To the wise, the Dharma is the true miracle.
To the foolish, magic tricks are ‘enough’.
Transformation of the foolish into the wise is the true miracle.
A rich merchant in Rajagriha had a beautiful begging bowl made of the finest sandalwood and attached it to the top of a very tall pole in the square in front of his shop. He let it be known that any mendicant, no matter what order he belonged to, who possessed the power to levitate and take the superb bowl could keep it. A number of attempts had been made to get the bowl either by supernormal power or by persuading the merchant that the suitable recipient had arrived.
A number of monks of the Buddha’s order, with Maudgalyayana at the head, passed by the spot one day. There was a crowd present, and the monks thought it would redound the glory of the Sangha if one of their number were to levitate and take the bowl. Maudgalyayana, for whom this would have been a trifling manifestation of power, declined to make a show of his abilities.
But one of the other minks, Pindola-Bharadvaja, rose in the air and remained there for along time, so that he could be seen by everybody. Then he took the bowl and came down.
When the Buddha heard of this, he chastised the monks, saying that such displays would not in the long run bring people to see the truth of the Dharma. He made it a rule that Sangha members should not exhibit their supernormal powers.
But then matters came to a head in Shravasti in a major confrontation between the Buddha and the leaders of the other sects. With royalty and nobles and large numbers of the general populace in attendance, the Buddha defeated others in debate.
Then, when some of the other teachers began to show miracles, the Buddha once again performed the twin miracle of emanating fire and water from his body at the same time. Then he caused an immense jeweled platform to appear in the air and taught the Dharma to the crowd while pacing back and forth upon it.
After his resounding defeat of the rival teachers, the Buddha rose to the Heaven of the Thirty-three to teach the Dharma to his mother, who had been reborn there as a goddess.
A Life of the Buddha
by Sherab Chodzin Kohn