What Buddism teaches about Spiritism, especially the Kardecist Spiritualism Doctrine (link above)? Is it wrong to try to communicate with the ghosts and to learn from spirits?

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Despite the idealised and Romanticised versions of Buddhism popular in the West, which suggests that Buddhists are only interested in Enlightenment, historically and presently Buddhists have always maintained social practices which are unrelated to the such lofty goals. Amongst these are belief in and practices related to unseen entities which can loosely be called "spirits".

Spirits play an important role in daily life in almost all traditional Buddhist countries. In Burma for example, spirits are called "nat" and in Thailand "phi" (Encylcopedia Britannica). Phi are spirits of towns, homes, caves, and so on. Such spirits are the object of rituals and superstitions. Nats are imagined to look like humans. Thai people make little houses for spirits to live in.

In addition the traditional texts of Buddhism are full of references to spirits (devatā) of various kinds. Prominent types include yakkha, nāga, and kinnara. Tree spirits were, and still are in modern India, a focus of religious activity. The commentarial back story to the famous Karaṇīya Metta Sutta tells of how the sutta was spoken after some monks disturbed a family of 'tree spirits' or rukkhadevatā, who responded with fearful apparitions and terrible smells. (See How the Karaṇīya Mettā Sutta Came About). Tree spirit worship is also common in Thailand. Across India and Asia large old trees become shrines.

It seems that Buddhists assimilated animistic beliefs very early on, along with ideas and practices from Brahmin culture, and possible Zoroastrianism (via migrating Iranian tribes). Buddhism has always been syncretistic (i.e. it assimilates elements from other traditions). It's very likely that when speakers of Indic languages, who eventually became the dominant culture, first ventured into the Ganges Valley, they encountered people who spoke Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages for whom animism was a principle form of religion. They are the likely source of yakkhas for example, who share many characteristics with Burmese nats.

Many modern day Buddhists of my acquaintance are firm believers in ghosts, spirits and minor deities. I have been present at and even participated in more than one ritual to propitiate local spirits for example (in New Zealand, Britain and Spain). An account of some of these modern practices can be found in a book by Sally McAra, Land of Beautiful Vision, which is an anthropological account of a stupa building project by a Triratna Buddhist group in New Zealand. This includes discussion of the idea of local spirits, influenced by Māori beliefs.

So while the specific form of spiritualism you ask about is unfamiliar, Buddhists through the ages have believed in and engaged with spirits of many different kinds.


I don't know if buddhist schools explicitly forbid communicating with ghosts and spirtis, but I'm quite sure that in the theravadian vipassana-movement it is stressed that one should be aware of directing one's mental and physical ressources towards liberation (whatever that means) and the so-called psychic powers like being able to communicate with demons and angels don't have much to do with that. On the contrary, in books it is often warned that one should not get attached to funny powers or incredible mind-stated.

So, in the end, it probably depends on your attitude towards these phenomena. If you're conversing wiht some ghosts and are at the same time aware that these ghosts are annica, annata and ducca, it should be no problem ;-)

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