Chapter III: Supernatural Powers (Vibhuti Pada)

Table of contents

3.1 – 3  Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi

3.4 – 6  Samyama – the inner concentration

3.7 – 8  Ashtanga leads inside

3.9 – 15  Perceiving the subtle change

3.16 – 18   Subtle Samyama

3.19 – 20   Siddhis (superpowers): Mind reading

3.21 – 23   Siddhis: Invisibility and karma

3.24 – 26   Siddhis: Love, power, and to know

3.27 – 29   Siddhis: Planetary forces

3.30 – 35   Siddhis: Body centers

3.36 – 38   Constant alignment leads to the goal

3.39 – 42   Siddhis: Astral travel, Pranavayu, and hearing

3.43 – 47  Siddhis and Mahasiddhis

3.48 – 49   Siddhis: Controlling the senses

3.50 – 52   Renunciation and freedom

3.53 – 56   Mindfulness and freedom

Yoga Sutra 3.1-3 – Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi

3.1. “Concentration is when the mind field is centered on one point.” or “Dharana is the fixation of the mind on a single object.”

3.2. “Where awareness flows steadily, meditation happens.”

When the concentration of the mind is steady and effortless, one sinks into the state of meditation. In fact, the term “meditation” is unclear because it can mean different things, e.g.,

the exercise of inner concentration, a state of inner silence, or contemplation of philosophical statements.

3.3. “The awareness of subject and object disappears into the void when experiencing the super-conscious.” or “When the being completely dissolves into what is being viewed, unification occurs.”

In Dhyana, there is still a perceiver who perceives what is perceived; in Samadhi, this trinity gradually dissolves. When the meditator sinks deeply into meditation and merges with the object, the seer's experience dissolves into ecstatic silence, and only the object of contemplation (e.g., the mantra) remains.

Yoga Sutra 3.4-6 – Samyama - The inner concentration

After Patanjali explained the last three parts of the Ashtanga at the beginning of the 3rd chapter, he now brings them together under the term “Samyama”. So the three terms Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are to be understood as stages of Samyama. Depending on how far you have progressed on the path of Raja Yoga, the inner concentration deepens and, accordingly, reaches the next level. You start, so to speak, with Dharana, the inner concentration on an object, and then move on to the state of meditation up to Samadhi, where the object is then perceived without a subject.

3.4. “The trinity (Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi) together is contemplation or recollection (Samyama).“

3.5. “If mastery (over the object) is thereby achieved, the light of wisdom comes.” or “Deep insight is the result of mastery over it.”

So if we meditatively focus our mind on the object of perception and gradually let go of everything else, we can gain deep insights that are connected to the object.

3.6. “This is done in stages.” or “The practice described proceeds in steps.”

Dharana: the orientation of the mind towards an object

Dhyana: the automatic flow of the mind to the object

Samadhi: merging with the object and the dissolution of the subject

And this is how the individual Samyama methods must be viewed; depending on whether you practice Dharana, Dhyana, or Samadhi, knowledge and experience become deeper.

Yoga Sutra 3.7-8 – Ashtanga leads inward

In these two verses of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the path inward and distinguishes between the first stages, which lie entirely externally, and the higher stages, which then turn more and more inward.

3.7. “Compared to the first stages, these three are the inner limbs.”

The Ashtanga is certainly the best-known and most important model from the Yoga Sutras; it describes the specific path of Raja Yoga. First, recommendations are given that affect everyday life, i.e., a modification of external actions. Then it goes further and further inward, through the posture, the breath, and the senses. Patanjali then comes to the inner limbs mentioned above: concentration, meditation, and super-consciousness.

A path inward is described, how one gradually turns one's mind away from the outside in order to find clarity and dormant powers in the subtle inner area of one's being.

3.8. “This too is an external limb compared to the seedless one.” or “However, in contrast to the seedless super-consciousness, they are still external stages.”

Yoga Sutra 3.9-15 – Perceiving the subtle change

In this section of verses 9–15, Patanjali talks about how one can enter into higher levels of consciousness through one-pointedness, i.e., Dharana is the prerequisite for reaching Samadhi through Dhyana. Or, to put it another way, if we are able to focus our mind completely on one thing or one point, we can fall into the state of meditation, and from there we are being raised into Samadhi, so to speak. What needs to be practiced is the clear alignment of the mind on one-pointedness, which is practiced in different ways in all yoga directions.

3.9. “There is an independence from the coming and going of thought impulses and thus a control over the mind that brings with it silence.” or “If the changeable impressions are controlled, moments of peace arise in the mind.”

