What is an article about psychic powers, ghosts and other worlds doing in a blog about the practical application of meditation and Buddhism? Well I’ll explain. I’ve been contemplating this topic and about writing this article for a few weeks now but have other more important things to write about, although some recent events have me thinking it’s time to discuss this now for the benefit of others. I hope you find it helpful because it is something important to discuss in relation to meditation practice as some point so we don’t get deluded by our experiences and don’t get ourselves off the path of what is most important.
A lot of people are drawn to meditation because of the promise of developing psychic powers and I know in some cultures in the world, where powers are more revered, people talk about and seek out to develop them as if they are important parts of life. People also feel getting in touch with ghosts, or spirits from other worlds are somehow special abilities for one reason or another. There is inherent belief that if we have these powers we are somehow special and more equipped for life, that it give us more information about life that somehow is more meaningful and power, that we can predict and know what the future holds. For these reasons we seek out these abilities and experiences in our meditation practice. I however do not share this view and have met very senior monastics who I’ve had quiet conversations with about ghosts or these experiences whos strong belief it is not fruitful to concentrate on these abilities. In fact talking about psychic powers is strictly forbidden in the monastic code and with good reason. I want to talk about my experiences with ghosts and psychic powers over the years and hopefully bring you to a level headed decision about the course of your own meditation practice and the relevance of these experiences in your life.
An Encounter with a Ghost
One night a while back I had a weird experience were I encountered a ghost in my bedroom as I was going to bed. The ghost was not doing this through negative intent, the ghost was simply lost and confused, I’d say even scared, it saw me and thought it would say hello. During the encounter I was able to experience everything it was experiencing, emotions, it’s mind but also at the same time my thoughts, emotions and mind. It didn’t last long because my meditation had grounded me solidly and it wasn’t able to do anything to me. The experience only lasted for 30 seconds or so, then I rolled over and went back to sleep. Why? My meditations had taught me these things are nothing to fear and nothing special. My mind was simply in a refined state that night and this allowed me to experience this. I didn’t walk away from it and think “Wow, that means something special” and then try to cultivate it as an ability further. I spoke to my teacher and he said “Yes, this happens. Just continue”. What it did take away from the experience though was a profound understanding of the nature of mind. In this brief encournter I was able to experience it’s mind and my mind within this one body. It made me realise what I clung to as “my mind” wasn’t really mine, it was just a phenomena within the awareness of experience bought about by the experience of this conditioned body. So I used the experience to learn about mindfulness and the nature of existance and then moved on, no different from learning and contemplating any other phenomena that arises.
I agree with the monastic code that one should not talk about psychic powers one develops in meditation and for this reason I won’t either. I will however mention some of the ones I’ve had all my life as it has relevance to this conversation by way of example. All my life I’ve had visions, ever since I was a child. They are only very brief visions, maybe a couple of seconds to a minute long each, but the level of detail is highly, highly accurate. However I have never been able to control this, the visions are completely random and meaningless. They could be very ordinary life events – a conversation in a kitchen one day with my sister about nothing in particular, an image of people playing in a park as I sit and watch them, a conversation with my wife while we sit and talked on the lounge. The only thing I’ve ever been able to take away from these things is a sense of knowing “Ah, this is exactly where I’m meant to be”.
Another innate ability I’ve had is being able to predict the future with a relatively high degree of accuracy. I’m not talking about visions or premonitions, just in innate knowing of the course of events that were going to aspire and about how long they would take before it occurred. For me this “knowing” is like a seeing the sands of the hour glass, all the grains of sand are channelling in towards the centre at which they’ll all eventually meet. I have a sense of knowing all the conditions of life around me and seeing what all these events are conspiring towards. This however only really works for me, as I intimately know the phenomena of life around me and my awareness. I can’t predict with as much accuracy this for other people, only to a limited degree, because I do not see all these conditions related to them.
There is an inherent flaw in this both of these abilities, something vitally important that cannot be overlooked that I’ve learnt through my meditations, that I’d like to talk about.
