SIDDHIS: Supernormal Perceptual States

Buddhism teaches that after a practitioner achieves a certain degree of realization, spiritual power develops. Furthermore, it is acknowledged as well that supernatural powers are not attainable exclusively JUST by Buddhists and Buddhists only, but possible for anyone who has deep religious and spiritual cultivation to develop some kind of “supernormal powers.” (source)

Siddhi is typically defined as “a magical or spiritual power for the control of self, others and the forces of nature.” The siddhis described by occultists and yogis are in actuality supernormal perceptual states available to all human beings. These are absolutely natural abilities that can be explained in highly rational terms. There is nothing mysterious or magical about the siddhis. More formally Siddhi can be defined as follows:

SIDDHI (Sanskrit — Accomplished One). A term for different capabilities: Through recognizing emptiness, clarity and openness of the mind, different qualities arise naturally, since they are part of mind. The Buddha, whose personal name Siddharta is based in the root-word and means “he whose aim is accomplished,” distinguishes between two types:

  • Normal Siddhis: all those forces of the conditioned world that transform elements.
  • Extraordinary Siddhis: the ability to open beings up for the liberating and enlightening truths; to lead to Realization.

Just like any other natural human ability, different people display differing abilities towards learning and/or spontaneously displaying siddhis with Karma often playing a primary role. Some people are born with siddhis that they exercise without being aware that their particular psychic gift is unusual. In such cases, it may come as a traumatic event to the individual when they learn that their ability is not common and that they are considered a “misfit” by other people not possessing the psychic ability.

In other cases, one can practice yoga and actively develop siddhis. In addition to birth and Karma the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Chapter IV, verse 1 states the power of siddhis can come because of the use of Mantras, and/or Samadhi. According to occult theory, this is the rational and desirable way to go about achieving siddhis.

Another means to trigger siddhis also mentioned in the sutra, albeit in an unexpected and uncontrolled manner, is by the use of certain drugs. For example, certain hallucinogenic drugs an herbs such as LSD, mescaline, peyote and others. However, UNLESS used under the auspices of experienced Spiritual Guides similar to Native American rituals that use Sacred Datura or the Mazatec Velada Ceremony they can stimulate siddhis in an uncontrolled fashion and quite possibly lead to an internal mental environment that causes great psychological trauma. Regarding potential outcomes through the use of drugs, in the opening quote of AUSHADHIS: Awakening and the Power of Siddhis Through Herbs the following is found:

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Chapter IV, verse 1 it is stated that the supernormal perceptual powers of Siddhis CAN be reached through the use of certain herbs, replicating on the short term a mind-strength ability and potential execution of powers similar to or equal to that of a person versed in Siddhis garnered via the highest levels of Spiritual Attainment.

As well, a variety of other stimuli may cause siddhis spontaneously, such as a fall or a blow to the head.

No matter in what fashion the siddhis are produced, the fact is, THEY EXIST. The existence of the siddhis is doubted by most people because they have no experience with them. However, the act of dreaming is considered a siddhi. Thus, any one who has dreamed has utilized a siddhi.

Our so-called normal psychological attributes bleed imperceptibly into the perceptual realms (the Planes of Nature) opened up by the awakening of the siddhis, thus it is not clear cut at all as to where “normal” psychological behaviors end, and siddhis begin.

And to further complicate the situation, though academic psychologists see many cases of people experiencing siddhis, the academic psychology community, on the whole, is completely unaware of the nature and existence of the siddhis. Often this leads to the psychologist or psychiatrist treating individuals who are experiencing siddhis in an inappropriate and damaging fashion. Often, cases of so-called insanity or psychosis are cases of people experiencing siddhis who are scared and confused, in which case the individual may be given completely inappropriate treatment that only worsens the individual’s condition. Of course there are valid forms of psychosis in which confinement or institutionalization are required. Again, however, the borderline between such cases and cases of people experiencing siddhis is ambiguous and ill defined presently.

In the future, Western academic science will be forced to accept the realities of the siddhis as their nature becomes better understood.

In conclusion, it must be strongly and thoroughly stressed that the siddhis are absolutely natural abilities latent in all humans. If one takes the time to learn and practice the correct yoga exercises, then it is inevitable that one will directly experience the awakening of their own siddhis. Again, there is nothing magical or mysterious going on here, and all claims put forth regarding the siddhis stand open to any type of test of their validity that anyone wishes to pose. However, those skeptical of the siddhis and who wish to challenge the claim to the existence of the siddhis must be prepared to recognize that the nature of the siddhis will not fit easily into biased misconceptions. One who experiences siddhis operates in a greater, more expanded psychological reality than one who does not and therefore the skeptic must be prepared to expand his or her understanding in an attempt to either prove or disprove the existence of the siddhis.

RECORDED EXAMPLES OF SIDDHIS, Modern Day and in History:

There are many examples of siddhis throughout history, in a variety of texts and various religions, but one of the greatest observed or recorded exponents of modern day is Sri Seshadri Swamigal, the so-called “saint with the golden hand,” of which, for example, the following is written:

Sri Krishnaswamy Sastri’s wife was suffering from swelling of the stomach,hands and legs and vomiting of roundworm. Doctors gave up hope and they visited the Swami in Tiruvannamalai as a last resort on a horse carriage. Sri Seshadri Swamigal got into the carriage and put his leg on her swollen body and rode the carriage into the sadhu choultry and asked her to swallow some sand and apply it on her body for three days. Miraculously, she was cured of her disease completely.

Other siddhis attributed to the Swami are:

  • Making rains come on the request of his devotees.
  • Giving a darshan of himself to five or six devotees at different places at the same time.
  • Showing devotees swargalokam(heaven) and mumurthi devas (mythological Gods in Hindu literature).
  • Giving darshan as Parvathi devi(Hindu Goddess) to many devotees.

Rather than anything closly related to Siddhis, Ganapati Muni is known more for his “conversion to,” and Enlightenment under, the great Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi. Before that however, he was a personage in his own right, known for and sometimes feared for the following:

Ganapati Muni was born as an ‘amsa’ of Dundi Ganapati, had a huge following, and was a born poet. He was a great scholar and a tapasvi with powerful Siddhis who could bring down or stop the rains! He could destroy a whole town. Once when he was harassed during his stay in the city of Nasik he cursed that the whole city should be destroyed. Soon the whole city was destroyed through the dreaded disease of plague.

The following example of siddhi was written by the British author W. Somerset Maugham and published in A Writer’s Notebook. Maugham was well versed in Indian mysticism, had met the Baghavan Sri Ramana Maharshi personally, and traveled extensively in India:

In India a Yogi wanted to go somewhere by train, but having no money, asked the station-master if he could go for nothing; the station-master refused, so the Yogi sat down on the platform. When it was time for the train to go it would not start. It was supposed that something was wrong with the engine, so mechanics were sent for and they did all they knew, but still the train could not go. At last the station-master told the officials of the Yogi. He was asked to get in the train and it immediately started.

The above train story sounds a lot like one of those urban legends, but, if you want to see the on record original source for it, go to Lahiri Mahasaya

The next example is also from Maugham, but comes from his novel The Razor’s Edge:

An Indian Yogi came to a bank of a river; he didn’t have the money to pay the ferryman to take him across and the ferryman refused to take him for nothing, so he stepped on the water and walked upon its surface to the other side. The Yogi (telling the story) shrugged his shoulders rather scornfully and said, “A miracle like that is worth no more than the penny it would have cost to go on the ferryboat.

How Maugham got that last story, where it comes from or if it is an original or a modification from some other source is not known…it is known, however the following is attributed to Gautama Buddha and found in the book “BUDDHISM: It’s Essence and Development” by Edward Conze (pp 104-5):

One day the Buddha met an ascetic who sat by the bank of a river. This ascetic had practised austerities for 25 years. The Buddha asked him what he had received for all his labor. The ascetic proudly replied that, now at last, he could cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha pointed out that this gain was insignificant for all the years of labor, since he could cross the river using a ferry for one penny!