You gradually get control over the changing thought waves (Vritti) and their habits (Samskara) in the mind (Chitta) through the practice of Ashtanga, especially the Samyama methods of the limbs 6–8. Over time, “Nirodha-Parinama”, the constant shift of the mind toward calmness, or a shift in focus to the underlying stillness rather than to the changing impulses in the mind, emerges.

3.10. “Through repeated practice, the transition to stillness will become smooth.” or “The new habit will flow calmly.”

3.11. “When we align ourselves on one point and stop being erratic, the transformation to Samadhi can occur.” or “When we become less distracted and are able to align the mind, the transition to a higher consciousness occurs.”

3.12. “One-pointedness occurs when the mind remains in balance as thought impulses come and go.”

As I said, impressions constantly come and go in the mind; it is initially our habit to follow these impulses and to lose our observing attitude. If we focus completely on the object and the rising and passing impressions in the mind do not change it, there is a balance in the mind, and this builds the basis for deeper experiences.

3.13. “In this way, changes in the form, time, and state of the elements in the sense organs are explained.” or “In this way, the change in the tasks, characteristics, and states of matter within perception becomes clear.”

So our perception becomes different when we are no longer stuck in the ebb and flow of thought impulses but develop the ability to look at an object independently of our thoughts and feelings.

3.14. “An instance is constant despite all changes in the past, present, and future.” or “There is an essence that is unchanging regardless of the past, the emerging, and the indefinable.”

This one instance is, of course, the true self, which is untouched by all changes respectively by everything that can be observed.

3.15. “The laws of nature are the cause of all changes.”

Everything that happens is part of the cosmic order and follows the laws. Nothing in the cosmos happens without being part of the cause-and-effect-cycle, and the laws of nature underlie everything, even if we don't understand them.

Yoga Sutra 3.16-18 – Subtle Samyama

With these verses, Patanjali begins to introduce the Samyama techniques in detail; in short, it is about the fact that one can acquire certain abilities and insights through the alignment of the mind. There are three different levels, depending on how deeply you practice: Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

3.16. “Concentration on the changes in form, time, and condition gives knowledge about the past and future.” or “By concentrating on the three transformations, knowledge about the past and future arises.”

Here, Patanjali begins with the concrete Samyama techniques, i.e., aligning the mind with an object, which can then develop deeper effects depending on the degree of alignment. Here he says that we can achieve deep knowledge of an object by observing or concentrating on it, meditating on it, or focusing on it in the super-conscious state, i.e., the three stages of samyama.

So when we stop evaluating and judging, intuitive knowledge can come. If we now perform samyama on an object and perceive the three transformations, we can intuitively draw conclusions from the past and the future. What this means is that we can grasp more through non-judgmental perception than through a personally colored view.

3.17. “Sound, object, and the concept of viewing influence and mix in the viewer. Through samyama on individual parts comes the knowledge of the sounds of all beings.” or “Words, objects, and ideas overlap and confuse; through samyama, one gains knowledge of the language of all living beings.”

So our mind is usually clouded by the mixing of information received through the senses, so sound, objects, and ideas are distorted by our individual filters. That's logical, because every person sees the world through their own eyes and interprets things in their own way. But through samyama on our process of perception, we can achieve an objective grasp of reality and thereby directly understand the sound of other beings, Patanjali says. Many spiritual traditions speak of the fact that the world is made of sound, or that we can achieve a deeper understanding of the subtle levels through an accurate grasp of sound.

3.18. “Through awareness of our imprints, knowledge about past lives arises.” or “By looking at deep-seated programming, one becomes aware of previous births.”

If we focus deeply on the origins of thought waves, we can gain insights into previous lives.

Yoga Sutra 3.19 - 20 – Siddhis (superpowers): Mind reading

In the middle of the 3rd chapter of his Yoga Sutras, the great Raja Yogi Patanjali begins with the description of supernatural abilities and his concrete instructions on how to achieve them.

3.19. "Samyama on another's revealed mind brings knowledge about him." or "By focusing on another's mind, knowledge of his mental state arises."

In fact, Patanjali describes a method for reading minds here, but this technique can only capture the current state of mind more precisely. So don't worry; a yogi can't read your mind like an open book, but he can probably see how you're feeling at this moment. This Samyama technique is very helpful in understanding your fellow human beings better and getting along with them more peacefully.

3.20. “We cannot gain knowledge about the actual nature of another because it cannot be observed.” or “Other aspects that are not the subject of this Samyama cannot be known.”  

