One Hour Essay: The Siddhis, Science, and Religion
Hi friends, It's been a long time since I've written something, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to. It's just hard to find the time, and when I do have time I've been having fun working on my YouTube channel. A few people have been asking me for writing lately. So I thought I would reinstitute an old practice of mine: the One Hour Essay. I did these on Medium a few years back and people seemed to like them. Basically I just write for an hour about whatever is on my mind and when I get to the end I publish it, even if it isn't the most well-edited, or well-developed argument. Sometimes I end up taking way more than an hour, but the point is it takes off all the pressure to compose a masterpiece, and it gets me started. So without further ado I present you a One Hour Essay:
Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities
Lately, I've been listening to the audio book Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities by Dean Radin. Now you may not know this, but in the world of academic parapsychology Dean Radin is a huge name. He is a total superstar. If you're into research proving the existence of psychic phenomenon (and there is A LOT), I actually recommend starting with his book Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe. That one is better.
And hey, I think the first Audible recommendation I send any of you can be redeemed for free so if you want either one of these books in audio drop me your email address in the comments below or the contact me page and I'll try and hook you up. I do warn you that audio is not the best format for following the nerdilicous details of some of these research studies. I hit the "back" button frequently!
Supernormal is about the yogic siddhis. Siddhis are magical powers that develop as a side-effect of a spiritual development practice like meditation. They include things like clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis, levitation, bilocation, super strength, breatharianism, invisibility, ability to communicate with animals, remembering past lives, healing ability, omniscience, the ability to transmit shakitpat (awaken others), and many more.
Dean points out that, while most people display a small degree of psychic skill, it can be hard to find and study those with these purported incredible talents because in classical yogic teachings one is discouraged from getting too hung up on the siddhis.
"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." -Swami Sivananda
"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." -Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna
Those who have attained them are to avoid invitations to display or identify with them, even for the purpose of science, because it can reinforce the sense of ego, pride, and material greed, and get in the way of the true goal: enlightenment. Buddhism has similar restrictions.
I have to say, I think this idea is misguided, exaggerated, and outdated. I mean, I get it, when it was first recorded by Patanjali there were no scientists, no internet, no die-hard atheist skeptics, no whole world of people waiting to benefit from the explanation for and acceptance of spiritual phenomenon.
And clearly no one should be getting all uppity about their powers. We've all heard of cult leaders, shamans, monks, and other spiritual figures abusing their power sexually or otherwise. But that is true of any position of power: bosses, presidents, teachers, coaches, sports stars, and movie producers are all commonly guilty. Anyone with special talents and powers can use them to be a dick. This doesn't mean that everyone in a position of power is automatically a dick (or dickess).
HIDING IS NOT HELPING
Perhaps hiding away the siddhis just makes them more mysterious and more rare, and makes us all the more fascinated by them. Spiritual leaders can be mesmerizing because they often appear to have something we don't, but what if we had been trained since birth to work with these faculties, just like learning music, language, or mathematics?
Imagine a world in which mathematics was only spoke of in certain circles and taught in certain churches, and a lot of people didn't even believe in mathematics. It'd be a lot easier for someone with natural skill in math to get a big ego, and for those with no natural skill in math to become entranced and taken advantage of by that person, and for some people to become weirdly obsessed with the strange mystique of mathematics, wouldn't it?
I believe in the evolution of culture, and I imagine someday we will all have much better developed psychic powers. Though any power can be misused, I believe this will be a better all-around world, and that these powers represent an expanded consciousness. Quite literally. How can you be reading other people's minds, or healing at a distance, or remembering events that happened before your birth, without expanding your consciousness outside of your limited "I" self?
It seems that the first thing that stands in the way of this future is acceptance. For example, you often hear of psychic children losing their connection to other realms as they become acculturated and then redeveloping those skills as an adult. We probably all suffer from varying degrees of trauma shutting down levels of consciousness that are our inherent birthright. You could say that my super sensitive empathy is a siddhi. Mostly it sucks and makes me want to vomit because someone's energy I am connected to is toxic and bothering me, but the point is, I didn't recognize that could even happen until it was pointed out to me. Now it is pretty obvious. The idea that these things are not possible stands in the way of a lot of people recognizing skills they do have, or attempting to learn skills they don't have. Or healing and unearthing levels of awareness they may have blocked.
I can see a possible future in which the biohackers and high-performance freaks help to bring psychic powers even more into the mainstream. They certainly dabble already in energy medicine, shamanism, brainwave alteration practices, and law-of-attraction type thinking, so it could be just a matter of time before straight up psychic powers of the type described above are more commonly, publicly, sought out. I mean forget Soylent, can you imagine how much money you would save and how many more businesses you could start if you didn't have to eat, or drink, or go to the bathroom?
I suspect these skills have always been sought out by athletes, movie stars, CEOs, governments, and stock traders looking for that extra edge, and that they have proved useful, but that this is typically kept quiet just because its seen as weird. Actually, if you believe all those Illuminati conspiracy theories, secret magic has gone hand in hand with power since time immemorial. What if it is true? What if those in power make sure to periodically make fun of the Woo just to make sure us sheeple think its all a bunch of bunk, while at the same time profiting off our inherent fascination via fantasy television series? Just another reason to start exploring the siddhis. Bring some of the power back to the people!
