“The more your words come true, the more you will feel yourself to be full of some Divine power, some siddhi—the power to do miracles.” ~ Osho
A couple of years ago, I traveled to Rishikesh in the Northern part of India to undertake my initial yoga teacher training course. There were several classes every day, including practicing Hatha and Ashtanga yoga, as well mantras and meditation.
Around midday, right after lunch, we would gather in the yogshala with notebooks and pens for the most cerebral of our classes: yogic philosophy. It was during one of these afternoons that I heard a phrase which was forever burned into my mind: the invisible flying yoga army.
I had to laugh at the time, because the thought seemed preposterous. As I’ve learned more about the science of Yoga as a whole, however, I have found information in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that point to this kind of phenomenon.
What are the Siddhis?
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 sutras, or aphorisms, compiled at some point prior to 400 CE. In them, Patanjali describes the eight limbs of Yoga, and includes a section on the siddhis, which appear to be plainspoken directions on obtaining supernormal abilities, including invisibility and levitation.
According to Patanjali, the siddhis are not magical powers that belong in a fantasy novel, but real abilities anyone can develop through concentrated meditation and asana practice.
“Meditation will bring back the powers and awareness from the past; more importantly, it will expand your consciousness today.” ~ Frederick Lenz
According to the Yoga Sutras, there are three general levels of siddhis: inferior, secondary, and primary. Anyone who has studied the largely untapped potential of the human brain has likely brushed up against some modern interpretations of the siddhis.
Psychic abilities such as mind-to-mind communication, the ability to see into the past or the future, an imperviousness to the elements, and an unconquerable nature are all examples of the ‘inferior’ siddhis. Many people already possess one or more of these abilities to some degree.
Samyama and the art of development
As you progress along a spiritual path, the practice of samyama will emerge. Literally translated, samyama means binding, and refers to the combination of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (unio
n with the Divine). Patanjali says that the secondary siddhis will naturally begin to blossom with the sustained practice of samyama. Here, things start to get pretty extraordinary.
“When samyama is done on the form of one’s own physical body, the illumination or visual characteristic of the body is suspended, and is thus invisible to other people.” ~ Yoga Sutras 3.21
And so we have the invisible part of my philosophy teacher’s invisible flying army. How is this possible? I think it helps here to reflect on one of the more basic principles of yoga.
While there are many ways to interpret the salutation namaste, one of the most common is this: the Divine in me recognizes and alludes the Divine in you, and when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of Us.
This implies, then, that when inhabiting that place, we are in communion not just with each other’s Divinity, but with Divinity as a whole. Our truest, most essential nature is that of Spirit. Everything other than that is a layer, from our gross form (our body) all the way up to the idiosyncrasies of our egos.
So, one interpretation of this sutra is that when we are able to come into true union, the necessity of visibility in our gross form becomes just another layer that we drop.
The Siddhis as more than physical superpowers
John McAfee, author of Beyond the Siddhis, has another interpretation of this sutra. McAfee urges his readers to look at this and other siddhis in a less literal sense. “Before we spend years practicing the formula for attainment that Patanjali provides,” he writes, “we might first ask ourselves how visible we are now.” Of course, in a purely temporal sense we are all clearly visible. One glance at your hand on the mousepad is evidence of that.
When we look at ourselves in the spiritual sense, however, the answer to that question gets more complicated. The face that we reveal to the world is—to some degree or another—made up of our past experiences, our expectations of ourselves and others, and various roles that we have agreed to adopt (consciously or otherwise). This conglomeration of stories is what we make most visible to those around us.
“Boundary lines, of any type, are never found in the real world itself, but only in the imagination of the mapmakers.” ~ Ken Wilber
Here, again, we can see how dropping the layers that surround our Divinity can lead to invisibility in the spiritual sense, if not in the gross sense.
When we recognize and join in union with our own sense of Divinity — and in turn that of every other being’s — our identity, our story, becomes invisible. In that place, I am no longer a 31 year old female divorcee who drinks too much coffee and writes about yoga. I simply Am. That’s all. I Am. The same as you. Or the Dalai Lama. Or Donald Trump.
What could this mean for the other siddhis?
When viewed from this kind of perspective, the other siddhis take on a new dimension. For example, in Yoga Sutra 3.25, Patanjali writes, “By samyama on the strength of elephants comes a similar strength.” By putting the gross interpretation of this aside, this sutra can indicate an extreme strength of spirit.
Yoga Sutra 3.23 promises that you can attain foreknowledge of your death. When we look at the true nature of life, however, it becomes clear that every moment contains its own set of deaths. “Media vita in morte sumus,” or “In the midst of life we are in death,” is the first line of a medical antiphon. Every second, our cells die—and are reborn. When we are aware of this fact, we are constantly in touch with death.
So, that invisible flying army of yogis? Men and women who reside in their Divinity without the pretense of ego, or heaviness of heart. If you ask me, that’s one heck of a superpower.