if you really knew how bad he was. You wouldn’t be sticking even to the five precepts.

This blind man even set fire to a house. He had gone to a place that is very difficult for anyone to go, by going down hills and climbing other hills. That Potavil area is full of hills. Still, he had done it (the arson) in such a way he wouldn’t get caught. I am quite sure he is the man who set fire to the house. This kind of super-normal ability is so high, and yet he was a really immoral person. If you write about his life and abilities, you will have a terrific book! He lived in a temple in Nugegoda during the latter part of his life. Then when Sumathipala Na Himi passed away, he came to Kanduboda and we met. He was crying. I wondered how a man living such an immoral life could have such powerful abilities. How could he keep these abilities?

There are enough blind people who can prepare horoscopes by taking birth times of a person. Now, this guy was able to make forecasts about people’s futures even better than doing it with horoscopes. Once, a villager of that Potavil area wanted a horoscope prepared for a newborn. This villager had the mother write her newborn’s birth time on a piece of paper and he gave to the blind man. And this villager was so shrewd, and thought to test the ability of the blind man. Yes, the villager gave a birth time, but not the time written on the mother’s paper. Instead, he gave the birth time of some puppies which were born to a bitch living near the temple.

Anyway, the villager gave the blind man the wrong time. The blind man said, “It’s impossible for a human child to be born at this time, and it has to be a four legged animal or a puppy, and it can’t be a human baby.” So, after two days, the villager gave the blind man the correct time, who then said, “Yes, this is a male child, and …” The blind man could even talk about the previous births of the newborn. Only thing is that nobody believes that, what he spoke of. He had such a super ability but at same time he committed a lot of immoral acts. So our teacher, Sumathipala Na Himi, had advised him, “Do not do bad, immoral, things.” He had been using black magic. Though he was blind, he could say who was coming towards the temple or going away from the temple, or who was walking on the street. From a distance, he could figure it out, though he didn’t have the faculty of sight. Though he didn’t have the normal eyes we all have, he had a different kind of an eye. So, my interpretation is that he may have been born as a complete, a person with complete faculties, but lost his sight while in his mother’s womb.

Now, a story about another blind person; he knew my father. This blind man didn’t do any immoral acts. In those days, my father was running a grocery shop in the village and the salesman in that shop was this blind man. He could be trusted as much as any person with good sight. Though he was blind, he knew exactly who walked into the shop. It could have been a child or an elderly person or whatever. While that person was in the shop and he was the only person there, he wouldn’t let them touch anything in the shop, without his permission. One day, my father had gone somewhere, the blind salesman was alone and someone had asked for 50 Rupees. At that time, 50 Rupees was a considerable amount of money. Those 50 Rupees would be worth 5000 Rupees today – definitely. After taking the money, the man denied taking the 50 Rupees.

When my father returned, the blind man complained, “This man borrowed 50 Rupees, and he denies taking the money.” The blind man was absolutely sure who had taken the money. My father told the blind man, “Look, forget it. If he denies it, what can we do?” The blind man said, “No. No. No. I will definitely get that money back.” My father asked, “What are you going to do to get the money back?”

The man who had borrowed the rupees was a blacksmith; in the villages you get blacksmiths this ability, you would probably be better than Edgar Cayce. Yogi: Edgar Cayce could sleep on a book, and remember its contents in the morning. Teacher: You don’t even need to sleep on the book, if you really develop this ability. In this way, different people have these abilities. That is the nature of karma, which they have earned or committed. There was another man living at Pokunuwita, where Rerukane Chandavimala lived, who had the ability of absorbing the contents of books. This man died many years ago. He could absorb all the Dhamma points in a book, usually books written by Rerukane Chandavimala, without much effort.

There are two abilities: 1) Jaathis Marana, which is to know what you were in previous births, and 2) Pubbe Nivasanussathi, which is wisdom to know previous births. Animals and even deaf and blind people possess the knowledge of Jaathis Marana, which means remembering their previous births. Those who develop jhānas and get into abhinnas, psychic powers, possess Pubbe Nivasanussathi.

