The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda

Part III: The Vibhuti Pada

Chapter 96: Powers that Accrue in the Practice

The aphorisms of the Vibhuti Pada that follow, henceforward, pertain mainly to the powers that one acquires by the practice of samyama. These themes are of practically no help to a beginner or a novitiate in yoga because Patanjali is only describing the consequences of certain practices. The methodology of these different types of practices is also kept a great secret by the sutra itself, so that merely by a casual reading we cannot make sense out of it. Perhaps this secret has been kept in check deliberately by the author, so that people may not misconceive the meaning of the admonition given in the sutras and get into trouble. Very guarded words have been used, whose meanings will not be clear on a mere linguistic study or the making out of a grammatical meaning of the words. They are all connotative of deep essences of practice.

We need not go into the details of every one of these sutras because not only will they be of no help to anyone here who is attempting to practise yoga, but also it may stir up some kind of unnecessary enthusiasm in the minds of some people which may not be to their advantage, since it cannot be pursued under the existing conditions of these days. However, I shall try to give a general idea as to what is at the back of this system which the author of the sutras is trying to explain as a philosophical and psychological background.

As I mentioned previously, these powers are of three kinds, or categories: the objective, the subjective and the Absolute, or we may call it the Universal. Powers that one gains in respect of the objective world are of one kind; those pertaining to the subjective faculties are of a different kind; and those that are intended to bring about the salvation of the spirit, ultimately, are of a third kind altogether. The secret of this practice, or rather the technique behind this samyama in respect of any chosen object, is given in a sutra in the Samadhi Pada itself, which we studied long ago.

How is it that we come to acquire power at all? What is the secret behind it? Why is it that we do not simply have any power now, at this present moment? Why has this power come now? Where was it hidden up to this time? This has been made clear in a sutra in the Samadhi Pada which goes as follows: kṣīṇavṛtteḥ abhijātasye iva maṇeḥ grahītṛ grahaṇa grāhyeṣu tatstha tadañjanatā samāpattiḥ (I.41). This requires the meditating mind to become consubstantial with the object – the subject united with the object so that it gains insight into the nature of the object. Then it is that the gulf separating the mind from the object is bridged by the practice of samyama, and the powers inherent in the object flow into the subject. That is the secret. Whatever is your power becomes my power when I become one with you. This is to state the whole method in simple terms. That which is outside our capacity comes within our capacity when that in which this capacity is inherent comes under our control. And this control is not an ordinary type of authority that we exercise over an object, as a master exercises authority over a servant. It is not like that. It is a complete mastery where that which is to be controlled does not stand outside the subject controlling it. It has become one, organically. This is the meaning of this sutra which has been given to us in the Samadhi Pada.

Now, applying this technique, Patanjali tells us that we can control anything, whether it is visible or invisible, material or otherwise. The objective side, which is known as grahaya samapatti in the language of yoga, is intended to control the elements. The five elements which constitute this vast world, or rather the entire universe of physical nature, are supposed to be under one’s control, provided samyama is practised on them. Earth, water, fire, air and ether – these are the elements, and no one can have any control over them. They are the masters, as is well known. But they can be controlled, says the sutra, provided we establish a harmony with them and we become one with the law which operates them in the universe. This is called bhutajaya – control of the elements.

As I mentioned, these sutras are very terse and convey no meaning at all on a casual, superficial reading. To give only an instance, I am mentioning this sutra which gives us the method of controlling the elements: sthūla svarūpa sūkṣma aṇvaya arthavatva saṁyamāt bhūtajayaḥ (III.45). Such a terrific thing Patanjali explains in one small sutra. All the five elements are controlled by a practice which is mentioned in this sutra: sthūla svarūpa sūkṣma aṇvaya arthavatva saṁyamāt bhūtajayaḥ. We have to practise samyama on the elements. How is it done? This is what he is telling us in this sutra; and from the meaning of it we can find out why it is useless for a beginner.

Patanjali says the five aspects of the elements have to be taken into consideration. These five aspects are mentioned in this sutra. Sthula is the first aspect; svarupa is the second aspect; suksma is the third aspect; anvaya is the fourth aspect; arthavatva is the fifth aspect. If we can understand what these words mean, then the meaning of the sutra is clear. Different interpreters give different meanings, because the sutra has no grammatical sense – the words have only a secret mystical meaning behind them. But as far as it has been understood by people, what the sutra tells here is that we have to gradually master the elements by rising from their grosser state to their subtler state – which is a method that can be adopted in respect of any other object also – for the practice of samyama.

The gross aspect is the first one, as the gross objects are visible to the senses. The way in which the senses grasp the elements is the character of the elements, which is called sthula. But the character, which is there from its own point of view, independent of the interpretation of it by the senses, is called svarupa. What is its status from its own point of view, independent of what we think or what we have been thinking about it – that situation of the element is called svarupa. Or rather, what you are, independent of what I think you are, is your svarupa. Thus, the gross form is that interpretation given to the elements by the senses, and the svarupa is the nature of the elements as they stand in themselves. That is a higher stage of understanding, where we rise above our interpretation to the situation as it is.

Sukshma is the third aspect, which is the subtle rudimentary character of the elements, known as tanmatras. They are made up of five forces called shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha. They are vibrations, ultimately; they are not simply solid objects. These vibrations, which are called tanmatras, are their third subtle aspect.

The fourth is anvaya, the immanence of the forces of prakriti as sattva, rajas and tamas in the elements. These elements are nothing but sattva, rajas and tamas; and their presence in all these forms is hidden. It is these three gunas that, by some peculiar modification of themselves, enter into a peculiar state of density, gradually, and become the five elements. There are no five elements; it is the three gunas appearing as the five. The five elements are nothing but the five gradations in the density of the development of the mulaprakriti herself. That is the immanent aspect of the elements, anvaya – the involvement of the elements in the three gunas of prakriti.

The last one is called arthavatva, the purpose for which they exist. Everything exists for the liberation of the spirit. That was pointed out in sutras we studied earlier. Bhogāpavargārtham dṛśyam (II.18): The whole universe has been manifest for the purpose of providing the field of experience for the individuals therein, in order that they may gain salvation, ultimately, through experiences of this kind. These are the five aspects of the five elements, and we concentrate and do samyama on them.

Then what happens? Patanjali says one gets eight siddhis: 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. If we hear what these eight siddhis are, we will leap in ecstasy. We can become small like a fibre of cotton, and we can become big like an iron hill – as heavy as we can conceive, and as light as can be lifted up in the air – and have the capacity to manipulate anything in the world in any manner whatsoever. 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 Patanjali, that one can get by samyama on the five elements.

Do not try these methods. They are very dangerous and can lead to anything. You may end up in a mental hospital if you start these techniques without proper purification of the mind. It requires a Guru. Nobody may practise these samyamas without proper initiation under a competent master.

Thus, this grahsya samapatti, or the mastery one acquires over the object, brings such powers as these. Incidentally, it has a result on the body of the person also. There is a perfection that follows in respect of one’s own body, which is described in another sutra: rūpa lāvaṇya bala vajra saṁhananatvāni kāyasaṁpat (III.47). It appears that one becomes very handsome in one’s personality, beautiful in complexion, radiant in the skin, and so on; these are qualities described. Apart from that, great strength follows. One becomes vajrasamhana – adamantine in one’s energy so that one will become indefatigable and unapproachable by the forces of nature. These perfections of the body are subsidiary consequences that follow the mastery one gains over the elements. The third result that follows, as the sutra tells us, is that the elements do not any more obstruct the person. We will not sink into water, or get burnt by fire, etc. These are the non-obstructing characters revealed by the elements. One can pierce through a wall and pass through it, by the entry of the subtle body through these apparently gross objects. The non-obstructive character of the elements in respect of the yogi is the third aspect.

These are, generally speaking, the objective powers that one gains. The subjective powers are mastery over the senses and the mind. Just as there are five aspects mentioned in connection with the control of the elements, five aspects are also mentioned in respect of the control of the senses. Grahaṇa svarūpa asmitā anvaya arthavattva saṁyamāt indriyajayaḥ (III.48). The senses can be controlled if we can understand their structure. Just as the five gradations of the manifestation of prakriti through the elements were mentioned, similar gradations are mentioned in respect of the senses.

The character of grasping an object is called grahana. The way in which the eyes see, the ears hear, etc. – that manner of the senses operating upon objects is called grahana. Svarupa is the senses themselves, independent of these functions. Apart from the functions that the senses perform, they have a nature of their own. That independent nature of the senses, apart from their activity, is called svarupa. Asmita is the I-principle that controls the operation of the five senses. It is the ego principle which organises the activities of the different senses and focuses them on a particular object. That means to say, the higher controls the lower, and the higher includes the lower. Ultimately, it is the I-principle that is the reason behind the working of the senses. Thus, if we can grasp the meaning of this ego, the meaning of the senses also is clear. The fourth one is anvaya. That is similar to the fourth aspect in respect of the power of the five elements – namely, the operation of the gunas. The three gunassattva, rajas and tamas of prakriti – are the rudimentary principles behind the senses and also the ahamkara tattva, or I-principle. Arthavattva is the purpose of the activity of the senses – which is, again, to bring about experience for the purpose of the liberation of the spirit. With these connotations of the activities of the senses, one can concentrate, do samyama on the senses themselves, and the senses come under one’s control. Grahaṇa svarūpa asmita anvay arthavattva saṁyamat indriyajayaḥ (III.48).

Then the sutra, tataḥ manojavitvaṁ vikaraṇabhāvaḥ pradhānajayaḥ ca (III.49), tells us that the mind becomes powerful and it can carry the body, like a rocket, to any place. That is called manojavitvam: one can fly as fast as the mind flies. Vikranabhava is another perfection that is said to follow. Vikranabhava means the capacity to reach any object, at any distance, and manipulate it in the manner required, according to the wish of the yogi. Again, this is another part of grahsya samapatti, or the power that one gains over the elements.

These powers, objective as well as subjective, are incidental to a greater or more noble purpose that is the very aim of the practice of yoga. The intention of the practice of yoga, says the sutra, is not to gain mastery over anybody. These masteries follow as a matter of course. When we go to Rishikesh, which is our intention, on the way we will see so many things. We will see Yoga Niketan on the way; we will see Brahmananda Ashram; we see will Kailash Ashram. We may be seeing them, we may even be looking at them, we may be touching them, but our intention is something else: we want to go to Rishikesh. Likewise, when the aim is clear before one’s mind, these powers which are incidental acquisitions come of their own accord, even without one’s asking.

The powers are not really miracles as most people think. They are revelations of the forces of nature which are hidden, through which one passes when one rises from one realm to another realm. In each realm a particular law operates, just as different laws operate in different countries. When one gains entry into a particular realm, one becomes one with the law that operates in that realm; and to a lower realm, that upper law looks like a miracle. The aim of yoga is the liberation of the spirit. The highest perfections are not control of the elements, or bodily perfection, etc., as mentioned. The eight siddhis etc. are not the aim of yoga. Rather, they are obstacles if they are independently aimed at. The purpose is Cosmic-consciousness, which also is an incidental experience to the last stage which is called liberation, or moksha. Omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are the last powers that come to a person. That is Ishvara shakti: entering into the mind of a yogi. That is the last perfection, and is connected with the Pure Spirit, or the purusha.

These perfections come in various ways: sometimes without one’s knowing that they have come, or sometimes they become objects of one’s mental awareness. All people are not of the same kind. Every yogi is a specific character by himself or herself, so we cannot compare one with the other. Though many people may practise a similar technique of meditation, the experiences will not be uniform; they will vary because of the peculiarity or novelty of the physical and the mental strain of the individual concerned. These powers and experiences are the reactions set up in the personality of the yogi by the powers of nature as a whole, and inasmuch as the individualities of the yogis vary in the structure and the makeup of their organism, the reactions also vary in nature. Hence, experiences vary. Sometimes we may see light, sometimes we may not see light, and so on.

It is not the intention of the Yoga Shastra to describe what powers come to a yogi when he concentrates or practises samyama, as these are temptations and sidetracking issues. But anyhow, for the purpose of giving an idea of the greatness of the practice, and also to give some sort of an enthusiasm to the practitioners, the Yoga Sutra has gone into some detail as to the nature of these powers.

Our main point is samyama. There is no use merely counting the number of rich persons in the world and trying to find out the means by which they have become rich. Well, that may be a good science as a kind of theoretical pursuit, but what do we gain by knowing how many rich people are there in this world and how they have become rich? We will not become rich by knowing these methods, because it is a science by itself and not merely a historical study or a survey that we make statistically. The science is a more important aspect of the matter than merely a statement of the consequences or results that follow by the pursuit of the science. What is the science? That is samyama, the subject that we have been studying all along. How are we able to concentrate the mind? For this purpose the author has taken great pains in some of the sutras to explain how the mind can be made to agree, wholeheartedly, with the pursuit of yoga, and how distractions can be eliminated. It is this that is the intention of the sutras, right from those which dealt with the nirodha parinama, etc., onwards.

