Krakow Lectures 1. Yoga and Siddhis. Dominik Wujastyk

I’ve made up my mind to write a number of articles dedicated to lectures given at Yoga Darsana, Yoga Sadhana conference in Krakow. I believe this to be quite acceptable in the context of this blog because at least one third of the papers presented were dedicated to Yoga Sutras. Besides, in consideration of the huge gap between academic community dealing with yoga issues and yoga practitioners, as well as the gap between European and post-Soviet science I believe this to be so far the best way of introducing to our yoga community a number of important ideas advanced at the said conference. With early summer being one of the busiest periods of my year, I shall make this in the form of short messages’ series, although I don’t promise them to come very soon and on a regular basis. The lectures shall be dealt with in the order of their objective significance, that is, according to the principle “the first to have impressed me most” that in no way involves any attempt to downplay objective scientific value of particular presentations.
But before moving on to the report that for me was one of the most interesting let me first share some general impressions. The first thing I was much delighted with was understanding of my personal research studies in yoga to be much “on trend”. The conference Session 1 opened with presentation of Naomi Worth, a young researcher from the University of Virginia concerned about analysis of Yoga Sutras lines 1.34-1.39, that is, the same very sutras that have so far been the last analyzed in my blog. Moreover, the author’s key massage suggested that these shlokas specify the variants of yoga practice that all Schools, traditions and techniques of today have emerged from.
Another report presented on day one has complemented my lecture on the history of yoga. I remember that speaking about yoga dissemination from India to Southeast Asia I said I knew neither the name of Indonesian yoga nor its texts though I was sure they had existed. Now, Andrea Acri from International [Nalanda-Sriwijaya] Research Center has delivered report dedicated to Indonesian text of Dharma Pātañjala that has been recently found in the vicinity of Borobudur and comes as exposition of Yoga Sutras (with some differences). So, the yoga in Indonesia did exist indeed!
And I’ve been totally fascinated by two reports on cognitive aspects of yoga and samadhi that I have continuously been dealing with here. A separate article on this issue is coming.
But I shall no longer keep the reader in suspense and proceed to focusing on the most valuable report for me presented by Dominik Wujastyk, a renowned Orietalist scholar who currently works at the University of Alberta.
His study was dedicated to yoga attitude to siddhis (vibhuti). Some readers may know that many contemporary authorities on yoga express their negative stance on siddhis as something negative, something that impedes spiritual growth. This perspective has been widely disseminated throughout the would-be yogic community and has been even included into Radhakrishnan’s classical textbook Indian Philosophy, the books of G. Feuerstein and so on as an indisputable issue. However many students of our School may be unaware of this idea because I have never been supporting this position and have ignored it attributing the said opinion to regrettable tendencies of some Schools’ religiozation. Yet where has this ridiculous idea actually stemmed from? This was the question that Dominik Wujastyk clarified in his report.
First of all he paid attention to an obvious fact. Most sutras of the YS third section deal with siddhis. Thus it would be quite illogic to believe that Patanjali was taking them for something negative or accessary. Neither one finds something negative in respect of siddhis in the commentary of Vyasa.
By comparing yoga texts of that period with Buddhist manuals containing information about psychological practices (for instance, Abhidharmakosha) the speaker has pointed out that it was not something bad that Buddhists were takingsiddhis for, but they rather viewed them as certain markers of person’s spiritual progress. The first negative stance on siddhis appeared in the second most significant commentary on Yoga Sutras that was written ca. 1000 years after the text itself – the Vacaspati Misra’s Tattvavaisaradi (the text that I have more than once mentioned here).

But where has the conception of siddhis as something negative actually come from? The one and only reasoning of it has turned out to originate from incorrect understanding of just one line of Yoga Sutras

ते समाधावुपसर्गा व्युत्थाने सिद्धयः ॥ ३७॥
3. 37. te samādhāv upasargā vyutthāne siddhayaḥ
Which first three words are translated as
They are hindrances to samadhi…
And since this shloka appears in the midst of the section dedicated to Siddhisthey claimed the latter to be misfortunes.

Yet the reporter has shown (and I gave myself the trouble to check this upon coming back home) that the pronoun te (they) is attributed not to the section at a whole (the more so the fact that the line is put the middle of the section, not in fine) but only to the effects specified in the preceding shloka 3.36. And this is what Vyasa expressly writes about.

ततः प्रातिभश्रावणवेदनादर्शास्वादवार्ता जायन्ते ॥ ३६॥
3. 36. tataḥ prātibha śrāvaṇa vedanā ādarśā āsvāda vārtā jāyante

Vyasa determines prātibha, śrāvaṇa, vedanā, ādarśā and āsvāda(the emphasis is mine) to be ‘divyas’, that is, miraculous or supernatural visibility, audibility, knowledge and so on. It means that it has nothing to do with siddhis! And in this way Dominik Wujastyk has in his report debunked this stereotyped myth.

Attention! The following concept is mine, not Dominik Wujastyk’s…
However the question of how the siddhis from shloka 3.36 have appeared to impede samadhi still remains open. Dominik has suggested the problem to reside in the word upsarga that has numerous meanings with ‘impediment’ being just one of them. I have a different – and a more radical – opinion. They traditionally assume the enlisted pratibha, shravana, vedana, adarsha and ashvada to be siddhis though neither Vyasa nor other commentaries imply the same. It is only the notion of pratibha that Vyasa expands in details and associated to a kind of omniscience. As for the rest of the listed, he just states them to be ‘miraculous’ or ‘subtle’ hearing, olfaction and so on. And to impede samadhi. But what makes us think these positive states to be siddhis? Maybe it is not siddhis but visual and other types of hallucinations meant? Or, if to speak more accurately, the ‘eidetic’ vision, olfaction and tactile sense? That is, seeing things, the ‘glitches’ that may occur in the process of practice. It is the same very trap that various ‘channellers’, spiritists, ‘self-styled’ paranormalists use to fall into. People who ‘obtain information’ in the said manner miss the principle issue. Genuine spiritual growth is not a mere augmentation of information content in one’s head. The growth implies qualitative expansion of the discourse, of the description language that happens either in case of proper learning from more educated people or in the course of creative process that culminates in samadhi. This trap has been well known among representatives of other Traditions. The Hesihasts used to call this “spiritual delusions” after the word ‘delude’ that is, to distract. Indeed, a person falling into hysterization of these effects that can be easily explained from the perspective of physiology and neurology distracts himseld from the primary tasks of profound self-awareness and transformation. The ‘vision’ of this type is not the true vision [also referred to as ‘intuition’ – transl.note] that is called this way in metaphoric sense only. Gregory Palamas, a Hesychast, once said something of the following (I can’t be bothered to look for quotation reference now): the spiritual vision is totally different from the ordinary one. Anyone unable to figure out whether it was ‘mortal’ or spiritual vision that he has seen something with must have been “seeing things”, and it has nothing to do with real intuition. B the way, in Sanskrit it is not the pratibhin that one would expect to be used to refer to a truely ‘seeing’ person, but tattvavid, i.e. the one who sees the core, the true nature (tattva).
So far I cannot give a more solid proof of my suggested thesis of the shloka 3.36 to describe pathogenic states. The word pratibha in Yoga Sutras is used one more time in sutra 3.33, but the latter is too short to confirm either of the opinions.