Jaathis Marana is an ability that animals and others get from their births. Now, we mentioned two names. Ananda and Sodaya. Those two rich men, who died and were reborn in lower realms, one deformed and one a dog, had Jaathis Marana, this ability to remember previous births. However, when it comes to arahats and monks, when they talked about previous births, it was through Pubbe Nivasanussathi.

Those who do not know how to distinguish between these two ~ Jaathis Marana and Pubbe Nivasanussathi think both abilities are the same. When a child is born, for the first few years of the child’s life, he or she might have memories of the previous birth. That is due to Jaathis Marana. After a few years, or after a few months, the child loses that ability. In the case of Edgar Cayce, he had that ability for many more years, without losing it.

There was another child, here in Sri Lanka, by the name of Dhamma-Ruwan. He lived in Kandy. Dhamma-Ruwan had that ability of recall when he was a young person. He recalled living in a kuti next to venerable Buddhagosa’s kuti in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, and he used to point out that place when he visited Anuradhapura. And he could recite chanting in the old Sinhala style. He remembered all those suttas and chanted them without any support whatsoever. He also remembered that he was called Naviya, at the time the Lord Buddha was cremated in Kusinara. He remembered. He did all that when he was a young child. But now, as an adult, he has forgotten everything and become a tourist guide.

The ability to remember previous births can prevail for a few years beyond early childhood, depending on the person. Edgar Cayce was special because he had those super normal abilities for a much longer period of time than usual.

From memory, Dhamma-Ruwan could remember the Dhammacakkapavatana Sutta, and
many other suttas. On the Internet, you can find some of his chanting. You could do a search
on the Internet about Jaathis Marana. I have spoken enough about this topic.

I have a little bit of suspicion about all these reports ~ that is my problem ~ it could be an illness inside. Like the Buddha said, (to the Kalamas), “Don’t accept anything unless it is agreeable to you.” I feel like throwing away most of this stuff. I wonder about it. I accept that someone has the ability and loses the ability later.

Yogi: Like Dhamma-Ruwan?

Teacher: Yes, when the person grows older. On the other hand, if this abhinna, power, Pubbe Nivasanussathi is developed, that is an ability that doesn’t disappear so easily. Switch off the recorder and I will speak more about why I have my suspicions.

Part II

I also had super-normal abilities as a young boy. As an example, I could see through a wall. I could tell who was on the other side. My ability was seeing through walls. I had the ability to say there was such and person on the other side of wall, and he is wearing this colour of clothing. I could describe it in detail, but I wouldn’t talk about it at home, because I had been severely warned and punished for saying that on a couple of occasions. Though I could see, I used to keep those experiences to myself.

Once, I also knew that an elephant was coming down a hill from a faraway distance, though others could not see it. I have that experience. I felt the elephant would definitely end up there, where we were staying. Since I was afraid of being punished for saying anything, I wouldn’t talk about these types of events.

(?) That is another reason I did not believe what these young boys forecast.

I had that ability until around twelve years of age. After twelve, I lost it. I did not have to keep an ear to the book. By looking at a book, I knew what was written inside. So, when I told this to my brother and sisters, they punished me, “You seriously studied this book, and now you are saying that it is in the book. You are lying when you say you didn’t study the book.”

There is some truth in all those abilities that are claimed to be possessed by this or that person. But when it becomes public, those abilities become exaggerated and much is added to it. And there can be coaching.

When I was about to be ordained, I was asked to memorize Dhammapada. I just looked at the book and carried on with my normal daily duties like cleaning, and raking. Later, when I was asked to recite the Dhammapada, I could recite it from memory. The other monks didn’t like it, because they took a lot of trouble to memorize and in spite of all their work, they could only memorize two or three verses. I just glanced through the book and remembered about twenty-five verses without any effort. They had been finding fault with me, “You don’t show that you’re studying, but you remember.” They took so much effort and couldn’t remember a great deal.

