Articles and Commentaries |
November 8, 2023


Written By: Côme Carpentier de Gourdon


The patanjaliyogasutra(PYS), a seminal text of Samkhya philosophy and yoga theory and practice is widely recognised as a matter-of-factly description of a psycho-physical discipline and of its effects on the bodies and minds of its adepts. Although scientific bio-medical and neurological research has recently validated the beneficial and healing effects of yoga on practitioners, in the third section (vibhutipada) of the sutra, the ‘supernatural’ or ‘paranormal’ powers (siddhis) that may be attained by the advanced initiate in ashtangayoga are still regarded as fictitious from the standpoint of modern science.

This discrepancy enshrines a paradox: how can a manual found to be accurate in its methodology to optimise mind and body states be so removed from reality or even apparent reason with regard to the superhuman attributes and abilities it claims to confer?

This paper briefly recapitulates the various siddhis alluded to in the sutra’s third section and also the further attainment it advocates as a goal of the practice in the beginning of the fourth section, the kaivalyapada. It attempts to draw certain parallels and correspondences with current developments and recent revelations in areas of scientific research that may contribute to support the validity or at least the plausibility of the claims made in PYS.

The Vibhutipada

This section, as earlier indicated, alludes to the side effects of the yoga practice in its higher three stages: dharana, dhyana and samadhi which are described as more ‘internal’ than the prior five angas  (cf. sutras 5 and 6). The three first sutras define dhyana as the complete absorption into the subject of attention, which leads in Samadhi, without any influence from the mind of the meditant who is, therefore, to be distinguished from the scientific observer. The latter according to the interpretation of subatomic data by quantum theory, modifies or disturbs reality by the very act of observing. On the other hand samyama (meditation), a combination of the three aforesaid angas is said to surmount that obstacle, given that it uses no instrument and is purely mental or rather ‘supra-mental’. Since the two previous sections of the PYS have described in detail the psychological and philosophical premises and the method to be followed, the conditions created by the practice and attainment of the aforesaid last three of the ashtangas are only concisely stated.

In sutra 5, it is said that the result of samyama is universal knowledge (prajnaloka). Sutras 8, 9 and 10 refer to nirbija samadhi, the deeper stage of contemplation which manifests innirodhaparinamaor supreme quietude (prasanta). The higher echelons cited in sutras 11 and 12 are samadhi parinama and ekagrata parinama: utmost concentration on one point, described as akin to mystical stasis by analogy to biological homeostasis.That condition leads to dharmaparinama, laksanaparigraha and avasthaparigraha: liberation from the world of objects, time and states of being (sutra 13) that opens the door to superhuman or paranormal abilities. Sutras 14, 15 and 16 affirm that the yogi at that point is cognisant of the past and the future through parinamatraya (release from the subjective separations between the three categories of time which are simultaneous in the higher impersonal consciousness).

Among the many endeavours pursued in the study of consciousness as it relates to time, the work pursued at the Stanford Research Institute since the 1970s in the USA under the direction of Dr Harold Puthoff and Dr Russell Targ is noteworthy. It led to the development of a remote viewing programme (Stargate) under the auspices of various military and Intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA.A related research paper, no. 9 on a U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency list of classified Intelligence Reference documents to which we will come back repeatedly in this paper is entitled High Frequency Gravitional Wave Communications and is authored by Dr R Baker from GravWav.

Sutra 17 mentions sarvabhutarutajnana: knowledge of the ways (and languages) of all creatures and hence the ability to communicate with them; a faculty that has been celebrated in many ancient traditions, on all continents. For instance, some medieval European esoteric poets such as the German minnesingers claimed to speak the language of birds and progress has been made in recent decades in developing sign and vocal interaction with a variety of animal species and even with plants. In the late 19th century Dr J C Bose in Calcutta did pioneering scientific work to demonstrate the sentience and inter-species communicative abilities (a language of sorts) of plants.

Sutra 18 is about purvajatijananam, the knowledge of past lives through the investigation of the causes of sanskaras. Today past-life regression is a widespread form of therapy although not recognised by academic psychiatry psychology and medicine.[i]

Sutras 19 and 20 evoke the power of mind reading (paracittajnanam).In our days this is a topic of widespread investigation within the realms of transpersonal psychology[ii] and parapsychology[iii] but also for technological applications such as building computer softwares that can directly transcribe thoughts into written words[iv]. A machine to read thoughts through decoding of EEG was reportedly built as early as the seventies under the auspices of the SRI by two scientists, Pinneo and Wolf so the research has many years behind it. US Military research has made vast and mostly unacknowledged progress in the area of neural-electronic interface to enable pilots and others to control their machines by thought and mental command[v].

Sutra 21 mentions the intriguing power of invisibility, poetically evoked in ancient greek myths by Gyges’s ring and repeatedly portrayed in science fiction literature and films. Kayarupasamyama(meditation on the physical body) is the key to aparantajnanamwhen it enables the adept to modify the interaction (samprayoga) between light and the eye.

