This page will review some of the rumoured spiritual abilities and sort out what is and what is not true. There is a lot of false and misleading information. Can we expect to gain these abilities if we become enlightened?
Levitation. I know of no documented proof that even the most accomplished yogic practitioners are able to levitate. The transcendental meditation technique of yogi flying is better described as bouncing on bums (see picture on the right – it may be fun!). No defying of gravity occurs. There are myths and legends and plenty of magical tricks, but no firm proof of levitation. The laws of physics apply to the human body, and all the great reputable masters (such as Ramana Maharshi, Paramahansa Yogananda, etc.) never claimed to be able to levitate. The feeling of weightlessness and flying that can occur during long periods of meditation is where the proprioception area of the brain (Parietal lobe) falls out of sync with the environment. This can happen quite rapidly in flotation tanks. The lack of incoming sensory information to the sense of proprioception results in the brain feeling disconnected with the environment, leading to feelings of floating or becoming larger or smaller. The body itself remains motionless and doesn’t get bigger or smaller.
Walking on water. Apart from stories about the miracles of Jesus and the Buddha, again the laws of physics are against this happening without some mechanical assistance. There was a demonstration of people actually running across a pool on non-Newtonian fluid (not exactly water, and not exactly walking) which is the closest we’ll probably come to it. It is more likely that this myth is referring to something else (such as knowledge of shallow areas, or it has been suggested that Jesus floated across the Red Sea on a thin sheet of ice) rather than the physical ability for the feet to walk on top of water.
Fire walking. This is a scientifically proven fact. Fire walking has been used for initiation ceremonies building confidence and conquering fear. It does not require supernatural powers, but needs to be done properly under supervision in order to avoid getting burnt.
Burial for long periods of time. This one is a little more interesting. There are accounts of Indian Fakirs being buried for extended periods of time (from 40 days to several months, eg Sadhu Haridas) in an apparently lifeless state. Paramahansa Yogananda recounts seeing a demonstration of this in his younger days. David Blaine has shown that it is possible to go for extended periods without food (I saw him suspended in a glass cage near the Tower Bridge in London in 2003, where he remained for 44 days – he did receive water through a tube), but if these yogis are really able to survive burial for 2 – 3 months they must be entering a state similar to hibernation. It is possible that they have learned how to harness the mammalian diving reflex (which usually is only effective for about an hour), dramatically reducing their required intake of air, food and water, and making their heartbeat barely detectable. Advanced Kriya Yoga masters have been able to demonstrate meditative states where the heartbeat and breathing is so faint and slow as to be barely detectable. Maybe this would help survive an avalanche, but it is hard to see how this ability would be useful to us in everyday life.
Breatharianism (Inedia). The ability to survive on life force (prana) alone, without needing food or drink. Modern claims of this have been largely debunked, and some people have died trying (through renal failure). There is no doubt that most of us eat and drink far more than we need to survive, but it has been difficult to find people that really can go without food for more than a month or two (and a day or two without water). Yogananda reported that Giri Bala and Therese Neumann were genuine. Check these accounts out for yourself.
Seeing auras. Some migraine sufferers do see auras, and some see auras without experiencing the migraine headache. This does seem to be a symptom of someone undergoing brain trauma more than a supernatural power. The source of the brain seizure may be either in the Occipetal or Temporal cortex – both can result in visual auras. The auras that are seen look nothing like the results of Kirlian photography. If you start seeing auras after long periods of meditation it is best to have a check-up with a doctor.
Insensitivity to pain. Devotees of some modern religious festivals regularly demonstrate poking skewers through their tongue or cheek to prove that they have conquered pain. There are some really graphic images here (for brave viewing only!). Dr Jonn Mumford has demonstrated putting a hot skewer through his tongue in his tantric lessons. The tongue and cheek areas do not tend to bleed as much as other parts of the body, but the pain is still real and must be overcome by the mind. Mahatma Gandhi chatted with his disciples whilst having a medical operation. Meditation practice can lead to a withdrawal of sensitivity to external objects (pratyahara) and pain, and with control some people can develop a high degree of control over pain. There are people who are born with a condition (CIP – Congenital Insensitivity to Pain) that means they don’t feel pain at all, but this is usually detrimental to leading a normal life.
Insensitivity to cold. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are involved in regulation of body temperature, and with proper meditation practice we can learn to stay warm even when sitting on a block of ice after having bathed in a glacial stream. Wim Hof is able to keep his core body temperature within normal operating parameters whilst submerged in an ice bath. He doesn’t follow spiritual practices but does use a breathing technique similar to Tummo meditation which enables practitioners to increase their body temperature.
Stigmata. This is where the marks of Christ’s crucifixion appear on the hands/wrists and feet of devotees, or on the crown of the head. One of the most famous recent stigmatists is Padre Pio who was studied extensively (it was suggested that he may have used Carbolic Acid to fake the stigmata, but nothing was proved one way or another). Unconscious self-infliction of wounds to the palms of the hands can occur.
The Roman crucifixion method is not fully understood but it is more likely that the hands were tied to the cross. If a nail was used it would more likely have been through the wrist than the centre of the palm which would have easily torn off. Hence it isn’t likely that Christ had wounds on the palms of his hands or soles of his feet; he would not have had wounds in the places that stigmata are normally observed. The commonly used stigmata wounds are symbolic, not actual, and are likely to be self-inflicted (possibly unconsciously) by those displaying them. Their presence still indicates great devotion.
