Exploring Man's Potential

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Man has always been impressed by the miraculous, the unknown, that which defies reason. He has sought time and again to pierce the mysteries of life and to gain mastery over the forces which govern his existence. He has attempted this by various means and has developed a multitude of sciences. Of all these sciences, it is yoga and its related systems which have opened up the depths of man's consciousness and brought him face to face with the totality of his existence.

Only a few fearless explorers have been sufficiently courageous enough to leave the security of the home, the traditional values of society and the accepted ways, in order to experience something new and more meaningful in their lives. They have discarded the useless baggage given them from others' experiences in order to explore the truth. On the way these yogis, philosophers, scientists and reformers have pioneered and spearheaded the evolution of mankind. The stories of the survivors we know about continue to inspire us as to what is possible in a man's lifetime.

Tales of power

It was the reports of the various siddhis, abilities and powers of Indian yogis, which originally brought yoga to the notice of the western world. Reports of various states of consciousness, the ability to fly, live for extended periods of time, create material objects from thought, heal the sick, exist without food or sleep, levitate, reproduce another identical physical body, know future and past events, and so on, presented yoga as a science for only a select and extraordinary few, rather than for all mankind. Later, when scientists, anthropologists, historians and other academicians seriously investigated yoga, the truer and enlarged view of yoga as a science for all began to emerge and to attract many adherents to its path.

Of course, the western tradition has always to attract many adherents to its path abounded with stories of miracles and supernatural powers, even before the time of Christ. However, these have usually been ascribed to a divine, supra personal source, outside of man's control. Yogis, however, stated that they possessed a science which could give a man powers or siddhi, but that these were only a side issue in terms of the larger and much more important goal of yoga, self-knowledge, which is itself the biggest siddhi and encompasses all the others. Only then can the adept use psychic powers because he knows their consequences and cannot be diverted from the spiritual path toward vain, magical displays. The fact that such masters exist and have demonstrated psychic powers has opened man's mind to new and wonderful possibilities.

The enlarged picture of our previously unknown and unrealised possibilities and potential presented by yoga, has already revolutionised the medical and scientific world, bringing about new sciences of healing and self-development of body and mind. As early as 1910, a German medical doctor, J. H. Schultz, investigated yoga and developed the now highly popular and successful Autogenic Training, a yoga nidra-like technique combining relaxation, autosuggestion and visualisation. Other popular techniques, such as biofeedback, which teach us how to control our minds by controlling our brainwaves and inner organs, have also grown out of the latest research on yoga. Prior to this, scientists categorically stated that conscious control of the autonomic nervous system was not possible until yogis showed how it could be done.

It seems that the only limitations that exist are the ones we impose on ourselves, the limitations of our minds, our imagination and ability to perceive the truer nature of things. There may be more to the statement that, 'the whole world is in the mind', other than meaning it is a figment of our imagination. For example, a colourless, sweet, oily liquid called glycerine, derived from natural fats 250 years ago, was thought to be found only in its liquid form, as cooling, reheating and other attempts to induce crystallisation failed. Early this century, for some unknown reason, glycerine spontaneously crystallised while on a moving truck in transit between Vienna and London. Chemists used pieces of the crystalline substance to induce crystallisation in other samples, however, a strange thing happened. Once scientists saw one sample of glycerine crystallised and the possibility of this was realised, then other glycerine samples, in the same laboratories as well as in laboratories all over the world crystallised spontaneously.

Lyall Watson in his book 'Lifetide' (Coronet, 1979, p.54) states:

"This is a regular experience in organic chemistry. Yesterday something was impossible and today it is easy. Partly because of the introduction of a new technique, but also in part because of the existence of a new state of mind."

In the beginning of 'Lifetide,' Watson describes the siddhi of a five year old Italian girl, named Claudia, who can completely turn tennis balls inside out with her mind. This is a feat which is even impossible mathematically.