Yoga Sutra 3.21-23 – Siddhis: Invisibility and karma

3.21. “Through Samyama on the body shape, one becomes invisible, the power to be perceived is inhibited, and the connection between light and eye ceases.”

So when we practice Samyama on the shape of our own bodies, we become increasingly invisible.

3.22. “This explains the disappearance of sounds and other things.”

Verse 3.21 refers not only to the invisible but also to the non-perception of other physical phenomena. The more you concentrate on yourself, the less you are noticed by others. Conversely, the more our mind goes outward, the more attention we attract.

3.23. “By focusing on the relationship of cause and effect, knowledge about fate arises.” or “Effects of actions come directly or delayed, through Samyama on these, knowledge about fate is achieved.”

By paying close attention to the connection between cause and effect, we can better understand the workings of fate. So if we align Samyama on the causal chains behind our experience, we can guess what will happen next, so the way things have gone so far gives us an insight into what will happen in the future.

Yoga Sutra 3.24-26 – Siddhis: Love, power and to know

3.24. “By focusing on love and other positive qualities (see YS 1.33), corresponding powers arise.”

If we concentrate on love in the broadest sense, i.e., if we are aware that we are connected to everything through love, we will develop powers that bring us more and more into harmony with the world that surrounds us. It is all-encompassing and unconditional love that leads us to unity, and along the way, we cultivate constructive qualities that transform our being. Aligning yourself with love is a crucial practice on the path to God.

3.25. “Samyama on an elephant cultivates the corresponding strength.” or “Through meditation on strength, the strength of an elephant arises.”

Some commentators interpret the word “elephant” as just an example, meaning that one generally cultivates the powers of the animals on which one practices Samyama. That sounds very plausible to me; if I concentrate on or immerse myself in a certain characteristic, I can develop it within myself, and certain animals embody different characteristics that we can acquire. We have everything within us and can tap into our potential if we open the doors to it.

3.26. “Alignment with light leads to intuitive knowledge of the subtle, hidden, or distant.” or “Through Samyama on inner light, one gains knowledge of the subtle, hidden, and distant.”

If we close our eyes and look, we not only find darkness there, but a light shines from within. Aligning with this light opens our intuition and subtle perception. We can expand our field of vision by learning to strengthen this inner light.

Yoga Sutra 3.27-29 – Siddhis: Planetary forces

3.27. “Samyama on the sun brings knowledge about the world.” or “Samyama on Surya creates understanding about the subtle and physical levels of existence.”

3.28. “Astrological / astronomical knowledge arises through Samyama on the moon.”

3.29. “Through Samyama on the Pole Star, knowledge about the star movements arises.”

Yoga Sutra 3.30-35 – Siddhis: Body centers

Patanjali's list of psychic abilities in the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutras is about certain points in the body that are suitable for Samyama. These methods of aligning with the body centers are very helpful to achieve a deeper understanding of yourself and to draw on your own potential.

3.30. “Samyama on the navel center brings knowledge about the structure of the physical body.”

Through this Samyama exercise, we can understand more precisely what our body needs or what it is missing. It is also possible to understand the structure of the human body more precisely through this exercise, i.e., in an anatomical sense. After some practice, it is also possible to align the Samyama with someone else's Manipura Chakra and, if necessary, help them to better understand physical processes. Overall, this is a very helpful exercise for healers who can strengthen their intuition in order to better understand patients.

3.31. “Samyama on the throat pit ends hunger and thirst.”

3.32. “Samyama on Kurma Nadi brings firmness.”

There are different schools of thought about what the term “Kurma Nadi” means. Swami Vishnu-Devananda and Sukadev state that it is another word for the Sushumna Nadi, the main energy channel between the pelvic floor and skullcap along the spine.

3.33. “Samyama on the light of the top of the skull leads to visions of the masters.” or “Samyama on the top of the head allows the master to see the truth.”

The Crown Chakra (Sahasrara) is our energetic connection to the subtle, astral realm. If we strengthen this center through concentration, our subtle perception is opened to light-filled beings.

3.34. “Samyama on the Divine brings all knowledge.”

3.35. “Samyama on the heart center brings knowledge about the psyche.”

Yoga Sutra 3.36-38 – Constant alignment leads to the goal

In this section of the Vibhuti Pada in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes other psychic abilities while warning against giving them too much attention. Only if we continue to practice distinguishing between true and untrue, or self and non-self, can we gradually move towards freedom. Developing special skills is all well and good, but it flatters the ego, which we want to transform, too much.

