What is Siddhi?
It is not uncommon that some true aspirants who are leading a sincere spiritual life do get some siddhis. A few readers of my Blog have sent queries about ‘siddhis’. They want to know whether it is eventually good to possess these siddhis, if they come unasked. Or, are siddhis positively harmful?
What is Siddhi? In plain Sanskrit it means ‘success’. Siddhi also means ‘perfection’. In spiritual world, ‘siddhi’ connotes mystical Powers.
Saint Tulsidas, in his famous ‘Hanuman Chalisa’, praises Sri Hanuman as the ‘giver of eight kinds of ‘siddhi’ (mystical Powers) and nine kinds of ‘nidhi’ (wealth)’. What are they? One authoritative source to know about siddhis is definitely Rishi Patanjali’s Yogasutras. Swami Vivekananda’s lucid exposition of these sutras is indeed popular throughout the world.
According to a traditional view contained in Mahabharata, Siddhis are in eight in number and they are:
anima, mahima, laghima, garima, prapti, prakamya, istava and vasitva. These are the eight powers that one gains by a control one acquires over the elements.
Anima is the power by which one becomes very small. Mahima is the power by which one becomes very big. Laghima is the power by which one becomes very light. Garima is the power by which one becomes very heavy. Prapti is the power by which one can contact anything anywhere, whatever be the distance of that object. Prakamya is the capacity to fulfil any wish that is in the mind. Isatva is the capacity to bring anyone under one’s subjection. And vasitva is the mastery over the whole universe. These are the powers, says Rishi Patanjali, that one can get by ‘samyama’ (absolute concentration) on the five elements.
In his famous lecture on The Vedanta in all its Phases, delivered in Calcutta, Swamiji says: All powers and all purity and all greatness — everything is in the soul. The Yogi would tell you that the Siddhis – Animâ, Laghimâ, and so on — that he wants to attain to are not to be attained, in the proper sense of the word, but are already there in the soul; the work is to make them manifest. Patanjali, for instance, would tell you that even in the lowest worm that crawls under your feet, all the eightfold Yogi’s powers are already existing. The difference has been made by the body. As soon as it gets a better body, the powers will become manifest, but they are there.
How much helpful?
Are these Siddhis really helpful in one’s spiritual life? Yes, they are indeed helpful provided – the Powers are used for the good of others and if Guru’s permission to use them is obtained.
But every saint true to his salt, has warned us from using these Powers as they can easily promote egoism and then make us fall from the chosen spiritual path. Some times the Powers are so useless in one’s spiritual development; Sri Ramakrishna would ridicule in gaining these Powers after much penance. He once remarked about a monk returned to meet his brother. When the brother questioned about what had he got after leaving the home and practicing strenuous tapasya, the monk proudly answered, “Look, I can walk on the river waters”. And he actually showed his brother how he could walk on the waters! The brother exclaimed, “Oh! Only for ‘walking on the waters’ you spent 12 long years! See by paying to the boatman half a rupee I can cross this river!”
The Mahabharata episode
Nevertheless, Siddhis have captured the minds of aspirants from ancient time and by following any or in combination of all the four yogas namely, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, the siddhis can be obtained. One illustrative story that we find in Mahabharata is about an ascetic who meditates in a forest. Once he was doing his sadhana when a bird’s droppings fell on his shaven head. Utterly disturbed and consequently irritated, he cursed that the bird be burnt to death. And lo! The bird immediately fell from the tree dead. The ascetic understood that he has already developed a siddhi and became proud of it.
When the time came for taking alms, he ventured into a nearby village. It is an ancient practice in India that the renunciates stand in front of homes and call loudly the mother of the house to give them the required alms. A few minutes passed and there was no response from that home. Again he knocked at the door and called a little more loudly. Still there was no response. The third time he called with disgust and became angry. He was aware that he had got ‘siddhi’ the mystical power and hence thought would use that same power that he had used in the morning in a forest. At that juncture, a sweet voice of the house lady came through the still closed-door. She in a warning note, replied from inside, “Look! My boy! Don’t ever think that I am that bird which you burnt it to death! Hold on! I am coming now!”.
