Siddhis and the Powers of Consciousness
by Tom Kenyon
My first encounter with yogic powers was in my early twenties. I had gone to Atlanta with some friends for a rock festival and we had slipped into some shops on Peach Street. This was the late sixties and although the flower era had ended in San Francisco, it had just caught up with Atlanta. Day-glow colored buildings, tie-dyed shirts and psychedelic rock abounded.
One of my compatriots wanted to check out a really weird shop with clouds of incense that would shame any Catholic church. At the time, the music sounded really, really strange to this southern boy from Virginia. The music? Sitars. The shelves were filled with books about yoga and other exotic things. Then, as we were leaving, my eyes caught a book entitled Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yogannanda. A photo of him adorned the cover; our eyes met and the world instantly changed. I stood transfixed and was unable to move. It was like I was suddenly transported into a dream, those strange dreams where you can’t move.
My friend called out to me as he started to leave. I turned around in really, really slow motion. And it seemed that the book was pulling at me, drawing me over to its shelf. With extraordinary will power, I forced myself away from the book and pulled myself out of the shop. Only when I had gotten out the door and onto the street did the strange powers of the book stop affecting me.
I did not know it at the time, for I had no context for such an experience, but I had experienced yogic power first hand. When I finally read the book, a few years later, I understood the strange affect it had on me.
Reading Yogannanda’s words activated memories from my many past lives in India, and they reconnected me with one of my primary spiritual lineages. His yogic powers (siddhis) were considerable and everything he touched or wrote carried some of his energy. This is a typical trait, I later discovered, of all accomplished yogis and yoginis (women yogis), as well as certain saints and mystics.
The siddhis or yogic powers are not limited to yogis or yoginis, however. There are many well-documented cases of Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Taoists saints and mystics who have attained the siddhis as well. In addition, it is well known among indigenous cultures that shamans often exhibit such powers as well.
Several years ago, I had an experience with the siddhis of a mystic in one of the most unlikely places on earth–Kodiak, Alaska.
I had been invited to teach a series of workshops in Anchorage and the following weekend I taught a workshop on Kodiak Island. After the final workshop on the island, I had a few days off. My organizer gave me a few options, and I chose the boat ride to a small island inhabited by Russian Orthodox monks where an Orthodox saint had lived. I was told that visitors more often than not, had to turn back due to rough seas. In fact, I was told the prelates of the Church in charge of the monastery had never been able to see it, as every time they went for a visit, high seas forced them back.
This was a source of immense humor among the native peoples.
We took a small airplane ride to a nearby island and landed on a spit of land that ended abruptly into turbulent and frigid waters. We were greeted by a local fisherman’s wife driving a pickup truck, and I hopped in the back of the Ford. My organizer got in the front.
It was summer, but there was a light snowfall as we headed for her house by the sea. I remember feeling quite cold and wondering how in the hell people survived here in the winter. We pulled up to a small house surrounded by cedar trees and went inside. Sitting by a large wooden table we sipped tea. Now anyone who has been to northern Alaska knows that time is a strange bird in these parts. We just sat and sat, talking a little here and there, waiting it seemed for some opportune time to leave. Finally, our host announced that it was time to go, and we piled back into the Ford pickup, and headed for the dock where her husband was waiting with a fishing trawler.
We took off across an amazingly placid sea. Our host sat next to a boom, knitting, and commented how unusual it was to have such a calm passing. I sat looking out at the rich unbelievably beautiful landscape of the neighboring islands as our boat chugged along at a fairly crisp pace. Seals followed us part way.
Passing an outcropping of boulders, we came into a small natural harbor. The water was too shallow for the trawler, so we got into a dinghy and headed to shore. The scene was like something out of the Middle Ages. A group of men were on the beach burning brush, the air thick with billows of white smoke which swirled in eddies against a stark blue sky. The monks wore long beards, typical of Russian and Greek Orthodox clerics, and they were wearing long grey robes with thin ropes tied about the waist. Each one of them also wore a crucifix.
Stepping out of the boat onto the sand, we were greeted by someone who appeared to be in his early thirties and had the air of authority about him. Our host explained that I had come from Washington State to visit. The Abbott smiled approvingly and proceeded to take us on a tour of the small monastery, which consisted of perhaps a dozen men or so. As we headed up a path into the shade of cedars, he noted that the monastery did not often get to host pilgrims.
He took us to several spots including the small hut where the saint lived. I recall the air being musty from the old manuscripts and pictures of icons that had been in the saint’s possession. But there was also an unmistakable sense of serenity. The Abbott also took us to a sacred spring reputed to have healing powers. Finally he took us to the small chapel where the saint had been previously buried. His body had since been removed, but the site was still considered holy.
