World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Spiritual Error And The Occult

Within the major religions, there is a current of deep distrust for spirits and their communications. Since they are not comparable to Ultimate Reality, spirits are not privy to the highest truth. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have a tradition that groups of the angels have fallen into error and misunderstood the will of God. Buddhism even regards the Creator god (the Hindu god Brahma) as one of these subordinate deities, subordinate to the Dhamma revealed by the Buddha, as shown in the text from the Digha Nikaya reprinted here.

Spirits are often viewed as fallible, motivated by selfish ends, and liable to mislead those who rely on them for guidance. Furthermore, the spiritual world is also populated by evil spirits, demons, fallen angels, and Satan--see Demonic Powers, pp. 435-44, as well as intermediate spiritual beings including the jinn, spirits of the dead, and various classes of ghosts. Therefore, a person should 'test the spirits to see whether they are of God,' based on the higher authority of revealed truth. Occult practices, such as seeking information from mediums, witches, astrologers, and otherwise penetrating the world of spirits, is condemned in many scriptures because it can lead people astray through communication with spirits from the lower realms. Attachment to revelations from spirits can sometimes rival genuine faith in God. Belief in miracles can also lead astray. Faith, purity, adherence to revealed truth, and performance of good deeds are superior ways to insure fellowship with spiritual beings of the highest levels.

Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Job 4.18

O Lord, how can a god or a demon know all the extent of your glory? You alone know what you are, by the light of your innermost nature.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 10.14

They say, "The All-merciful has taken to Him a son." Glory be to Him! Nay, but they [whom they call 'sons'] are honored servants, that do not outstrip Him in speech; they perform as He commands. He knows what is before them and behind them, and they do not intercede except for the man with whom He is well-pleased. They tremble in awe of Him. If any of them says, "I am a god apart from Him," such a one We recompense with hell, even as We recompense those who do evil.

Islam. Qur'an 21.26-29

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness, all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like any prince." Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to thee belong all the nations!

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalm 82

Say, It has been revealed to me that a company of the jinn gave ear. Then they said, "We have indeed heard a Qur'an wonderful, guiding to rectitude. We believe in it, and we will not associate with our Lord anyone. He--exalted by our Lord's majesty!--has not taken to Himself either consort or a son.

"The fool among us spoke against God outrage, and we had thought that men and jinn would never speak against God a lie. But there were certain men of mankind who would take refuge with certain men of the jinn, and they increased them in vileness, and they thought, even as you also thought, that God would never raise up anyone.

Qur'an 21.26-29: This is directed against both polytheism and certain popular forms of Christianity which take Jesus to be a separate god, the offspring of God the Father. Orthodox Christianity denies this: God the Son, second Person of the Trinity, is not begotten, nor is he "a God apart from" the Father. Jesus as the incarnation of the Son was always obedient to the Father's will. The Trinity is One God; it should never be misunderstood as tri-theism. Cf. Qur'an 5.75, p. 655; also Qur'an 4.116-17, p. 405, and 21.19-20, p. 84.

"And we stretched towards heaven, but we found it filled with terrible guards and meteors. We would sit there on seats to hear; but any listening now finds a meteor in wait for him. And so we know not whether evil is intended for those in the earth, or whether their Lord intends for them rectitude.

"And some of us are righteous, and some of us are otherwise; we are sects differing. Indeed, we thought that we should never be able to frustrate God in the earth, neither be able to frustrate Him by flight. When we heard the guidance, we believed in it; and whosoever believes in his Lord, he shall fear never paltriness nor vileness.

"And some of us have surrendered, and some of us have deviated. Those who have surrendered sought rectitude; but as for those who have deviated, they have become firewood for hell."

Islam. Qur'an 72.1-15

Once upon a time, Kevaddha, there occurred to a certain monk in this very company of monks, a doubt on the following point: "Where now do these four basic elements--extension, cohesion, heat, and motion--pass away, leaving no trace behind?" Then that monk worked himself up into such a state of ecstasy that the way leading to the heaven of the gods became clear to his ecstatic vision.

Then that monk went up to the realm of the Four Great Kings and asked the gods there, "Where, my friends, do the four basic elements--extension, cohesion, heat, and motion--pass away, leaving no trace behind?" The gods of the heaven of the Four Great Kings replied, "We do not know that. But there are the Four Great Kings, more powerful and glorious than we. They will know."

Then that monk went up to the Four Great Kings and asked, "Where, my friends..." The Four Great Kings replied, "We do not know that. But there are the gods of the heaven of the Thirty-three... They will know."

