People who visited Bhagavan used to discuss with Him the several aspects of spiritual life and also the attainment of psychic and magical powers (siddhi). Bhagavan used to say that we are all siddhas, because it is only after very great efforts and penances that we achieved this bodily existence. The purpose of this wonderful attainment is to achieve the greatest of all attainments — the pure Existence-Knowledge Bliss. But if we use embodiment only to gain psychic powers, we only put on more fetters — golden chains for iron ones. All the same, fetters are fetters, and to remove those of gold you have to requisition the service of the supreme fetter- breaker, namely one who has attained Nirvana.
In the view of a knower [jnani], these powers are no more real than those gained in a dream. Suppose a beggar has a dream that he is a king ruling some kingdom. So long as the dream lasts, he has the pleasure and satisfaction of being the king, but the moment he wakes up he has to pick up his begging bowl again to appease his hunger. So too, these powers satisfy only so long as they pertain to the existence of the inner nature. But when that is found to be non-existent, then will come the rude shock of finding these powers as essentially false.
To illustrate this principle, Bhagavan used to quote the story in the ‘Prabhulinga Lila’ of a great Siddha named Gorakhnath. After very great efforts of various kinds, this man had so perfected his physical body that it would not die even for a thousand years. He put his body to various tests, and it stood them all well. In high glee at the success of his bodily perfection he invited all great souls and yogis to cut his body with a sword. When they subjected his body to this test, it could never be cut or pierced by the sword, but from it emanated such a loud metallic clang that its resonance lasted for several minutes, as in the case of temple bells. The siddha was so contented at having overcome the fear of death, that it never occurred to him that his embodied state must still come to an end some day or other.
While he was feeling supremely happy in his fool’s paradise, he heard of a great Jnani, Allama Prabhu, to whom people were flocking day in and day out in large numbers, to sit at his feet and imbibe the bliss of his Being, and to benefit from the Truth of his spoken words. Needless to say, this Jnani was in fact Lord Sankara Himself incarnate in that form to help mankind. He explained to all who came to Him that all our bodily experiences are false; being based on the non-existent separateness of individuals; also that unless the Self be realized as the witness-Light before whom the three states of waking, dream and sleep pass and re-pass, one cannot remain unaffected by the experiences of mind-stuff, pleasant and painful, and that the Fourth State is the permanent aspect of Being, experienced in and as the Centre (akasa) of the
This State is one indivisible whole in all beings, on realizing which all sense of opposites and triplicities vanish. In brief, His teaching was that you are the Absolute Reality, the One unique witness of all — indeed, rather that the very ‘all’ does not exist, for the word implies something outside itself as a non-existent duality, whereas there is only the One conscious Being-Awareness, which you are. To be That is the only real Bliss.
Now our great siddha resorted to this Jnani’s presence out of idle curiosity to see what kind of man He was, and if possible to arrogantly challenge Him and scoff at His teaching. He was surprised to find that the Jnani was a poor specimen of bodily health, a mere skeleton of skin and bone. He accosted Him in not very venerable terms, saying: “They say you are a great Jnani who has overcome the fear of death. But what a miserable sort of body you live in! Do you think that with this body you can have overcome the fear of death? Look at me! I am sure that I have so perfected my body that it can never be killed. Here is a sword; try it on this body, and you will see for yourself the nature of my attainment!”
The Jnani requested to be excused from making such a hazardous experiment. But when Gorakhnath persisted in his request, He took up the sword and struck it against his body. Of course, the metallic sound came out and echoed for a while. In all seeming humility, Allama Prabhu pretended to be greatly impressed by the man’s attainment. Said He: “It is indeed a great power you have attained; all glory to you! But now that I have granted your request to test your body, you must now grant me my request to subject my body to the same experiment. Please take the sword and kill me with it!”
The siddha was afraid to do this; he said the Jnani would die. But the Jnani said, “It will not matter if I die, for I shall not hold you responsible.” So the man took up the sword and struck at the Jnani’s body. To his great surprise, the sword passed straight through the body without affecting it in any way. Gorakhnath found that he could pass it from left to right, from right to left, to and fro, and yet Allama Prabhu was in no way affected by it. It was as though the sword were passing through empty air!
This gave him a rude shock indeed. He said to Allama, “What is it that I have achieved after all? I have only baked the pot, while you have the core of the deathless Being. Great Guru, pray take me as your disciple, and teach me how to know the Immortal Self!” Saying this, the siddha fell prostrate at the feet of the Jnani, who accepted him as his disciple and taught him the Knowledge beyond knowledge and ignorance.
Now this story was a wonderful illustration of the real state of Bhagavan’s imperishable Being, and all who loved Truth enjoyed it and were enlightened about the state everlasting.