The Abbott caught me staring at a corner of the chapel. He asked me what I was seeing, and I said I was seeing a column of white light coming out of the floor and going up through the roof. The Abbott seemed to smile a bit and said that the saint had been buried in that corner of the church. Then he said something in a somewhat dreamy voice as if he were part way into another world, I remember his words because they sounded so odd to me at the time, “would that we were all so sensitive.”
Seeming to rouse himself from his reveries, the Abbott said, “There is one more thing I would like to show you.”
He guided us back down the hill to a very small chapel that had obviously just recently been built. It was quite unusual in that it was perhaps nine feet square and some twenty feet tall. The inside of the building glowed from the gold pigments of recently painted icons. They depicted the life of Saints along with other prominent figures of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the back of the chapel there was a very small altar with a Bible in Russian.
The Abbott pointed out the various icons and their meanings and then said that the tour had come to an end. He motioned us out of the chapel and closed the door behind us. I remember suddenly having a question about mysticism I thought the Abbott might be able to clarify. I knocked at the door, but there was no answer. I knocked again, still no sign of anyone inside.
Gingerly I opened the door to find the chapel completely empty. For a moment I stood in shock. Then my ever-skeptical mind came in, and I began to search for trap doors or other entrances. I even picked up the small frayed rug on the floor to see if there was a secret exit. Nothing.
Still in a kind of shock, I wandered out the door and on to the beach where our party was waiting. There, clearly in view was the Abbott. He was talking to my host, and as I stepped up he nodded his head with a distinct twinkle in his eyes. We boarded the dinghy and headed back to trawler. The sun was low in sky, and I stood on the deck looking over the stern as we headed back into the sea. I was very quiet.
As I write these words I am caught up in the feelings of awe and wonder I felt then. I had known the siddhis existed, had studied the physics of them, and had made it a hobby of mine to collect stories and documentations. But here on a small island off Kodiak, a humble contemplative had shown me the mystery of yogic powers firsthand.
Halfway through the ride back, the fisherman’s wife turned from her knitting and said, “You know, they do things like that all the time!”
“Things like what, I asked?”
“Oh, you know, teleporting, bilocating… things like that.”
“Really,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied, not taking her eyes off her knitting. “That island is a remote place. There is no mail service. We see them sometimes in town picking up their mail and buying things. And…” she said in a most conspiratorial tone, “they don’t have any way of getting there!”
The powers of consciousness, or siddhis, range from what are called the lesser siddhis to what are termed the greater siddhis. The lesser siddhis include such psychic abilities as clairvoyance (inner seeing), clairaudience (inner hearing), clairsentience (inner feeling), as well as clairgnosis (inner knowing), as in knowing something, but not knowing how you know it. The first three, clairvoyance, clairaudience and clairsentience, are refinements of the physical senses.
As psychic powers unfold, they often tend to present themselves in one of these three forms, or in combination. Thus one might begin to see things in the mind’s eye that can’t be physically seen. These visual impressions manifest as a subtle sense of seeing something that cannot be seen physically (i.e., auras, guides, etc.). In scientific studies involving remote viewing, this siddhi is most often used.
Studies show that persons can, under the right conditions (i.e. mental relaxation), accurately report visual impressions of objects or locations hundreds of miles away with no previous knowledge of them. The reception of such visual information must presumably come from some other source than that of physical sight since the viewers were nowhere near the locations they described.
Many yogis/yoginis, saints and mystics have reported that they could often see their disciples in distant locations when it was called for. In one account, the yogi Neem Karoli Baba suddenly asked for large amounts of food to be brought to him. Those present report that he consumed a mind-boggling amount of food before going into samadhi (yogic meditation). When the yogi came out of meditation, his disciples asked him what had happened. He reported that he had suddenly seen one of his disciples dying in the desert. The last desire of the dying man was to eat. Baba said that the student had reached a level of attainment where there was no further need to reincarnate. But with the desire for food on his mind, he would have been brought back into the wheel of birth and death merely through the power of this one unfulfilled desire! Baba had taken upon himself the task of fulfilling the man’s last wish for food, and using his yogic powers, he transmuted the desire.
When psychic information is received auditorially, the person is called clairaudient. Such persons have subtle impressions of hearing sounds and/or voices. The inner realms of consciousness are filled with sounds and music that are incredibly beautiful. It has been suggested by some that many of the great composers actually heard the music of these realms and that this music of the spheres greatly influenced their compositions.
