Magic and the Powers of Yoga

by A. C. George

I have written formerly about magic (magick), the ways and means of its expression for me, even going into the design of a personal system of it. In this presentation, I would like to elucidate in a different manner, and define magic as the worldly and otherworldy application of yogic accomplishment– that which in Sanskrit is known as siddhi. In addition, I would like to hone in on the cultivation of yogic accomplishment so as to focus on a single practice. In Sanskrit, the practice is called saṁyama.

It is described in the Yoga Aphorisms of Patañjali (a readily available text with a variety of online translations these days). This is a work best studied in the Sanskrit original.  Even if one is a scholar of the language, however, the terminology is that of yoga, and not of everyday experience. Unless one is actually practicing yoga and getting results, there is little or no conceptual reference frame to support coherent understanding. If the text was not precisely meant as an accompaniment to oral instruction, it was certainly meant as a reference for one’s one extended practice. This is a suggestion for caution, not an admonition against translations and/or theoretical study. Personally, I found many translations to be philosophically and religiously biased, while the aphorisms are instructions to practices that are to be evaluated and honed experience accumulates.

Saṁyama is greatly elaborated in the 3rd chapter of the aforementioned work entitled vibhūti (power). This is the distinctly experienced power resulting from mastery of the practices. In tradition, vibhūti is the ash with which the god śiva is said to cover his body. It represents transformed awareness and will, purified by the sacred fire down to its imperishable aspects. Divine power is the alleged outcome of this transformation of awareness. Saṁyama presupposes at least a degree of such a transformation to work. In yoga practice it arises from the fusion of the three culminating subdivisions of the eight-fold system into a single dynamic. The last limb is described in Sanskrit as samādhi, from sama (cognate of “equi”- meaning “equivalent to”) and ā+dhi (a prefix signifying proximity, and a ‘weaker’, more abstract form of the word for “holding”). The second term might technically come from a+dhi, where the holding of attention is negated. Thus samādhi would be a state equivalent with the complete release of attention. This second- albeit paradoxical- interpretation is not without merit.

It is noteworthy that the syllables dha and dhi are found in all three of the final limbs of the yoga of eight subdivisions or aspects. The stronger and more literal sense corresponds to the term signifying the ability to hold the attention or concentrate. This is dhāraṇā. The next aspect involves dhyāna (dhi-āna). It is more subtle than the conventional focusing of attention, and also easily considered to only differ from it by degree. Therefore, while dhāraṇā is a process familiar to the mind in everyday experience, dhyāna is a dynamic specific to esoteric practices that induces a characteristic altered state of consciousness with prolonged practice. The first syllable (dhi) describes a more subtle mind-flux than dha, while the next two syllables (ā+na) form a word meaning door, breath and mouth/face. It is our ambiguous metaphor that hints at a threshold through which the breath of life flows.

The aphorisms themselves clarify the distinction in verses III.1 and III.2. To focus awareness implies a contraction of one’s field of attention, regardless of where the contraction occurs. Meditation begins when the contraction increases until one’s focus is so singular and “tight” that pattern cannot register, nor fluctuation of consciousness. It is like looking closer and closer at a television screen until one is down to a single pixel. That is just the first step. It is followed by dilating our tiny window of attention while keeping it saturated with the one-point pixel and the unconditioned consciousness it represents. In other words, meditation involves a dilation of the unit of consciousness accessed through extreme concentration so that one is literally bathed in it and it becomes the nature of one’s world-perception. This is not, to my knowledge, how meditation is normally explained, but it is how I translated the relevant verse and experience the effect in practice. The Sanskrit word for meditation hints at this in that it can be literally translated as: “holding the door”. This door is also the opening through which breath (life force) flows; the mouth. It is, therefore, a placing of one’s sense of consciousness on the threshold of its own essence, where the proverbial serpent bites its tail, so to speak. If we were to explain this in stick figure terms, it is the state where all one’s awareness is the focus of being aware in the first place; where the eye stares into its own depths.

If dhyāna is a challenging term to unravel, then samādhi is even more so. As with every limb of the aforementioned yoga path the aphorisms elucidate, each aspect builds on the attainment of the previous. To get an idea of the eighth limb, we understand that it begins where the seventh is accomplished. As we mentioned earlier, the word denotes equivalence either with drawing attention to one’s self and/or releasing attention completely. Both options have merit, regardless of which one is considered etymologically correct. Noteworthy is that this state cannot be described with one word except in tersm of what it approximates.

Samādhi is traditionally considered a state of singularity-consciousness, where there are no distinctions, no fluctuations of awareness and nothing to identify. The Aphorisms (III.3) express this state as a stripping bare of one’s own nature- or rather any formative aspect of such. Meditation takes us to the threshold and once we master and can sustain it, the existential essence we have learned to dilate, can be fully embodied as one’s own true nature. This state ceases to be one of holding, even if the aspirant will have to consciously attain it again and again before it deepens enough to become effortless. The state is also akin to perpetual centering, albeit toward a center that is infinit in scope and not as a position in space. The eight limb is indeed the mystery of the whole progression of this system. Accomplished mastery in this yoga, and especially the last three subdivisions, is just the beginning of manifesting magical potential. For the attainment of saṁyama, in particular, we have one step to go: fusing the aforementioned yogic skills. That, along with a deeper exploration of the mystery of fusing the last three limbs, is a topic for the next installment.