dhamma musings: Spirit Possessions


Spirit or
demonic possession, āvisati or
in Pāli, is a situation where one
or more malevolent supernatural beings are believed to forcibly inhabit and
control a person. Possession and exorcism, the countering of such supernatural
forces, is reported from most religions and not just primitive ones either.
Exorcism was a major part of Jesus’ mission and according to the Bible he
exorcised nearly 30 people and gave his disciples the permission and the power
to do the same. Being able to ‘cast out demons’ was asserted to be proof of the
Gospel by the early Christians and even by some Christian sects today.  

The reality
of  possession was taken for granted during
the Buddha’s time and the non-human being (āmanussa) that did it were regarded as ‘fierce,
terrible and horrifying’ (D.III,203). Someone possessed would cry out in alarm:
‘This spirit has seized me, possessed me, harmed and hurt me, and will not let
me go!’ (D.III,204). One of the very few examples in the Tipiṭaka of someone
being possessed concerns a man named Sānu
(S.I,208 ff). And I can find no example of the Buddha or any of his monks
preforming an exorcism. However, the Tipiṭaka does include quite a few incidents
where Māra or various yakkhas (see picture above) tried to terrify, tempt, threaten or
harm the Buddha or some of his disciples (e.g. S.I,207). In all such cases the
attempts failed as soon as the intended victim recognized who or what was
behind the attack. When the Buddha was attacked as soon as he recognized who
was responsible for it, Māra would ‘disappear
then and there, sad and disappointed’ (e.g. S.I,104). Perhaps this could be
interpreted to mean that as soon as the real cause of a supposed possession is
recognized (i.e. hysteria, psychosis, schizophrenia or sometimes even epilepsy)
it can be cured, or at least there is a possibility of a cure.    


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