The more these abilities are openly demonstrated and taken for granted in the popular sphere, the more science will be forced to catch up. Once physics comes up with a widely-accepted explanation for "spooky action at a distance", it's all over. I can't wait!
NATURAL TALENTS: GIFTS FROM GOD??
Furthermore, the yoga sutras themselves insist these powers are NORMAL. And if they are normal shouldn't they be treated like any other talent: painting, singing, writing, card tricks? Shouldn't they be used to make people laugh, to make people money, to help, to entertain, to teach? I suppose a traditional spiritual teacher might look down on these mundane skills as well to the extent that they bring the bearer wealth and fame. They might say that Taylor Swift isn't directly promoting awakening with her music, so her work is actually harmful and distracting to herself and others, promoting materialism and idolatry, even if it does bring joy to millions. Naturally, I believe that view too is outdated. Life is about experiences, growth, and expansion. Rock stardom is a legit avenue for this, for the person who needs those specific experiences.
So downplaying, ignoring, or hiding the siddhis makes no sense. Because it makes more sense to attribute meaning to everything, and that if you are gifted with a talent or skill perhaps it is supposed to be used and enjoyed. Perhaps we ought to have teams of weather shamans ending droughts and controlling wildfires right alongside traditional firefighters. Any action can aligned or misaligned. You can make a traditional phone call with the wrong motivation, just as easily as you can energetically connect with with the wrong motivation. You can be totally aligned in healing others, but over or undercharging for your services. There are no simple answers.
In Western culture many people who are born with siddhis (psychics and healers), use their skills to make a living, to help others, and none of them seem worse for the wear. Granted, there are some similar myths in Western culture stating that psychics are not psychic about themselves, or that it is wrong to use these gifts to make yourself money, like by winning at gambling, but I believe these are just that: myths. No punishment is going to befall for benefiting yourself with your talents. If you spend that money on drugs and hookers, maybe, but that is the case no matter how you earned it!
I've heard plenty of stories of people making money by taking advantage of psychic skills/ spiritual techniques. Sometimes it may be completely right to divine the winning lotto numbers. Sometimes it may be right to instead "remove subconscious money blocks" in order to manifest more money. Sometimes it may be right to just suck it up and start that business. Sometimes it may be right to marry rich. There is really no telling without examining the details of a specific case.
Are these people less evolved than someone eschewing the material world for enlightenment? No. I think they can easily be more evolved!
This is where we come to a religious debate between what is known in the trade as (what trade? Um, philosophy, I guess) the non-dualistic religions and the theistic-relational religions. You don't need to know what that means, but essentially some religions like Buddhism don't believe in a soul and/or think if there is a soul it is an impediment to the ultimate destination of Nirvana, a state of blissful, amorphous oneness. Whereas other religions, like Christianity, tend to focus specifically on the soul, the singular identity of the person, their actions in life, and their relationship with God as a two-ness.
I believe both of these concepts are important, but if I had to choose one that would serve a person best in everyday human life, I would probably choose the soul-centered position. I'm not a Christian now, nor was I ever. I know it's not even cool to be a Christian, with many "woke" folk leaning toward the Eastern religions. And, admittedly, the theisic-relational religions tend to be much more violent and judgmental. But I believe life has a purpose besides transcending life, I believe in letting the "Holy Spirit" work through me and guide my day to day actions, and I think the realization of oneness is helpful but is only one aspect of an enlightened consciousness.
Maybe I'm arrogant to throw entire 5000-year-old religions under the bus, but if I can't share what I think on my own blog, where can I? Do you believe YOUR life has a purpose? That you were born with specific skills and talents, to specific parents, into specific circumstances, circumstances that both challenged and nurtured you into the person you've become today? Do you believe you have a calling as opposed to merely a career? If so, it makes sense to use any talents you have been or will be, gifted with, including siddhis, for your own benefit as well as the benefit of others.
However, in the non-dualistic traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, the overarching purpose, the most important thing a person can do in a lifetime, is to achieve enlightenment. So it makes sense that in these religions that all talents, all material things, including siddhis, are seen as kinda "meh". Transitory. Say what you will about the Middle Way but from what I have observed (and I did once live at an Ashram), the way these religions are practiced is often not so integrative. Keeping the siddhis separate from science, viewing them as an impediment to enlightenment is part of that.
So why I am claiming that it possible to use psychic powers to pursue material gain and be more evolved than a person eschewing both of those things and pursuing enlightenment? Because I think a fully-realized being will be developed in all types of consciousness: They will be able to access Nirvana. They will also be psychic. They will also live in joy and abundance. They will also have healthy relationships. They will also have a healthy body and an amazing sex life. And they will understand that what uplifts the self uplifts the world and that there really is no such thing as a "selfish gain".
I don't think God/Nature messes up. I don't think it does things like bestow abilities for no reason. I think it is fair to be excited about magic and miracles. They change the landscape of our limiting beliefs and give us hope for a better future. Understanding them unlocks the key to understanding life itself.
This is my religion. Join me if you like.
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