The Big Mistake
As I’ve progressed in my meditations over the years I’ve learnt something very important about these abilities, this feeling of “wanting to be certain” about where I’m meant to be or knowing the future is flawed. The future is always uncertain, and ever-changing. This is an inherent truth to life. Impermanence! I’m negating this inherent truth of impermanence and falling into a trap, an illusion of mind. If I focus on this ability of wanting to know the future then I’m not being mindful now and am not being aware to life right now. In fact I’m drawn out of mindfulness and am believing this appearance. I’m also buying into desire in a subtle way, a desire to want to know the certainty of the future. This desire for psychic powers is a very seductive and alluring desire that catches many people.
The power in just being mindful in this moment cannot be understated and should be recognized as the greatest power. If I can offer one solid piece of advice, do not think that knowing the future can somehow make you more present in this very moment, it only distracts you and prolongs to keep you and others suffering. The future is unknown, this is something we must accept. This feeling we have of wanting to know to be certain is a manifestation of and an illusion of the self. You cannot know, and never will know. Mindfulness and meditation teaches us that there is only this moment, there is no future and that it will always be uncertain. While we cling to this and believe it’s realness and appearance we cripple ourselves to enlightenment. We must pay attention to now otherwise we will miss what is in front of us. The future is always uncertain.
What are Psychic Powers?
Psychic powers are a natural phenomena of the mind and a side effect of meditation and therefore should to be focused on as if they are the primary skill to be developed. This is best explained through a metaphor about trying to boil water. If you suddenly start focusing on the first appearances of the vapour of steam then you forget your duties in boiling the water and the water will never boil. We get distracted by the steam “Oh look, this must be something special because it appears so differently to the nature of water” and so we get distracted from the core of what life is about, what mindfulness and the meditation is really about. The mind is exactly like this. If we start paying attention to these appearances that are a natural part of mind and a side-effect of the process then we distract ourselves from that which is most important, enlightenment and being mindful in this moment.
As the mind develops in meditation there will be more refined experiences about life that previously we didn’t have in just the same way water emits more steam vapour when it gets hotter. This does not mean they are somehow more important, special or give us better abilities. It is a side-effect, nothing more. Like when you eat food, a side-effect is having to go to the toilet. We do not think about the ability to poo as being more important than eating because we see the poo in relation to our eating. We eat, we poo. We should see psychic abilities of mind in the same way. Yet we often do not see them in this way because we don’t understand the full nature of the relation of pyschic abilities to the mind, so we give it special labels and special meanings and claim to have special powers. We all have mind, there are qualities of mind. It’s just natural. We must see it in relation to what it is, a side-effect of the mind. If we focus on the psychic abilities we are leading ourselves down the wrong path, we are suddenly following the vapour of the mind instead focusing on the boiling the kettle.
The Cessation of Suffering
To reduce our suffering, and release ourselves from this suffering, mindfulness in this moment is our greatest ability. Psychic powers will not burn off our karma, it will not cease these conditions that bring about suffering in your life. Only mindfulness and discernment can do this. This is an incredibly important point.In focusing on psychic abilities we are then drawn away from being mindful of life right now. This is not the path that leads to the cessation of suffering.
Other Worlds and Realities
The other thing people are curious about and are drawn to is the attraction of other worlds and realities and beings from other worlds. We think in talking to these beings or experiencing these other worlds it is somehow special again and more meaningful and relevant to our lives. We think in knowing these things it adds more understanding and relevance to this life. Again there are a couple of major flaws we make in focusing on this.
Look around, where is there any other world? Have you ever seen one? Have you ever seen even any minute trace of one? No. The experiences that are claimed by some people are all still part of this same world, this same reality, otherwise they would not be able to tell you about it because the other world would not be joined in any way to this world. It would be completely seperate. The fact that people can tell you about it is because it is just another part of this world, this reality, this experience. Also, if it is from a different world (if that was possible) then what relevance do things learnt from it it have to this world? It is separate and thus not related.