Then that monk, putting the same question and getting the same reply, went to Sakka, king of the heaven of the Thirty-three... up to the Yama gods... to the Tusita gods... to the Nimmana-rati gods... to the Vasavatti gods... to the retinue of the gods of the Heaven of God Almighty....

Finally the monk drew near to God Almighty [Brahma] and asked, "Where, my friend, do the four basic elements--extension, cohesion, heat, and motion--pass away, leaving no trace behind?"

And the greatest god replied, "I am the Great God, Almighty, the Supreme One, the one who cannot be conquered by others, All-seeing, All-powerful, the Ruler, the Creator, the Excellent, the Almighty, the One who has already practiced Calm, the Father of all that are and all that are to be!"

The monk said, "I did not ask you as to whether you were indeed all that you now say you are; but I ask you where do the four basic elements cease, leaving no trace behind?" Then the god gave the same reply. And yet a third time the monk put the same to question to god as before.

Then, Kevaddha, that greatest god took that monk by the arm and led him aside and said, "These gods, the retinue of God Almighty, think me, friend, to be such that there is nothing I cannot see, nothing I have not understood, nothing I have not realized. Therefore, I gave no answer to your question in their presence. I do not know the answer to your question. Therefore, you have done wrong, acted unskillfully, in that, going past the Buddha, you have undertaken this long search for an answer to this question. Go back now to the Exalted One and accept his answer."

Buddhism. Digha Nikaya xi.67-83, Kevaddhasutta

Men of ignorance worship spirits and ghosts.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 17.4

Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Leviticus 19.31

My follower does not study the practice of magic and spells. He does not analyze dreams and signs in sleep and movements in the Zodiac.

Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 927

Cursed be occult and miracle-making powers.

Sikhism. Var Sorath 20, M.3, p. 650

Confucius never discussed abnormal phenomena, physical exploits, disorderly conduct, or spiritual beings.

Confucianism. Analects 7.20

Because I see danger in the practice of miracles, I loathe and abhor and repudiate them.

Buddhism. Digha Nikaya ix.66, Kevaddhasutta

Then a blind and dumb demoniac was brought to [Jesus], and he healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, "Can this be the Son of David?" But when the Pharisees heard it they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons."

Christianity. Bible, Matthew 12.22-24

Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs [that I am the Christ] but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you."

Christianity. Bible, John 6.26-27

Bhagavad Gita 17.4: Cf. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10, p. 405. Matthew 12.22-24: Jesus performed many miracles for the people. Yet to the skeptical leaders they proved nothing; the devil can also do miracles. John 6.26-27: The common people also were more impressed by the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes (see Mark 6.30-44, p. 638) than by Jesus himself and his message, and followed him to see the show rather than to receive his wisdom. Miracles are not conducive to lasting faith.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Christianity. Bible, 1 John 4.1

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were heathen, you were led astray to dumb idols, however you may have been moved. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord!" except by the Holy Spirit.

Christianity. Bible, 1 Corinthians 12.1-3

Indeed, even the devas are jealous of a yogin, striving as he does to surpass them by attaining Brahman. They therefore try to lead him astray, in various ways, if they find him off his guard.

Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20

God is the protecting friend of those who believe. He brings them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness.

Islam. Qur'an 2.257

Those who worship other gods with faith and devotion also worship Me, Arjuna, even if they do not observe the usual forms. I am the object of all worship, its enjoyer and Lord. But they know not My pure being, and because of this they must be reborn.

Those who worship the gods will go to the realm of the gods; those who worship their ancestors will be united with them after death. Those who worship phantoms will become phantoms; but My devotees will come to me.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 9.23-25

1 John 4.1: Cf. 1 Timothy 4.1-2, p. 447; 2 Corinthians 11.14, p. 441; Qur'an 6.112, p. 447; Lotus Sutra 3, pp. 441f. 1 Corinthians 12.1-3: Cf. John 14.13-14, p. 835; Srimad Bhagavatam 6.1, p. 832; John 14.15-21, p. 645; Romans 8.26-27, p. 648. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.20: Cf. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10, p. 405; Mahabharata 13.40.5-12, p. 433; Vishnu Purana 3.17-18, p. 448; Qur'an 17.61-64, p. 440. Qur'an 2.257: Cf. Qur'an 4.116-17, p. 405. Bhagavad Gita 9.23-25: Cf. Vacana 616, p. 404.

To maintain the existence of a ghost, Only brings about mischief; To understand the non-existence of a ghost Is the way of Buddha; To know that ghost and Reality are one Is the way to Liberation. Knowing that the ghosts are all one's parents Is the right understanding; Realizing that the ghost itself is Self-mind Is glory supreme.

Buddhism. Milarepa


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