The fivefold eye of the Buddha in Pāli Canon and Commentaries


  • A. Nanda Centre of Buddhist Studies, the University of Hong Kong


In the early strata of Buddhist literature, the Buddha is depicted as the man perfected, who is sometimes referred as ‘one who endowed with eye’ (cakkhumanta). (Suttanipāta verses 160, 405 & 540; Dīghanikāya II 123, 166, 167 & 256; Dhammapāda verse 273). ‘Endowed with eyes’ could be interpreted as ‘spiritual insight’ or ‘wisdom’. In the later Pāli literature, this concept was allegorically referred to as ‘fivefold’. However, the epithet has not always been associated with the Buddha, and other mendicants were often referred to as cakkumanta (Dīghanikāya II 254; Dhammapāda verse 273). For example, in the Mahāsamaya sutta of Dīghanikāya, it had been used to describe monks in general. In the modern field of the Theravāda Buddhalogy, less attention has been given to the concept of the fivefold eye of the Buddha. An extensive search for scholarly works in this area will startle a serious researcher by its glaring omission. A brief mention is found in Toshiichi Endo’s book on ‘Buddha in Theravāda Buddhism: A Study of the Concept of Buddha in the Pāli Commentaries’ (2002). He touched on the concept as explained in the Pāli commentaries, skipping over the issue of origins and development of the concept. Therefore, my primary goal here is (i) to explore the concept of the fivefold eye of the Buddha in the Pāli commentaries, and (ii) to attempt to trace its origins and development. I argue that the fivefold eyes of the Buddha developed in the process of apotheosis of the Buddha, which was prompted by emerging challenges of different religious and social challenges, particularly devotionalism of Brahmanism. It is a textual study. The main source of this study is Pāli canon and commentaries. It also referred to the Mahāvastu-Avādana in order to show a historical development and a comparative analysis of the fivefold eyes of the Buddha.