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Suhotra Dasa Tapovanachari
"If the guides were not guides after all, who were they?"
-Hungry Ghosts by Joe Fisher, p. 202
Seth, Ramtha, Lazaris, Ashtar, Mashiyach - the vaguely Biblical-sounding
names have the ring of "prophet" to them. Indeed, for millions the world over,
these and other garrulous "channeled entities" are prophets who enjoy a
command of mass-media access that would have left the sandal-shod Old
Testament visionaries tongue-tied with astonishment. Alexander Blair-Ewart,
publisher and editor of the Toronto esoteric magazine Dimensions, notes a bit
ruefully that "in sensationalist fashion, journalists and cameramen zoomed in
on crystals, channeling and a confused and over-excited Hollywood actress" as
the the burgeoning New Age movement's instant celebrities.
Channeling is defined by Arthur Hastings of the California Institute of
Transpersonal Philosophy as "the process in which a person transmits messages
from a presumed discarnate source external to his or her consciousness." The
most widely researched kind of channeling phenomena is communication with the
dead, which, as eerie as it may sound, seems to be on the increase. The
University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Council recently found that
42 percent of American adults believe they have made contact with the spirit
of a departed individual. Of these, 78 percent said they saw, 50 percent heard
and 18 percent talked with the deceased. Thirty percent of Americans who say
they don't even believe in life after death still claim to have had contact
with someone who has died. It is the surfeit, not the rarity, of channeling
that puzzles investigators.
Acolytes of the New Age hail channeled entities to be "highly evolved
beings", "spirit guides for all mankind", "angels", "devas" or even "God."
There are precious few suggestions that they might be demonic. Since cameras
and microphones won't penetrate the veil of oblivion that separates us from
them, all we get to see are the subjects through whom the entities speak -
housewives, schoolteachers, insurance salesmen and similarly quite ordinary
Channeling is a little different from mediumship. Mediums are
experienced clairvoyants who "fish" for discarnate entities. Channellers are
initially psychic greenhorns who, unwittingly or even unwillingly, are taken
over by the entities. The first contact can be most disconcerting. In 1963,
thirty-four-year-old Jane Roberts of Elmira, New York, was suddenly
overwhelmed by what she called a "fantastic avalanche of radical new ideas
burnt into my head with tremendous force, as if my skull were some sort of
receiving station turned up to unbearable volume." The entity in this case
was Seth, who turned out to be a prime catalyst of the emerging New Age. From
the early 1970s until her death in 1984, Mrs. Roberts channeled a series of
best-selling "Seth Books" that blazed the way to public acceptance of what in
an earlier period would have been condemned as necromancy.
Even more shivery-quivery is the Australian channeler Shirley Bray's
description of how a group of entities called "the Nine" contacted her: "I
felt as if thin wires, like acupuncture needles, were being inserted into the
base of my skull. It was uncomfortable so I stirred, moving my head from side
to side. A voice firmly but gently said, 'Be still, it will not be long.'"
But once the channeler overcomes the shock of such close encounters of
the first kind, the relationship may prove to be profitable beyond his or her
wildest dreams. Jack Pursel, who admits that he was frightened to tears the
first time he channeled Lazaris, now runs a highly successful corporation
called Concept: Synergy that markets Lazaris audio- and videotapes to 500
metaphysical bookstores worldwide. The erstwhile ordinary housewife J.Z.
Knight takes in more than two hundred thousand dollars per weekend for a
channeling seminar featuring her guide Ramtha; she says he's earned her
millions of dollars.
A glance at the teachings of the discarnate entities reveals an
intriguing pattern. Here's a sample from Mashiyach (pronounced Moor-shark),
channeled by Shirley Bray: "He who would find power must know that he extends
from balance in Me, that I am he. He and thee and Me are ONE in light ...
Create ye a world within the knowing of Me within you. Look upon your
creation and know it is the sum total of your thinking. Thinking is creating.
Man has created his world." From a Krsna conscious standpoint, this is called
Mayavadi philosophy. Mayavada means "doctrine of illusion" - indeed, there's
a chapter in Ms. Bray's book (A Guide for the Spiritual Traveler) that's
entitled, "Life is Just an Illusion."
When psychology professor Jon Klimo recounts the themes commonly
expounded by channeled entities, he's giving us nothing more than a breakdown
of the main tenets of Mayavadi philosophy, to wit: we all have a higher self,
which is ultimately One Self (called "All-That-Is" or "The Universal Mind);
this One Self is an impersonal, absolute God, perceivable only as light and
achieved only through silent contemplation; the material world is an illusion,
merely the dream of this God, and until we realize we are God, we are subject
to that dream of our separate individual existences in the cycle of birth and
death. [See Chapter Four of Klimo's Channeling: Investigations on Receiving
Information from Paranormal Sources, 1988]
We'll return to these philosophical issues a little later on. Its clear
that the entities have an agenda and, uncorporeal though they may be, they
have the means to fulfill it. But who are they? That's what a British-born
investigative journalist named Joe Fisher wanted to find out - because, while
gathering material in Toronto for a book on channeling, he fell in love with a
channeled entity named Filippa.
