India – the land of mysticism has always had people with amazing supernatural powers. They are the very people who had powers to levitate, be invisible, reduce their body to the size of an atom, fulfil whatever they desired, walked above water without getting wet etc. They could practically do anything but chose to ignore their powers and even renounce them. Be it the past or the present, these supernatural people of India called siddhas never bothered to openly publicize their powers. Unlike the fictional superheroes, these real superheroes of India never bothered to change the world, though they could have. Why is that?
History of the world is stuffed with people who were power crazy – be it through politics or by conquest, holding key positions, acquiring more and more wealth, land etc. However in India, some wise people researched into the very source of power and systematically studied them.
During their practices of attaining the ultimate truth, they attained supra-natural powers like bi-location, clairvoyance, levitation, changing the size of the body, materialization, having access to memories from past lives, etc. They declared that these powers can be accessed within oneself rather than outside. Today we know about these supernatural powers (siddhis) mainly from ancient literary sources, eyewitness accounts and mystical masters.
Literary sources for siddhis
The fact that ‘power’ can be systematically studied and attained with proper guidance was first expounded in India some 2500 years ago by Sage Patanajali’s Yoga sutras. However that was the not the main purpose of his text. The yoga sutras are about mastering the mind and attaining ultimate freedom. However there is a complete chapter (chapter-3) dedicated to the powers (siddhis) one can attain by practicing yogis. Siddhis literally means “accomplishment” or “attainment”.
For example, take the power of levitation that is mentioned in the yoga sutras. This power of levitation or laghima (lightness) in Sanskrit is one of the many siddhis (spiritual powers) described in book three (Vibhooti Pada) of the Yoga Sutras. The Sage Patanjali says in chapter-3, verse-40 that “Udana-jayaj jala-panka-kantakadisv asanga utkrantis ca” which translates: “By mastery over the ‘Udana’ nerve current (i.e the upward vital air), one accomplishes levitation (utkrantih) over water, swamps, thorns etc.”
Some Gurus who were also siddhas (one who has siddhis) were able to levitate, fly through air etc. The mystical traditions of India has a history of levitation. It is also said that those who progress on the spiritual path, levitation comes naturally. The famous book ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ has many accounts of Yogis who used to levitate in the course of their meditation. Among other supernatural powers,the author Paramahamsa Yogananda describes a ‘perfume’ saint who materialized perfumes and other things.
Who has seen them?
Spiritual books in the last 100 years or so like the ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, ‘Living with the Himalayan Masters’, ‘Sai Satcharitra’ give a candid record of mystical powers and miracles. Numerous mystics like Sant Jnaneshwar, Shri Akkalkot Maharaj, Neem Karoli Baba, Mahavatar Baba, Swami Rama, the Saivite Naayanmar saints of South India, Shri Raghavendra, Swami Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, Shirdi Sai Baba, Changdev, Satya Sai Baba and many others have demonstrated these powers.
Mind boggling supernatural powers
There are also many other ancient Indian texts that talk about these powers on what are called ‘siddhis’. In the Bhaagavat Purana the five siddhis are mentioned. They are knowing the past, present and future, tolerance of heat, cold etc, knowing the minds of others and so on, checking the influence of fire, sun, water, poison, and so on and even remaining unconquered by others.
Some other minor siddhis mentioned are: ‘being undisturbed by hunger, thirst, and other bodily disturbances, hearing things far away, seeing things far away, moving the body wherever thought goes, assuming any desired form, entering the bodies of others, leaving the mortal coils when desired, accomplishment of one’s will, orders or commands being unobstructed.
Powerful but they don't show it - Why?
Masters say that these superhumans don’t display their powers except for the welfare of people. Says Paramahansa Yogananda, “Many come expecting miracles, but those who have realized God never show their powers, unless God directs them to. People don’t see that in that complete humility lies the greatest miracle! If I were to perform miracles in public, I could attract crowds of followers. But that isn’t the way God wants it.”
Rejecting the siddhis, the Rishi Vashishta advises to Lord Rama in the ‘Yoga Vashisht’ that “Those whose wisdom is not pure, but desire psychic powers are slaves of the world. The higher psychic powers are developed through Mantras, Postures, Mudras, etc., but the true truth seekers does not seek or need the higher psychic powers. The truth seeker will ever try to attain the true vision of the Atma. The wise one always tries to rest in wisdom but never goes in quest of psychic powers, levitation, etc.. Desire for worldly things or possessions are mere illusion. Desire for psychic powers tends to bondage; for that reason it will never appeal to the truth seeker.”
Another oft quoted anecdote in the life of Sri Ramakrishna Parahamsa illustrates the futility of occult powers. “Once a famous yogi went to Ramakrishna who was sitting on the bank of the Ganga. He said, “Ramakrishna, what are you doing sitting here? Let us go for a walk over the Ganga.” Ramakrishna asked him, “How many years did it take for you to walk on water?” He said, “Eighteen years practising in the Himalayas, hard work, fasting, yoga postures etc. Now I have this power to walk on the water. Can’t you walk on the water?” Ramakrishna said, “I am not so foolish. When I want to go to the other bank I give the ferryman only two small coins, and that’s enough! Your eighteen years are worth just two coins.”
Since these occult powers are considered a distraction in the path of enlightenment, the masters of the East have never bothered to propagate them. The siddhis are not considered a goal but just a side-effect, hence ignored. So the people with supernatural powers (siddhas) of India never change anything, instead they seek the ultimate truth.
Ram Lingam blogs his insights on India and Indian culture at www.indiasutra.co.nz