It seems like a lot of people are looking for spiritual super powers. Whether it is mind-reading, the ability to see past lives, the ability to tell the future, the ability to speak unlearned languages, or some other gift, just about every spiritual and religious tradition has a laundry list of super powers that can be obtained by the extremely devoted.
Buddhism is not different. Historically, there are many powers that are described in the sutras, including the ability to travel across dimensions (at least that is how it is described), the ability to see others’ karma, and even the ability to change shape.
When I read great masters of the past, I can tell that some of them really believe in these powers. Interestingly, however, none of them claim to have these powers, or really to be very interested in getting them. That’s because they know:
Getting super powers isn’t the point.
The really amazing power is the universe itself and its ever-transforming nature.
Every single activity is beginningless and endless. That is incredible! When you pick up a cup of coffee and drink it, the entire history of the universe has been leading up to that very action. If things hadn’t been just so a billion trillion years ago, there’d be no coffee beans on a little spinning ball called Earth. There wouldn’t be life, and no you, and certainly no French press (or whatever you use to make that sweet nectar of the gods!).
More than that, in a billion trillion years the universe will be what it is in part because you decided to drink a cup of coffee. It is incredible! We’re all products and participants of everything else that has ever and will ever be or happen. Wow!
Awakening, these great masters of the past will have us know, isn’t about so-called “super powers” at all. We’re surrounded by miracles and we perform universe-altering thoughts, words, and deeds every single moment. Those are the real super powers. Awakening is about opening our eyes to see just how incredible all this is, so that we can find a friend in Layman Pang. He was once asked what miracle he could perform to prove that his teaching was true. He said:
“These are my miracles: chopping wood and carrying water.”
Another time he said: “My super powers? Well, when I’m tired, I go to sleep. When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m thirsty, I drink. Pretty amazing, huh?”
Yeah, it is.