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Considering the Siddhis, Occult, or Magic Powers of the Mystics

May 8, 2005

By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)

(copyright 2005 all rights reserved)

I have been asked on numerous occasions if I can perform one or other of the psychic powers, such as sinking my hand into the ground as if it was water. As soon as one admits to having arrived at the meditative absorption states (jhanas) one is often asked if one has manifested any of the psychic powers, as if to say that one could prove one's attainments by performing some trick.  While I am aware of a wide range of miracles that are reported in the various religions of the world, I have found no support for such miracles in this life.  I have not seen anyone levitate, nor have I done it.  I was not born of a virgin, nor have I met anyone who was. I have not walked on water, nor have I flown bodily through the air.  I am willing to speculate based upon my direct experience that it is very probable the miracles, such as mentioned above, as well as the others recorded in the Bible and in the Pali Canon and other religious literature, might be purely myth.

I have spent some time pondering the various miracles that are claimed by the religions.  How do we know what was said by whom and how great these various messianic figures of the major religions were, etc?  Did Moses really part the seas?  Did the Buddha really bi-locate?  Was Jesus really born of a virgin?  Did he really walk on water, etc? I doubt it.  I think many of the magic tricks in the canons of religious literature are simply the stuff of mythology.  In fact it seems that every religion has just come up with a miracle to top the claims of the other religions.

At this point I have to say I do not believe in magic powers, at least so far as manipulating the physical universe or breaking the laws of physics is concerned.  The reason why I do not believe in magic is I have found no evidence in support of the belief. 

Someone recently asked about an experience in which they had a witness of bi-location phenomena.  Just for clarity I will define bi-location. As I have come to understand it bi-location is a process of creating one or more physical bodies, so that one can be and act in more than one location at once. 

My premise all along has been to reject most of the occult phenomena, such as bi-location, as mere fiction, because I have not experienced a lot of these phenomena and I have not met anyone who can support an authentic claim to such an experience, and of course these phenomena are not part of our every day existence.  Apart from sheer intentional fiction to oppress a simple people, I believe there are two possible mechanisms by which one could believe they have witnessed one of the psychic powers such as bi-location.

The first and most obvious event that could cause someone to believe in bi-location is to have seen someone who looks so much like another but in a distant place and at such a time that the first person could not have been there.  People have look-alikes, and occasionally there are twins, so it is reasonable to speculate that in most cases the reported bi-location event could have simply been nothing more than seeing two look-alikes in disparate locations.

There is a secondary mechanism that best lends itself to an explanation of both levitation and bi-location, which is the out-of-body (OOB) experience.  In an OOB, one experiences leaving the body and traveling to another location.  The experience is typically lucid or hyper-real.  The experience is such an engagingly lucid experience that it can easily be mistaken for a physical event in which one appeared to fly bodily to another location.  And, if there was an observer all they would see is the physical body of the first person sound asleep, so the conclusion might have been bi-location. 

Those who have OOBs have been known to contact others while out-of-the-body.  In this case the observer could have had the experience of seeing a first person in an OOB. In this case the observer could have also been experiencing an OOB as well; and that occurrence, for the second person, could have even been stimulated by the projecting thought forms of the first person.

Is it possible that the claimed magic power of the various progenitors was intended purely to keep the laity in line?  If the magic tricks are nothing more than myths to keep the sheep in line, as I am sure they are, then there are two important things to get.  One is we contemplatives who are intent upon enlightenment in this life time have got to let go of the fantasy of magic powers, and stick behind that belief for the benefit of all beings.  And 2, those who claim they have magic powers are most probably liars. 

Some people claim some scientist or other has "proven" someone's magic abilities, but where are they?  Just because some people posing as scientists have supposedly "confirmed" someone's magic powers does not mean those powers are valid, don't forget scientists have been known to be fooled, and not everyone claiming to be a scientist is one.  After all there is an "academy" of "scientists" who support "scientific" creationism.  I know a guy who has a PhD in physics from a reputable US university but he has bought all of the psychic powers hook, line and sinker, even though he has never actually seen anyone produce them.  This means even "scientists" can be na•ve true believers.