In a more up to date, modern-day account, in an event actually observed and experienced in real life by the Wanderling personally, the following is offered:

My very first encounter with an Obeahman occurred long before I began my apprenticeship under the Jamaican man of spells I eventually studied under. Although I had been in Jamaica for some time I had never heard of Obeah or an Obeahman until the day a Jamaican friend of mine and I were taking a trip across the island in his car. We had gone to Montego Bay along the north coast for several days and on our return trip to Kingston my friend decided it would be quicker as well as more fun if we took a short cut through some of the cane fields. We were doing about eighty miles per hour when we passed a little old man on the side of the road walking with a wooden staff and carrying a bundle over his shoulder. My Jamaican friend immediately hit the brakes and screeched to a halt telling me the old man was an Obeah and leaving him to walk so far out in the middle of nowhere would be bad luck. Since his vehicle was a small little two-door British car, to show respect due the Obeah, I got out and squeezed into the small rear seat allowing him to sit in the front. Soon we were back up to speed cruising the back roads of the cane fields at about eighty miles per hour. Then, all of a sudden the engine started to cough and sputter, eventually just dying and stopping to run altogether. We coasted to the side, my friend got out and asked me to get into the drivers seat to try and start the engine as he fiddled with stuff under the hood. Two or three times we tried and the car refused to start. The Obeah got out and went to the front of the car, and, although the hood obscured my view somewhat, I could tell he tapped the engine a couple of times with his staff. My friend asked me to try it again and immediately the engine fired up. The next morning my friend was late to work. He said after we left the Obeah off where he requested and me home, he went home. However, when he got up the next morning his car refused to start and that it acted exactly the same as it had in the cane fields. When he got it to the shop to be repaired the mechanic showed him the ONLY thing he could find wrong with it. A spring in the carburetor was physically broken and with that spring broken the car could not run under any circumstances. The mechanic replaced the spring and the car started up and ran perfectly. (source)

Some people would argue quite stringently that siddhis are inherently different than the Power of the Shaman. However, that power actually emanates from the same original grounding source. The coincidence of characteristics and striking similarities between Buddhist adepts and Shamans and Shamanism has been studied and outlined quite thoroughly by Mircea Eliade in his monograph, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstacy. For example, the Arhats sixfold knowledge of the worthy ones that includes, like the Cloud Shaman, the seeming ability to appear and disappear at will. In the final book written by Carlos Castaneda, titled “The Active Side of Infinity,” Castaneda tells his readers that sometime before his eventual meeting between himself and the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan Matus, an anthropologist colleague told him what he knew about Cloud Shamans:

“For instance, there are Cloud Shamans who turn into clouds, into mist. I have never seen this happen, but I knew a Cloud Shaman. I never saw him disappearing or turning into mist in front of my eyes, but I chased him once, and he simply vanished in an area where there was no place for him to hide. Although I didn’t see him turning into a cloud, he disappeared. I couldn’t explain where he went. There were no rocks or vegetation around the place where he ended up. I was there half a minute after he was, but the Shaman was gone.” (source)

There is a supernormal phenomenon known in the West as Apportation that has a long history in Eastern cultures, albeit, not under the name Apportation. An example of such a Siddhi-like phenomenon is recorded involving the venerated Indian saint Vallalar (also known as Swami Ramalingam, 1828-1874) wherein one day, while in Madras, he, along with several devotees and disciples, were walking to Tiruvottiyur inorder to worship at the Ishwara temple. During the journey the Swami and his party got caught in an exceptionally heavy downpour, all in the group suffering much difficulty because of the sudden flooding and rushing water. The Swami showed them a shortcut and in an instant they reached Tiruvottiyur. T.V.G. Chetty, in the book Life of Swami Ramalingam, describes the incident as follows:

They had reached half the way to Tiruvottiyur. There was heavy rain. His followers began to run pell‑mell. But the Swami “rallied them all together and darted through some mysterious bye‑lane” and got the entire body in front of the temple in a second of time.

Chetty goes on to write:

The above incident seems to be a case of collective dematerialisation and materialisation, that is to say the Swami took them within his subtle‑physical body or possibly enveloped them in his environmental body which is its extension and reached the destination instantly and projected them out again. His devotees should have felt the whole process as going through a mysterious way and reaching the temple in an instant.

Interestingly enough, a similar incident transpired involving the previously mentioned Wanderling, above, although as a ten year old boy. He was traveling with his Uncle, a notorious bio-searcher, deep in the desert southwest, when they were happened upon by military-types who put them under guard. They were taken to the vehicle they arrived in and told to stay there. When the military person giving the order returned to the truck he found the bio-searcher and the boy gone, and the guard assigned to watch him having no clue where he went or what happened to him. A search of the area showed no sign of either of them in the vicinity, as though he simply disappeared or vanished, the desert and the surrounding environment somehow swallowing him up without a trace.

