xylem wrote:i once post a question to some dharma friends: "ok, so the lama is a buddha, and the buddha is omniscient, right? so if i ask my lama how many species of otters there are in the world, he or she will know?" it was interesting watching dharma friends scramble to cement up any uncomfortable logical implications. that type of attitude isn't helpful.
Yup, I've been asking people the same question. Well, without the otters
Not many practitioners, of all kinds of different spiritual traditions, seem to have a good answer to this. And it's pretty damn fundamental to the whole thing we're doing, and to the way we should relate to our teachers.
The omniscience or "all-knowing" of a buddha isn't a kind of endless intellectual encyclopedia of knowledge, but I can see how this notion arises. In our relative condition we usually do associate a high degree of "knowledge" with a vast learned intellectual-rolodex capable of producing an accurate (account or) answer to any inquiry presented. This idea is born of a cultural proclivity to associate the term "knowledge" with the intellect, so "all-knowing" naturally gives most individuals the impression of intellectually knowing everything. And thus the reasoning unfolds as you suggested; "well if this person is omniscient they should be able to tell me what I ate for breakfast on March 13th of last year"
and so on and so forth.
Granted there are indeed stories of meditation masters acquiring siddhis allowing them to read minds, sense things from afar etc... but these are merely relative powers which don't necessarily have anything to do with buddhahood. So these ideas of grandiose intellectual prowess are not what the knowledge of a buddha implies, and to impose these fabricated and limited notions (of what omniscience is) upon a true wisdom-holder really only becomes a disservice to oneself.
The mind wants to put wisdom in a box and attempt to grasp it's unlimited nature. And on one level this is ok, concepts are one of most proficient tools we have to communicate our ideas and that's a beautiful thing. But this beautiful capability can also become a double edged sword if we let our pre-conceived notions and presuppositions get the best of us, when that happens we become victims of our conditioning.
The all-knowing of a buddha is an intimate knowledge of what-is, through being inseparable from what-is. For a buddha, experience is whole and totally unfragmented, devoid of spacial relations between a subject and surrounding objects. Even though the intellect can still be implemented, the intellect itself is suffused with the totality and appears as a mere play of the natural state. Just as you presently know your own body by being that body, in buddhahood the vast expanse of non-arising timeless unborn perfection is known the same way. Even though it hasn't fully flowered to it's full potential, your present experience actually tips it's hat at being that way right now. An easy way to see this is by taking notice that in our relative condition, an object or experience's "being" is inseparable from your knowing of it. Remove the imputed designations of knower and known, and it begins to be subtly apparent how innate knowledge governs reality. The problem is that we get carried away by our dualistic imputing, carried away by the illusion of time and believing that moments sequence consecutively. The dharma is meant to cut through these self-made obscurations to reveal naked simplicity. Empty yet powerful, luminous, clear and unobstructed. Apparent yet unestablished, timeless, complete and perfect.
Edit: One other way this notion arises is with statements which resemble "there is nothing that a buddha does not know"
. Again, we usually give this to the intellect and all happenings/events within our concepts of time and space etc. But in truth a statement of that nature is pointing to the fact that a buddha, knows only what is seemingly present in the apparent here-and-now of experience (which they are inseparable from). So "there is nothing that a buddha does not know"
means, presently what-is (in this timeless immediacy), is all that is, and all that is, is the unestablished non-dual wisdom of the natural state itself.