Attaining the Siddhis: 25 Superhuman Powers You Can Gain Through Practicing Yoga and Meditation
Classic yoga texts, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written about two thousand years ago, tell us in matter- of-fact terms that if you sit quietly, pay close attention to your mind, and practice this diligently, then you will gain supernormal powers. These advanced capacities, known as siddhis, are not regarded as magical; they’re ordinary capacities that everyone possesses. We’re just too distracted most of the time to be able to access them reliably.
Attaining The Siddhis
“The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong.”
— Alfred Russell Wallace
The Yoga Sutras provide a taxonomy of supernormal mental powers and a means of obtaining them. Today we would classify most of the siddhis as various forms of psychic, or psi, phenomena. Others might be called exceptionally precise means of controlling the mind- body relationship.
Depending on the nature of the object one is absorbed into during samyama, different siddhis are said to arise. This is not due to magical incantations, but a natural consequence of merging with the object of focus. For example, if one focuses on another person, in samyama one becomes the other person. The siddhi that arises is what we would call telepathy.
In the science fiction television series Star Trek, this practice was depicted as the Vulcan mind meld. Telepathy occurs in the mind meld (and in the siddhis) not because thoughts are transmitted from another person’s mind to yours, but because while in samyama your mind breaks through the illusion of separation that tricks you into believing that you and the other person are different. In deep states of the absorptive mind meld, whether yogic or Vulcan, holistic reality reigns.
You are no longer two people, but one and the same. The genius of Star Trek is that it is the dispassionate, hyper rational, deeply focused Vulcans who can achieve this state, and not the attention-deficit, emotionally uncontrolled humans.
As another example, in samyama one may focus on the processes of time, change, and transformation. The siddhi that arises is the simultaneous perception of the past, present, and the future. The idea that the present contains the past is common knowledge; we call this memory. The idea that the present is also influenced by the future may seem odd, but this quasi- teleological concept is accommodated within today’s physics. For example, in quantum theory the idea that the present is constrained by both the past and the future is respectable, but of greater importance, there is now experimental evidence supporting it, published in 2012 in the journal Nature Physics.
The 21 Siddhi Powers
Past, Present, and Future walk into a bar at the same time. It was tense.
Approximately twenty-five siddhis are listed in the third book of the Yoga Sutras. An exact number is difficult to pin down because the abilities may be interpreted in different ways, and there is some overlap.
But it is possible to view all the siddhis as variations on three basic classes:
- EXCEPTIONAL mind- body control
- CLAIRVOYANCE, the ability to gain knowledge unbound by the ordinary constraints of space or time and without the use of the ordinary senses; includes precognition and telepathy
- PSYCHOKINESIS or mind- matter interaction, the ability of the mind to directly infl uence matter
Fifteen of the siddhis fall into the category of clairvoyance, four fi t into the category of psychokinesis, and six in mind- body control. The siddhis listed here are in the order in which they appear in the Yoga Sutras: PADA III. Sutra 16. (This will be abbreviated as III.16 in succeeding sutras.) Knowledge of the past, present, and the future, resulting from samyana on the nature of change. This is clairvoyance through time, commonly called precognition when the information obtained is from the future, or retrocognition if it is from the past (and is not simply memory).
Siddhi III.17. Knowledge of the meaning of sounds produced by all beings, resulting from samyana on the “third ear,” or the concept of sound, words, or hearing. This may be interpreted as a form of clairvoyance, or telepathy that extends beyond human minds and includes animals, insects, and other species. More generally it is known as clairaudience.
Siddhi III.18. Knowledge of previous births and arising of future births, resulting from samyana on one’s latent or inherited tendencies. This is clairvoyance on an aspect of consciousness that does not arise from the body and is sustained after bodily death. A similar siddhi is described in Sadhana Pada II.39, translated as “When non-greed is confirmed, a thorough illumination of the how and why of one’s birth comes.”17 III.19–20. Knowledge of minds, resulting from samyama on one’s own mind or another’s mind, both of which from a holistic perspective are part of the universal mind. We now call this telepathy.
Siddhi III.21. Disappearance of the body from view, as a result of looking at the body with the inner eye. This is sometimes translated as the power of invisibility, because the Sanskrit aphorism contains words suggesting a “suspension of the coarse or limited projection of the body.” But it may also be interpreted as the ability to perceive aspects of the body that are beyond the limited scope of the ordinary senses. In other words, we could interpret this as clairvoyance, or perhaps as psychokinesis.
Siddhi III.22. Foreknowledge of birth, harm, or death, resulting from samyama on sequences of events in one’s past and present. This again is a form of clairvoyance.
Siddhi III.23. Loving- kindness in all, resulting from samyama on friendliness, compassion, or sympathetic joy. This can be interpreted to mean that when one is imbued with joy, that state may induce similar feelings in others. This may be interpreted as an unintentional or field like form of psychokinesis.
Siddhi III.24. Extraordinary strength, resulting from samyama on the concept of physical strength (the aphorism specifically mentions the strength of an elephant, which was undoubtedly the strongest creature in Patanjali’s world), but it might also include mental, moral, or spiritual strength. This could be interpreted as an exceptional form of mindbody control or as a mind-matter interaction effect. Swami Satchidananda sums up this siddhi with the comment, “You can lighten yourself; you can make yourself heavy. It’s all achieved by samyama. Do it; try it. Nice things will happen”
Siddhi III.25. Knowledge at a distance, resulting from samyama on the “inner light,” which in Western esoteric terms is known as the “subtle body” or the “light body.” This siddhi includes knowledge of hidden objects, or clairvoyance.
