Selfless action and Siddhis

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.

Sri Hanumanji as worshipped in homes

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.

boats anchored in Midmar Dam in South Africa

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.

an ideal householder

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?

30 kms south of Kangra valley in the lap of Shivalik range and 56 kms from Dharamshala, the Jwalamukhi temple is dedicated to the "GODDESS OF LIGHT". One of its own kinds of temples, there is no idol in it. An eternally burning and shining blue flame emanating from a rock sanctum is only worshipped here as a manifestation of the goddess. Dedicated to the deity of Flaming Mouth or goddess Jwalamukhi, the temple is one of the 51 power spots or Shaktipeethas of India. One of the most revered temples of the Hindus, the temple possesses a golden dome, gifted by Mughal Emperor Akbar. The temple is at its best during Navratri festival in early April and mid October.

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.

Karma Yoga - selfless service

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

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.”


Glory of Gita

Gita Jayanti – What it means to us?

The Gita as Nectarine drink

Vaikuntha Ekadashi on 17 December 2010

All over the globe the Hindus celebrate ‘Gita Jayanti’ on the 11th day (Ekadashi) of the bright fortnight (shukla paksha) of the month of Agrahayana (December – January). This month is also referred to as ‘Margashirsha’. Of the twelve months, Sri Krishna says in the Gita that He is Margasirsha. (X.35) It is seen that people generally attribute this day as the “Birthday of the Bhagavad Gita”. Well, can there be a birthday i.e., beginning for Divine Wisdom? As God is eternal (nitya) His knowledge is also ever present (sashwat). One cannot really say that the Song Divine has a birthday.

Ancient Muni Veda Vyasji

Actually, Gita Jayanti is the anniversary of the day, nearly 5000 years ago, when Bhagwan Shri Krishna spoke rather ‘sung’ to Arjuna, on the battlefield in Kurukshetra. Sanjaya, the Minister,  recited those words for the blind King Dhritarashtra. When writing Mahabharata, this Divine Song was ‘threaded into’ the great epic by ancient Maharishi Veda Vyasji for the benefit of humanity. (vyasena grathitaam puraana muninaa madhye mahaabhaaratam – First verse of Gita Dhyanam)

But it is nowhere to be considered as an ‘interpolation’ as some misguided modern scholars opine. The internal evidence shows that there is homogeneity running all through language, diction and development of the subject ‘Brahma-vidya’ – the knowledge of Brahman, the Supreme. The entire story of Mahabharata, when condensed into philosophy becomes Gita. What the heart is to the human body, the Gita is to this Great Epic, says Swami Chidbhavanandaji in his English Translation of the Gita.

Swami Vivekananda

What is Bhagavad Gita? As the great ‘cyclonic monk of India’ Swami Vivekananda has once said in the West, ‘Everything goes to show that this Vedanta philosophy must be very practical; and later on, when we come to the Bhagavad-Gita… is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy — curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work, to attain which is the goal of the Vedanta.’

“Bhagavad Gita” literally means Song of God or rather Song of the Spirit.  Since it is a Divine Song, the language of the original lyrics and the religion of the original singer do not have much relevance. For once, it has been ‘sung’ and written down to posterity, the song itself gets life, travelling across oceans and mountains, breaking all barriers of caste, creed and nationality.  Such is the influence of a divine song.  However, as Bhagwan Shri Krishna, Himself being the original ‘singer’, Bhagavad Gita gets the status of being the holiest and most sacred of all the songs of God. Therefore, What is its power? The lives of the lowly change, the world-disease afflicted gets healed, the morale of the depressed is uplifted. The results are as limitless as the Singer.

charming painting on Brahma-Vidya (Supreme knowledge) 'sung' to Arjuna by Sri Krishna

Mahatma Gandhi said, “When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita…I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies and my life has been full of external tragedies.  If they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita.”

The Gita consists literally 18 chapters with 700 verses (shloka). It has been said that all the Upanishads are the cows, the Milker is Krishna, the cowherd boy,  Arjuna is the calf, men of purified intellect are its drinkers and milk is the supreme nectar of the Gita.

sarvopanishado gaavo dogdha gopaala nandanah | paartho vatsah sudhir bhoktaa dugdham gitaamritam mahat || (4th verse of Gita Dhyanam)

We have cows of varying sizes and in different colours. But the milk yielded by them is the same. Most of us do not even know how to maintain the cows. Neither are we adept in the laborious art of milking the cows. But to drink milk everyone is eligible. So also Gita is accessible for everyone, while studying the Upanishads is not for common people. However Gita is not just any milk.  This milk is nectar that flowed from the Gods. What is in it for the humanity? The magical power to heal the sick, comfort the lonely, guide the lost, uplift the fallen and bring peace to the troubled.  The milk is gentle and pure enough for a baby, and at the same time, strong enough for a soldier.