Fisher, who's written two best-selling books (The Case for Reincarnation
and Life Between Life), met Filippa in Toronto in the summer of 1984 through a
channeler he calls Aviva in his latest book, Hungry Ghosts. Aviva, an avowed
Marxist, was forced to suspend her unbelief in the supernatural after she was
taken over by an entity calling himself Russell Parnick while being treated by
hypnotherapy for myelocytic leukemia. The more she allowed Russell to use her
body as a channel, the more her disease gradually subsided. As word got
around Toronto's esoteric scene, Aviva's regular seances attracted followers,
among them Joe Fisher.
There was no doubt in the minds of those in attendance that something
very extraordinary happened to Aviva each time she was put into trance by her
hypnotist. As Fisher describes it, "her voice was barely recognizable. Gone
was the high-pitched jocularity ... Her enunciation was now unequivocally
masculine; the English accent was unmistakable. This was an entirely
different Aviva, strangely assertive and uncompromising. This was a voice
which claimed to belong to Aviva's guide [Russell] , a discarnate individual
who had lived as a sheep farmer in Yorkshire during the last century."
Russell in turn introduced other entities: Hanni, Willian, Mi-Lao, Sebotwan,
Ernest, Sonji, Tuktu, Kinggalaa - and Filippa Gavrilos. They became the
guides for the regulars attending the seances.
Through Aviva, Filippa spoke to Fisher with "Greek inflection lending
charm to broken English. Her delivery was subdued, pensive and poignantly
tender ... Whatever the quality of her speech, Filippa always spoke to me like
a lover for whom the fire still smoldered."
Filippa told Joe that they'd indeed been lovers in the 1700's, when they
lived in Theros, a Greek village "five day's walk from the Black Sea." He had
been Andreas Cherniak, a militiaman born of a Greek mother and a Slavic
father. Filippa was a small, fair-skinned, black-haired Mediterranean beauty.
But their affair ended tragically when the village elders disapproved.
Andreas/Joe was judged by the priest and banished from Theros. After her
death at age fifty-three, Filippa's astral self withdrew into the non-physical
plane of existence (called bardo by the Tibetans: bar - "in between lives", do
- "island"). Joe was now in his fourth life cycle since Andreas.
Joe found Filippa's chronicle appealingly plausible. "Sitting on the
floor of Aviva's living room, I found myself breathing the air of a bygone
era, roaming parched valleys and ancient crypts. I imagined Filippa's dark
eyes and long black tresses." Ten years before, he'd written his first novel
on the Greek island of Siphnos and had been quickly captivated by the land and
its culture. He had a natural fondness for small, dark-haired women. As a
boy, he'd felt a strange fascination for the name Filippa. Now he knew why.
Joe longed to establish "guide contact" (direct mind-to-mind
communication) with Filippa. To this end he took up daily meditation, never
completely linking up to Filippa but coming tantalizingly close. Once he had
the insight of a dusty pathway winding to a stand of tall, spindly trees in
the distance. Through Aviva, Filippa excitedly proclaimed that this was where
they used to meet as lovers. Sometimes he'd get a loud buzzing in his ears.
He'd then feel Filippa's presence strongly, and "a strange sense of
contentment and reconciliation and a suspension of worldly anxiety" would
settle around him for as long as the buzzing lasted. In March, 1985, he had
the fleeting vision of a young woman walking towards him wearing a long white
garment. He knew this to be Filippa, and wept out of joy and sadness, loss
and anguish. "My terrestrial love life was doomed," Fisher writes. "No woman
of flesh and blood could hope to emulate Filippa's love and concern."
Joe became obsessed by his impossible love. "If Filippa could have
assumed a physical body, I'm sure I would have married her. But she was only
a voice, a voice that resonated with more love, compassion and perspicacity
than I had ever known. Within the space of a few months, she had demonstrated
an acute awareness of my feelings and foibles, she know the people in my life
and their effect upon me, and she was even able to relate specific
circumstances in which I had found myself, situations unknown to Aviva or
anyone who attended" the seances. "'I can see energies,' is how she explained
her ability to know me inside out. 'I can see in your mind. If you make in
your mind, I can see.'"
