Magical Distractions

Adept yogis can attain siddhis, mystic powers, or what Srila Prabhupada sometimes referred to as magic. These powers can distract the advancing yogi, forcing him to lose sight of the goal of God realization.

Devotees on the path of bhakti-yoga consider mystic siddhis insignificant rewards. They’re material, not spiritual. As Srila Prabhupada points out in The Nectar of Devotion, science often imitates the achievements of advanced yogis. For example, a yogi with the a∫ima-siddhi can enter a stone, but an engineer can drill through a mountain.

The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Technology allows us to do things once considered impossible. A few centuries ago, who could have imagined nearly instantaneous communication with anyone anywhere in the world? Now, as technology progresses without stopping or even letting up, we move along with it, mostly oblivious of how much it is changing our world and our lives.

For one thing, each of us seems to have more power today than any of the thousands of generations before us. Consider the yogi again. Another siddhi, called prapti-siddhi, allows a yogi to get anything from anywhere. Srila Prabhupada told of a yogi who on demand delivered in an instant the fresh branch of a pomegranate tree, with attached fruit, from Afghanistan to Calcutta. FedEx is somewhat slower, but through the Internet anyone with enough money can quickly get practically anything from anywhere in the world.

But increased power without increased knowledge is dangerous. The newly rich camel driver who drives his new car like his old camel – by stomping his foot – is in for trouble.

In the midst of the rapid change around us, we need to stay philosophically grounded. We can ask, “Has anything really changed?” The philosophical view, as presented, for example, by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, is that despite our progress in manipulating the material energy, the essential realities remain. The Internet and the smart phone haven’t solved our greatest problem: we’re all going to die. While our eyes are glued to our digital screens, time is stealing our limited stock of days.

Srila Prabhupada writes, “The material world is an illusory energy to deviate the living entities from the path of self-realization.”

Distraction from the real business of life has always been a problem; even the ancient Vedic sages speak of it. But these days we have more distractions than ever before. We can lose ourselves so deeply in the digital world that the solid world of bricks and bread and brothers and mothers disappears.

Whether the distraction is the lure of the unlimited options of the Internet or the quarreling of neighbors in the village, the effect is the same: wasting time for no substantial benefit.

By substantial I mean eternal. Reality is what endures beyond the ravages of time. If we pause to think about it, we can know intuitively what the Vedic literature teaches: we are the conscious self within, interfacing with the external world through bodies made of senses. We can also see that even though the bodies we had in infancy, childhood, and so on, are gone, we continue to exist. Therefore, Lord Krishna ’s teaching that we’ll live on after death makes perfect sense. Instead of being fooled by magic tricks, whether by yogis or technologists, we should turn our attention to the eternal reality, described in detail in the venerable Vedic literature, the most relevant of which are available to us through Srila Prabhupada’s inspired presentations.