I have not posted any articles on Mysticism for a while and since it is near the seventh lunar month, I thought it will be nice to post something about ghosts. This post has been floating in my mind for almost a year and I finally decided to share my thoughts with everyone.
There seems to be a popular movement within the Buddhist circle of associating with ghosts during the past 5 years. Some had even made it their daily practice to do so. I find this phenomenon highly strange because, in the 70s and 80s, such mystic practices are reserved for advanced practitioners.
In my youth, the Chinese Mahayana monks (Shifu) constantly advise us to keep a distance from any association with the spirit realms. They constantly remind us not to create an affinity with these unseen beings. (不要结鬼缘）This is because, amongst these spirits, some are deceitful and known as Mara Ghost. That means they will create confusion in our minds and lead us away from the Dharma.
If you had read my post about the 36 types of ghosts, then you will probably know that certain ghosts (Aka, Spirits) are attracted to unclean substances (such as urine, excreta, blood, fats, mucus, sexual fluids, etc; Stuff that Theravada Buddhism contemplates as impure during meditation. And if you dabble in the occult (Western or Eastern), you will probably be aware that certain rituals involve the usage of such substances too. The offering of such substances is not limited to placing them on an altar inside an exotic container. It also includes any actions that resulted in the expulsion of such impurities from our bodies. From this perspective, it isn’t difficult to understand that such a mystic is actually attracting spirits during their practices. In return, the mystic requests the spirit to run errands or grant spiritual power. The spirits that are being conjured or summoned are powerful ones.
How does this matter to Buddhists?
A Buddhist who is focused on “simple” Dharma (the practice of morality and mind training), and doesn’t dabble in mysticism is not involved with such spirits. Unfortunately, Mara Ghosts are wily and they will try to interfere with Dharma practice. They will usually target our ego, pride, and ignorance to gain a foothold before misguiding us from Dharma.
This is possible when Buddhists misunderstood skillful means as an end in itself. For example, purification rituals.
If we study Theravada Sutta, we will discover that Buddha denounced purification rituals. Yet, purification rituals are common in many Buddhist environments. I believe they are there because they can be a powerful coping mechanism for some people. However, such rituals can take a sinister turn when participants are taught to believe that the successful “purging” of bad karma often results in vomitting?
In such instances, the participants are psychologically self-conditioning themselves to vomit, then feel good about it because they had gotten rid of their “bad luck”, “bad karma”, “black magic” etc. Can you imagine how harmful this is to one’s health if a practitioner became addicted to this “practice”?
Now the question that I would be asking is, “Who is spreading those “fake” views?” Is it a being who enjoys eating vomit?
This is often a taboo subject and people avoid talking about it. But this is not Buddha Dharma. So how do such wrong views or stories find their way into Buddhist centers? Worst of all, people are shy to clarify with the monks. So it becomes a secret belief that is perpetuated under the guise of “Buddhist knowledge.” Spreading from one to another. This is an example of the influence of wily spirits.
Smoke offering and fire offering
Some spirits feed on smoke offerings. Again, if we explore the rituals of various cultures and religions, we’ll discover that scented smoke plays a prominent role in rituals and ceremonies. Some incenses are even formulated to include hallucinogen herbs and substances to heighten the spiritual experience of participants.
Buddha did not prescribe any of those. In the conversion of fire ascetics, Buddha convinced a thousand fire worshipers to stop their practices. That event is recorded in the fire sermon. So how did fire offerings and smoke offerings find their way into Buddhism?
Since the usage of smoke and fire in rituals and ceremonies is deeply embedded in the culture of many countries, including India. It is inevitable that Mahayana Buddhism taps on this opportunity to reach more followers and convert them into the path of Buddha Dharma.
Until here, it seems like everything is pretty much “in control” under the watchful eyes of an experienced Buddhist educator, right? Unfortunately, many Buddhist beginners take this practice as an end in itself.
For me, the alarm bell starts to ring when the “practitioners” start to hold the view that “Bigger Smoke” or “Bigger fire” equals a better practice. Some teachers even openly teach that creating more smoke and building a bigger fire will make the spirits or protectors happier.
I cannot believe that an enlightened spirit will crave more food (smoke offering). And if they are not enlightened, shouldn’t the practitioners be spreading wisdom instead of encouraging craving? The sinister twist occurs when a practitioner cannot be firm in his/her dharma and end up giving way to the spirits.
That is exactly what Chinese Mahayana teachers were warning about. If we are not strong in our Dharma, then it is likely that we end up being influenced by these spirits instead. Until here, I have not even touched upon the subject of “reverse reverence” tactic used by spirits.
I think, in summary, it is best to be humble. Stay away from spirits. Don’t create any affinities, ties, relations, etc with such beings. We are not enlightened. Let the enlightened masters help them. Last but not least, powerful spirits can assume the forms and appearance of Buddha and Bodhisattvas too.
I am only sharing what I learned during a summer Buddhist camp as a youth. Take care.
May all be well and happy.