Obviously the ascetic was dumb founded as the morning incident of his burning a bird in that forest was not known to any one. How could this house lady who was in a distant village knew what happened earlier. Now, more than alms, he was curious to know about her. She opened the door and welcomed him in her home. While giving this ascetic boy the meals, she explained the cause for the delay in her response.
She showed him how her ailing husband was in the bed and he needed all services that she lovingly rendered to him. The knowledge of knowing about this ascetic was part of gaining a siddhi. She further informed him that such mystical powers could be obtained not only by meditation but also by performing one’s duties with love, respect and dedication.
Selfless action and Siddhis?
Once during my three-month ‘wanderings’ in North India, I reached Jwalamukhi, a place of pilgrimage in Himachal Pradesh where Divine Mother is worshipped in flames of fire. It was about evening. Getting down from the bus, I sauntered in that small sleepy town searching for one night accommodation. I saw a guest house run by Gita Bhavan. The receptionist gladly welcomed me and gave a key and two blankets. He showed me a spot in the verandah of the upper floor where there was a cupboard in which I could keep my bag and even lock it. I spread the blanket on the clean floor. Locking the cupboard, I went down to take bath before proceeding to mandir for darshan.
I found several common bathrooms and toilets in the corner of the buildings. There was a huge well. A small bucket has been tied with a rope. By throwing the small bucket in the well, one can easily draw water and pour it in a bigger bucket and use it for bath and other purposes. While I was taking the small one in my hands, readying to place it in the well by sending it down, someone came to me and forcibly took the ropes in his hand, saying sweetly, “Baba! Please don’t! I am here to serve you! I shall fill this bucket with water and place it in a bath room. Please wait!”.
I thought why at all I should take the help of another person when drawing water from a well was not a difficult task. I looked at the person who offered help to me. He was a middle-aged man, robust in health and having a turban on his head signifying that he belonged to the Sikh faith. So quickly that the Sardarji drew water I had to accept his seva willy-nilly as I was getting late for the evening arati in the temple and had no time to argue with him.
Once the temple arati was over, I returned to Gita Bhavan. That Sardarji was still there near the well and I was surprised to see him, drawing water from the well for everyone else too. One after another the pilgrims were served by him. I do not know how many buckets of water he must have filled in serving all those who came there!
When he became free, he slowly came to me and sat with me to converse. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, he told that he was very happy to meet me. I too expressed my happiness for his unasked seva. He strangely told me was I not coming down from the Himalayas? Did I not stay with a highly evolved monk for a few weeks? Did I not learn such and such things from him?
To say the least I was indeed surprised. I thought how he could exactly point out even what I had studied under a monk and where I was in past weeks. Naturally I enquired with a tinge of suspicion, how did he know about me. In a most disarming way, the Sardarji replied that once he saw any one, he could instantly come to know of all personal details about that person. What was striking about him was his utter humility. In sweet intonation, he described how he had undertaken the seva to pilgrims in that holy town several years before. He had a small shop for his income to take care of his family. Once the shop hours were over, he spends his time at this guesthouse where hundreds of pilgrims come and go. He continued further to say that it was his privilege to serve them in a spirit of Karma Yoga!
Each is great in his own place?
All spiritual aspirants are familiar with karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is a plan of action for betterment. It provides certain values in our life. It makes us pure by stripping off our selfish motives. It has such wonderful practices that make us work for others in a spirit of service. Self-sacrifice becomes inherent and it elevates the individual who is attuned to it. In short Karma Yoga contributes for the making of a man to an elevated spiritual being.
One of the doctrines of Karma Yoga is activity. Performance of action must be according to one’s own nature and occupation. Whatever be the social status, whether a person is a monk or householder, the duties that has befallen on his status must be carried out.
Swami Vivekananda, in one of his famous lectures on Karma Yoga, entitled “Each is Great in his own Place” points out very admirably the importance of performing one’s duties. He says that the Karma Yoga “does not say that this duty is lowering and the other elevating. Each duty has its own place, and according to the circumstances in which we are placed, must we perform our duties.”
He continues to caution us by saying that “If a man retires from the world to worship God, he must not think that those who live in the world and work for the good of the world are not worshipping God; neither must those who live in the world for wife and children think that those who give up the world are low vagabonds. Each is great in his own place.”