Siddhi III.26. Knowledge of the outer universe, resulting from samyama on the solar principle, which could include the sun as a planetary body, or the concept of the solar plexus, one of the principal “subtle energy” centers or chakras in the human body. A more detailed translation of this siddhi would require a major diversion into esoteric yogic concepts where aspects of the human body, some physical and others more subtle, are mapped onto aspects of the cosmos. This arcane symbolism is outside the scope of the present book, so we may simply interpret this siddhi as clairvoyance of macroscopic objects and systems.
Siddhi III.27–28. Knowledge of the inner universe, resulting from samyama on the lunar or chandra principle, or the “pole star.” As with the previous siddhi, to avoid diverting our attention to esoteric lore that is not within the capacity of science to evaluate, we will interpret this as clairvoyance of microscopic objects and systems.
Siddhi III.29. Knowledge of the composition and coordination of bodily energies, through samyama on the navel chakra or manipura chakra. This siddhi may be interpreted as an exceptional mind- body connection, or as a self- healing ability.
Siddhi III.30. Liberation from hunger and thirst, through samyama on the throat.
This siddhi is known as inedia within the Catholic tradition, or more popularly as breatharianism (living on breath alone, without food, and in extreme cases, without water).
Siddhi III.31. Exceptional stability, balance, or health, through samyama on the kurma nadi, the root of the tongue. This siddhi refers to mind-body knowledge leading to exceptional health or self-healing.
Siddhi III.32–36. Vision of higher beings, knowledge of everything that is knowable, knowing of the origins of all things, knowledge of the true self, through samyama on the crown of the head, intuition, the spiritual heart, the self, or the nature of existence. These siddhis are forms of refined clairvoyance.
Siddhi III.37. Siddhis may appear to be supernormal, but they are normal. This is not a description of a siddhi, but rather a caution to avoid regarding or attaining the siddhis as unnatural or supernormal, as that could become a distraction to sustaining and deepening samadhi.
Siddhi III.38. Influencing others. This siddhi suggests that a highly realized yogi who is adept with the previously described siddhis can not only know about others, but also influence them. This is related to the concept of shaktipat, the ability to transmit spiritual energy to others through one’s gaze or presence. In laboratory jargon, this phenomenon is known as “distant mental interactions with living systems.” It may be interpreted as a sort of field effect due to the rarified mental state that the yogi embodies, which acts like a radiating beacon that influences everyone in the vicinity. This siddhi is also related to a sutra described in the second book of the Yoga Sutras, Sadhana Pada. The translation of Sutra II.35 reads: “In the presence of one firmly established in nonviolence, all hostilities cease.”
Siddhi III.39 and 42. Levitation, through samyama on the feeling of lightness.
This siddhi is said to allow the yogi to float, hover, fly, or walk on water. It could be interpreted as a highly advanced form of psychokinesis.
Siddhi III.40. Blazing radiance, through samyama on “inner fire,” or inner energy. This has been interpreted in several ways, as possession of exceptional charisma, as an exceptional digestive ability that would allow one to eat huge amounts of food or withstand toxic substances without harm, or as exceptional control of bodily energies. We will interpret it as an exceptional form of mind- body control.
Siddhi III.41. Clairaudience, through samyama on the area behind the ear. This siddhi allows one to hear the “conversations of the enlightened ones, the subtle mental conversations of others, the celestial music, and receive messages through the ether both awake or while asleep, as if they were spoken or whispered whether or not they exist through the medium of sound waves as such.” In other words, this is a refined form of clairvoyance or clairaudience.
Siddhi III.43. Freedom from bodily awareness and temporal attachments. This could be interpreted as a state of perception from out- of- the- body, or as a form of clairvoyance.
Siddhi III.44–45. Mastery over the elements, through samyama on the elements, enabling manipulation of matter, including the size, appearance, and condition of the body. Variations of these abilities include the fulfillment of any desire, or to create or destroy material manifestations; a highly refined version of psychokinesis.
Siddhi III.46. Perfection of the body. This could be interpreted as a melding of exceptional mind-body control combined with psychokinesis. It would manifest in extreme cases as indefinite life extension, as incorruption of the body after physical death, perhaps as the “rainbow body” in Tibetan tradition, in which the corpse does not decay but rather slowly fades away and turns into colored lights.
This list covers Patanjali’s classic siddhis; many other variations of these superpowers can be found in mystical texts from other traditions. They include bilocation (the ability to simultaneously appear in more than one location); the ability to move very fast or cover great distances in a short time; the ability to stay comfortably warm in extremely cold temperatures; the ability to suspend breathing or to hibernate indefinitely; the ability to bestow siddhis to others; the ability not to be harmed by fire; and the ability to change the weather.
Before we begin our scientific examination of the siddhis, it is noteworthy that Patanjali and others specifically highlighted the dangers of dwelling on the siddhis. Patanjali states in Sutra III.51 a warning that may be translated as: