Siddhis, yoga, and religious harmony
Though Thayumanavar mentioned in the last verse but one that siddhis would come automatically when his mind had, through the grace of his Guru, ceased to function, he generally disapproved of attempts to pursue such powers. Bhagavan mentioned this in the following reply:
One man said that a siddha of Kumbakonam claimed to overcome the defects in Sankara’s system which deals only with transcendentalism and not the work-a-day life. One must be able to exercise super-human powers in ordinary life, that is to say, one must be a siddha in order to be perfect.
Sri Bhagavan pointed out a stanza in Thayumanavar which condemns all siddhis. (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, 1st January 1936, talk no. 122)
In the English version of Talks the Thayumanavar verse is not specified, but in the Tamil edition, the translator and editor, Viswanatha Swami, states that the following verse is the one that Bhagavan was referring to:
To tame a rutting elephant, who has snapped his tethering-post,
and to walk him under our control — that is possible.
To muzzle a bear, or a fierce tiger — that is possible.
To ride upon the back of the incomparable lion — that is possible.
To charm snakes, and make them dance — that is possible.
To put mercury into a furnace, transform the five base metals,
sell them, and live from the proceeds — that is possible.
To wander the earth, invisible to everyone else — that is possible.
To command the celestials in our own service — that is possible.
To remain forever young — that is possible.
To transmigrate into another physical body — that is possible.
To walk on water, or to sit amidst flames — that is possible.
To attain supernatural powers, that know no equal — that is possible.
But the ability to control the mind, and remain still, is very difficult indeed.
God, whose nature is consciousness,
who as the reality, impossible to seek,
took up his abode within my understanding!
Refulgent light of bliss! (‘Tejomayanandam’, verse 8)
Thayumanavar did not merely disapprove of the pursuit of siddhis. His criticism extended to extreme ascetic practices, attempts to prolong the lifespan of the body, and methods which aimed to raise the kundalini to the sahasrara. In the following verse, which Devaraja Mudaliar said Bhagavan occasionally referred to (My Recollections of Bhagavan Sri Ramana, p. 55) Thayumanavar asserts that none of these practices by themselves can lead to liberation.
Though we firmly stand upon devotion’s path,
though we perform pradakshina of the broad earth’s nine divisions,
though we bathe in the ocean, and in the rivers too,
though we place ourselves between the rising flames
without a thought of thirst or hunger,
stopping up the gnawing pangs with water, air and fallen leaves,
though we dwell in silence, retreat to lofty mountain caves,
though we purify the ten channels which ever endure,
though we contain within the sphere known as somavattam
the inner fire, along with the vital air which rises from the root,
tasting thus the nectar that no words can describe,
though we practise the acquisition of powerful siddhis,
to prolong this mere trifle of a body through every aeon of time,
other than through jnana can liberation be attained?
Siddhanta Mukti’s Primal Lord!
Dakshinamurti, enthroned in glory upon the lofty Siragiri!
Guru, you who are pure consciousness’s form! (‘Chinmayanandaguru’, verse 11)
There are a few technical terms in this verse that may need to be explained:
The ten channels are the ida, pingala and sushumna nadis, along with seven lesser-known ones.
The somavattam, associated with the moon, is a circular area at the centre of the sahasrara chakra, located in the area of the crown of the skull. When the vital breath, originating in the muladhara or root chakra, combines with the kundalini energy, it rises through all the six chakras until it becomes contained and held in the seventh, the sahasrara chakra, the thousand-petalled lotus with the somavattam at its centre. At this point a nectar is released through the melting effect of the fiery energy. The yogi, in his state of absorption, is able to feed upon this nectar, and thus remain in this state for long periods. Bhagavan referred to this practice when he said: ‘The yoga marga speaks of the six centres, each of which must be reached by practice and transcended until one reaches the sahasrara where nectar is found and thus immortality.’ (Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 398)
The key line in this verse is the last one in which Thayumanavar asserts, ‘other than through jnana can liberation be attained?’, a rhetorical question whose answer is clearly ‘no’. This conclusion and the preceding comments about the pointlessness of pursuing siddhis can both be found in a remarkably similar answer that Bhagavan gave out when he was asked about the relationship between enlightenment and the attainment of siddhis.
Only jnana obtained through enquiry can bestow Liberation. Supernatural powers are all illusory appearances created by the power of maya. Self- realisation which is permanent is the only true accomplishment [siddhi]. Accomplishments which appear and disappear, being the effect of maya, cannot be real. They are accomplished with the object of enjoying fame, pleasures, etc. They come unsought to some persons through their karma. Know that union with Brahman is the attainment of the sum total of all the siddhis. This is also the state of Liberation [aikya mukti] known as union [sayujya]. (Upadesa Manjari, section four, answer ten)
Thayumanavar and Bhagavan were in agreement that yogic practices alone will not directly result in liberation. Bhagavan has pointed out in several places that its practices can result in bliss, siddhis, and even nirvikalpa samadhi, but he also maintained that it is not until the ‘I’ dies in the Heart that jnana, true liberation occurs. In Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi talk nos. 398 and 474 Bhagavan expresses his negtive views on these yogic practices in great detail.
Though Bhagavan and Thayumanavar both pointed out the limitations of yogic practices, and though both were sharply critical of people who attempted to attain siddhis, they had a generally tolerant attitude to different religions and their various practices. They knew that they all ultimately resolved themselves into the state of mauna in which all such distinctions and differences were rendered invalid. The next quotation on this subject is from Bhagavan, and it is followed by a very similar statement from Thayumanavar.
The doctrines of all religions contradict each other. They wage war, collide with each other, and finally die.
On this battlefield all the religions retreat defeated when they stand before mauna, which abides beneficently, sustaining them all.
The rare and wonderful power of mauna is that it remains without enmity towards any of the religions.
The many different religions are appropriate to the maturity of each individual, and all of them are acceptable to reality.
Abandoning vain disputation, which only deludes and torments the mind, accept the doctrine of the mauna religion, which always remains undisturbed. (Padamalai, ‘Religions and Religious Knowledge’ chapter, verses 1-5)
If we scrutinise all the religions
that look so different,
we find no contradiction in their purpose. They are all your sport.
Just as all rivers discharge into the sea,
they all end in the ocean of mauna. (‘Kallalin’, verse 25)
The verse appears in full in Day by Day with Bhagavan, 21st November, 1945, and was briefly mentioned in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 547.]