Moonday Mythology: Misuse of Siddhis (Yogic superpowers)

The 3rd chapter of the Yoga sutras is about Siddhis, Yogic superpowers, which a yogi experiences along the path to liberation.  Patanjali also warns about falling into the traps of these Siddhis, when one gets carried away by them, hence losing the opportunity for further progress and sometimes backsliding in one’s path of progress. 

When one does asanas or pranayama for a long time with dedication, certain exalted states of mind result and feelings of power and confidence sometimes, verging on arrogance, may ensue. Many a modern-day yoga teacher has fallen prey to this and without adequate mindfulness have committed acts of sexual abuse and greed. BKS Iyengar describes the amount of sheer will power he had to use to fend off “overly friendly” students in this talk at 45:20. 

This is a story of how the legendary Matsyendranath (of ardha-matsyendrasana), supposedly one of the greatest yogis, fell into the trap of these Siddhis and how he was rescued by his disciple, Gorakshanath. This story is as relevant to modern times as it is to those ancient times even if the extent of Siddhis are far less in the times we live in.

Once upon a time, there was a king, who was given to excessive drinking and as a result his kingdom was in disarray. A wise sage foresaw his death and approached the great Yogi Matsyendranath to ask for his help to revive the kingdom. Said the sage, “O greatest of yogis, Lord Matsyendranath, our kingdom has fallen into disarray due to the vices of our king. Death is fast approaching the king and upon his death his evil son will be crowned the king. The kingdom will fall further into disarray. Therefore, O Lord, take mercy on the inhabitants of our kingdom and with your yogic powers enter the body of the king upon his death and restore prosperity to the kingdom”. Matsyenranath, out of compassion to the people in that kingdom, agreed.   

    With his Siddhis, Matsyendranath performed parakaya pravesha (entering another’s body) and entered the king’s body at the time of death. Soon thereafter, the kingdom attained prosperity. However, Matsyendranath, started identifying himself with the body of the king and indulged in all the luxuries that a king would indulge in. Gorakshanath, his chief disciple, became concerned at this and one day came to the kingdom disguised as a female dance instructor and got access to the king’s chamber. He quickly made Matsyendranath realize his original identity and made him remember his yogic powers. The student taught the teacher and with his help, Matsyendranath was able to leave the king’s body and enter his own.  

    This story is often told to illustrate the dangers of exhibiting Siddhis. 

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