Spirituality and powers
Modern day spirituality is often associated with acquiring some extra powers, or tapping into universal energies for healing etc,. The energy mobilization with various techniques such as Pranic Healing, Reiki, or Tai Chi are some methods/techniques very widely practiced and certainly have considerable benefits at physical and psychological level.
Even though these techniques are beneficial, in our vision if they are used along with Gita’s vision of making a deliberate effort towards emotional growth, their benefits can be increased manifold. While using these energy mobilization techniques, there is an expectation that somehow through some higher mobilized energy, everything would be cleansed, all problems would be solved. Some take the gain from higher energy mobilization even further and claim that it would lead to enlightenment. This belief has led to conclusion on part of many that spiritually evolved person will have some extra powers. Therefore let us look at what the powers or energies can do and limitations of what they can achieve.
According to Hindu tradition, it is recognized that through some practices, one can acquire powers that others are not endowed with. But the question is whether all people with extra powers are necessarily spiritual in nature. To counter this largely held belief, many different types of stories are found in our tradition, which show how having additional powers does not indicate anything about maturity of a person. Many examples are given to show extra-powers can be meaningless, become a curse or be responsible for ones destruction if one abuses it.
The first story is about a person who did great penance for 12 years and acquired a power to walk on the water. The person wanted to show off his power to a boatman crossing the river, and told him, “You need a boat to cross whereas I can just walk across the river”. The boatman asked, “How long did it take for you to acquire this power of walking on water”? The person proudly said “12 years of hard work”. The boatman not too impressed with this claim replied, “Why did you waste 12 years of your life trying to acquire a skill of walking on water, when I can easily take a boat and cross the river”. This shows that at times, it may sound very impressive to have certain powers such as ability to know what is going on in others minds etc, but when we examines its overall usefulness, it is not very significant.
The second story is about the king who had tremendous greed for being wealthy and managed to get powers whereby whatever he touches would become gold. Initially he was thrilled that when he touched his table, chair etc, it turned gold. But when he sat down to eat and the food turned gold, he was in distress. Finally, when his daughter came and he opened his arm to hug her, she became gold. The king was so disturbed that he begged to reverse this boon. This shows that the power can also become a curse to oneself.
Finally, there is famous story about Hiranyakashyapu. He gained a boon from Lord Narayana that he can not be killed either by a man or animal, neither inside or outside the house, not during the day or at night. Having gained that, he thought he was invincible and abused many people with his extraordinary powers. Finally, Lord Narayana came in the form of Narasimha, half man and half lion (neither man nor animal), took him at the threshold of the house (neither inside nor outside) and killed him at twilight (neither day nor night). In this case, the power led to inflation of his ego and eventually became the cause of his own destruction.
Do all these stories mean that acquiring some additional power is necessarily bad? No. At times, you can develop some powers as you evolve. One can become more intuitive, your prayers begin to get answered, and you can actually use it to benefit human beings. However, this acquisition of power itself has to be put in perspective. Nobody who claims to have powers could stop the recent volcanic ashes that halted the flights through major parts of northern Europe, or reverse the problems of global warming or suffering that can be inflicted to thousands of people during natural calamities such as cyclones and hurricanes. That means, the objective position to have towards the power is that one can have it, use it for the benefit, but that cannot be marketed as a big claim towards spiritual progress.
With reference to tapping into energies, the analysis is similar. Yes, there could be subtle energies that can be channelized through some breathing practices (pranayama) and other techniques. Even Homeopathy in many ways works at a subtle level. Homeopathic medicines are effective for many even though no substance can be traced in the medicine after dilution. All these techniques may contribute to your physical health and make your mind calmer, but the question is do they necessarily make the person spiritual- which means more evolved and wiser? The answer is- may be indirectly. One can assume that if you calm down, you may gain more space to think before you act, which may make you more deliberate and less mechanical person. However, there is no guarantee that what you think would be appropriate. In order for your thinking to change, you have to make a deliberate attempt to expose yourself to wisdom which will enable you to see things in right perspective. That means, evolving as a person requires efforts, and is not automatic achievement based on some practice. Just like any higher learning such as mathematics, physics, economics etc., gaining wisdom requires deliberate efforts in that particular direction.
Moreover, Gita makes you see that every individual has some sphere of influence, and some can have more power than others. But these powers are nothing in comparison to the all-power (Isvara) which governs the universe for billions of years for cycles of creation and makes everything what is. Gita talks about necessity for a human being to recognize this all power in the form of infallible order which makes every person who he/she is, behave as he/she does. This understanding of order, with reference to my life, puts in acquiring and utilizing special powers in a proper perspective.