In the Eastern philosophy we have a belief in principles such as karma and reincarnation. But in the West, there is less acceptance or understanding about these things. The Judeo-Christian belief is that when the body dies that is the end of it. But, in Eastern philosophy we believe that the soul never dies. When someone loses their body, they spend some time without the body and it is that state you call spirit. But they are not really pure spirit either. They are spirit with a mental body.

We have three entities within us all: You—the pure Spirit, the mental or subtle body, and the outer or physical body.

At the time of the death we simply drop the physical body. The spirit does not stay in the body but it leaves. When a person leaves the body prematurely—not by a natural death but by an accident or through suicide—that soul needs another body. The soul’s karma in that particular body was interrupted and this leaves the soul stranded. The spirit may go in search of a vehicle in order to fulfill its journey. So, it tries to possess a vehicle—someone else’s living body.

It’s as if someone doesn’t have a house to live in because their house collapsed suddenly due to a tornado or cyclone. They would then be homeless; they might become a wanderer with no permanent address. What would they do? They might go and see if they could move in with one of their neighbors. If the neighbors are good-hearted enough they may welcome them to move in. But, if no house is easily available, they may look for a cracked basement window they can sneak into. The displaced person may try and hide out in the basement and maybe eventually take over the house itself.

In the very same way, the body is our house. If someone loses this house, they need another body and so they will look for a body to get into. And who will allow them to gain entry? Someone who is weaker than the disembodied spirit. Sometimes a spirit will find a person who is not necessarily weak-willed but who is going through a vulnerable time. If someone is mentally or physically weak, that can make them more vulnerable to possession. That’s how spirits possess other people.

Spirits are not necessarily neutral or always good-intentioned. At the time of death the only thing that changes is that the person drops the physical body. The spirit leaves the body, taking with it the mental body that contains all that person’s thoughts. That means that character-wise spirits are the same people as they were when they inhabited a body. They have their own desires, likes, and dislikes. Spirits are not always wonderful; they are just like you and me, but without a body.

Just because someone channels a spirit, does that mean that the information they give is necessarily good or helpful? Imagine that Sue, a friend of yours, has a serious problem. Sue decides that it would be very helpful if she could get some advice before making a decision about this problem. On her way to visit a longtime and trusted family friend, Sue encounters a stranger on the street. Should Sue stop to get advice from that person, or continue on to consult with her trusted friend or advisor? Should Sue just accept or follow the advice of a next-door neighbor or anyone who might shout out advice to her? Well, that is exactly what happens when someone goes to a channel for advice.

Who do you think a psychic is channeling? They are channeling a spirit who left the body and is roaming around until they get another body. But in character and quality the person is the same as any other person. The same way there are good people and not so good-intentioned people, there are good spirits, and not so good spirits. Good spirits will not come and unnecessarily try to possess another body. They accept being a spirit. Only the restless and ill-intentioned spirits try to possess someone else’s body.

How can a channel discriminate who is who? At least in the physical realm when you see someone you will see whether they are a good person or not. But, channeling means that you are contacting a disembodied spirit. And because you do not see the body and you do not know the person whom you are contacting, there can always be the inherent danger that you are coming in contact with a undesirable spirit. It might be a terrible or mischievous spirit who is eager to create problems.

There are exceptions, but it is rare. For example, Edgar Cayce is one such exception. He received messages about medical treatments that helped to cure many, many people. As long as a person receives messages that they know to be beneficial to others, they can make use of these messages and offer them in service. But they should let these messages come naturally. No one has to go to a seance, try to conjure up a spirit, or invite spirits in. If some psychic abilities develop naturally and you can be a pure instrument in God’s hands, that is fine. If you receive any messages, you should analyze them and see if they are good and will be useful to people? If you think they are useful, pass them on to others; otherwise, ignore them. It’s safer that way.

If a person becomes a good clean instrument, those messages will come naturally to be passed on to others. There is nothing wrong with that. But if a person, with their own egoism, wants to receive those messages so they can “channel” somebody, it may even go wrong. Because how will they know who is coming to talk to them. You cannot see who is there so how do you know it is a helpful spirit?

