September 01, 2007

The Ashtasiddhi and the Sapta Chatushtaya

The Normality of the Supernormal: Siddhis in Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga
by Richard Hartz Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
Vyāpti and prākāmya are two of the eight powers or ashtasiddhi that were Sri Aurobindo’s adaptation of a traditional list of siddhis found in yogic texts.23 The ashtasiddhi is part of the vijñāna chatushtaya or quaternary of the supra-intellectual faculty in the system to which he related most of the experiences he recorded.
In that system, the vijñāna chatushtaya is the third of seven sets of four terms each—the sapta chatushtaya24—that form an outline of the integral perfection or transformation of human nature envisaged by Sri Aurobindo during the period of his diary. During the same period, he described this system as the “Yoga of self-perfection” in Part Four of The Synthesis of Yoga.
He grouped his list of eight siddhis into two “siddhis of knowledge”, three “siddhis of power” and three “siddhis of being”. This grouping sheds light on his conception of these siddhis in relation to the fundamental nature of reality and the deeper aims of yoga.
Beginning with the “siddhis of being”, which he calls elsewhere “siddhis of the body”, he explains:
The three siddhis of being are siddhis of the Sat or pure substance. In matter, Sat uses these siddhis according to fixed laws but in itself it is free to use them as it chooses. If one can get partly or entirely this freedom, one is said to have these three siddhis.25
Sri Aurobindo adopted the traditional names mahimā, laghimā and animā for these siddhis, but interpreted the terms in his own way in the light of his personal experience. By mahimā, he understood an “unhampered force” that may be mental or physical. Laghimā meant for him “a similar power of lightness, that is to say of freedom from all pressure or weighing down in the mental, pranic [vital] or physical being” by which “it is possible to get rid of weariness and exhaustion and to overcome gravitation.”26 Animā involved bringing “the nature of the subtle body into the gross body”,27 making it possible, among other things, to “get free of physical strain or pain”.28
These three siddhis, then, are at least partially physical in nature. They are mentioned throughout the Record of Yoga in connection with Sri Aurobindo’s exercises for the development of what he called “utthapana”, which in the system of the sapta chatushtaya was a member of the fourth or sharīra chatushtaya, the quaternary of the body. A possible translation of utthāpanā is levitation. This is undoubtedly part of what he meant by it, since the idea of overcoming gravitation is present in the concept of laghimā. His experiences seemed to him to support the theoretical possibility of “tertiary utthapana [complete levitation] . . . of the whole body raised from the earth”,29 though this was not actually achieved during the period of the Record of Yoga (or later, as far as we know). He admitted at one point that “tertiary utthapana has been unable to emerge out of the pranic into the physical being”.30 But more important for practical purposes was the elimination of fatigue from the body and brain so that “the faculty of constant luminous work & activity”31 could be perfected. This was called “primary utthapana”. His exercise for developing it consisted of walking—sometimes for as much as twelve to sixteen hours a day—and had no obvious connection with levitation.
In his explanation of the eight siddhis, Sri Aurobindo goes on from the siddhis of being to those of knowledge and power. He relates these, also, to basic principles of reality which to a mystic are much more than metaphysical abstractions: “Sat,” he says, “manifests as Chit, pure consciousness, and Chit has two sides—consciousness and energy, that is to say knowledge and power.”32 When these two aspects of the all-pervading chit (also called chit-tapas or consciousness-force) are freed in us from the habitual limitations caused by our normal state of subjection to the body, we acquire the siddhis of knowledge and power and become able to communicate with and act upon other beings without physical means.
The possession of the eight siddhis can thus be regarded as a natural result of realising the omnipresent spirit or Brahman in two of the aspects—being and consciousness—designated by the term Sachchidananda (sat-chit-ānanda, the infinite existence-consciousness-bliss that is considered in Vedanta to be the source of all manifestation). The third principle, ānanda or delight of being, also has its siddhis and these figure prominently in the Record of Yoga. They are not included in the ashtasiddhi, however, but occur elsewhere in the scheme of the sapta chatushtaya.33... posted by Rich on Fri 31 Aug 2007 09:46 AM PDT Permanent Link

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