How Adi Shankaracharya Entered a Dead King’s Body
Q: It is said that Adi Shankara entered the body of a king and inhabited it for a length of time. Is this actually possible? If so, how? What kind of yogic mastery makes such a feat possible?Sadhguru: Adi Shankara got into an argument with a man and won. Then that man's wife maneuvered herself into the argument – you know women! Adi Shankara is a certain level of logic – you shouldn't argue with a man like that. But she negotiated herself into the argument, saying, “You defeated my husband, but he is not whole. We are two halves of the same thing. So you must also argue with me.” How can you beat this logic? So, arguments started with the woman. Then she saw she was losing and so she started asking him questions about human sexuality. Shankara said whatever he said. Then she went into more details and asked, “What do you know by experience?” Well, Shankara was a brahmachari (a celibate). He knew that this was a trick to defeat him. So he said, “I need a month’s break. We’ll start from where we left off after a month.”
Then he went inside a cave and told his disciples, “No matter what happens, do not allow anybody into this cave because I'm going to leave my body and look for another possibility for some time.”
The life energies or prana manifest in five dimensions: prana vayu, samana, apana, udhana and vyana. These five manifestations of prana have distinct functions. Prana vayu is in charge of respiratory action, thought process and the sensation of touch. How do you check whether someone is alive or dead? If his breath has stopped, you say he is dead. The breath has stopped because the prana vayu has begun to exit. It will take up to one-and-a-half hours for the prana vayu to leave completely.
This is why it was traditionally set up that after the breath stops, you must wait for a minimum of one-and-a-half hours before you cremate someone – because he is still alive in many other ways. We wait for one-and-a-half hours so that his thought process, his respiratory action and his sensations are gone, so that he doesn't feel the burn. Now the remaining part of the prana will still be there. The vyana, the last dimension of the prana, could last up to twelve to fourteen days. The preservation and integrity of the body is largely due to the function of the vyana prana in the system. So when Shankara left his body, he left his vyana in the system because his body should be maintained.
It so happened, a king was bitten by a cobra and had died. When cobra venom enters your system, your blood begins to coagulate and breath becomes hard, because when circulation becomes difficult, it becomes hard to breathe. Your breath will stop well before your prana vayu has exited. In many ways, this is an ideal condition for one who wants to enter that body. Normally, it would give you only a window of one-and-a-half hours’ time. But when a person has got cobra’s venom in the system, it will give you up to four-and-a-half hours’ time.
So Shankara got this opportunity and he very easily entered the king’s body. And he went through the process so he could answer those questions experientially. There were some wise people among the king's circle, who, when they saw a man they had declared dead suddenly sit up full of energy, could recognize by his behavior that it was not the same person but someone else in the same body. So they sent soldiers all over the city, telling them wherever they saw a body lying around, to burn it immediately – so that if that body belongs to the person who has come here into the king’s body, then he will not be able to leave and go back. Because now the king has come alive – a different guy, but he looks the same, so what? But they did not succeed and Shankara went back.
So is such a thing possible? Yes, it is very much possible. Is it a feat? It is not really such a feat. It just needs a little bit of understanding of the mechanics of how life happens within you. Now, if one wants to enter the body of someone who is alive, that would take a lot more. To enter one who has just exited is much simpler. Within the first one-and-a-half hours it's ideal because the necessary vacuum has happened, at the same time everything else is on. This is the reason why in India, when somebody's breath begins to recede, they always would keep them just outside the house. They would put sambrani (a type of incense) and start chanting something. This is to comfort the one who is departing, and also ensure that somebody else doesn't usurp the body.
So many methods and protections were created so that these things don't happen. But today, it is such a rare occurrence that now people have started referring to it as a feat.
Editor’s Note: Watch this video, where Sadhguru speaks about the intellectual clarity and zest of Adi Shankara, and the fundamental culture of the nation which recognized that bowing down is the way to rise.