Yoga-sutras (Ancient and Modern Interpretations)

by Makarand Gopal Newalkar | 2017 | 82,851 words | ISBN-13: 9780893890926

This page relates ‘Ancient Scriptural evidences of Siddhis attained by Yogis’ of the English translation of the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali: an ancient Indian tradition spanning over 5000 years old dealing with Yoga:—Meditating the mind on the Atma leading to the realization of self. This study interprets the Yogasutras in light of both ancient and modern commentaries (e.g., Vyasa and Osho) while supporting both Sankhya and Vedanta philosophies.

Part 7 - Ancient Scriptural evidences of Siddhis attained by Yogīs

There have been numerous references to various siddhis attained by saints, seers and enlightened souls in various historical spiritual texts in India. To sight an example in the context of third pāda of Patañjali, i.e. vibhūtipāda, it will be appropriate to mention the super normal powers that Śaṅkarācārya was bestowed with.

Śāṅkaradigvijaya -the depiction of traditional life of Śaṅkarācārya by Mādhava Vidyāraṇya is perhaps the most authentic of the biographies on the life of-Śaṅkarācārya.[1]

The verses 1-13 of canto VIII of Śāṅkaradigvijaya have references of-Śaṅkara meeting and confronting Maṇḍana Miśra in the debates on philosophy. Maṇḍana Miśra was also known by other names such as ‘Oomveka’ and ‘Viśvarupa’. However, he was known as Maṇḍana Miśra among scholars. He was a resident of Mahiṣmatī.Maṇḍana Miśra was a confirmed follower of Vedic ritualism. He was also famous for his learning and noble qualities. Śaṅkarācārya is said to have visited Maṇḍana in Mahiṣmatī from Prayāga through the skies. When he reached Maṇḍana’s house, Maṇḍana was washing the feet of great sages Vyāsa and Jaiminī, whom he had brought there by the power of his tapas to grace a śrāddha occasion that he was performing.Maṇḍana was quite annoyed that Śaṅkara, though a saṃnyāsin, was without a śikhā (tuft of head hair) and upavīta (sacred hair) and started abusively questioning Śaṅkara.

At this point the great ṛṣis intervened,[2] and it was agreed that a great debate in the presence of will be held between Maṇḍana and Śaṅkara, and the one who loses the debate will become the disciple of the victor. It was proposed by the ṛṣis that the umpire for the debate will be Ubhaya Bhāratī, the learned wife of Maṇḍana (in fact she was ‘Sarasvatī incarnate’).Śaṅkara’s only objective in life was to spread the teachings of Vedānta everywhere as the true gospel for men to follow for attainment of salvation.

In the debate Śaṅkara’s proposition was to establish the tenets of Vedānta Philosophy, i.e., brahman the Existence-Consciousness-Bliss-Absolute is the ultimate truth. It is He who appears as the entire world of multiplicity owing to ignorance just as a shell appears as a piece of silver. Just as when the illusion is dispelled the silver is sublated by and dissolved into its substratum, the shell, so also, when ignorance is erased, the whole world is sublated and dissolved into its substratum, brahman, which is the same as one’s ātman. This is supreme knowledge as also mokṣa (liberation) and it brings about cessation of future births.

On the other hand, Maṇḍana’s proposition was ‘Vedānta or Upaniṣads cannot be a proof of a subject-objectless pure consciousness, unoriginated and infinite for words can reveal only objects which are originated entities, but never a pure subject-objectless consciousness, which does not form an effect’. Thus, the non Vedāntic part of Vedas, dealing with such effects produced by works, is the real śabdapramāṇa. In the light of it, actions alone constitute the steps leading to mokṣa and embodied beings have to perform action (karma) till the end of their lives.

An intense debate thereafter followed between the two on the topics such as–

  1. Identity of ātman—brahman
  2. Alternative interpretation of tat tvam asi
  3. Meditation on tat tvam asi
  4. Doctrine of Unity contradicting perception
  5. God and the Absolute etc.