3.36. “Worldly pleasure results from the lack of distinction between purity and pure consciousness. Knowledge of pure consciousness comes through alignment with the goals of the higher rather than the lower self.”

The joy that arises in us through experiencing the sensory world is only a reflection of the unconditional joy of the true self. Joy that we experience through objects (i.e., what we as subjects perceive), like the light of the moon, is only a reflection of the actual joy, even if the joy seems to be very pure.

3.37. “This gives rise to intuitive hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling.

So if we only follow the interests of the true self and thus integrate ourselves into the cosmic order, our perception will open and everything will become ours. If we do not lose ourselves in the objects of this world or in worldly pleasures, we will experience more and more the fullness of the moment, and our perception will expand.

3.38. “The growing abilities are disruptive to the attainment of super-consciousness.”

The various Siddhis described by Patanjali fill almost the entire third chapter of the Yoga Sutras, but Patanjali also warns against working with them. In yoga, supernatural abilities are viewed as a major obstacle on the path to spiritual freedom because they can lead to a strengthening of identification with one's own personality. The stronger our mental powers become, the more tempting it becomes to misuse them, which is why Patanjali repeatedly emphasizes the importance of ethics and morals. Only those who are pure in heart can achieve the goal of yoga.

Yoga Sutra 3.39-42 – Siddhis: Astral travel, Pranavayu, and listening

3.39. “By loosening the bonds of the psyche to one’s own body and through the energy channels, one can enter other bodies.”

So with this method, we can leave our physical body with our subtle body and then even enter the bodies of others. This does not mean that we can control another person's body, so to speak, or that someone else can come into our body and control it. Rather, you can sense in someone else's body where there are imbalances and blockages in order to then be active in a healing manner. However, this should only happen with the specific consent of the other person; otherwise, it represents a massive invasion of privacy.

3.40. “Mastery of Udana leads to levitation and the ability not to be touched by water, mud, thorns, etc.”

In yoga, we differentiate between the five types of subtle energies in the aura, each of which has different functions. The “Udana Vayu” is located in the throat and stands for communication, nerves, the hormonal system, pain sensation, and sleep. It is, in a sense, the counterforce of Prana Vayu, whereby Prana Vayu is related to inhaling and Udana Vayu is associated with exhaling.

When this power is mastered, for example, through more conscious communication, relaxation, and breath control, you strengthen your energy field and are less affected by the world. You can even gain the ability to levitate, i.e., fly and walk on water. So not only could Jesus walk on water, but also Sadanandacharya, the disciple of Shankara, walked across the Ganges at Varanasi when his guru called him.

3.41. “Mastery of Samana causes fire to flare up.”

Samana Vayu is the energy behind the digestive fire, and the energy is located accordingly near the stomach at the Manipura Chakra. A mastered inner fire leads to being able to digest everything (physically and psychologically) and also to a special radiance. A strong manipura, or a particularly strong inner fire, leads to powerful charisma. This allows you to influence others. This should, of course, be treated with caution by the yogi for ethical reasons. Unfortunately, Patanjali doesn't mention how to master samana, but in Hatha Yoga, it is strengthened through fasting and diets, as well as appropriate asanas and pranayamas.

3.42 “Samyama on the relationship between space and ear creates heavenly hearing.”

In the Samkhya philosophy, which is the basis of the Yoga Sutras, the 5 elements are each assigned to the 5 senses. Hearing corresponds to the element of space, or the ether. The meditation method of distinguishing between space and noise refines the sense of hearing to the point of super-sensory hearing. It's logical that by training our hearing, we can actually improve our hearing, but it's about hearing things that are inaccessible to normal hearing, which requires meditation.

Yoga Sutra 3.43-47 – Siddhis and Mahasiddhis

In this section of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains some of the so-called Mahasiddhis, the very special supernatural powers. These powers are mentioned in various yoga texts, and they sound very extraordinary, but there are always stories of yoga masters who are said to have had such abilities.

3.43. “Samyama in the connection of body and space allows the yogi to become light and travel through space.”

In various classical yoga texts, different supernatural powers are named, for example:

5 main Siddhis and 5 minor Siddhis in Shrimad Bhagavatam

8 Siddhis in the Charaka Samhita (an Ayurvedic text)

8 Mahasiddhis in the Mahabharata

In contrast to verse 40, which is about levitation, this describes teleportation - traveling through space to another location. The idea behind this verse is to achieve ultimate lightness in space and thereby go beyond the apparent laws of nature.

