Flying/Levitating/Jumping in Modern Tibet July 7, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Beachcombing knows virtually nothing about Tibet and has rarely visited the country in this blog – though he does have some happy memories of reincarnation and Queen Victoria. However, he recently stumbled on a fascinating account of levitation or flying in the Himalayas that he could hardly pass by.
Our source is a western author, which is usually a bad sign, given that in the early 1900s Tibet was being Blavatskied and more generally being made into the magic lantern of spiritual types in Europe and the Americas. But our author was the real deal. She lived and travelled in Tibet in the 1920s. She was a French Buddhist – naturally – and was a first-class witness and a stimulating writer.
‘Amongst those exercises the following one enjoys the greatest favour amongst those many Tibetan ascetics who are not of an especially intellectual type. The student sits cross-legged on a large and thick cushion. He inhales slowly and for a long time, just as if he wanted to fill his body with air. Then, holding his breath, he jumps up with legs crossed, without using his hands and falls back on his cushion, still remaining in the same position. He repeats that exercise a number of times during each period of practice. Some lamas succeed in jumping very high in that way. Some women train themselves in the same manner.
So far so easy. A young and athletic Beachcombing used to be able to lift himself off the ground in the lotus posture before Mrs B came along and civilized him. But some of the following figures are incredible.
‘A pit is dug in the ground, its depth being equal to the height of the candidate. Over the pit is built a kind of cupola whose height from the ground level to its highest point again equals that of the candidate. A small aperture is left at the top of the cupola. Now between the man seated cross-legged at the bottom of the pit and that opening, the distance is twice the height of his body. For instance, if the man’s height is 5 feet 5 inches, the top hole will be at 10 feet 10 inches from the pit’s bottom. The test consists in jumping cross-legged, as during the training exercises which I have described and coming out through the small opening at the top of the cupola. I have heard Khampas declare that this feat has been performed in their country, but I have not myself witnessed anything like it.’
Beachcombing went back over an account of levitation in medieval India he had written up and wondered if what we could be seeing there was actually cross-legged flying. But nothing doing.
It would be interesting , in any case, to establish just how high a modern adept could jump in lotus posture from the ground. Beach is guessing three feet: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
It seems that Tibetans who expected a lot from their monks and mystics believed that the ability to jump high had nothing to do with leg muscles but rather with the lightness of the body. There is the idea that the student becomes lighter and lighter as he becomes holier and holier till in the end certain ascetics had to wear iron chains to stop them floating away.
‘These men, they say, are able to sit on an ear of barley without bending its stalk or to stand on the top of a heap of grain without displacing any of it.’
Our author, who is a sensible lass, writes: ‘Setting aside exaggeration, I am convinced from my limited experiences and what I have heard from trustworthy lamas, that one reaches a condition in which one does not feel the weight of one’s body.’ She refers to this as ‘a kind of anesthesia‘.
While Beach is on the subject he will quote a second impossible test given to students.
‘After their seclusion in darkness for three years, those monks who deem themselves capable of going successfully through the test, proceed to Shalu, where they are immured in one of the grave-like huts which I have already described. But, at Shalu, the opening is in the side of the cell. The candidate does not have to leap through the roof. A stool is left him, so that he can climb out of the pit where he has remained for seven days. He must crawl out through the square hole in the side of the cell. The size of this hole is calculated in proportion to the span between the second finger and the thumb of the candidate’s hand.’
First off is KMH who puts this all in perspective: ‘These Eastern tales of levitation pale in comparison to Western Christian accounts… Levitation may be a peculiarly Christian gift, perhaps stemming from Christ’s miracle of walking on water. Of course, levitation isn’t as popular in literature as flying carpets. But they do seem to be quite exaggerated in actual number and incidents.’ Next up JCE with a complaint: ‘I would be very interested, as I’m sure would the majority of your followers, in seeing any video of feats of gravity defiance. I have to this point been disappointed in videos which claim to depict lotus-sitting fliers, because they are most assuredly still firmly under the iron-fisted jurisdiction of the law of gravity. Their vigorous buttock-thrusting attempts at levitation do make for amusing viewing however, especially since the erstwhile floaters I have seen convinced themselves that their otherwise unremarkable bouncing was indeed ‘flying’. Truly, do you have access to any arguably persuasive videos demonstrating the technique? Because I think that will be the only way skeptics about these claims of levitation like myself will have the smugness slapped out of us.’ As one of those ‘skeptics’ Beach is not holding his breath. But the closest he has yet found came in an email from Randy (who does not though make a claim for flying!): ‘Back in the 1990s a Canadian magician, Doug Henning, was at the top of his game when for some odd reason he decided to go into politics by way of The Natural Law Party. The members of this party were called ‘Yogic Flyers’. The video speaks for itself and appears to have some relationship to your Tibetan bouncers. As an aside, the ‘party’ started in Britain… Here is a link showing the yogis doing some flying…’ It is not exactly ten or eleven feet in the air! Thanks to JCE, KMH and Randy!