Imagine that someone goes to a person who channels and asks whether they would be able to contact the person’s deceased father. Suppose that the channel says yes they can do that if you pay the required fee. So you decide to pay them some money and see what happens. The channel may tell you, “Yes, I have contacted your father and I am talking to him. Your father is saying such and such.” But where is the proof? The channel may tell you things that only you and your father knew—things that no one else could possibly have known. Someone may ask you, “How do you know that it is your dad?” You would probably answer, “Oh, there are certain things only dad and I knew and the spirit told me those things.” Does that really prove anything? Unfortunately it doesn’t and this is reason: There are no secrets in the spirit world. Once a person leaves the physical body and they are in the spirit world nothing is secret. Whatever is in one spirit’s mental body is visible to everyone else in the spirit world. That means that any spirit can come and imitate another, saying “I am your father or I am so-and-so.”

Because the mental body is still part of the spirit, the spirit can basically communicate with all the minds. That means in the astral level there are no secrets. Suppose that there are a thousand spirits in the astral world. They all know each other’s thought. On the physical plane our capacity to know someone else’s mind is hindered by the body. But in a bodiless state one can understand all the minds. As such, spirit A can come and talk to a person through a channel and say, “I am spirit B.” And spirit A can repeat everything that spirit B knows. So if a person goes to a channel and asks that their father be contacted, it may really be a spirit other than the father that comes through. And the impersonating spirit may be a mischievous fellow. That spirit will come and repeat all the secrets known only to the person and their father. And the person will be convinced that, in fact, the father’s spirit is being channeled because how else could all these secrets be revealed? That is why it is important to remember that there are no secrets in the spirit world. So, if someone is consulting with a psychic, they should realize that it is a gamble; there is nothing ever certain. Communicating with the spirits means the messages that you get need not be always correct. Neither the channel nor the person requesting the reading have any way of verifying who the spirit really is.

Sometimes, mischievous spirits will take advantage of even a good psychic. The person who is channeling may be sincerely trying to contact a person’s loved one. But mischievous spirits are often eager to come into the mind of the channel and appear to be the person being sought. Those spirits just want to budge in and hear themselves talking. And they may say things that will actually cause harm. That is why I say that spirit reading or channeling is not always safe. Not only to the listener, but even to the person who channels. Why? Because people who channel spirits are allowing their minds to be used by some other spirit. That means that in the process of channeling, they lose your own identity, even if it is only temporary.

When a person allows a spirit to come and speak through them that spirit takes over their mind—at least for that time—and then communicates its’ thoughts through their mind. What does that mean? The person channeling becomes a servant to that spirit; the spirit uses their mind. And if someone keeps on allowing a spirit to use their mind, they will lose their own individuality. The more someone allows their mind to be controlled by somebody else, the weaker and weaker they themselves will become. It’s like allowing oneself to be mesmerized by somebody. If a person falls under the influence or spell of someone else they become possessed. The person will be walking around like a zombie or a robot, just following the prompting of the spirit they are channeling. The psychic will have no say of their own because they are controlled by another mind. Remember that the spirit still carries the mental body of the deceased person. So the more the channel allows their mind to be controlled by another mind, the more they become a literal slave. Little by little, the channel loses his or her own strength. And then, at some point, the channel cannot function at all without the help of that spirit. And that is not what spiritual growth is all about.

Whether you are trying to receive guidance from the spirit world or from a living spiritual teacher, neither should control you. That’s why even in the realm of the living I wouldn’t recommend you follow a teacher who tries to control and command you or demand certain things from you. A teacher should simply bring out suggestions: “This is what I recommend. If you follow it, fine. If you don’t follow it, wonderful. You choose what is right for you.” That’s what you call freedom. Spiritual growth is all about real freedom. So, if in the name of spirituality we are going to bind ourselves to someone or something else, we have missed the whole point.

Don’t become a slave to anything or anyone in the name of the guru-disciple relationship. Sometimes disciples think they are supposed to become slaves to the teacher or give up their own free will and mindlessly follow their guru. The teacher should not control the mind of the disciple. Rather, an authentic teacher will encourage the disciple to think for him- or herself. And in that process, the teacher simply guides the student without exerting control. If the disciple is controlled, he or she is not going to be free. Remember, freedom is the main aim of all spiritual practice and attainment.