The more Joe Fisher loved Filippa, the more he hungered for tangible
proof of her existence. Proof that Filippa was really who she said she was
would further lend force to the book he was preparing to write. And proof
would require a journey to Theros, the mountain village in the parched
mountains of northeastern Greece, to find evidence of her earthly sojourn.
Not only did Fisher set out to unearth Filippa's past life, he wanted to
verify the last incarnations of Englishmen Russell Parnick, William "Harry"
Maddox and William Alfred "Ernest" Scott. Two, Harry and Ernest, said that
they'd died in this century, Harry in WWI and Ernest in WWII. These claims
could be easily cross-checked by a look at British military records. Russell,
Aviva's guide, had given ample dates and placenames from his life in the
Yorkshire Dales for Joe to trace.
But as Joe Fisher would find out after two trips to Europe, the four
entities had been clearly and deliberately lying from the start, though they'd
managed to string him along by clever use of half-truths, ambiguity and
obfuscation. Filippa's lies turned out to be the most blatant and most
crushing for Joe personally. She'd repeatedly claimed to have journeyed by
foot from Theros to Alexandropouli. But Alexandropouli, which Fisher presumed
to be an ancient site of Alexander the Great, turned out to have been founded
only in 1920. It got its name from King Alexandros, who visited it in 1919.
For a seventy-year period before that, it was known as Dedegats, a settlement
of Turkish merchants; prior to 1850, the place had no history at all. Thus
Filippa, deceased in 1771, remembered a city that was not then built. She
called it by a name that she could not have known and told of ships in a
harbor she could not have seen. A professor of Greek language found many
other discrepancies in her memories of life in eighteenth-century Greece.
There was no trace of a town called Theros. And no Greek could understand
Filippa's taperecorded utterances of her putative native tongue.
"Their knowledge is impressive," writes Fisher of these four and other
channeled entities he investigated, "their insight remarkable, their
charismatic hold on their followers undeniable. Moreover, the voices'
ostensible link to a higher and greater state of being seems to place them
above suspicion in the minds of those who prize their counsel. Yet surely it
is important - essential, even - to establish, if possible, the nature of the
beast that is shuffling through the pipeline created by the trance state. Who
are these entities really?
"The answer to that question is as unwelcome as it is unavoidable ... the
evidence left me in little doubt that earthbound spirits or 'hungry ghosts'
have wormed their way into that juicy apple of spiritual regeneration known as
The New Age."
But is it logical to suspect all channeled entities because of the
mischief of a few? Can't we hope that there are some genuine guides out in
the ether somewhere?
Joe Fisher tried to keep this hope alive even after being cheated by
Filippa. He visited renowned channeler George Chapman at his home in the
Welsh village of Trer-Ddol. Chapman's special distinction is that his guide,
Dr. William Lang, has been authenticated beyond reasonable doubt as the spirit
of a distinguished Middlesex ophthalmologist who died in 1937. Despite their
initial disbelief, surviving members of the good doctor's family have
testified that the entity speaking through the entranced George Chapman can be
none other than Dr. Lang himself. Medical professionals have confirmed the
entity's thorough familiarity with the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases
- even as they watched, Lang through Chapman has healed hundreds of patients.
But Fisher came away from his session with Dr. Lang unsatisfied. "...I
felt much the same in the company of the charming and deferential Dr. Lang as
I did while conversing with the spirits whose claims remained unsubstantiated.
I couldn't put my finger on it, but something was wrong. While seeming to
co-operate fully, Dr. Lang was fudging. He told me nothing new, nothing
incisive. And when I raised the question of charlatan spirits who crave
physical sensation, the discarnate surgeon avoided the topic completely ...
Comparing him with other, blatantly suspect entities, I was haunted by one of
Lt. Col. Arthur Powell's observations in The Astral Body. He wrote that it
was impossible to distinguish truth from falsehood in communications from the
next world 'since the resources of the astral plane can be used to delude
persons on the physical plane to such an extent that no reliance can be placed
even on what seems the most convincing proof.'"
"Hungry ghost," the term Fisher uses for the entities who speak through
channelers, is a translation of the Sanskrit word preta. According to the
Preta Kanda section of the Garuda Purana, an ancient book of Vedic wisdom, a
preta is a human being deprived of a gross physical body because of
sinfulness. His soul is trapped, earthbound, within the subtle body (composed
of mind, intelligence and ahankara or false sense of identity). Like any
ordinary human, the preta's mind is agitated by the urges of lust, but he
lacks physical senses with which to satisfy his desires.
Milton, in Comus, captures the pathos of "shadows" (ghosts) clinging to
this world even past the point of death.
