A yogi once challenged Sri Sathya Sai Baba to a contest of powers; of course, as you would expect, Baba did not even entertain the yogi and treated the request with the contempt it deserved. The yogi had organised an event, during which he was going to walk on water, and his thinking was that if he could get Swami to attend, his name would attract huge crowds, thus giving the yogi a chance to make some good money. The day of the event came, and in front of the gathered crowd, the yogi stepped out onto a large vat of water and promptly sank! Speaking about this some time later Baba said that the yogi’s downfall was that he allowed his judgement to be swayed by his ego. Once the ego entered into the equation the yogi was always going to be a loser. This story prompts me to muse on the powers that yogis have and whether having such powers makes someone a spiritually enlightened person.
I remember reading Autobiography Of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Yogananda wrote about how he went in search of his guru. Before he met Sri Yukteshwa Giri, who would evetually become his guru and master, Yogananda encountered several others who seemingly had amazing powers and would have made ideal teachers. There was the levitating saint and the swami who wrestled with tigers and always won. But the astute young Yogananda saw all these things for what they really were, which was nothing more than novelty. he was not interested in showmanship; he was searching for enlightenment. To us mere mortals a levitating yogi or a tiger wrestling yogi would surely be the ultimate guru. But in truth, although it takes a great and prolonged period of spiritual discipline before an individual could levitate or walk on water, the yogis who develop these powers are actually quite selfish.
You don’t develop such powers by devoting your life to others, you develop them by devoting your life, by and large, to yourself. As Baba always said, in this age of vast change the simplest and most effective way to reach God (enlightenment) is to engage in the selfless service of others; for to serve others is to serve God; God being present in all human beings. This action of selfless service is called Karma Yoga; yoga meaning union with God. It is said that those who use their precious time here on the Earth to develop amazing yogic powers without giving of their time in service to humanity do not become truly enlightened. To devote so much time in developing powers of showmanship would imply that there is always going to be an attachment to the ego-self. A truly enlightened being, Buddha for example, would have been in a permanent state of bliss because he transcended the ego. Whereas the yogis in question would merely have flitted in and out of a blissful state.
What we feel as individuals on this subject of course depends on our own perception of what is ”fantastic” and what isn’t. Swami himself used to say that his miracles of manifestation etc. were only for the purpose of grabbing people’s attention, and did not in any way represent his true mission here on Earth. For examples of Swami’s true miracles we need look no further than his fresh drinking water projects, his Super Speciality Hospitals, his hospitals, schools and universities; and of course the way his very name united millions and millions of people from all over the globe and from all walks of life.