In the name of spiritual teaching if you become bound, what is the point? You should grow through your own efforts. That is the reason why even if the teacher has the capacity to lift you up to greater heights quickly, he or she should not do that and you should not allow that to happen. You should take yourself to higher levels. Sometimes we hear about teachers or gurus giving shaktipat to students.   Shaktipat is the transmission of the teacher’s shakti— spiritual energy and attainments—to the student. How does that happen? You go and sit in

front of the teacher and through his or her touch, glance, or initiation, they inject their shakti into you. But my question is, what then, are you expected to do if the teacher is doing the spiritual growth work for you? What happened to your growth then? If someone is giving you their spiritual force, then it is their force that is controlling you. No genuine teacher would do that. And in the same way, no sincere disciple should even look for that.

Freedom is very important, particularly in the spiritual field. You should have freedom to choose the approach, practice, and spiritual path you are going to follow. No real teacher or guru will ever command a disciple. Likewise, the student should not do things just to satisfy the teacher. That’s not the right way of becoming a disciple. So no spirit—embodied or disembodied—should ever control you. That is why I am saying that when someone channels a spirit, they are allowing somebody to control their mind, almost like a hypnotized person. That will weaken their individual spirit and it’s not good for the health of that person.

Your task is to walk the spiritual path yourself. The teacher is only a guide. Almost all the great sages and saints have said this. Take, for example, Lord Buddha. Hundreds of times he said, “Please, don’t do anything because I said so. I’m only giving you some advice. If you are convinced and you like the advice, then please take it and try it out. Don’t ever do anything just because I said so.” You see, it takes away a student’s freedom to just follow the teacher blindly. Let me give the following example. Imagine that you want to teach a child to walk. If you are constantly holding on to the child and walking with them, they will never learn to walk on their own. They will always be depending on you and that will spoil the child. The child will lose any sense of confidence that they can walk on their own.

So, the best way to teach the child is to allow them to walk and learn. Even if they fall down a few times, that’s okay—it’s all part of the learning process. You can help lift the child up if he or she falls, but then let them try to walk on their own again. That is how they build up their confidence and that is how to draw out their natural capabilities. That is the very best way for anyone to learn. If someone is constantly watching over you, holding on to you, controlling you, then you are not growing yourself. So, we shouldn’t ever look for shortcuts to the growth process.

As a spiritual seeker, one should develop their own strength of mind rather than allowing their mind to be controlled by somebody else. That is why I say that the safest practice is to focus on becoming a good Yogi—a balanced person. No genuine scriptures or genuine teachers have ever recommended that we communicate with spirits and follow what they say. Fortunately, I met many sages and saints when I was a young sadhu in India. In all my travels and meetings with these sages, none of them ever recommended that to me. On the other hand, when anyone would inquire about psychic abilities or readings they strongly discouraged this. But nowadays it has become a commercial thing.

I would suggest that if you are looking for someone’s advice, get it from somebody you know well and trust. Develop a rapport with an elder, a mentor. Then, if you develop that kind of trusting bond, even after that person leaves the body— because of your faith and devotion—you may be able to still receive their guidance. But that person will not come as a spirit and talk to you. Trying to communicate with spirits is not the right way to receive guidance or to get ideas. It’s not really that helpful at all. And very often even the messages that are communicated are wrong; what you are receiving can even be dangerous because you don’t know the source of the reading.

Let us realize that we all have the ability to be in communication with God. You can attune yourself to that Cosmic Consciousness and that is much better than tuning to some channel filled with all kinds of nonsense and static. Put your efforts and energy into cultivating a relationship with God—communing with the Higher Power rather than disembodied spirits.

When you experience that Divine communion you will become a good channel of God. That higher consciousness will function through you. In order to be a good channel you need to keep yourself clean. Imagine, will water flow easily through a rusty, frozen, or blocked pipe? If you keep yourself as a sort of a stainless steel pipe, then the flow will be easy. Likewise, if you keep your body, mind, and heart clean, then you will all become good channels for God’s work. But make sure that it is God who is working through you. Don’t simply open the door and invite undesirable spirits. Tune your radio to the right frequency, and God’s spirit will come through.

– Swami Satchidananda


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