What exactly are ghosts? How can we protect ourselves from them?

by Chaitanya CharanApril 8, 2012

From: Jugal

Can you write (i dont have access to a computer so i am not able to hear your audio lectures…it would be good if it is made available in mp3 format to download) a detailed article about ghosts from both scientific and vedic perspectives? And please mention if hag attacks are true? Plus how to be safe from them (Can one just chant hare krishna nd nt the narsimha kavac mantra?)

(Transcript by Rupak Panigrahy Prabhu)

For the scientific aspect of the evidence of ghosts hear the answer to the question on possessions by the goddess. And for vedic understanding the word ghost which is an English word which has multiple meanings can refer to different kinds of beings in the vedic context. So essentially ghost refers to disembodied existence. So these are souls who don’t have bodies. Now ghosts can be of different types. There can be bhutas, there can be pretas, there can be pishachas and there can be vetalas. There are many more others also but we focus on these four first. So essentially when a soul leaves the body unnaturally or immaturely say because of committing suicide then at that time that soul doesn’t get a new material gross body immediately.  If a person by the past karma was supposed to live for 60 years in a particular body but that person commits suicide at the age of 25 then for next 35 years that person will not get a body. Of course our life spans are not determined so much in terms of years but in terms of number of breaths that we have but for our purpose of understanding the concept I am talking in terms of years.  So for next 35 years the soul has a subtle body. The subtle body leaves the gross body along with the soul but the soul does not get a new gross body and such a disembodied existence is called as ghost or bhuta. So bhutas are extremely troubled and troubling creatures. They are troubled themselves because they have their own material desires and passions which they had from their previous lives and even past lives which are still there, stored in the subtle body and driving them but they have no gross instrument by which to fulfill those desires. And that is why they are extremely troubled just like if a person is very sick in the sense of not having digestive power and such a person is living among a community of people who are all feasting then the person will feel very frustrated because everybody else is feasting and I cant feast, because I don’t have the physical capacity. So this sort of situation is just a small hint of troubled existence that the ghosts  lead. So the ghostly existence is a result of bad karma by that particular soul especially the karma of committing suicide and the soul suffers in that ghostly body. Now because ghosts exist at the subtle realm they don’t have a gross body. In the fifth canto of Bhagavatam when maharaj Rishabhdev is instructing Bharat and his other sons about how there are different levels of human beings. He explains that actually the ghosts are higher than human beings. So the ghosts have access to the subtle realm and through the subtle realm they can attack the gross realm. So that’s how the ghosts can sometimes possess human beings. So when the ghosts possess human beings they take control of the bodies of  the possessed human beings and try to use those bodies to fulfill their own desires. Suppose the ghost has a particular desire to eat a particular kind of food. The ghost has no gross body, no tongue to taste that food. Then the ghost catches possession of a particular body and then tries to fulfill that desire through person’s body. And that person may suddenly start experiencing a craving which he never had before or which is not normal for him. This wanting to eat a particular thing may just be harmless. But sometimes the ghost may have more malevolent agendas. They may possess a person so that they can take revenge against somebody from their previous life or they may possess a person so that they can gratify themselves sexually. And overall the possessed person’s life may get entirely thrown out of balance when the ghost enters and takes control of that person’s body. So there are well documented examples of ghost taking possession of people and the way to tackle this is to cultivate spiritual consciousness and a lifestyle in the mode of goodness. The ghost exists primarily in the mode of ignorance and that is where their power is. So to the extent people live in the mode of ignorance – they live unclean, they practice sinful habits and they have all the odd times of doing the daily activities, stay excessively awake in the night time when the mode of ignorance is prominent, taking intoxication which is typically an activity in the mode of ignorance all these make them susceptible to be possessed by ghosts. Just like when an Indian soldier is in India it may be difficult for Pakistani soldiers to capture him. But an Indian soldier himself strays in to Pakistani territory it may be easy for the Pakistani soldiers to capture him. Similarly if we are in the mode of goodness and trying to move towards transcendence it may be difficult for the ghosts to possess us because we are in a territory that is foreign to them. Whereas we start living more and more in the ignorance it becomes easy for them to capture us if we are in their territory. So that’s why avoiding in general a lifestyle that is going to incriminate us into the mode of ignorance by cultivating devotional practices helps us avoid getting possessed by ghosts. So chanting Hare Krishna and Nrisimha kavacha mantras are extremely helpful and extremely powerful and in most of the cases they can entirely prevent a person getting possessed by ghosts. In all cases it can prevent ghost possessions but in some cases, exceptional cases where some people who by their own past karma are meant to be possessed by ghosts. So now we talked about how ghosts enter into some person’s body.

