I think many religions originate in stories of supernatural power. I know many supernatural stories within Buddhism and Taoism but I’ve also heard some Christian stories, like Moses parting the Red Sea.
In Buddhism and Taoism we believe that through some kinds of practice, people can develop supernatural powers. Buddhists called it “Pancabhijna” or the “five supernatural powers”. Below is the definition of “Pancabhijna” (Sanskrit) as found in “A Glossary of Buddhist Terms: in four languages”, compiled by Lim Teong Aik:
1. Divyacaksus: Devavision; instantaneous view of anything anywhere in the form-realm, clairvoyance.
2. Divyasrota: Ability to hear any sound anywhere.
3. Paracitta-jnana: Ability to know the thoughts of all others.
4. Purvenivasanusmrti: Knowledge of all former existences of self and others.
5. Rddhi-saksatkrya: Power to be anywhere to do anything at will.
In addition to the five supernatural powers, Buddha had a sixth supernatural power called Asravakshaya-jnana: supernatural consciousness of the waning of vicious propensities.
I believe that through training our body or mind we can actually develop any potential abilities we have. After practicing Chi Kung and meditation some of my students have seen an energy ball in their body. Another of my students reported that, when her mother died, she began seeing four other spirits in her mother’s house. I know some people will think this is groundless utterances but ponder how our five senses work. We know there are many different kinds of sound waves filling our world. Human beings can’t hear all of them but dogs and cats can easily hear frequencies beyond our range. They can also sense smells much better than us and bumblebees see into the ultraviolet, also something we’re unable to do. So just because we can’t ordinarily see, smell or hear something doesn’t negate its existence.
Now don’t get excited about getting supernatural powers. Buddhists don’t think highly of getting “Pancabhijna” and Buddha also objected to his disciples using their supernatural power when preaching. Buddha thought the best supernatural power is the one that makes you cease the suffering in your life.
Sometimes I think human beings want to have supernatural powers so they can escape everyday life and be famous like Superman or Spiderman. But think about how life would be like if suddenly one day you have the ability to hear any sound anywhere, or know the thoughts of all others. Would you really like that? Could you sleep with all the noise? Do you want to hear everyone’s private thoughts, uncensored? I’m also curious about the choices people would make. How many people would choose to have part or all of Pancabhijna and become a super man/woman but still have suffering in their life, rather than choosing the less prestigious or “mystical” power of life-long peace of mind and no suffering. Think of the people you know. How are the lives of those with mystical powers? Those with peace of mind? Which one would you choose?