The fact is, there is only one, and can only ever be one world. There is no other hidden reality that is separate to this one. There is no “other”, there is not two. This is the very realization of enlightenment. This is an incorrect assumption and conclusion to think there is some other world or place other than this one. People who think this have just incorrectly interpreted their experiences. If these other worlds were true then enlightenment itself would not be possible. But yet we can experience the totality and oneness of this enlightenment and it in itself teaches us this very truth – there is not two, there is onlythis, this one unified, all encompassing awareness. Ghosts or other beings from other worlds are in fact all part of this one world. Seeing this and knowing this we realise they are then a manifestation of mind, and thus cannot harm us and thus should be treated like any other arising phenomena. If we remain focused on this and interpret them correctly then we continue straight on our path to enlightenment, if we don’t then we lead ourselves astray.
People also think speaking to beings from other worlds or experiencing other worlds gives them more information about this world. This again is an incorrect assumption. If you just simply pay close attention and are mindful, the answers for all the questions you’ll ever seek to know can be found in this moment awareness. Going to some other world or being to find answers about your current life is no different to going and finding a neighbour and asking them to tell you about your life. It only seems meaningful because you seek it, you desire it and because you do not know yourself within to trust yourself. We know our lives best, we just feel we don’t because we simply aren’t paying attention. Don’t seek it through someone or something else. This is the arising of doubt, ahindrance of the mind and again we are buying into a subtle desire in seeking out this pyschic ability for a sense of knowing we should be coming to understand within. If you are mindful then this sense of doubt that arises that makes us seek out other sources for reassurance will cease. In this we realise, mindfulness is something more powerful that any psychic ability.
How to Apply This
Someone recently asked me on Mindfulness and the Meditation Object about this and I want to repeat my answer here:
“we have to ask, is this really relevant? Does understanding about otherworldly beings, gods or demons help you feel calm when a person does something wrong by you? No! Does knowing about gods, ghosts and demons allow you to let go of your worries about your family or work or children? No! Getting consumed by these thoughts about otherworldly ghosts, gods or demons is not practical or applicable to your life and only serves to hinder your life and your focus on your life problems you have now. So focus on what is in front of you now, what are you feeling now, notice within yourself how does it comes to be, how does it cease? It is here you’ll find the answers you seek, by directly investigating the arising phenomena that is before you now.
It’s like knowing about someone’s pet dog on the other side of the world. This dog, this other being that is in another world to yours right now, does knowing about this dog help you? No, not really. Focus on being mindful with what is before you right now. This is what the Buddha taught and where you should place your attention and knowledge seeking. Do not be distracted by otherworldly, ghosts, gods and demons as this will only hinder your meditation and prolong your suffering.”
So I’d say, don’t rely on things outside yourself for answers. Don’t rely on abilities to try to predict that which will always be uncertain. In all of these ways you are buying into and still caught by the manifestations of the mind and the arising conditions in life. Mindfulness is more powerful in it’s simplicity and is much more direct. Just accept and rest into this truth – things are uncertain. Know this world and you’ll know everything you need to know to guide you straight.
It all begins with mindfulness and ends with mindfulness. It is all about mindfulness through and through. Don’t be mistaken, there are not different worlds, there is only one reality. Realising this will bring you back to ensuring you stay focused on what is before you because the answers we seek in “other worlds” are here in the exact same phenomena arising before you eyes right now because they are from the same world. In this simple awareness of the everyday you can come to know enlightenment, why attempt to pursue it elsewhere?
Just be mindful, work on getting your own world and life right now before thinking about other worlds, beings or powers. If you can’t adequately let go of your own attachments and emotional reactions and haven’t yet developed this ability why focus on trying to develop some psychic ability that is less direct. Get to work on the emotion itself directly. Get to work on the thought itself directly. It does not help you or anyone in your life to be focusing on other things when there is so much to be done directly right in front of you. In realising this you realise mindfulness is much more powerful that focusing on the steam … get back to work on making the kettle boil!
If you have any questions or comments please add them below.