Ask A Buddhist: View of Spirits

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By Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

Do Buddhist schools of thought view spirit’s as a form coming from the mind consciousness or are such things only seen by an awakened mind?

In general, Buddhist cosmology holds that spirits are a type of living being, which appear in a variety of forms. They have consciousness and, as ordinary beings, are under the control of afflicted mental states and karma. As such, spirits are not imaginary; they don’t just come from the mind. They have a subtle form.

Being reborn as a spirit is considered a lower rebirth. Some spirits are helpful, having beneficial qualities, while others are harmful, showing anger and spiteful vengeance. Usually, ordinary beings cannot see or sense the presence of spirits. However, very advanced Buddhist practitioners who have developed some level of clairvoyance through concentration practice can see them.

As with many phenomena that we can’t directly perceive with our senses, a lot of superstition can be mixed in with belief in spirits. In some Asian cultures, people tend to blame things like bad luck, relationship difficulties, and even mental illness on spirits or spirit harm. However, you have to wonder if this is actually the case, or if it is the social custom in that culture to attribute difficulties to external beings.

I remember hearing one renowned teacher give advice to someone who thought she was being harmed by spirits. He suggested that she develop strong compassion for any spirit bothering her. Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering, and includes the wish to see that suffering relieved. Since compassion is a virtuous state of mind, it will benefit our own mind and will help to protect us from any harm from spirits. And if there is a mischevious spirit disturbing us, developing compassion will likely benefit the spirit, as well, through our benevolent intention and energy.

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