The problem with the mythical powers is when we begin to accept that they do not exist, then that doubt places doubt upon the entire message of the mystics.  However, just because there is a fair amount of mythology in the canons of religious literature does not mean that there is no truth in that canon.  And, just because humans cannot fly bodily through the air without technology, does not mean that more modest supernormal powers, such as recollection of previous lifetimes, and out-of-body (OOB) experiences are not possible.

Did the Buddha really recall lifetimes going back billions of years, or was it only 100's of thousands of years?  Even recalling a single lifetime is a pretty impressive skill.  Archeology says anatomically modern humans have only been around 100,000 years, however that does not mean that they have not been around for 200,000 years, there is just no evidence to extend their tenure here to that point.  Proto humans have been around about 200,000 years, and certainly Sidharta Gotama could have been incarnating at those times as well as a proto-human.  And, there is no reason why he could not have been incarnating in other species prior to the advent of humans on this planet.  Also, what is there to prevent Sidharta and others from incarnating on other planets?  There is none.  If life exists on this planet, then there MUST be life on other planets throughout this galaxy and others.

As for miracles, such as flying (bodily), walking on water, as well as raising the dead and parting the seas, regrettably, I must inform the reader none of these phenomena have been manifested by this contemplative.  However, I do not loose consciousness during the sleep cycle, and I have complete control of the out-of-body experience, which is what Sidharta Gotama called "manomaya" (DN 1.2.2, n.49, 1.3.12, n76, 24.2.15).  I have also recalled 10s of thousands of previous lifetimes.  I have written about some of these previous lifetimes, and you can find those articles at these URLs:

Recovered Previous Lifetimes of Jhanananda

Circa 1910-1945, Commitment, reliving torture in a prison camp

Circa 1880-1910, A Mirror Reflected into its Self, a Native American lifetime

Circa AD 1000, Salmon-Boy, a Native American lifetime

Since this contemplative has manifested many of the "fruits of the contemplative life" that Sidharta Gotama spoke about, but not even the tiniest little manifestation of controlling the physical world; and since this contemplative has not seen anyone else manifest control of the physical world through psychic abilities; then I am willing to consider that it is very probable that the miracles that are attributed to the progenitors of every religion might simply be myth and nothing more.

Oddly, the only apparent manifestation of control over the physical world that I have had quite a bit of experience with is healing.  I have been using my psychic abilities to effect healings for over 3 decades.  This does not mean that I make the lame walk and the blind to see.  I try to downplay this aspect of my work because I do not want healing work to be a spectacle, I just want people to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, and to lead a contemplative life.  And, I wish them to of course practice meditation skillfully so that they will find the joy of meditation, which is jhana.  When one finds this joy, then one is likely to find many of the fruits of the Noble Eightfold Path as I have found.

If I could do these other magic tricks I would of course be very happy to exhibit them for anyone to see, so that they would have faith. But, I have not been able to fulfill that request.

There is another implication to the probability that the psychic powers do not exist, and that is there is no benevolent deity who can bestow gifts upon one.  After all, if the devotee or mystic, who arrives at gnosis or union with the Divine cannot manifest the powers, perhaps the deity, if there is one, cannot manifest those powers either.

If the last premise is a necessary conclusion of the lack of observable psychic powers, then we come to a final conclusion.  If the deity cannot manipulate the physical universe, then can we continue to support a belief in a creator deity?  No, I do not think we can.  Does this make one feel very, very alone"?  Yes, it does.  Can we move forward when we accept that aloneness?  Yes, of course, because there is a spiritual universe where we can be all powerful.  We are all just puny and powerless here in the physical universe.

In conclusion, just because there is some mythology in the canons of religious literature, does not invalidate the whole spiritual quest.  I believe the only way we can verify the validity of the dhamma is through direct knowledge and attainment.  However, shouldn't we be willing to consider the report of a living person who claims they have had these experiences?  Or should we simply be smug skeptics?

The Eleven “fruits” (phala) of the contemplative life are Supranormal Powers (lokuttara balani) or higher types of wisdom, "knowledges."