The reports of supernormal powers are becoming more and more common in the press today. In the same way that glycerine crystals became more common once the possibility of their existence was known, so too many children are copying the techniques of gifted psychics such as Uri Geller. It was recently reported that children all over the world started to imitate Geller's ability to bend metal objects with his mind, as well as teleporting them about the room, after seeing him perform on television.

Books of power

From the yogic standpoint and in terms of aspirants traversing the spiritual path, psychic powers, seemingly 'miraculous' events and bizarre paranormal phenomena are nothing astounding or exceptional. Once the yogic novitiate has become adept at the preliminary building blocks of asana, pranayama, hatha yoga, and meditative disciplines, he begins to remove the blocks of his conditioning and conventional knowledge and experiences the world with a completely different view. Strange and paranormal events come his way and every aspirant, in all traditions, is warned to disregard these things as temporary and unimportant, merely more mind stuff and not the, unchanging reality.

There have been myriads of yogic, Buddhist, Sufi, Christian and Tantric texts describing the various states of consciousness and the psychic accomplishments which accompany them. The Yoga Vashishta, a classic of Indian Vedanta, is full of stories of yogis and their powers, their ability to fly, to metamorphose, to know the hearts and minds of others and to know the Supreme Reality. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, a Buddhist classic of the yogic path, is another example.

Other Buddhist texts talk of five classes of 'super-knowledge' or abhijna:

  1. Siddhi
  2. Divyacaksu, the divine eye
  3. Divyasrotra, divine hearing
  4. Paracittajnana, knowledge of another's thought
  5. Purvanirvasanusmrti, recollection of previous existences.

The Samannaphala-sutta, a Buddhist text, states, "With his heart thus serene, made pure, translucent, cultured, devoid of evil, supple, ready to act, firm and imperturbable, he applies and bends down his mind to the modes of the wondrous gift (siddhi)...becomes visible or invisible; he goes, feeling no obstruction, to the further side of a wall or rampart or hill, as if through air; he penetrates up or down through solid ground... he walks on water... travels cross-legged in the sky... he hears sounds both human and celestial, whether far or near... Penetrating with his own heart the hearts of other beings, other men, he knows them."

Certain yogic texts talk of eight main siddhis, though there are numerous minor ones:

  1. Anima, becoming as small as an atom
  2. Laghima, becoming as light as wool
  3. Garima, the ability to become heavy
  4. Mahima, the power to touch any object at a distance, e.g. the moon
  5. Prakamya, irresistible will
  6. Isitva, supremacy over body and mind
  7. Vasitva, dominion over elements
  8. Kamavasitva, fulfillment of desires

Perhaps the most important and popular yogic text this century has been Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which is the classic text on the higher yogas and describes not only the siddhis but tells of the path to their attainment in the most concise, clear and impressive form. He states (IV: 1):

"The siddhis are born of birth, herbs, mantras, austerities or samadhi."

Patanjali describes the major siddhis in chapter three where he states that by developing the ability to perform dharana (binding the mind to one place), dhyana (maintaining the flow of awareness of the object), samadhi (merging with the object) at one time, then the state of samyama and the light of higher consciousness dawns. When this very, very highly developed state is repeatedly practised in relation to mind, body, karma, friendliness, strength, the solar system, moon, pole star, navel, throat pit, nadis and so on, various forms of knowledge, awareness, power and experiences are attained.

The hatha yoga texts, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Shiva Samhita, Gherand Samhita, Hatharatnavali, talk of the various siddhis gained by the practice of asana, pranayama, shatkarma, mudra and bandha. By the practice of mahamudra, for example, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (3:14) states that the kleshas (ignorance, ego, attraction, aversion, fear of death) and death itself are vanquished.

The point to be made and understood is that these texts are describing a possible pathway for the evolution of the individual consciousness. They describe the processes required to start on the path, the events which occur on the way and the means to avoid the various pitfalls and traps which await the inexperienced, unwary or misguided aspirant. These texts are revealing a powerful and totally radical new way of living which we may find attractive but hard to understand. However, on the way to our spiritual destination, all things reveal themselves in their own time.