Methods to gain invisibility have been studied in various scientific and military research centres and in particular a recent restricted release of the aforesaid list of  Defense Intelligence Reference Documents (DIRD) was carried out by the DIA out of the AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Programme) contracted out through the Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), with the collaboration of Earthtech International of Austin, Texas, also founded by Dr Puthoff. Paper 7 in the list is entitled Invisibility Cloaking and was authored by Dr Ulf Leonhardt at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Sutra 23 concisely refers to the immense mental/physical strength: maitryadisubalani which may be translated either as the effect of meditation about universal love or as the prodigious capabilities aroused by passion and empathy. The following sutra further evokes the ‘elephantine’ strength generated by the practice. Empirically it is undeniable that both love and hate, as two sides of a single emotion, endow human beings with a physical power and resilience that far exceeds their habitual capacities.

There are various well documented instances of women and men performing virtual miracles to save a child or another loved one by removing an obstacle, lifting an extremely heavy weight or successfully fighting a much larger human being or animal. The mentally generated power in people is cultivated by the martial arts and convincing demonstrations are regularly provided, for example by the academy of kung fu of the Shao Lin monastery in China. It is also well known that far-eastern martial arts are historically related to yoga whose methods and techniques were reportedly taken to China by the Indian monk Bodhidharma.

Sutra 25 brings up the subject of suksmaviprahitaviprakrstajnanam, interpreted by Ronald Steinerin his translation of the PYS as the perception of subtle, concealed and remote (higher) beings, gained through pravrittyakasanyasat: a meditation on the ether, superficially known as the vacuum.

This brings us to the vast field of exobiology and exo-consciousness, involving contacts with alien lifeforms, superior non-human civilisations and parallel worlds within a multiverse. Readers are referred to the researches undertaken by the Edgar Mitchell Foundation[vi] (Project Free Experiencer) and earlier at Stanford Research Institute, at the CIA and US National Security Agency, under the code names MK ULTRA and GRILL FLAME and at the Monroe Institute in the USA.[vii]  as well as by various scientific bodies in the USSR in connection with the ‘cosmist’ school of thought and the noospheric theories of Vernadsky and his colleagues[viii].

In sutra 30, a method to gain freedom from hunger and thirst is indicated by meditating on the pit of the throat (kanthakupa). There are allusions to this technique being taught to certain elite corps in the US armed forces under the protocol introduced by Colonel Jim Channel in the 1970s, in his First Earth Battalion Field Manual in order to train a new type of ‘shamanic/yogic warrior’ endowed with paranormal powers. Sutra 32 addresses siddhadarsanam, the ability to see and interact with realized transcendent beings through murdhajyotis.

 As strange as it may seem, there is a tradition of esoteric exercises to expand consciousness beyond the physical realm since the origins of the US space programme. The founder of the Jet propulsion Lab of Caltech, Jack Parsons practiced various forms of occultism and magic and was for a period a friend and associate of L Ron Hubbard who set up the church of scientology. A book called Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA by former Science Adviser to CBS for the Apollo Programme Richard Hoagland and BOEING engineer Mike Bara presents a lot of information about alleged secret rituals and esoteric activities in the American space agency.

Sutra 33 refers to pratibha (illumination or intuition) as the source of omniscience and in sutra 36 it is said that this opens the door to extra-sensorial or intuitive perception beyond the reach of the five physical senses and solely through the mind, an ability that has been tested and proven repeatedly through various experiments in various parts of the world, particularly in the USSR. That leads us to sutra 38 describing the power for the consciousness of the yogi to enter another body and dwell in it by detaching from one’s own biological vehicle.

We should note that many if not most traditional civilisations that have kept alive major features of the Paleolithic and Neolithic past, in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania hold the belief in the possibility of psychically inhabiting other bodies and taking control of them. Various anthropologists have documented the secret rituals still practiced in ‘Black’ Africa by shamans who claim to transform themselves into lions, leopards, hyenas and other animals (cf among many)[ix].

Although it may all be accounted for as ‘primitive’ superstition, in the line of Levy-Bruhl’s theory, the near universality and antiquity of such ‘magical’ thinking gives cause to pause and if we accept that consciousness has primacy or is the sole reality, we may also have to keep our minds open to its power of modifying perceptions or appearances, as the effects of hypnosis demonstrate.

Sutra 39 is about levitation which is the result of using the udana or upward rising breath. Conversely sutra 40 talks about the faculty of samana (the stabilizing or peaceful breath) to stir the inner fire within us in order to become impervious to the cold.

The often-demonstrated technique of psyching heating, known as tummo in tibetan has been systematically investigated by physiologists in various countries, such as the USA, the USSR and China and a recent vindication has come from Wayne State University in a scientific article published in the NeuroImage journal by Dr Otto Musik on the basis of the study of a meditation and breathing method practiced by the famous athlete Wim Hof.[x]

Sutra 42 again alludes to the power of weightlessness and to moving in space instantaneously (akasagamanam) and 43 evokes the ‘subtle light body’ (parakasavaranaksayah) in which the true self dwells. These prodigious abilities have been studied from a technological perspective as documented in various research papers last year by the aforesaid US DIA AATIP programme. The papers dedicated to those processes are numbered 5 (Advanced Space Propulsion Based on Vacuum (Spacetime Metric) Engineering by Dr Hal Puthoff), 8 (Traversable Wormholes, Stargates and negative Energy by Dr Eric Davis, Earthtech), 11 (Antigravity for Aerospace Applications by Dr Eric Davis), and 36 (Negative Mass Propulsion by Dr I Winterberg, University of Reno, Nevada) in the list while the mastery over the physical elements and beings (bhutajayah) referred to in sutra 44 is analysed in the paper no. 25 (Space Communication Implications of Quantum Entanglement and Non-Locality by Dr J Cromer, University of Washington).

Sutra 45 too brings to mind several science-fiction moves as it is about minadipradurbhavahkayasampatdharanabligatsca or shrinking the body to a minuscule size. In this regard, the paper no. 23 (Aerospace Applications of Programmable Matter by Dr W McCarthy, Programmable Matter Corp.) in the AATIP list evinces the research done with a view to reaching that objective among others.

Sutra 46 makes a reference to the familiar ‘diamond body’ so often alluded to in Buddhist sutras, the balavajrawhich is so hard as to be almost indestructible. Whereas certain yogis have demonstrated extraordinary physical resistance in public tests, martial arts in China and Japan allow some advanced practitioners to display similar, seemingly superhuman immunity to powerful blows and crushing weight. In the west, famous magicians such as Houdini and his imitators have also evinced uncanny abilities of the same order.

More convincing and scientifically proven performances are regularly observed from champion deep sea divers in apnea who descend without equipment several hundred feet below the surface and withstand enormous pressures and suspension of breath during very long periods.[xi]

Sutra 48 again alludes to the power to master matter: pradhanajayawhich in theory would allow the initiate to create and modify natural elements and objects by the force of his or her mind. Apart from mastering telekinesis: one could bend spoons like Uri Geller allegedly did or materialise objects and go through walls as General Albert Stubblebine, CO of the US Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) from 1981 to 1984 avowedly sought to.

In the AATIP list papers 14 (Concepts for Extracting Energy from the Quantum Vacuum by Dr Eric Davis), 19 (Warp Drive, Dark Energy and the Manipulations of Extra-Dimensions by Dr R Obousy of Obousy Consultants) and 20 (Technological Approaches to Controlling External devices in the Absence of Limb Operated Interfaces by Dr R Genik of Wayne State University) have relevance to this subject.

Sutra 50 warns, after this metaphorical slideshow of magical fireworks that the yogi must not become attached to these powers which are meaningfully described as allurements and distractions provided by ‘celestial or invisible beings’ (sthanyupanimantranesangasmayaakaranampunaranistaprasangat), in order to stop the initiate in his upward journey. Accordingly, sutra 52 recalls that true knowledge must be rooted in discernment or discrimination: vivekajamjnanam. Vairagya we are told is also to be applied to the achievements pertaining to Samadhi.

The same sutrapoints out that the ultimate goal is kaivalya: detachment or sovereignty of the true self, liberated from passions and fancies, whether material or psychic, natural or supernatural.  Sattwa purusayahsuddhisamyakaivalyam: kaivalya achives complete balance (or synthesis) between the world of matter and the cosmic ‘Oversoul’ or Divine.

The following and last section of Patanjali’s memoir is indeed an exposition of the nature and effects of the kaivalya state towards which the yogi’s progress should be unerringly directed. It is rather evident that supernatural or at least exceptional powers, while fascinating to observe and investigate, do not give their possessors any higher degree of happiness, wisdom and peace than ordinary mortals and can even be sources of distress, frustration, social alienation and physical suffering. However, we are no longer able to deny their existence from a scientific standpoint, even though the approach taken to investigate and attain such powers nowadays is mostly technological and relies on engineering applications of relativistic and quantic concepts and mechanics.

Yet science today acknowledges the central and paramount place of consciousness and admits that no sharp boundaries but rather differences in the degree of subjective perception stand between the ‘physical’ and psychic realities which are substantially not separable. Indeed, material tools, including sophisticated instruments are mere crutches for our perceptive and operative abilities which yoga teaches to do without. In essence, the powers are within us and not in the tools we fashion to deploy them. Machines (yantras) are technical projections of the psychic aptitudes manifested through mantras and tantras. Patanjali points to that when he defines yoga as the exercise of samyama which combines citta and purusa by separating (viyoga) the true Self from the vrittis of Prakriti. The conclusion is that in order to manifest super-human abilities, the yogi has to identify fully with the limitless purusa in which everything is possible and ‘demystify’ the seemingly material mind-body complex.

Author Brief Bio:Côme Carpentier de Gourdon is currently a Distinguished Fellow with India Foundation and is also the Convener of the Editorial Board of the WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNAL. He is an associate of the International Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IISES), Vienna, Austria. Côme Carpentier is an author of various books and several articles, essays and papers.













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