Where this pond is located, next to our hall here, there was a big stone. That was the place where all the monks got together to study. Some of the kutis, of that time, were located near where the new stupa is located. Other kutis were located down somewhere near the office. When we recited these verses, or chanted these gathas, on top of this rock, our chanting wouldn’t disturb anyone because it was done far away from the kutis. Those monks who were chanting and trying to memorize, they were angry with me, saying, “You don’t do any studies, but you remember everything.” I could remember those verses because of my mind. It was something I could do from my birth; that is kamma. If I had a conceit, thinking, “I didn’t have to learn from anybody. I have superior ability to memorize things.” What a serious disadvantage that would be. These are abilities people get from their births; these abilities are due to the kamma they have done in the past. Until I was about thirty years of age, I had this ability to memorize something with just a simple glance. It continued till I was about thirty years old.

My ability to memorize was so good that many people came and asked, “What about this?” or “What about that?” They might ask, “How do I find this and that?”, and I could tell them exactly where it was. If that ability was with one of us here today in class, then we wouldn’t really be sitting here ~ we would be sitting in the clouds!

After I became a monk, I had the problem of teachers not accepting me; and normally, I got out of the class, and only the other students were taught. I had to stay away and grasp the subject myself. Even Venerable Sevalee said to me, “Don’t come to my class. When you attend class, others don’t get an opportunity to learn.” In class, when I started discussing a topic with Venerable Sevalee, then the other monks suffered because we were discussing at a higher plane and others wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t be able to follow, and wouldn’t gain. So, whenever I did go to class, venerable Sevalee took me by the hand, put me at a distance, and said, “You stay here until I have the class with the other students.” Thereafter, I stopped going into that class. Instead I went to see Iriyagama Punnarama, another senior monk living at Kanduboda. He had been teaching me separately. These abilities are due to the karma, the power of karma, with which we are born. It is nothing to be proud of. It is nothing more than a super-normal ability which comes to people.

Do you remember the lady from Lebanon?

Yogi: Freeda. She knows a dozen languages.

Teacher: She now knows twenty-five different languages, including Sinhala. She teaches languages in a French university. A few months back, she was here. When she first came to Sri Lanka, she knew eight languages. Second time, she knew twenty, and the third time she knew twenty-five. It is not merely speaking the language, or saying a few words. She knows those twenty-five languages with complete grammar, which is an unimaginable kind of ability. I asked her, “How did you get this ability?” Freeda said, I don’t know. I think it was due to karma.” That is how she answered. She only needs to see the alphabet of a language. She persuaded her mother and elder sister also to take up Buddhism. She was Muslim by birth. She wanted to take a coloured Buddha statue to Lebanon. I warned her, “If you take a Buddha statue to your country you will be killed.” She said, “No. No. Somehow I will take it home, and give it to my mother.” Just after the tsunami she had been calling from wherever she was and asking about all the people she knew in Sri Lanka. She mentioned all their names, and that was difficult for me because I did not know. Now, she is talking about becoming a nun with ten precepts. I told her not to worry about that, “You just continue teaching.” I didn’t advise her to ordain.

With all these stories, what we need to take to our hearts is that this is how the karma acts on different people. There was a layperson in Burma by the name of Abhinna Upasaka, because he had super-normal abilities. When a large temple was being built, they called on him for help. Normally he helped bring heavy objects that were needed for building the new temple.

He could travel from Rangoon to Mandalay in a few minutes. Nowadays of course, you don’t find such people. In those days, this man, Abhinna Upasaka, had such abilities. That was due again to the very powerful karma he had committed in the past. Such abilities are there with laypersons as well as monastics. We do not consider all these super normal abilities as great achievements.

Psychic powers in Theravada Buddhism, Sri Lanka