Some individuals feel things at a very subtle level and these persons are called clairsentients. There is often a fine line between a clairsentient and an empath. Empaths have highly developed sensitivities and often feel other people’s feelings, especially those around them. Clairsentients may also be empathic, but in addition, they receive psychic impressions in the form of subtle feelings, which are often physical
Clairgnosis is one of the more fascinating siddhis. When you have a hunch about something, but have no idea how you might know such a thing, this is clairgnosis. (That is, if your hunch turns out to be true. If it turns out to be false, we call that delusion.) Some have suggested that clairgnosis is an attribute of pure consciousness which is omniscient and omnipresent. As one rises higher up the ladder of consciousness, one’s own personal awareness takes on some of these qualities and episodes of clairgnosis increase.
The lesser siddhis also include such things as healing abilities and limited powers of prophecy. This class of yogic powers also includes the ability for awareness to become very small or very large, in other words, not confined by the limitations of the body.
The greater siddhis include such things as levitation (in which the body floats or hovers in air). Again this siddhi is not confined to Indian yogis or yoginis as some believe. There are well-documented sightings of St. Francis of Assisi, for one, hovering in the air. St. Francis exhibited other siddhis as well. In fact, his physical remains have spiritual powers even after his death. While visiting his shrine in Assisi, I was transported into the spiritual realms through the emanations from his crypt! I heard a sound like wind blowing through Aspen trees whenever I stood near his body, and when I returned to my hotel room my skin was red, as if I had a mild sunburn.
By the way, if you are ever at Assisi, here’s a little tip. As you enter the main entrance into the Basilica where St. Francis’s remains are kept, turn to your left. Off to both sides there will be stairs that lead down to the crypt, and it is certainly worth visiting. The problem is that there are usually throngs of people milling about, and it is difficult to find a quiet space. If you proceed further, though, on the main floor, past the stairs, you will see a large altar in the distance. It is the only altar in this part of the church. On the floor, in front of the altar, there is a geometric figure. It sits directly above St. Francis’s tomb, and the emanations from this area are very strong. No one seems to know about it, so you can stand directly on the spot and receive the emanations in relative peace.
The greater siddhis also include such remarkable abilities such as teleportation (like the Abbott I mentioned earlier) and bi-location (being in two places at once). There are other abilities that fall under this category, but they are too numerous to list here.
Siddhis or yogic powers are attained as a natural consequence of spiritual development. There is, however, a very real dilemma with the siddhis. If not tempered with wisdom, the premature attainment of yogic powers can lead to karmic entanglements.
A short anecdote about a well-known yogi may help to make this clear.
He is quite an extraordinary being, and many years ago, I had the wonderful experience of studying with him during a weeklong retreat. According to a close disciple of his, whom I came to know, the yogi had gone to India for a spiritual retreat in his early twenties, having attained some of the siddhis. He was resting against a tree listening to the beautiful music of a master musician who was caught up in the fervor of bhakti (Divine Love), and due to the intensity of devotion within the music, our yogi was transported into a deep state of samadhi and experienced great ecstasies and bliss.
The concert abruptly ended when it started to rain and the musician rushed indoors. Using his siddhic powers, the yogi caused the rain to stop, and the musician returned to his kirtans (sacred singing). Very quickly our yogi was transported back into samadhi, but his bliss was rudely ended by an old man kicking him in the side. The man was also a yogi, and in a furor he continued to kick the younger yogi, yelling obscenities at him.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “Don’t you realize this area has been suffering from a drought? And you, you stopped the rains for your own selfish desires.” The ancient yogi raised his staff in the air and pointed it at his younger peer. “Mark my words, if you don’t stop this, you will pay a great karmic debt. You will spend a thousand lifetimes as a sea creature!” The old yogi then kicked some dust in the direction of the young man and left before he could respond.
Immediately the younger yogi went into meditation and through his siddhic powers returned the rains. He fervently prayed to God to take away his siddhis, and miraculously they left him. But over the years they slowly returned to a much wiser and less flamboyant man.
Generally speaking, the siddhis are looked upon, by most people, as being more magical and exotic than practical. Part of this is due, no doubt, to a pervasive misunderstanding about their place among other human abilities, such as the ability to reason and to make language, both of which we take for granted.
The siddhis are inherent human abilities, but they only show up when consciousness has reached a certain level of development. When this level has been attained, the siddhis or yogic powers, spontaneously appear. They are like fruits on a tree.
Although one may have an apple tree in one’s yard, only when it has reached a certain level of maturity and development is it capable of manifesting the fruits of its nature. This is also true of the powers of consciousness. We all possess them, in potential, but not all of us will demonstrate them in actuality.
As one looks at the various internal alchemies of the world, they all have their own version of the siddhis and views on how to attain them. Traditionally, this knowledge has been kept secret, and only those admitted to these esoteric schools or spiritual lineages have been given access to the technology of self-evolution.
Personally, I believe that knowledge of the siddhis is a human birthright, and this technology for the acceleration of self-evolution should be made as widely available as possible.
As I said earlier, the siddhis are a natural expression of human evolution. They unfold as a consequence of spiritual growth and they are, I believe, one of our next evolutionary benchmarks. The greater siddhis (such as levitation, bi-location and teleportation) rarely manifest except in the advanced stages of spiritual development. The lesser siddhis, however, can develop quite quickly. The development of these lesser siddhis, has a generally enhancing effect on creativity and intelligence. And, for this reason alone, they are well worth exploring.
Recently, there have been reports from around the world about some children possessing extraordinary powers. These children are not undergoing years of rigorous yogic training. They are, in fact, spontaneously demonstrating the siddhis. This points to the fact, I believe, that the siddhis are a natural part of human evolution, albeit unusual.
If the Bell Curve formula of evolution applies here as it does to most other evolutionary situations, these children are at the forefront of the human race in terms of mental abilities. As time moves forward, their numbers will presumably grow until the majority of mankind possesses these inherent powers of consciousness.
As I wrote that last sentence, I remembered the Mayan calendar and its prediction regarding the powers of consciousness. According to some translations of the Mayan prophesies, at the year 2012A.D. we will depart from the Age of the Intellect and time, as we know it. If they are correct, we will pass through a collective planetary portal on that date and enter the Age of the Gods.
Indeed, if the majority of humanity reaches the level of attaining siddhic powers, we would be very much in the Age of the Gods. Only time will tell if the Mayan prophecies are correct in this regard. In point of fact, it would not take a majority of humanity to express the siddhis in order to usher in a new Age of the Gods. It would only take a small percentage of individuals to tip the scales, so to speak.
Those of us engaged in spiritual practices to accelerate personal evolution are, I believe, making a tangible contribution to the future destiny of this world. Consciousness has a subtle, yet potent affect upon the environment. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated this.
I am thinking, in particular, about experiments on the effects of prayer conducted by Larry Dossey, M.D. There have also been extensive studies conducted by Maharishi International University on the effects of the siddhis on the environment. Specifically, when a group of individuals enters a high state of coherency, as in yogic meditation, there are distinct positive influences on the environment. These include such things as increased wellness of the individuals, decreased psychological stress and a decrease in crime. This is very interesting stuff. It shows that we don’t live in a vacuum, that our thoughts and experiences have measurable effects on the world around us.
One reason I wrote this article is to bring the concept of the siddhis to a larger audience outside the traditional yogic circles. My motivation for this? I believe that more and more of us are experiencing spontaneous arisings of the siddhis, especially the lesser siddhis. I am already seeing this happen, and suspect there will be an even greater increase as we pass through the next ten years. Knowing that they are a natural part of spiritual evolution may, perhaps, make it easier for you to accept them when they arise.
In closing, I would like to address a couple of ideas in regards to the siddhis. The first is what I call the myth of happiness. The delusion here is that by developing yogic powers we will be happy. In point of fact, these powers have very little to do with happiness. They are simply expressions of consciousness and its inherent abilities, like, for instance, the ability to speak.
Talking does not, necessarily produce happiness. It can just as easily produce conflict. It’s what we say to ourselves and to each other that determines whether it is a contribution or a distraction to our happiness. The same is true for the siddhis or yogic powers. It’s what we do with them that counts. If you think that your problems will magically disappear as a result of cultivating the powers of consciousness you will be sorely disappointed. But if your consciousness gets stronger, you certainly have the possibility of making better and more creative choices for yourself. This is, I believe, one of the major benefits for cultivating the powers of consciousness.
The second point concerns spiritual enlightenment. Attaining yogic powers does not necessarily mean that one is enlightened, or even spiritually mature. It simply means that these powers are manifesting due to either cultivation or spontaneous unfoldment.
Don’t, in other words, be mesmerized by those who demonstrate such powers, and don’t delude yourself when they start showing up in you.
Spiritual attainment often causes the siddhis to spontaneously manifest. A quick look at the lives of saints throughout the world will demonstrate this quite clearly. Virtually every saint in history has demonstrated some of these non-ordinary powers. But the presence of these powers does not necessarily mean that the person possessing them is illuminated.
I believe that those of us working with spiritual technologies need to understand the potential of what we are dealing with. And I believe that we would be well advised to enter this mysterious realm of human potential with the three jewels of wisdom, compassion and humor. Yes… humor. Seriousness is, after all, the death-knell to liberating spirituality.
On that note, I will leave you with this final thought…
What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?
“Make me one with everything!”