To the OUTSIDE OBSERVER both seemed to have just vanished, however to themselves everything was normal. The boy walking with his uncle wasn’t aware of any difference. His uncle may have been fully aware of the situation, but for the boy, not versed in such things, just went along with his uncle enveloped by the circumstances. The only difference, still recalled very vividly, was that the distance they traveled by vehicle that day was quite far and took quite a long time, however the trip walking back across the desert on foot took only a short time. As a youngster the boy never really thought much about the time-distance difference one way or the other, as a grown man it is another matter.(source)

The last example revolves around a revered Indian sage named Baba Faqir Chand who practiced an ancient meditation technique called Surat Shabd Yoga, a technique which attempts to induce a consciously controlled Near Death Experience (NDE). Mastery of Shabd Yoga is said to enable one to participate in experiences beyond the normal waking state. Relating an event in the military during World War One, Faqir recalls:

After about three months, the fighting came to an end and the Jawans retired to their barracks. I returned to Bagdad, where there were many satsangis. When they learned of my arrival, they all came together to see me. They made me sit on a raised platform, offered flowers, and worshipped me. It was all very unexpected and a surprising scene for me. I asked them, “Our Guru Maharaj is at Lahore. I am not your Guru. Why do you worship me?” They replied in unison, “On the battlefield we were in danger. Death lurked over our heads. You appeared before us in those moments of danger and gave us directions for our safety. We followed your instructions and thus were saved.”

Sometimes it is very dangerous to have occult powers. The mysterious wandering monk Totapuri, recognized for bringing the full fruit of Awakening to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, tells, it has been said, of the following:

There once was a great Siddha (a spiritual man possessing psychic powers) was sitting on the sea-shore when there came a great storm. The Siddha, being greatly distressed by it, exclaimed, ‘Let the storm cease!’ and his words were fulfilled. Just then a ship was going at a distance with all sails set, and as the wind suddenly died away, it capsized, drowning all who were on board the ship. Now the sin of causing the death of so many persons accrued to the Siddha, and for that reason he lost all his occult powers and had to suffer.

Thus said, the following, by Sri Swami Sivananda from his paper Satsanga and Svadhyaya, is being offered as a cautionary word of advice:

“Another great blunder people generally commit is that they judge the Enlightenment of Sadhus by the Siddhis they display. In the world generally, the common inclination is to judge the merits and ability of a Sadhu through his Siddhis. It is a blunder indeed. They should not judge the Enlightenment of a Sadhu in this way. Siddhis are by-products of concentration. Siddhis have nothing to do with Self-realization. A Sadhu may manifest Siddhis due to strong passions and intense desires, and if that be the case, he is undoubtedly a big householder only. You must believe me when I tell you that Siddhis are a great hindrance to spiritual progress, and so long as one is within the realm of Siddhis and does not try to rise above it and march onwards, there is not the least hope of God-realization for him. But, this does not mean that a person manifesting Siddhis is not a realized soul. There are several instances of such persons who have exhibited several Siddhis purely for the elevation and uplift of the world, but never for selfish motives.

“During the days of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a certain Sadhu approached him and showed two Siddhis: one was that he could roam about without being seen by anybody. The other was that light emanated from portions of his body when he walked.

This man, after some time, began misusing his power, entering the apartment of a lady unseen, fell in love with her and LOST his two powers.

In the world generally, the common run of people and even educated persons judge Sadhus by their Siddhis only. It is a serious blunder and hence I seriously warn you.” (source)

The Buddha was cognizant of the fact that there are those who devote themselves to yogic exercises only to acquire supernatural powers as well. He refined the practice by telling devotees that acquisition of supernatural powers does not confer any special spiritual advantage (Akankheyya Sutta, Vol. XI, see link below). It was for this reason that the Buddha forbade his disciples to work miracles for display. Craving for supernatural powers and taking delight therein after acquirement does not help to free one from The Three Poisons of Desire, Hatred and Ignorance. It is advised that anyone striving along the path of holiness toward final liberation guard themselves to not get caught up in it all and forget the true purpose.




AKANKHEYYA SUTTA: Vol. XI of The Sacred Books of the East


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