In the end, Ubhaya Bhāratī, the umpire gave the verdict and declared Śaṅkara as the winner of the debate and Maṇḍana to accept saṃnyāsa and be the disciple of Śaṅkara. However, since she was the betterhalf of Maṇḍana, Śaṅkara must enter into debate with her and defeat her also. An intense debate between Ubhaya Bhāratī and Śaṅkara ensued lasting 17 days. At the end of it, Ubhaya Bhāratī knowing that Śaṅkara took to ascetic life since childhood and observing continence surely will not know science of love between sexes. She asked him to discuss with her the science and art of love between sexes (kusumāstraśāstram) and enumerate its forms and expressions. How does it vary in the sexes during bright and dark fortnights? At this Śaṅkara, requested for a month’s time to answer the questions. This he did to protect his saṃnyāsadharma since though he had some theoretical knowledge of the subject, lacked practical experience of the same.

In Canto IX, verses 73-78 of Śāṅkaradigvijaya, there is mention that Śaṅkarācārya, along with his disciples, thereafter left Mahiṣmatī by air (power to move in subtle body). In transit they spotted the body of a dead king Amaruka who had more than 100 wives of exquisite beauty.

In canto IX, verses 101-109, Śaṅkara is described to have entered the body of the dead king (this is the siddhi of parakāyāpraveśa). He left his gross body with his disciples to guard it and shifted his subtle body into the gross body of the dead king. This was temporarily done in order to gain the mastery over sexual love through experience. In canto X, verses 11-18, there is the description of Śaṅkarācārya having indulged into practical experience of art of love through the gross body of the King.

In canto X, verses 56-60, Śaṅkarācārya after having experienced the art of love through another gross body is said to have abandoned the gross body of the king, and travelled in his own subtle bodythrough air and enlivens his original gross body preserved and guarded by his disciples. He thereafter defeats Ubhaya Bhāratī in the debate on the art of love. (canto X, verses 61-72)

It therefore establishes that the supernormal powers or siddhis as indicated by Patañjali have been experienced first-hand by yogīs and seers as an outcome of their sādhanā.

The incident in the life of Saint Jñāneśvarais also indicative of supernormal powers.He along with his brothers Nivṛttinātha and Sopāna and sister Muktābāī were once sitting on a wall, soaking in the early morning sun rays. Cāṃgadeva Mahārāja, a yogī was coming to meet saint Jñāneśvara after hearing about his prowess at a very young age.Cāṃgadeva Mahārāja had a bloated ego. To prove his superiority, he was coming with a large entourage. He was riding a tiger and with a live snake in his hand.

When Jñāneśvara saw this spectacle, he decided to meet Cāṃgadeva Mahārāja at the boundary of their village. He commanded the wall on which they were sitting to start moving. At his command, the wall with four people sitting on top of it is said to have moved and reached the boundary of the village. This was an outcome of his supernormal powers attained through his sādhanā.Cāṃgadeva Mahārāja, seeing this miracle of sorts, realized his mistakes, alighted from the tiger and surrendered his ego at the feet of saint Jñāneśvara and thereafter became his disciple.

Saint Rāmdāsa, the author of classic scriptures such as Dāsabodha, has also penned Mārutistotra [3] in praise of Hanumān, the great disciple of Lord Rāma. Therein he says aṇupāsonī brahmāṇḍā evaḍhā (power to enlarge from the atom state to the infinite universe state). These are similar to siddhis of aṇimā and laghimā described by Patañjali.

In ‘Ramaraksha Stotra, ‘manojavam mārutatulyavegam ’… (the power of mind to travel at the speed of the wind) has been mentioned.

Footnotes and references:


7Tapasyananda-Svamī(Tr.), ‘ Śāṅkaradigvijayaby Mādhava Vidyāraṇya ’, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai,2008, p. viii-xv


Ibid., p.85, canto VIII (32-38)


Ramdasa, Marutistotra

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