The Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja is one of the Buddha's sixteen disciples named in The Amitabha Sutra. Under the Buddha's auspices he attained the holy fruit of Arhat. Once when in a jubilant mood, he said to the faithful:
"Do you think flying in the sky is magical? I will show you some spectacular acts."
He then jumped up into the sky, FLEW all around and performed many miraculous acts. The faithful were all impressed and praised him without ceasing. The Buddha was very displeased upon learning of this incident. He asked the Venerable to come forth and admonished him, "My teaching uses morality to change others and compassion to save living beings. It does not use magic to impress and confuse people. You have misused magic today. As punishment you to stay in this world to work for more merits and to repent for this misbehavior."
A second example of the Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja's ability to fly ends with the same results --- the Buddha admonishing him --- hence a possible other version of the same event is found in the Amitabha Sutra that goes like:
"Pindola Bharadvaja means "unmoving sharp roots." To the present day he has not entered Nirvana because he broke a rule. Although the Arhats around the Buddha had spiritual powers, they were not allowed to display them casually. Once an elder called Jyotieka carved a bowl out of sandalwood, put it on top of a high pole, and said, 'Whoever can use his spiritual powers to get the bowl down can have it.' Pindola Bharadvaja couldn't resist the temptation, and used his powers to get the bowl down. 'Since you're so greedy for sandalwood bowls that you display your spiritual powers,' said the Buddha, 'you will not be allowed to enter Nirvana. Instead, you must stay here and be a field of blessedness for living beings.' Pindola Bharadvaja is still in the world, but no one knows where."
AMITABHA SUTRA 112 (click from contents to Pindola Bharadvaja, page 112).
Both of the above flying events involving the Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja, and thought by many to be the same event described differently, have a tendency to cast him in an unfavorable light with the Buddha. However, there is a question as to the validity of the Buddha's disfavor, going as far as it didn't actually exist because the reason for and the aftermath of the flying events didn't quite come down as they are written.
Pindola was a forest monk, and famous for it. During the era or time he was alive monasticism had arrived on the scene and in shear number of followers of the Buddha --- and being more localized and centralized --- their members had risen to such a place in power that their view began to dominate.
The story of the sandalwood bowl really starts out with six heretic religions opposed to the Buddhism. The bowl was placed on top of the pole and the challenge to fly up and get it was made to see if anyone from the six sects and Buddhism were actually spiritually fulfilled to such a point that they encompassed within their spirituality the supernormal perceptual states known as Siddhis. Not one member of the six heretic sects were able to accomplish the tasks. The Venerable Pindola taking the challenge and representing Buddhism in the process, did enact his ability of supernormal powers to fly up and get the bowl AND in doing so the faithful WERE all impressed and praised him without ceasing.
Now, this is where the reporting of the event(s) have a tendency to veer in the Sutras. The Sutras that were written in align with the forest monk side of things, which over time have become overshadowed or placed into a minor category by the Sutras aligned with monasticism side of things, presented a completely different view of the Buddha's reaction. As both of the events indicate as shown above Pindola was castigated by the Buddha and punished to stay in the world to work for more merits and to repent for his misbehavior telling him "you will not be allowed to enter Nirvana. Instead, you must stay here and be a field of blessedness for living beings." It seems pretty clear that Buddha's reactions and punishment are set in concrete. However, Sutras from the forest monk side of things have the Buddha presenting a completely different view of Pindola's use of Siddhis. The forest monk side, and of which I am in agreement with, show that what the Buddha did was NOT in punishment of Pindola's action but, because Pindola showed so graphically to the lay people and general population how Buddhism surpassed and completely overwhelmed the other six heretic religions, praise. The Buddha did what he did regarding Pindola because there was nobody any better in his estimation to represent Buddhism throughout the ages than Pindola.
For doubters, a fully sourced and complete explanation of the above can be found in Chapter IX Legends of the Twenty Years of Wandering of a book by Edward J. Thomas titled The Life of Buddha as Legend and History (first published 1927). There is absolutely NO question by Thomas as to Pindola's ability to fly, just the outcome of the Buddha's viewpoint.
Some time ago twenty-two western Buddhist teachers met with His Holiness The Dalai Lama to discuss a variety of Buddhist realted issues.
The conference was organized by Lama Surya Das, a native of New York who is now a teacher in the Tibetan Nyingmapa tradition. Each of the teachers had practiced for at least a dozen years in either Japanese or Korean Zen, the four major Tibetan schools, Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhism, or the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, a Western school based on Great Britain. There were laypeople, monks and nuns, psychologists, scholars, essayist, translators; some had meditated in caves, others had Western doctorates. Most were actively teaching Buddhist meditation, not only in the West, but in Asia, Russia, and countries like South Africa and Brazil.