3.44. “Performing Samyama on unimaginable external thought waves leads to the ability to remain outside the physical body and dissolve the concealment of light.”

Not only in yoga but also in Buddhism, there are very advanced monks, yogis, and hermits who have acquired the ability to leave the body permanently; see, for example, the “Mummy Monks”.

3.45. “Through Samyama on gross material things and their subtle connections, one masters the elements.”

In short, if we align ourselves with the qualities of each element and meditate deeply on them, we can achieve mastery over them. But the goal of yoga is to go beyond the elements. More on this in the next verse.

3.46. “From this arises (for example), the art of making oneself infinitely small, as well as the attainment of a perfect body and insurmountable virtue.”

3.47. “Physical perfection is the graceful appearance, strength, and firmness of a diamond.”

This verse lists other benefits that we get from mastering the elements. There are many stories of legendary yogis who delayed physical death; some are even said to have remained in the same body for centuries. To do this, as I said, you have to master the elements or know someone who can reveal the secrets of the legendary “Kaya Kalpa” treatment.

Yoga Sutra 3.48-49 – Siddhis: Mastering the senses

When the psyche no longer constantly jumps back and forth between thoughts, feelings, and senses, a new dimension of being opens up.

3.48. “Mastery of the sense organs comes through Samyama on the connection between one’s own form, perception, and ego-consciousness.”

Mastering the senses means, on the one hand, that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by the sensory impressions, especially in meditation, and, on the other hand, that we can use the sensory organs better, i.e., refine our perception. This guide is about closely observing the process of perception, i.e.,

One's own form: who perceives?

Perception: how something is perceived?

Ego-consciousness: how does the mind react to the perception?

3.49. “Thus the mind becomes quick, knowledge occurs without the senses, and one controls creation.”

Using the method in verse 3.48, we free ourselves from the bond to our sense organs and receive knowledge without having to perceive, so to speak, directly. When the mind is freed from the chains of its perceptual organs, it becomes able to use its higher senses and gains knowledge.

Yoga Sutra 3.50-52 – Renunciation and freedom

Patanjali describes how we come to freedom through non-attachment in this section of the Vibhuti Pada of his Yoga Sutras. He has spoken several times about Vairagya, detachment from experiences. Here he emphasizes that even in the highest spiritual experiences, it is crucial to release attachments to what can be observed. To recognize unity, we must separate the subject from the object.

3.50. “Realization of the difference between divine purity and the true soul brings dominion over all existence and all knowledge.”

3.51. “Equanimity even toward this and the destruction of the seed of impurity leads to absolute bliss.”

Even dominion over all that exists and perfect knowledge are obstacles to absolute liberation because they can create identification. In the very first section of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali warns of the pitfalls on the path to freedom: 1.4. “In other states, the mind is identified with its movements.”

3.52. “Invitations from heavenly beings carry the risk of arrogance and the emergence of new attachments.”  

Yoga Sutra 3.53-56 – Mindfulness and freedom

In this final section of the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali introduces the idea of mindfulness as an important key to freedom. He says that it is through meditation on the flow of the moment that we come to discernment and higher knowledge, and that this knowledge sets us free. In the last verse, he gives a sneak peek at the fourth chapter by talking about “Kaivalya”, which is the title of the last chapter. Kaivalya comes through the purification of the mind, so mindfulness and purification are the two key concepts of this section.

3.53. “Through Samyama on the sequence of moments, one attains knowledge based on discrimination.”

So first of all, this verse is basically about being aware of what you are doing at every moment so as not to create suffering. However, I think with this verse, Patanjali formulates the now-modern idea of mindfulness, of being so aware of each moment that you can fully grasp the moment that follows.

3.54. “This creates insight into things that are similar, even without any difference in type, feature, or location.”

So by training mindfulness or observing the sequence of moments, our power of discrimination becomes very precise. Logically,  the closer we look, the more we see. The more conscious we are, the more clearly we grasp reality.

3.55. “Knowledge through discrimination transcends all objects, in all ways, and at all times.” or “This knowledge through discrimination is spontaneous, without sequence, and always relates to all objects.”

Patanjali says that knowledge through distinction transcends the world of objects, so knowledge is to be valued higher than experience, so to speak. This is very Vedantic and makes sense in that our consciousness encompasses and permeates everything. Furthermore, in the second possible translation, he also describes that this knowledge simply happens and can be applied to everything.

3.56. “Absolute freedom comes when, through purification, Sattwa and Purusha have become identical.”

The original version is in German language by Narada: