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Video available! "Yamakaprātihārya or the ‘Twin Miracle”


The Buddha performed a variety of miracles in the course of his peripatetic career as a wandering monk in Northern India. It is worth asking exactly where, when, why, and how the Buddha performed these miracles. Among the most popular ones recounted in Buddhist texts are the simultaneous emission of fire and water from his body and the multiplication of himself in the sky (known as the ‘Twin Miracle’, or yamakaprāṭihārya in Sanskrit). According to the Sarvāstivādins and Mūlasarvāstivādins, the Buddha performed the yamakaprāṭihārya at Gāyaśirṣa, Kapilavastu, Rājagṛha and Śrāvastī. According to the Pāli Nidānakathā, the first attested ‘Twin Miracle’ was performed during the first week after his ‘Enlightenment’ at Bodh Gayā. The Buddha had to perform this miracle to appease the doubts of the gods who were concerned that he was showing no outward signs of having achieved his recent great Enlightenment. The Nidānakathā relates as well that the same “miracle” was then performed by the Blessed One at Kapilavastu before the Śākyas, who are proud by nature and obstinate in their pride, and presumably also had to be convinced of the Buddha’s achievement. There are two major versions of the ‘Twin Miracle’ at Śrāvastī, varying to some degree in Pāli and Sanskrit texts. The longest Pāli account of the miracle is found in the Dhammapadāṭṭhakathā. The Sanskrit version in the Prātihāryasūtra of the Divyāvadāna also has a detailed description of the miracle. However, these textual traditions basically agree on the following events in the story: (1) It was the evil Māra who provoked the six heretics led by Purāṇa Kāśyapa to challenge the Buddha in a miracle contest; (2) the Buddha accepts the challenge and agrees to meet them in the city of Śrāvastī; (3) the Buddha performs a miracle at Śrāvastī that defeats the heretics. The present talk takes into consideration all the important narratives concerning the ‘Twin Miracle’ in sacred Buddhist texts and examines to what extent they were depicted in ancient South and Southeast Asian art. As we will see, the Bharhut and Sāñcī stūpas display several episodes connected with the subsequent ‘Twin Miracle’ at Śrāvastī. Most of the Gandhāran sculptures depicting the ‘Twin Miracle’ of Śākyamuni are found in isolation; in the absence of the extended context in which they are embedded we cannot determine precisely to which city, either to Śrāvastī or to Kapilavastu, they allude. However, the iconography of a few Gandhāran sculptures evokes without doubt the miracle displayed at Śrāvastī. A hitherto unpublished relief, probably found at Swabi in Gandhāra, undoubtedly depicts the ‘Twin Miracle’ performed by the Buddha at Kapilavastu, creating a set of Buddhas rising to the abode of the gods of Akaniṣṭha (meaning ‘Nothing Higher’, or, the highest of the Pure Abodes and therefore the highest of all the realms).

Osmund Bopearachchi Bio

Osmund Bopearachchi, Numata Visiting Professor in Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and Emeritus Director of Research of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS-ENS), Paris, is a numismatist, art historian, and archaeologist. He is also a former Visiting Professor and Member of the Doctoral School of the Paris-Sorbonne University, Paris. 

Among his numerous publications are books, articles, exhibition catalogues, and translated and edited volumes; he is also a principal collaborator on numerous audio-visual projects and museum and archaeological databases. The French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres has honored five of his books with prestigious awards, including the distinguished George Perrot Medal (2015). In 2006 the French government honored his career achievements with the “Order of Academic Palms.” 

Prof. Bopearachchi holds a BA from the University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka); a BA honors, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D. from the Paris I Sorbonne University; and a Higher Doctorate (Habilitation) from the Paris IV Sorbonne University.