In response to questions on PSYCHIC POWERS SUCH AS FLYING His Holiness concluded:
"As far as I know, zero Lamas today can do that. Some meditators living in caves around Dharamsala areHIGHLY REALIZED and possibly capable of such attainments." (source)
The revered Indian spiritual teacher Sri H. W. L. Poonja (1910-1997), also known as Poonjaji or Papaji, a master in his own right, is considered in religious circles as the foremost disciple, devotee, follower or advocate of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Anybody who holds themselves up to be anybody in the present day Advaita Vedanta come Enlightenment movement a la Ramana, but too young or not born in time to have studied under Ramana, had to have at one time bellied up to Poonja in some fashion or the other in order to flaunt their credibility. Regardless of his latter day followers and any credibility they may or may not radiate, Poonja himself was the real thing. The quote below is from his biography. He was not some ancient saint who somebody said somebody said they saw something, but a modern day personage that reported the following:
"In the last forty years or so I have met thousands of sadhus, swamis, gurus, etc. I have been to Kumbha Melas which millions of pilgrims attended; I have been to many of the big ashrams in India; I have toured the Himalayas, meeting many reclusive hermits there; I have met yogis with great siddhis, men who could actually fly."
There many similar stories as Venerable Pindola's above related to flying. In Zen lore for example, recorded in the Sungkao-seng chuan, Ying-fung was a Ch'an (that is, Zen) monk who had received instruction from Ch'an master Nan-chuan. From his meditative practice, Ying-fung attained supernatural powers. Once he saw two armies fighting each other. In order to stop the fight, he FLEW over the battlefield and the soldiers were too busy looking at him flying to fight. He did many unusual things like this. To show his miraculous power, he died standing on his head and nobody was able to overturn him. His sister was a nun, who came and scolded him, "Old brother, when you were alive you did not behave according to the rules. Now when you died, you still want to show off and confuse people." After saying this, she touched the body lightly, and it fell down immediately. (source)
FOR A MODERN DAY ACCOUNT PLEASE SEE:
THE ZEN-MAN FLIES
Let Me Travel Through the Air Like a Winged Bird
In 1931 British writer Paul Brunton traveled to India and stayed at ashrama of the Bhagavan Maharshi Sri Ramana, one of the first western writers to do so. It was his book A Search in Secret India that opened up eastern mysticism to the west. His son Kenneth Thurston Hurst produced an excellent biography of his father: PAUL BRUNTON: A Personal View (published by Larson Publications) in which he recalls many fascinating vignettes about his father. He mentions, for instance, that Brunton discovered early on that he had "certain occult abilities" and even revelled in their exercise. At one point, however, he received an inner warning that if he wanted to grow spiritually he would have to desist from exploiting these faculties. He heeded the warning and took to seriously cultivating the art of Meditation.
Because the Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja misused magic, although at the Attainment level of an Arhat, he did not in his lifetime enter Nirvana . Magic cannot increase our virtue or eradicate defilements. Careless use will only build more obstacles to emancipation. It is obvious that magic is not the solution for cycles of Rebirth (Enlightenment). Only practicing virtue is the sure and steady approach toward the Buddha Path.
Thus said, the following, by Sri Swami Sivananda from his paper Satsanga and Svadhyaya, is being offered as a cautionary word of advice:
"Another great blunder people generally commit is that they judge the Enlightenment of Sadhus by theSiddhis they display. In the world generally, the common inclination is to judge the merits and ability of a Sadhu through his Siddhis. It is a blunder indeed. They should not judge the Enlightenment of a Sadhu in this way. Siddhis are by-products of concentration. Siddhis have nothing to do with Self-realization. A Sadhu may manifest Siddhis due to strong passions and intense desires, and if that be the case, he is undoubtedly a big householder only. You must believe me when I tell you that Siddhis are a great hindrance to spiritual progress, and so long as one is within the realm of Siddhis and does not try to rise above it and march onwards, there is not the least hope of God-realization for him. But, this does not mean that a person manifesting Siddhis is not a realized soul. There are several instances of such persons who have exhibited several Siddhis purely for the elevation and uplift of the world, but never for selfish motives.
"During the days of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa a certain Sadhu approached him and showed two Siddhis: one was that he could roam about without being seen by anybody. The other was that light emanated from portions of his body when he walked.
This man, after some time, began misusing his power, entering the apartment of a lady unseen, fell in love with her and LOST his two powers.
In the world generally, the common run of people and even educated persons judge Sadhus by their Siddhis only. It is a serious blunder and hence I seriously warn you."(source)
TALON AND SCRATCH MARKS FROM THE GIANT BIRD
TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS
Howard Hughes, Da Vinci, and Flying Machines
THE BLACK CONDOR: THE MAN WHO COULD FLY LIKE A BIRD
SO,-DID THE WANDERLING FLY?
- CONSULTING MEDIUMS: What Buddhists Believe
- ZEN, THE BUDDHA, AND SHAMANISM
- THE BUDDHA'S SIXTEEN DISCIPLES
- SHAMANIC JOURNEYING
- VAYU GAMAN SIDDHI
- THE SUN DAGGER
The above offered through the graceful services of:
Venerable Master Hsing Yun
The Buddhist Perspective on Magic and the Supernatural
Toward a New Spiritual Ethic, Kate Wheeler, Yoga Journal, Vol. 115, March/April, 1984, pgs. 38-39.