The whole of yoga is summed up in one word: samyama. This is the entire system of Patanjali. How can we grasp the object in our consciousness? That is called meditation. This grasping of the object by consciousness is the gradual identification of consciousness with the object, and vice versa. How this can be done is the point on hand; and once this is understood, every other perfection will follow. We ourselves will be surprised at the powers that we gain. And as I mentioned, many times we will not even know that we have such powers. Only if we are rubbed hard will we know that the power is there.

There is an anecdote which is not mentioned in the Yoga Sutras. Aurangzeb heard that Tulsidas had great powers, that he was a siddha. He wanted to see what powers Tulsidas had, so he ordered Tulsidas to come to his court. By some means they brought the saint to the court of Aurangzeb, and the emperor said, “I want to see your powers. They say you are a person endowed with great occult forces.” The saint said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I have no powers. I myself have not seen any, and from where do these powers come?” “No, no, no,” Aurangzeb said, “I am not going to leave you like that. You must show me your powers.” Tulsidas said, “I do not have any powers. I have not exhibited any. Nor am I aware that I have any powers. So where comes this question of demonstrating before you? I myself do not know anything about them.” Aurangzeb said, “No! That is no good. I will not leave you. You must show them. If you are not going to show your powers, I will imprison you!” And Aurangzeb put Tulsidas behind bars. Well, that is all; Tulsidas was in the prison of Aurangzeb. Then and there a miracle took place. They say huge, giant-like monkeys – hundreds and thousands in number – started demolishing the entire city of Aurangzeb. They threatened everybody, and they destroyed many. It was a ravaging experience. They started attacking the palace of Aurangzeb himself. The guards ran away; it was all confusion, and they did not know what had happened. Nobody could come out of the house. Everywhere were giant-like monkeys, showing their teeth and attacking.

Aurangzeb did not know what was happening. People were crying and complaining about the ravage that had been effected in the whole city by unknown monsters coming as huge monkeys. Then someone told him, “We have made a mistake in imprisoning Tulsidas. Release him. He is a devotee of Rama, and so Rama’s army must have come.” Then Aurangzeb said, “Let him off. Let him off! Go, ask him to leave.” What this anecdote shows is, when we oppose a man of power, his power is seen. Otherwise, we cannot see the power. Even a lion’s power cannot be seen unless we oppose it. The lion will be sitting or lying down, crouching on the ground as if it has no strength at all. If we want to see the strength of a lion, we must attack it, and then its power will be seen immediately. Similarly, often the powers of a yogin are not known, as they are hidden.

There were great yogis such as Suka and Jadabharata. Jadabharata’s case was very marvellous. He never exhibited powers, and there is no indication anywhere that he was even aware that he had powers. He was like an idiot. Some dacoits caught hold of him and took him to Mother Kali to offer him as a victim in the worship, and he said nothing. He kept quiet and did not open his mouth. He did not behave like a yogi. When the archaka raised his sword to offer the victim to Mother Kali, a miracle took place. That image, which was apparently made of stone, assumed life, and suddenly a force emerged. The real Kali came out, and she simply laid waste the entire gang of the dacoits. They were offered as victims, not this old man.

We have stories and stories of this kind, where great masters lived hidden, unknown to the public eye, unseen – not only not known to the public eye, but sometimes not known even to themselves, inasmuch as they were absorbed in something else altogether. They had no time to think of their own powers and even their own needs. Janaka was one type of yogi, Sri Krishna was another type, Rama was a third type, Suka was another, and so on. There are various kinds of yogis who lived in different conditions and circumstances, all wielding the same powers – some exhibiting, some not exhibiting.

We, as little beginners in the practice of yoga, need not go into these miracles of the magnificent achievements of the great masters. We have to find out how they became masters; that is what is more important. How did Suka become Suka? What was the secret behind it? What was the power of Vasishtha? He could simply stun all the celestial weapons of Visvamitra by a mere wooden stick that he had in front of him. Even the brahmastra would not work before that yogadanda. What is that secret? From where did he get that power? And Bharadvaja simply snapped his fingers and celestials dropped from the skies with golden plates of delicacies and served the millions and millions of soldiers of Bharata, who was in the forest in search of Rama. Merely a snap of the fingers would do, and celestials start dropping from the skies. From where is all this possible?

These are very interesting things to hear, of course, though it is very difficult to understand how it is possible. But if we know the science behind it, we can know the rationality behind it. And what is possible for one, what has been possible for one, should be possible for others, also, if the proper technique of meditation is practised.