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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Siddhi

A Sanskrit term, from the root sidh (“be successful,” attain [one’s aim or object],” “hold true or valid”), generally used to refer to a paranormal power acquired by means of yogic practices. The Pāli equivalent is iddhi. There are various lists of such powers, from eight to thirty or more. One traditional list identifies them as (1) the ability to become as minute as an atom (anima), (2) the ability to become light (laghima), i.e., to levitate, (3) the ability to attain anything (prāpti), (4) irresistible will (prākāmya), (5) the ability to increase one’s size at will (mahima), (6) godlike power or godliness (īśitva), (7) the ability to make others do your will (vaitva), and (8) the ability to suppress desire (kāmāvasāyitā). Some of those Sanskrit terms have been given other interpretations as well.

Perhaps the classic source for identification of siddhis is the third section of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. His list is neither exhaustive nor systematic, but generally the first ones listed are what modern Parapsychology would call ESP (extra-sensory perception) and PK (psychokinesis). They include such things as telepathy (3.19), clairvoyance (3.26) and clairaudience (3.42), precognition and retrocognition (3.16), memory of one’s past lives (3.18), foreknowledge of the time of one’s death (3.23), ability to understand the meaning of the sounds produced by animals (3.17), ability to levitate and become impervious to water, dirt, thorns, etc. (3.40), ability to render oneself invisible (3.21) and inaudible, etc. (3.22), ability to manifest oneself at a distance from one’s body (3.43), direct intuitive knowledge of astronomy (3.27-39) and human physiology (3.30), etc. The siddhis listed generally later are transcendental, including virtual omnipotence and omniscience (3.50), freedom from rebirth (3.51), and direct knowledge of the Divine Mind (3.44). One who has attained at least some of these siddhis is called a siddha.

Whereas modern sceptics doubt the existence of any of these powers, some people who do believe they are possible interpret them as supernatural or miraculous. The theosophical world view, which does accept their possibility, denies that there is anything supernatural about them. It states that the universe is guided by law through and throughout, hence there are no such things as miracles. It is just that they are based on laws of nature which science does not yet know about. But since some of these abilities are claimed by theosophists such as Helena P. BLAVATSKY, Charles W. LEADBEATER, Annie BESANT, Rudolph STEINER, Geoffrey HODSON, Phoebe Bendit, and Dora Kunz, it is important for students of theosophical literature to put their claims into a proper perspective. The claims should neither be dismissed out of hand nor gullibly accepted without question, but should be evaluated in the same way any knowledge claims are. Furthermore, the lower siddhis — ESP and PK abilities — are no indication of spirituality; only the higher or transcendental siddhis are. As I. K. TAIMNI states in his The Science of Yoga (Theosophical Publishing House, 1961; 1975), “The exercise of occult powers does not free [a person] from the basic illusions of life and therefore cannot bring him Enlightenment and peace. Rather it tends to distract the mind more powerfully from his true goal and may bring about his downfall in the most unforeseen manner. It is only when he has completely conquered his lower nature and acquired true Vairāgya [dispassion] that he can safely exercise these powers for the helping of others, if necessary” (loc. cit., 1975 ed., p. 308).

R.W.B.

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