Telepathy, teleportation, telekinesis. Telepathy is the ability to communicate with another persons mind, and it has never been conclusively proven. There are many ways of reading what is going on in another persons head. The unconscious mind has connections to the eyes and brain, which makes it almost impossible for the average person to lie. These micro-emotions flash briefly across the face and with practice they can be used to tell if a person is lying or not. Magicians use this in performances, and good detectives also use these methods when interrogating suspects. Wear sunglasses when playing poker. I had this trick played on me at a stand at an expo fair. I was asked if I was born in Jan, Feb, March etc and if my birth date had a 1, 2, 3 etc in it. I answered “no” to everything. Then he told me my exact birth date! He was able to read my subconscious flinches when I answered with a lie as he went through the numbers and months that were correct. This isn’t telepathy, but is another good example of being able to access an ability that we all should have.
Teleportation is the ability to physically move oneself, such as by flying or by dematerialization and rematerialization. Some Yogi’s were said to be able to duplicate their bodies and be in two places at once. None of these claims have ever been conclusively proven. There are no real flying carpets or witches riding broomsticks either.
Telekinesis is the ability to move objects without touching them. This is what ghosts are said to be able to do – move furniture, open creaky doors, etc. There have been many tests but nobody has yet conclusively been able to do it. I have done the light as a feather trick, where 4 people lift another person using only 1 or 2 fingers (here is a Youtube video). This is fun and complies with all the laws of physics – no supernatural powers are required. Some of these claims include the ability to fuse pieces of gold, such as rejoining a golden ring that has been precisely cut in half. Since gold does not oxidise, if the ring is cut very neatly and cleanly, gold will rebond to itself when the surfaces are placed back together with only a little pressure. This property is unique to only a few precious metals such as gold. No supernatural abilities are required.
Alchemy – turning lead in to gold. Yes, this is possible but only with particle accelerators and a physics lab. The alchemists were said to have a formula (or philosophers stone) for turning base metals in to gold. Widely misunderstood, the transmutation of metals story is an analogy of the purification of the dull human soul (lead) until it shines with divine light (gold – pure and untarnishable). There is also the white powdered monoatomic gold that Laurence Gardner claims has mysterious powers including levitation, and great health benefits. Science has yet to substantiate these claims, so don’t waste your money buying any!
Getting back to the real world, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are a great framework for meditation, leading to the ultimate state of Samadhi. More on this later. Early students were told that the practice of these techniques would lead to the them acquiring supernatural powers – through meditation, penance, or the use of “herbs“. In fact many of the supernatural powers have parallels to the experiences of drug-takers (as in narcotics use). Even today, the use of marijuana and opium is allowed for ritual purposes in some areas, and the magical Soma juice used by ancient Hindu’s may well have been cannabis oil. There is also DMT, which is produced in the human body and can be released into the brain under certain circumstances.
The supernatural powers of the Siddhi are said to be:
- Aṇimā: reducing one’s body to the size of an atom
- Mahima: expanding one’s body to an infinitely large size
- Garima: becoming infinitely heavy
- Laghima: becoming almost weightless
- Prāpti: having unrestricted access to all places
- Prākāmya: realizing whatever one desires
- Iṣṭva: possessing absolute lordship
- Vaśtva: the power to subjugate all
Sensations of ones body getting smaller or larger or become weightless can occur during deep meditation when the lack of sensory input causes the proprioception sense to get confused and lose track of where the body is (the same thing can happen after long periods in a flotation or isolation tank). Sensory deprivation can result in people having hallucinations, and is even used as a torture method. People can feel as though they are flying (but they don’t physically levitate). This may be a good sign that meditation is being done correctly, but not that you are self-realized or have acquired any supernatural powers.
A further list of supernatural powers said to be acquired through meditation include:
- Tri-kāla-jñatvam: knowledge of past present and future
- Advandvam (non-duality): not being subject to dualities of heat/ cold, pain/ pleasure, sweat/ bitter, good/ bad
- Para citta ādi abhijñatā: knowing of others’ minds
- Agni arka ambu viṣa ādīnām pratiṣṭambhaḥ: having fire, sun, water, poison in control and stopping their effect
- Aparājayah: becoming unconquerable
- Anūrmi-mattvam: being undisturbed by hunger, thirst, and other body generated cravings
- Dūra-śravaṇa: hearing things/ events happening very far
- Dūra-darśanam: seeing things/ events happening very far
- Manaḥ-javah (manojvitva): moving physical body wherever one wants
- kāma-rūpam: attaining/ assuming desired form
- Para-kāya praveśanam (vikranabhav): entering another persons body
- Sva-chanda mṛtyuh: to die only on one’s wish
- Devānām saha krīḍā anudarśanam: witnessing the events of the 32 worlds
- Yathā sańkalpa saḿsiddhiḥ: achieving as one determines
- ājñā apratihatā gatiḥ: one’s commands unstoppable
Many of these claims seem incredible, but they could be explained as the hallucinatory affects of drugs (ie becoming unconquerable or unstoppable, or the ability to see and hear things afar) such as LSD, DMT or ergot. These promises of supernatural powers may also have been used to attract new students. False advertising.
The acquisition of such supernatural powers is NOT the reality or objective of the enlightenment I am explaining in these web pages. If that is what you were after, you will be disappointed.