1 Upekkha Equanimity
2   Fearlessness
3 Adukkha Beyond Pain and Discomfort
4 Jhana Meditative absorption
5 Manomaya lit. "mind-made body" (OOB), "wields manifold supranormal powers"
6 Dibba-sota "divine ear-element" (Clairaudience)
7   knows the awareness of other beings (mental telepathy)
8 s. patisandhi, paticca samuppada lit. “rethinking” or "dependent origination" or recollection of manifold past lives
9 Dibba-cakkhu lit. "Divine eye" or "sees beings passing away & re-appearing" (Clairvoyance)
10   ending of mental agitation
11 Nanadassana lit “knowledge" (nana) and "vision" (dassana)

See the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) or the Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119). The claim that some of these "fruits" are "mundane" is pure dogma with no suttic support.  They are all "supramundane" according to the Buddha.

Canonical references in support of the Supramundane Powers (lokuttara balani), and Ecstatic and Charismatic Phenomena in the Sutta Pitaka

Absorption (jhana)

DN 42, 1.3.21f., n.79, n.50, n.57, n.76f., 2.75ff., 4.33, n.168, 9.10ff., 16.6.8f., 17.2.3, n.583, n.611, 26.28, 29.24, 33.3.3(6), n.1118, n.1127, n.1143
Absorption (samadhi) MN 38f., 4.18, 7.8, 16.26, 19.8, 20.3ff., 24.2, 32.7, 36.45, 40.8, 44.11, 44.12, n.464, 69.15, 77.17, 122.7ff., 128.31, nn.1195-96

Bliss (piiti)

MN 22.3, 66.21, 122.3, 139.9
Charism, (jhana-nimitta), Characteristics or Sign of absorption, (samatha-nimittan) DN 33.24,  MN 20, 36.45. SN pg 1634, 1899-1900, n.54, 1919
Delight (nandi)  
Divine eye (dibba-cakkhu), Clairvoyance DN 2.95, n.253, 8.3, 14.1.36, 16.1.27, 17.1.16, 23.11, 25.19, 28.17, 33.1.10(46)
Divine ear (dibba-sota), Clairaudience DN 2.83, n.130

Extra-sensory perception

DN2, 33

Happiness, Joy (Sukha)

DN 1.3.21, n.82,
jhana-nimitta see Charism


DN, 11.1ff., 24.1.4ff., 24.2.13, n.736, n.749, n.750

Out-of-Body (OOB) (manomaya) Mind-made body, manomaya

DN 1.2.2, n.49, 1.3.12, n76, 24.2.15, 27.10

Past lives, rebirth or reincarnation (s. Patisandhi, paticcasamuppada)

DN 1.1.31ff, 2.93, 24.2.18ff, 25.18ff, 28.15ff, 33.1.10(58), 33.1.11(30), 34.1.7(10)
Powers, balani,                                16.3.51, n.413, 33.2.3(9), 34.1.8(10), n.1150
Psychic power, miracle of DN 11.3ff, n.231
Psychic powers (iddhi) DN 2.87, n.128, 11.5, n.231, 17.1.18, n.481, 28.18

Roads to Power (iddhipada)

DN n.270, 16.3.3, 18.22, n.526, 26.28, 28.3, 33.1.11(3)
samadhi-nimitta see Charism
samata-nimittan see Charism
Sign of absorption see Charism

Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, (Vinnananaacayatana)

DN 1.3.14, 9.15, 15.33, 33.1.11(7)
Sphere of Infinite Space, (Akasanancayatana) DN 1.3.13, 9.14, 15.33, 33.1.11(7)
Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor-Non-Perception, (Nevasannanasannnayatana) DN 1.3.16, 15.33f, 33.1.11(7)

Sphere of No-Thingness, (Akincannayatana)

DN 1.3.13, 9.14, 15.33, 33.1.11(7)

Supramundane, lokuttara

DN 38


33.11.3, n.232, n.660, n.671, n.1059, n.1140

Wisdom, pannna

DN 4.23, n.168, 15.34, n.355, 33.1.10(42, 43), n.56

Wisdom Eye, pannna-cakkhu

DN n140, 33.1.10(46)

Note: DN=Digha Nikaya; MN=Majjhima Nikaya; SN=Samyutta Nikaya.


May you dwell in the joyful home of the dhamma (Di.t.thadhammasukhavihaaraa)

Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)

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