Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed: Supernormal?
Source: realitysandwich.com"Did Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Milarepa and other iconic religious figures endure because they were charismatic, enlightened beings with profound insights into the nature of reality, or because they possessed supernormal abilities?"
We begin with a simple question: Was Buddha just a nice guy?
Did Buddha’s teachings thrive because he was more attractive or charismatic than most, or because he was a great teacher and a tireless advocate of the poor? Or—and here’s the core question we’ll explore in detail—was it also because he was an enlightened being with profound insights into the nature of Reality, and because he possessed supernormal abilities?
We might ask the same questions about Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Milarepa, or a host of other historically prominent figures associated with special illumination, wisdom, or grace. Did these people just sport great tans and know how to work a crowd, or did they understand something genuinely deep about the human condition, and our capacities, that is not yet within the purview of science?
If it’s too touchy to ask such questions about religious icons, then we may consider a more contemporary figure: The Dalai Lama regularly hosts discussions between scientists and Buddhist monks. Do the Western scientists who compete for a coveted slot at those meetings secretly believe that he’s a backward country bumpkin, and they’re just humoring him long enough to get their photo taken with a famous Nobel laureate so they can post it on their Facebook page?
Given the glowing praise about those meetings in books and articles authored by no-nonsense science journalists, and a growing list of collaborators hailing from Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Zürich, the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, and many others, it doesn’t seem so. But the Dalai Lama takes reincarnation and the legendary yogic superpowers (the siddhis) seriously. He’s claimed to see some of them in action, like oracles who accurately divine future tendencies. What does he know that most Western-trained scientists studiously ignore? Could the superpowers actually be real? If so, why haven’t we read about them in science magazines?
Such questions have been debated by scholars and by ordinary people for millennia. In modern times, for the most part science has ignored or denigrated the mere possibility of superpowers because such abilities are not easily accommodated by Western scientific assumptions about the capacities of the human mind. It is also sidestepped because any answer offered is guaranteed to seriously annoy someone. If you say yes, “Buddha was just a nice guy,” then Buddhists will hurl epithets at you. They may do this in a kind and compassionate way, but you will still have to duck. If you say no, “Buddha was something more,” then you will have to dodge objects thrown with equal gusto by both scientists and devotees of other religions. As a result, for the sake of safety the question is usually left unanswered.
There will always be some who are not satisfied with this soft deflection. Cynics feel intense discomfort when questions are raised about the possibility of “something more.” They shout accusations of voodoo science, and they form posses to stop what they regard as ominous tides of irrationality from heading our way. Their concerns, bristling on the edge of hysteria, are not without justification. The promise of something secretly powerful, beyond the mundane, has been responsible for untold scams, conspiracies, and witch hunts throughout history. Civilization embraces superstitions and ignores rationality at its peril, so a legitimate case can be made that strenuous protection of hard-won knowledge is necessary.
But here’s the rub: It is precisely because civilization must advance beyond superstition that we are obliged to carefully explore our inquiry about the existence of supernormal abilities. The answer is relevant to basic scientific assumptions about the nature of human po- tential, to the relationships among science, religion, and society, and without hyperbole, to the likelihood that humankind will continue to survive.
In addition, all the nervous fussing one hears about the need to combat superstition, the wringing of hands about looming threats to rationality—such behavior positively drips with emotion, and that presents its own cause for concern. As British psychiatrist Anthony Storr wrote in Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus, “Whether a belief is considered to be a delusion or not depends partly upon the intensity with which it is defended, and partly upon the numbers of people subscribing to it.” When it comes to the possibility of superpowers, many are energetically engaged in either strident offenses or frenzied defenses, adding precious little reason to the debate.
But something new can now be brought to the discussion: empirical evidence. Laboratory data amassed over many decades suggest that some of what the yogis, mystics, saints, and shamans have claimed is probably right. And that means some of today’s scientific assumptions are probably wrong.
If you can’t stomach the thought that what you’ve learned in school might not be completely correct (in spite of the fact that textbooks are regularly revised), then rest assured: This does not mean that all the textbooks must be thrown away. Sizable portions of the existing scientific worldview are quite stable and will remain accurate enough for all practical purposes for a long time.
But it does mean that some of our assumptions, including a few fundamental ideas about who we are and the way the world works, are in need of revision. The newly developing worldview suggests, for example, that it is no longer tenable to imagine that the universe is a mindless clockwork mechanism. Something else seems to be going on, something involving the mind and consciousness in important ways.
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"The above is excerpted from Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities, published by Deepak Chopra Books."