Magic & Miracles

This book I’m reading at the moment – Supernormal, by Dean Radkin, PhD – brings up some fascinating stuff. The tagline for the book is:

Yoga, Science, and the evidence for extraordinary psychic abilities. 

Radkin is a highly credentialed scientist, and essentially what he says in the book is that so called “miracles,” such as clairvoyance, levitation, telepathy, telekinesis, bilocation (meaning you can be in two places at once), surviving only on air for months at a time, and other such unbelievable things, are actually very possible at the extreme pointy end of yogic practice and study.

Patanjali, who in ancient times literally wrote the book on yoga, describes a method called ashtanga, which is broken down into an “eightfold path.” This is:

  1. Yama – abstaining from harmful behaviour.
  2. Niyama –  developing good behaviours.
  3. Asana – developing physical postures to enable one to meditate for long periods.
  4. Pranayama – developing breathing techniques to focus the mind
  5. Pratyhara – limiting your focus to a single object of attention (mindfulness)
  6. Dharana – developing single pointed concentration.
  7. Dhyana – deep meditation
  8. Samadhi – unity or mystical absorption with an object of attention.

Note that Asana, which is what we in the west know as yoga, being the physical postures, is only the third stage of yogic study. We believe that the asanas are yoga, but in fact they were originally only a step towards advanced meditative practices.

According to Patanjali in his Sutras, which is the source scripture for yoga, it’s at the ultimate state of Samadhi, or enlightenment, that one can exhibit “siddhis.” These are particular psychic abilities, which Patanjali describes in a separate chapter in his classic Sutras. Interestingly, he describes them very matter-of-factly, as though they’re no big deal. If you put in the work, you too can levitate and read minds!

Anyone who has read Autobiography of a Yogi will remember accounts of such extraordinary feats such as levitation, clairvoyance, being in several places at one time, and so forth.

Radkin in his book sets out to see if any of these things can be proven, scientifically. But one of his difficulties is that those who have attained enlightenment aren’t predisposed to show off their powers, or wantonly subject themselves to scientific scrutiny. It goes against the very notion of samadhi.

I haven’t finished the book yet – his scientific experiments are still to come – however I read one passage which I thought I’d share with you.

Radkin was talking about how we have a need for empirical evidence to prove that something exists, and is “real.” But then he talked about magnetism. Magnetism was regarded as magic for centuries. No-one knew how or why it “worked.”

In the 12th century, they believed there was a North Pole star that was also magnetic, which was why magnetic compasses always pointed to the north. It was some six hundred years later that scientists figured out what magnetism actually was.

So for all that time, magnetism was regarded as something supernatural. Magical.

So what else operates within our current realm that we regard as magical, or supernatural, and yet in times to come might be completely understandable, and measurable?

Just like magnetism, could there be a time in the future when these miraculous yogi siddhis are eventually accepted as a natural part of our world?


17 thoughts on “Magic & Miracles

  1. Really fascinating post Bill. My wonderful yoga teacher, Carol, always says that the asanas are just the tip of the iceberg … so true!


  2. We saw one in Rome, by the Panthenon, busking. It was very sad. I felt it was making fun of something deeply spiritual. Needless to say I didn’t give him any money!!


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