The Gita as palm of hand

Let us see what was the scenario when the Gita was ‘sung’. Arjuna, the third son of Kunti,  surveyed the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The armies of Pandavas and Kauravas are standing on the opposite sides. Seeing the vast army, suddenly the great warrior was overcome with despondency and he laid down his arms. He told Krishna that he would not fight. “I do not see any good in slaughtering my own people in battle. O Krishna! I desire neither victory, nor kingdom not even pleasures.” (I.31)  Thus begins the Bhagavad Gita.

The teachings of the Gita were indeed applicable on a battlefield as in the end, we see in Mahabharata that Pandavas come out victorious. Can the Gita’s teachings be made applicable to our ‘inner battlefield’ also? Can we get a clear vision of our life, its pitfalls and its progress as a palm of hand? Through the story of Arjuna and the battle, we also derive lessons for our lives from Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The ‘real’ Kurukshetra is not to be sought somewhere outside rather ‘within’ us. Each of us is Arjuna, not knowing what is right and wrong, teared down with temptation, fallen with fear and feeling forsaken due to frustration. Our bodies are our chariots, being driven all too frequently by our senses as the horses. The mind, ego, desires, lust and greed are the evil Kauravas with whom we must do righteous battle, from whom we must not shy away in fear. If we give the reins of our lives to God (as Arjuna made Krishna his divine charioteer), we will surely be victorious.

Gita in the palm of hand...

The Gita as a ‘palm of hand’ clearly shows us not only the destination but also in clearest terms the varying paths to reach there. One is free to select any path that suits well. Or one can even combine one with another. Throughout the Divine Song, Bhagwan Sri Krishna explains how – through devotion (bhakti), through knowledge (jnaana), and through action (karma) – one can reach the ultimate destination of union (yoga) with God. For different temperaments He lays out different paths, all the while reminding us that true, earnest  yearning and pure, surrendered love for God are the surest and simplest way to attain one with the Eternal.

You don’t need to be a great scholar or a learned philosopher to understand the lessons of the Gita. Nor does the Gita demands decades of exacting penance to earn God’s favour. Rather, Bhagwan Sri Krishna offers infinite and eternal comfort by His words, “He, who is full of faith and zeal and is the master of the senses attains knowledge. Having attained knowledge one immediately attains supreme peace.” (IV.39)

The Gita as the Guidepost

Is the Gita relevant to the West today is an oft-repeated question. We can unequivocally say that yes, it is to West as it was and has been to the East. Not only for Hindus it is relevant but also for people professing any other religion. It teaches Hindus how to be better Hindus; it also teaches Muslims to be better Muslims, Christians to be better Christians, and Jews to be better Jews. For, if something is really “truth,” it must be universal. Truth is not limited to a religious framework. If it is truth, it must pertain to all.  Such is the profound truth of Bhagwan Shri Krishna’s words.

Sun and Ganga - courtesy: matthieu-aubry

The Bhagavad Gita is verily like Mother Ganga or the Sun; they do not discriminate.  Mother Ganga does not bring water to only Hindus’ farms.  The sun does not shine only on Christians’ gardens. Similarly, the Gita does not provide light and inspiration to only selected souls.

Aldous Huxley said, “The Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the perennial Philosophy ever to have been made.  Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind.” Sometimes, it seems that the West actually needs this wisdom even more than people of the East. Why? It is often seen that the West seem to hold even more tenaciously to their agendas, their expectations and their desires. The message in much of the West is “If you work hard, you will succeed, you will become prosperous.”  So, people don’t work for the sake of being God’s hands.  They work to reap the benefits, and when the benefits don’t come or don’t come quickly enough, they are frustrated.

It is the Karma Yoga of the Gita is the best answer to the problems engulfing the humanity in the West. People everywhere need both the message and the comfort of the Gita. With the ongoing assault of senses leaving indelible scars in the human psyche, the Gita stands as the harbinger of peace and harmony; it comes as the remover of pain; it bestows light dispelling the darkness of ignorance.

The Gita as the Reflector

digital painting - Courtesy : Dr S Adhinarayanan, New Delhi

It is remarkable that how Gita shines as the reflector for a practical spiritual life. What we see in the life of Sri Ramakrishna reiterates this point. The Paramahamsa never cared about the relative merits of religions. Neither did he entered into intricate differences of systems of philosophy. Verily he followed the footsteps of Sri Krishna. The unquenchable thirst for God and undying love for God’s name were the hallmark in Ramakrishna’s life. By his prolonged and intense spiritual practices, Sri Ramakrishna’s unique life that was transformed from an ordinary temple priest to paragon of spiritual values can best be clarified under this Gita Reflector.