Superpowers and Mysticism

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A few years ago, I was hiking in the Kumaon part of the Himalayas and near the Milam glacier, was told of an ascetic living in a nearby cave who drank just one glass of milk a day and spent the rest of his time doing some kind of yoga along with meditation. An arduous practice, and no doubt, would be frowned upon by the Middle Way, but still, such reports manage to convey a sense of ancient mystique…

Why would it be frowned upon?

#Two extremes to be avoided

“Bhikkhus, these two extremes should not be followed by one who has gone forth into homelessness. What two?
The pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, vulgar, the way of worldlings, ignoble, unbeneficial; and the pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, unbeneficial.

Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna."
–SN56.11 (partial parallel can be found at EA19.2)

#The pointlessness of pursuing happiness through a state beset by suffering!

“When one does not say: ‘All those engaged in the pursuit of self-mortification … have entered upon the wrong way,’ but says instead: ‘The pursuit is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the wrong way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma.

When one does not say: ‘All those disengaged from the pursuit of self-mortification … have entered upon the right way,’ but says instead: ‘The disengagement is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way,’ then one teaches only the Dhamma.
–MN139

#The sort of purifying self-effacement recommended by the Buddha

“Now, Cunda, here effacement should be practised by you:
(1) ‘Others will be cruel; we shall not be cruel here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(2) ‘Others will kill living beings; we shall abstain from killing living beings here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(3) ‘Others will take what is not given; we shall abstain from taking what is not given here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(4) ‘Others will be uncelibate; we shall be celibate here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(5) ‘Others will speak falsehood; we shall abstain from false speech here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(6) ‘Others will speak maliciously; we shall abstain from malicious speech here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(7) ‘Others will speak harshly; we shall abstain from harsh speech here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(8) ‘Others will gossip; we shall abstain from gossip here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(9) ‘Others will be covetous; we shall be uncovetous here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(10) ‘Others will have ill will; we shall be without ill will here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(11) ‘Others will be of wrong view; we shall be of right view here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(12) ‘Others will be of wrong intention; we shall be of right intention here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(13) ‘Others will be of wrong speech; we shall be of right speech here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(14) ‘Others will be of wrong action; we shall be of right action here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(15) ‘Others will be of wrong livelihood; we shall be of right livelihood here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(16) ‘Others will be of wrong effort; we shall be of right effort here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(17) ‘Others will be of wrong mindfulness; we shall be of right mindfulness here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(18) ‘Others will be of wrong concentration; we shall be of right concentration here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(19) ‘Others will be of wrong knowledge; we shall be of right knowledge here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(20) ‘Others will be of wrong deliverance; we shall be of right deliverance here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(21) ‘Others will be overcome by sloth and torpor; we shall be free from sloth and torpor here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(22) ‘Others will be restless; we shall not be restless here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(23) ‘Others will be doubters; we shall go beyond doubt here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(24) ‘Others will be angry; we shall not be angry here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(25) ‘Others will be resentful; we shall not be resentful here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(26) ‘Others will be contemptuous; we shall not be contemptuous here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(27) ‘Others will be insolent; we shall not be insolent here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(28) ‘Others will be envious; we shall not be envious here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(29) ‘Others will be avaricious; we shall not be avaricious here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(30) ‘Others will be fraudulent; we shall not be fraudulent here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(31) ‘Others will be deceitful; we shall not be deceitful here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(32) ‘Others will be obstinate; we shall not be obstinate here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(33) ‘Others will be arrogant; we shall not be arrogant here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(34) ‘Others will be difficult to admonish; we shall be easy to admonish here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(35) ‘Others will have bad friends; we shall have good friends here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(36) ‘Others will be negligent; we shall be diligent here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(37) ‘Others will be faithless; we shall be faithful here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(38) ‘Others will be shameless; we shall be shameful here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(39) ‘Others will have no fear of wrongdoing; we shall be afraid of wrongdoing here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(40) ‘Others will be of little learning; we shall be of great learning here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(41) ‘Others will be lazy; we shall be energetic here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(42) ‘Others will be unmindful; we shall be established in mindfulness here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(43) ‘Others will lack wisdom; we shall possess wisdom here’: effacement should be practised thus.
(44) ‘Others will adhere to their own views, hold on to them tenaciously, and relinquish them with difficulty; we shall not adhere to our own views or hold on to them tenaciously, but shall relinquish them easily’: effacement should be practised thus.
–MN8

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If the glass of milk is enough for him, is it self-mortification?

This is not my understanding. Eating little seems to be recommended and respected. Eg. MN 3:

‘Now, the Lord having eaten and being satisfied (the meal) ended, finished, having had enough, as much as he pleased. But this alms-food of the Lord’s is to be thrown away; if we do not eat it, the Lord will now throw it away where there is no grass or he will drop it into water that has no living creatures in it. But this was said by the Lord:
Monks, become my heirs of Dhamma, not heirs of material things.
But this is a material thing, that is to say, alms-food. Suppose that I, not having eaten this alms-food, in spite of this hunger and exhaustion, should pass this night and day thus?’
He, not having eaten that alms-food, in spite of that hunger and exhaustion, may pass this night and day thus.
Then it occurs to the second monk, thus:
‘Now, the Lord having eaten and being satisfied (the meal) ended, finished, having had enough, as much as he pleased.
But this alms-food of the Lord’s is to be thrown away; if we do not eat it, the Lord will now throw it away where there is no grass or he will drop it into water that has no living creatures in it.
Suppose that I, having eaten this alms-food, having driven away this hunger and exhaustion, should pass this night and day thus?
He, having eaten that alms-food, having driven away that hunger and exhaustion, may spend that night and day thus.
Although, monks, that monk, having eaten that alms-food, having driven away this hunger and exhaustion, should pass this night and day thus, he, having eaten that alms-food, having driven away that hunger and exhaustion, may spend that night and day thus, yet that first monk is for me the more to be honoured and the more to be praised.

Also MN 77:

“Suppose, Udāyin, my disciples honoured, respected, revered, and venerated me, and lived in dependence on me, honouring and respecting me, with the thought: ‘The recluse Gotama eats little and commends eating little.’ Now there are disciples of mine who live on a cupful or half a cupful of food, a bilva fruit’s or half a bilva fruit’s quantity of food, while I sometimes eat the full contents of my almsbowl or even more.

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I think only the yogi could tell us!

If it’s not done in a way similar to the aforementioned extreme self torture or mortification and in tandem with all the self-effacement principles above only good things can be expected. :slight_smile:

If it’s done for a few days, then it can probably be beneficial (like fasting). But trying to do it for a long time based on the belief that such effort would lead to some kind of enlightenment amounts to self-mortification. This particular ascetic had been living there for quite a while sticking to this regimen, according to the soldiers in a nearby army check-post.

The article gives a link to the following page, which has an impressive list studies in such matters, for anyone who is interested:

http://deanradin.com/evidence/evidence.htm

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