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Why some Gurus perform miracles?

shirdi-sai-baba

Some gurus perform miracles while other Gurus show their ‘namaskars to chamatkars’? Are miracles the only proof that the Divine exists? Given our heritage of Indian Gurus and their mind-boggling siddhis (powers), here is a little probe on the role of miracles in the realm of faith.

The history of religion in India is replete with saints and seers performing ‘miracles’.  India – ‘the land of sages’ has an incomparable heritage of Gurus whose mystical powers (siddhis) captivate us till today. Many, especially from the west, get utterly amazed at the sheer range of miracles that they read about in popular books and accounts of Gurus.

Spiritual books like ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, ‘Living with the Himalayan Masters’, ‘Sai Satcharitra’ and many others give a breathtaking record of mystical incidences, miracles witnessed and experienced by numerous people.

Add to this list of books the ‘Purana’ literature and the biographies of saints like Sant Jnaneshwar, Shri Akkalkot Maharaj, Neem Karoli Baba, Mahavatar Baba, Swami Rama, the Saivite Nayanmar saints of South India, Shri Raghavendra, Swami Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, Shirdi Sai Baba, Changdev, Satya Sai Baba…

A miracle (chamatkar) using a power (siddhi) is defined as a phenomenon not fully explainable by “known” laws of nature. Much study has been done on miracles mainly by the skeptics. To the devout, the Guru’s miracle gives a personal mystical experience and it’s taken as a sign of the Guru’s Godliness, compassion and divinity. But the dominant view among skeptics is that miracles are predominantly tricks of magic and illusion.

However in most cases, miracles were done only to uplift the recipients. The Guru takes no personal gain from any of his powers, else he is deemed not a Guru. The devotees also add that the miracle-Gurus have also inspired massive social projects only to benefit the lay public with free hospital care, free food etc. Even if it was a trick of the hand to pluck a gold ring from air, the miracle act is said to be designed only to transform the individual and shift their attention to a spiritual life.

It is also said that there is usually a specific purpose connected to a miracle and only the Guru primarily knows that. But it is intriguing why only some Gurus perform miracles, while many don’t. People with siddhis are called ‘siddhas’. Not all siddhas are said to be Gurus and not all Gurus have shown their siddhis if they had them.

Examples of siddhis

Some of the common siddhis of Gurus witnessed include levitation, predicting the future, reading past lives, entering a state of Samadhi at will, giving mystical experiences to devotees, appearing to devotees in their dreams-visions, manifesting in bodily form to bless and give advice, curing the incurably sick, helping in a miraculous ways, reading the minds of others, healing blindness etc, taming wild beasts, spontaneous emanation of perfumes, walking on water, traversing distances in a very short time span, appearing in many places at the same time, changing weather, producing food and rain in seasons of drought, healing the sick, protecting  helping barren women become pregnant, materializing objects, removing their own limbs and sticking them back to the body or doing the same with their intestines (khanda yoga) etc.

An answer to the skepticism around these powers may be provided by the science of yoga which details the siddhis that allow yogis to transcend physical limitations and laws of nature. Many such siddhis are also mentioned in traditional religious texts like the ‘Yoga Sutras’ of Sage Patanjali.

The yoga sutra says “Janma-ausadhi-mantra-tapah-samadhijah siddhayah’ meaning “yogic powers (siddhis) are inherent (from birth), due
to specific herbs, from the power of mantra, through penance or by meditations.”

The ‘Vibhuti pada’ section of the yoga sutras detail quite a few siddhis and how to obtain them. They contain practices to attain powers ranging from invisibility to walking on water.This suggests that these supernatural powers can be acquired through self effort, discipline and fulfilling certain prerequisites.

In contrast, there are great saints like Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and many Vedanta masters who have never consciously performed miracles though they happened around them. It is interesting to note that most Gurus strongly advise aspirants against succumbing to the lure of siddhis. However miracles do challenge our notion of a material world and emphasise that a miracle can be a first taste of the impermanence and transitory nature of the universe.

Vedanta teachers like Swami Tejomayananda point out that

“Yogic powers may come to a ‘man of realisation’ as a result of his spiritual practices or by the grace of the Lord. He uses them neither for fame nor for power over others. For him they are dreamlike and enjoy the same degree of reality as the rest of the world. He may even be totally unaware that he has powers. But one does observe extra ordinary things happening near these great souls. They may at times display these powers in order to increase the faith of a devotee or to give boost to as seeker in his practice or to bless the world at large. Such powers are seen in them to enhance the beauty of the crest jewel of Self-realisation.”

In conclusion, here is what an endearing 17th century miracle saint Shri Raghavendra Swami said about the role of miracles:

“Always keep away from people who merely perform miracles without following the shastras and yet call themselves God or guru. I have performed miracles, and so have great persons like Srimadacharya. These are based on yoga siddhi and the shastras. There is no fraud or trickery at all. These miracles were performed only to show the greatness of God and the wonderful powers that one can attain with His grace.”

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