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in charnel vaults and sepulchres,
Lingering, and sitting by a new-made grave
As loath to leave the body it lov'd,
And linked itself by carnal sensuality
To a degenerate and degraded state.
Having no bodies of their own, pretas hunger (hence their name) for
vicarious pleasures through the bodies of humans, much like decrepit lechers
who seek gratification through pornographic movies. Hungry ghosts seem benign
because they are genuinely attentive to the physical health of their subjects
- witness Aviva's remarkable turnaround in her fight with cancer when Russell
arrived. But as Joe Fisher states, "Their eagerness to communicate, their
concern for the medium's health and strength, their preoccupation with life
after death and reincarnation and the occasional admission that they missed
the pleasures of incarnate life, all suggested humans who no longer had
physical bodies yet longed to live and breathe once more." Seth, who called
himself an "energy essence personality," sometimes requested his host Jane
Roberts to drink beer or wine for his gratification. Joe Fisher tells of two
entities who seemed to want sex through their subjects. He recalls the mental
exhaustion, emotional turmoil and muddled thinking that plagued him during his
time with Filippa - symptoms hinting of psychic vampirism.
The Garuda Purana states that in cases of preta-possession (pretadosa),
"mysterious events do often occur ... many are the signs of ghosts." Dr. John
Nevius, who studied possession extensively in China during the last century,
wrote, "The most striking characteristic ... is that the subject evidences
another personality, and the normal personality for the time being is
partially or wholly dormant. The new personality presents traits of character
utterly different from those which really belong to the subject in his normal
state ... Many persons while 'demon-possessed' give evidence of knowledge
which cannot be accounted for in ordinary ways ... They sometimes converse in
foreign languages of which in their normal states they are entirely ignorant."
And Emanuel Swedenborg, the famous eighteenth century clairvoyant, warned:
"When spirits begin to speak with man, he must beware lest he believe in
anything; for they say almost anything; things are fabricated of them, and
Pretas hover in homes where Vedic principles are not observed and haunt
persons who are unclean and unregulated. By these standards, practically the
whole population of the western world is open to pretadosa, New Agers
included. And what better way is there for a hungry ghost to seduce
starry-eyed New Agers than with pap "we're all one" philosophy? Joe Fisher
takes point-blank aim at the whole fraud. "When all is said and done, there
is no shortcut to Nirvana. But in this narcissistic age of instant
gratification and swift solution, the great deception of channeling is that we
may glide effortlessly back to the Godhead. All we have is pay our money,
take our seats and dream on as loving discarnates lead us to enlightenment.
Why, the Big E. is just around the corner and anyway - didn't you know? - we
Many bogus gurus have succeeded in the West the same way. In fact, in the
late 1970's a world-famous Mayavadi yoga society was almost shaken apart when
a Sanskrit-quoting preta that claimed to be the group's deceased founder began
speaking through a senior staff member. Though at last exposed, the spook
held sway over fifty people who deserted the organization rather than give up
their belief that the great yogi had returned to them.
The way Back to Godhead is not the way of pretadosa. Krsna declares in
Bhagavad-gita, bhutani yanti bhutejya: "those who worship ghosts and spirits
will take birth among such beings." By the chanting of the holy name of Krsna,
the evil influence of ghosts and sinful life is destroyed immediately
(bhutebhyo 'mhobhya eva ca sarvany etani bhagavan-nama-rupanukirtanat prayantu
sanksayam sadyo, from Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.8.27-28). But as Srila Prabhupada
used to say, "This world is a place of cheaters and cheated." People's
spiritual aspirations are channeled by their stubborn resistance to the holy
name of Krsna into the most inauspicious realms of consciousness. Their
welcoming of hungry ghosts as spiritual guides is indicative of their
desperate devotion to lowly habits and fallacious ideas.
The desire to understand the real self beyond the body and to link our
consciousness with the Supreme is an exalted aspiration, indeed the only goal
of human existence. But successful completion of this goal requires that we
be purified of lust, which impels us to the sinful activities of meat-eating,
illicit sex, intoxication and gambling - activities that according to the
Garuda Purana are very attractive to ghosts. Purification need not be
troublesome, however. Krsna is the Supreme Pure, our dearmost friend and
indwelling guide, and He has made Himself available to the fallen souls of
this dark age of Kali-yuga by the simple process of hari-nama, His holy name.
We should obtain the holy name only from those devotees whose attentive
hearing and chanting of transcendental sound has carried them beyond the grip
of material desire.
For all their seductive cant, the hungry ghosts and bogus gurus are dead
wrong. We are not God, and our individual existence is not a figment of
cosmic imagination. Life is not an illusion. There is a purpose to
everything, and it is realized when we recover our eternal link to the Supreme
Person and His pure devotees.