Now lets talk about the people who get possessed by ghosts. There can be multiple factors for everything. If somebody meets with a road accident, the road accident can be caused by that person’s own careless driving and it can also be caused despite that person’s careful driving if the person who is on the opposite side is careless or drunken driver. So when we talk about we ourselves not getting consumed by the mode of ignorance that means we ourselves not driving carelessly. So one cause often the primary cause of road accidents can be avoided by driving carefully.  Similarly the primary cause of ghost possessions can be avoided by we ourselves not living ignorant lives. But just as in spite of a person driving carefully can meet with an accident sometimes. We understand from philosophical perspective that this is a result of past bad karma. Similarly some people who may not be living lives in the mode of ignorance they may because of certain past karmic reactions become susceptible to be possessed by ghosts. So actually we possessed by ghosts is not something horrible or terrible. It is certainly bad but it is just as bad as getting a painful cancer or meeting with a terrible accident which is causing excruciating amount of pain. So the vedic philosophy offers us an explanatory framework that includes all phenomena in existence. So for most people who are not acquainted with the vedic philosophy the possession by ghosts seems to be something alien, mysterious, frightening and spooky and unnerving. But for a person educated in the vedic philosophy understands that this is unfortunate, this is distressful, this is troublesome but it is not unexplainable. Ghost possesses a particular person because of the person’s past bad karma. If despite not cultivating the mode of ignorance somehow somebody gets possessed by ghosts then that person has to intensify the practice of devotional service. So at that time chanting nrisimha mantra repeatedly, keeping a photo of Lord Nrisimha dev close by and reading the 7th canto of Bhagavatam where his pastimes have been talked about and overall intensifying one’s chanting of the holy names will surely drive out the ghosts if at all one gets possessed by ghosts. So overall its unlikely that a person who is living in the mode of goodness and practicing Krishna consciousness will ever get possessed by ghosts. But in the very few exceptional situations where it might happen because of some peculiar past bad karma that karmic reaction can be tolerated and transcended by intensification of our Krishna consciousness.

Now apart from ghosts from our Sanskrit point of view bhutas there are other kinds beings also having disembodied existence. So the most common are pretas. So actually all of us have been pretas before. Preta is basically a very subtle kind of body, its not exactly a subtle body but an additional subtle covering on our subtle body that acts as a transitional body for us to go from this world after we die to yamaloka, and it may also become the instrument for getting certain reactions. Generally speaking after a person dies the soul goes around being dispossessed of its gross body, being completely disoriented because of the devastating effects of death. And according to the vedic tradition when the relatives perform the panda dan they do the death rituals, then those death rituals gradually lead that person getting a preta body. So the preta body is gradually formed by the (after the death). And the preta body acts as a transitional body. And as the relatives of that person perform the last rites and then the person is taken to yamaraj and after he is taken to yamaraj he is judged and then that person is given the body of pitru. So if the person has done a particular kind of karma which is proportionate, which is appropriate for that person to get a body of pitra, he gets a pitra body. So if the person does exceptionally very good karma that person may go to swarga loka. If the person does very bad karma that person may go to narak loka. If the person does average good karma, of course in kaliyuga nobody is doing that kind of average good karma, most people are involved in bad karma, but in the vedic cultural context when a person would average good karma the destination the person would get is pitriloka. That’s why although all the ancestors may not necessarily go to pitriloka, but because if they are religious they are likely to go there, that abode is called as the abode of ancestors or pitriloka. So the transition body by which the soul goes from here to pitriloka is called as the preta.


Now apart from preta there is betala. A vetala is a soul that tries to possess a dead body, corpse. So this is particularly fightening, and there are stories like vikram vetal which is a popular folklore. So essentially if the corpse if not cremated or burnt then a soul may try to take possession of the corpse and then through that corpse which suddenly may seem to come alive or may speak or may have  some sort of supernatural power that soul may try to communicate with the world of human beings. Sometimes some vetalas are malevolent and sometimes some vetalas are benevolent. In general the corpses that are not cremated may become occupied by the vetalas.


So bhutas are those souls who don’t have any gross body and often try to occupy a living human body, vetalas are those souls who often try to occupy a corpse and try to live and act through that corpse.


There are even more dangerous type of disembodied beings called as pishachas. Pisachas are those who are blood sucking or flesh eating ghosts. So in the western context these are something similar to what are called as vampires. Now many people have fantasies that some vampires haunting them and these are most likely fantasies, that does not mean that the existence of these beings is itself a fantasy. There are beings of these sort and they can affect some people. So there is the whole world the the paranormal which affects our normal world on few occasions and those occasions can be very evil and disorienting for people. But if you oriented by Krishna consciousness philosophy and especially Krishna consciousness practice then this sort of evil phenomena are neither incomprehensible nor excessively disturbing. We understand that this is just another facet of the reality. The reality of this world is much bigger than what materialistic reductionist science tells us. And in this large reality of this world there are these sort of disembodied beings, but there is a far more beautiful and higher reality beyond the reality of these disembodied beings. And the reality is the spiritual world where Krishna and his devotees are eternally relishing the pastimes of love. And that is where we primarily aim to go.  That’s why there is no need for excessive curiosity about ghosts. They do exist; they may trouble us if we live in the mode of ignorance. And if we are serious in our Krishna consciousness and even if they trouble us we can counter those troubles and those troubles by ghosts become the incentives and impetuses for us to deepen our Krishna consciousness. So there were times when there were haunted buildings which nobody was ready to take and srila prabhupad said let us take this and make it a temple for us. And then they would get that particular building and they would do intense kirtan, the devotees would see that suddenly some windows would open. Especially well known incident is in the estate of John Lennon when srila prabhupad and devotees were in London, that one of the outhouses in his premises was haunted. And srila prabhupad told the devotees to do intense kirtan. And as they were doing the intense kirtan all of them were feeling a sort of pressure, as if some powerful being was being crushed or driven out and that being was trying to resist being driven out as they kept intensifying their chanting…. At one particular moment they felt the pressure was released. And the ghost realized that I can’t fight the holyname of the lord and ghost departed. So there are many incidents experiences of devotees who have been able to free places from ghost, exercise people and exorcise the places to drive the ghost by the chanting of the holynames. So therefore we can know that these beings exist but not get bothered or bogged down by them and focus on our four Krishna consciousness principles and practices which can free us from the trouble due to ghosts and trouble from all kinds of trividha kleshas. Miseries of body and mind, the miseries of surrounding and the miseries of envirionment and lead us to the ultimate happiness. Thank you.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan