Was the Buddha omniscient?
The question of whether the Buddha was omniscient took on increasing importance as the Buddhist tradition developed over the centuries. More will be said about the scholastic tradition of other schools later, but for now it is perhaps worth mentioning a view reported by Kulatissa Nanda Jayatilleke in his still-important work called Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. Jayatilleke reports that it was common in the Theravāda tradition to say that there were no obstacles to what the Buddha could know. That does not mean that he was actively omniscient in the sense of knowing all things at all times; rather, it means that if the Buddha ever wanted to know anything, it mattered not whether the object of his knowledge was far away in time or space, or in some future time that no one had yet experienced, or even in some normally inaccessible place such as another person’s mind. The Buddha could see and hear objects at a great distance, and he could know the thoughts of others. So he could know whatever he wanted to know but was not burdened with the informational overload that would go with knowing all things at all times.
- Jayatilleke, Kulatissa Nanda. Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge. London: Allen & Unwin, 1963.