Buddhism and Psychic Experiences

Where Christianity has become the dominant religion of the West, the East has been (an largely remains) dominated by it’s own forms of spirituality. Early in the development of the Christian church certain leaders determined that anything remotely ‘psychic’ or ‘paranormal’ was to be considered questionable, if not downright evil. Unless, of course, such psychic events happened to good, upstanding Christians and was directly attributed to God. In the East, such prejudges did not develop. A Westerner might consider ‘psychic phenomena’ as abnormal, even frightening, but a spiritually inclined person from the East may well consider the same such ‘psychic phenomena’ as just part of the mystery of life (and often part of one’s spiritual development).

One of the major Eastern religions, Buddhism, has long accepted with the idea of people being psychic, and the development of psychic-like abilities. Rather than treat psychic phenomena as something freakish to be avoided Buddhists tend to treat psychic events with a very low key attitude … the display of such talents is noted, but the psychic experience itself should not be made into a big deal. Such ‘gifts’ can indicate spiritual development, but what is important is the continued spiritual growth of the individual (and such an individual should not get ‘stuck’ on the fact they had or have psychic experiences).

What Does Buddhism Have to Say About Psychic Phenomena?

Buddhism is often seen in the West as a religion that doesn’t concern itself much with psychic phenomena. However, you might be surprised to learn that the opposite is actually true. The three major branches of Buddhism – Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana – each have a lot to say about psychic phenomena and psychic experiences.

who was buddha Psychic phenomena does not met with the same sort of prejudice in Buddhism as it does in many Western Christian religions. Being ‘psychic’ or having psychic experiences is not something to be feared. Psychic events are largely not considered the work of evil entities or evil intentions. On the contrary, psychic abilities are often taken as an indication of spiritual growth.

An important point to note is that those who have these psychic abilities do not bear much resemblance to the kinds of Western "psychics" who you may see on TV plugging their latest books. There is a vast cultural difference between how psychics are viewed (and some present themselves) in the West and in Buddhism. A typical Buddhist believes that psychic abilities are developed first and foremost as a way to help others (similar to most psychics in the West) but also that psychic manifestations are a path to attaining personal, spiritual understanding and, ultimately, enlightenment (a concept foreign to average Westerners as to what psychic gifts mean).

Psychic Phenomena in Theravada Buddhism

In Theravada Buddhism, psychic powers are known by the Sanskrit term "riddhi." The term can be translated as "psychic power," but it also carries an implicit positive sense, and can additionally be used to mean "abundance," "prosperity," or "growth." This adds to the idea that psychic powers are a positive occurrence.

Perhaps the best example of riddhi powers comes from the Pali Canon, the main scripture of Theravada Buddhism. The Pali Canon contains a description of six types of "higher knowledges" that can be obtained by the astute Buddhist practitioner. These six knowledges are:

1) The ability to perform miraculous feats;
2) The ability to hear something from far away;
3) Telepathy;
4) Remembering one’s past lives;
5) Being able to see the past karma of others;
6) The extinction of all mental attitudes and desires which keep one from arhatship (arhatship means one has attained Nirvana, breaking the cycle of rebirth, suffering – somewhat like attaining heaven within).

Psychic Phenomena in Mahayana Buddhism

The Pali Canon also plays an important role in Mahayana Buddhism. In Mahayana, the Pali Canon is considered to be an authentic and scripture to Buddhism, but not the only scripture. Based on the Pali Canon, Mahayana Buddhists accept the psychic powers and six knowledges as laid out in the Pali Canon.

However, Mahayana spiritual teachings also contain another component: The Mahayana sutras. These numerous sutras are often thought to be even more authoritative than the Pali Canon, and these sutras greatly expand on the idea of psychic powers.

Important Mahayana texts such as the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines, the Lotus Sutra, and the Concentration of Heroic Progress introduce a wide array of psychic powers which are attainable by those who seek enlightenment and liberation from the cycle of karma.

A few examples from these texts include; the ability to fit innumerable universes into a single pore of one’s skin; the ability to time travel; the ability to travel to different universes and different levels of reality; the ability to change one’s appearance at will; and the ability to manifest any material substance.

Psychic Phenomena in Vajrayana Buddhism

Vajrayana Buddhism is very similar to the two previously discussed forms of Buddhism when it comes to psychic phenomena. Vajrayana Buddhists also share the view that psychic abilities can be acquired through spiritual practice.

Vajrayana Buddhism tends to use the word "siddhi" to refer to supranormal abilities. "Siddhi," is similar to "riddhi,", but "siddhi," in Sanskrit is a word that carries a very positive connotation. "Siddhi," can be translated as something like "success," "perfection," or "attainment."

Such psychic powers in Vajrayana are similar to those in Theravada and Mahayana. Here are some examples of phenomena which would be considered siddhi:

1) Clairvoyance – the ability to see or gain information without using the five physical senses;
2) The ability to be in more than one place at the same time;
3) The ability to levitate;
4) Remembering one’s past lives;
5) The ability to shrink to the size of an atom.

The Link between Meditation and Psychic Phenomena

Meditation is a very well-known component of Buddhism. Proficiency in meditation is needed to begin the stages of awakening, and it is one of the most important contributing factors to enlightenment.

It is when the seeds of awakening start to grow that one’s psychic abilities are thought to flourish. The gifts may come all at once or one by one. Different meditative practices may even lead to different abilities.

Buddhism, particularly monastic Buddhism, is orthopraxic rather than orthodoxic (meaning monastic Buddhism is more inclusive of other spiritual beliefs and less concerned with orthodox traditions of a particular religion). While monks must adhere to their monastic code, they can subscribe to different doctrines and schools of thought. Two monks in the same monastery may meditate on two entirely different things, and perhaps gain different psychic abilities as a result.

The Psychic Powers of the Buddha

The Buddha, who most scholars agree was a historical figure by the name of Siddhartha Gautama, is alleged to have performed several miracles. For example, it is said that he could walk and talk immediately after his birth, that he flew up into the heavenly abode of Brahma, and that he could multiply himself a million times over. One could also say that Buddha was true to his beliefs and down played his ‘powers’ in favor of the individual always moving forward on one’s spiritual path.

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As with most recorded ancient miracles, no one can really know for sure how or what really happened thousands of years ago. We all seem to be left deciding for ourselves what is or is not true. Do you believe that meditation may be powerful enough to unlock previously inaccessible parts of the human mind? Buddhism seems to say that it is. The purpose of this article is to show that supposedly ‘psychic phenomena‘ are viewed entirely differently in different parts of the world. What we do know is true is that these ‘psychic experiences’ are something that is recorded world wide and throughout history. And, that different religions have taken very different views as to what ‘psychic’ is and means.

If you would like to chat with experts in Eastern spirituality (who also happen to appreciate psychic abilities), check out Eastern Spirituality Chat. For a personal psychic or tarot reading, give Psychic Tarot Reader Julie a call at 1-800-326-5923. Julie is a clairvoyant who is also a yoga and Buddhist meditation practitioner.