Posts Tagged ‘Psychic Powers’

Supernatural and Psychic Powers in Buddhism

November 24, 2020

Here’s something a bit different before I get on to the heavy political stuff. It seems that Buddhism has a particular term for the supernatural powers of its mystics and holy men and women. This is iddhi, rddhi, from the Pali and Sanskrit words ardh, ‘grow’, ‘increase’, ‘prosper’, ‘succeed’. The entry for it in Bowker’s Dictionary of World Religions, which describes it as

Paranormal, psychic or magic power in Buddhism, where it is one of the six kinds of higher iknowledge (abhinna). Canonical writings contain a standard list of eight forms of iddhi: the power to (i) replicate and project bodily-images of oneself, (ii) make oneself invisible, (iii) pass through solid objects, (iv) sink into solid ground, (v) walk on water, (vi) fly; (vii) touch the sun and moon with one hand, (viii) ascend to the world of the god Brahma in the highest heavens. They are described in e.g. Vissudhimagga 12. These powers were said to become available to the meditator upon achieving the the fourth jnana. They were possessed by the Buddha and many of his monks and nuns. However, the Buddha regarded them equivocally because some non-Buddhist ascetics possessed them too; they were a sign of meditational attainment only, and not a spiritual qualification; and they could be put to bad as well as good use. He, therefore, attempted to lessen their importance by making it an offence for monks or nuns to display them before layfolk, and by providing an alternative interpretation of iddhi to mean the application of equanimity (upekkha) and mindfulness (sati) in the face of all situations. Nevertheless in Vajrayana they are prominent as a demonstration of perfect control over the body. (p. 464).

Knowledge gained through paranormal perception is also included as a form of knowledge, alongside more conventional forms, in the Buddhist idea of knowledge, jnana, from the Sanskrit for ‘knowing’. The paragraph on this in the article on Jnana in The Dictionary of World Religions says

Knowledge based on extra-sensory perception is one form of paranormal knowledge . This is called ‘going beyond the human’ (atikkanta manusaka, Digha Nikaya 1. 82). Five kinds of higher knowledge (pancabhinna) fall into this category (Anguttara Nikaya 2. 17-19). These are (i) psychic power (iddhi-vidha), (ii) divine ear (dibbasota); (iii) telepathic knowledge (cetopariyata nana), (iv) knowledge of previous existence (pubbenivasanussati), and (v) clairvoyance (dibbacakkhu) One can attain this state if one’s mind is purified of five impediments (pancanivarana, see Nivaranas – covetousness, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt, Majjhima Nikaya 1. 181,270, 276) and on attaining the fourth Jhana. (p.504).

I think that fascination with the supposed paranormal powers acquired through Buddhist meditation and similar disciplines in Hinduism was one the features that attracted westerners to these religions from the 19th century onwards. They were certainly influential in the growth of the New Age religions, like Theosophy, although this was strongly influenced by Hinduism rather than Buddhism. The French explorer Alexandra David-Neel popularised these powers in her account of her sojourn in Tibet. Such ideas have also had their effects on comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Marvel superhero, Dr. Strange, ‘Master of the Mystic Arts’, gained them through studying under the Ancient One in Tibet. Some of the accounts of Buddhist sages with these powers seem to me to be just legends, but if there are any adepts who truly have them, and could demonstrate them in a laboratory and before stage magicians, so there could be no possibility of cheating, we might be on the way to proving the existence of the paranormal at last.

But that might also be a shock to the secular, atheist materialists, who use Buddhist ideas about mindfulness for nothing more than attaining inner peace. You can imagine the panic it would cause members of the Skeptics’ movement if suddenly they found themselves able to read minds, make themselves invisible, walk on water and so on.

Book of Photographs of the Paranormal

October 31, 2020

Photographs of the Unknown, by Robert Rickard and Richard Kelly (London: New English Library 1980).

I thought this book would be a suitably spooky subject for Hallowe’en. Bob Rickard is one of the founders and editors of the Fortean Times, the magazine of the weird that’s been going since the 1970s. A little note on the last page underneath the picture credits gives instruction to readers how they can submit their photographs of the paranormal to the Fortean Times. The blurb on the back cover runs

SEA MONSTERS

ALIENS

LEVITATION

POLTERGEISTS

ECTOPLASM

PHANTOMS

UFOS …. all photographed!

The largest, most complete, most amazing collection of photographs of the Unknown and the Unexplained ever published.

Many have never been published before, others are presented for the first time in their original full colour. They have been researched and collected from all over the world.

If you believe and want to convince other people, if you don’t know for sure but have an open mind, if you’ve ever been inclined to believe but want to see the evidence, you will need this unique archive that covers the whole range of unexplained phenomena.

The book has the following chapters, each containing these individual sections

Introduction

Strange Life, Loch Ness, Water Monsters, Sea Monsters, The Yeti, Bigfoot.

Unusual Natural Phenomena, Living rocks, Falls, Atmospheric magic, Natural ‘UFOs’, ghost lights.

UFOs, Flying Cigars, UFOs and Planes, UFOS over Water, UFO Shapes, UFOs Above Us, UFOs in Motion, UFO Beings Among Us? Optical UFOs, Computer Analysis, UFOs from the Sea.

Psychic Phenomena, Possession, Stigmata, Bleeding Images, Ectoplasm, Mediumship, A Modern Medium, Thoughtography, Kirlian Photography.

Paranormal Persons, BVM and Angels, Portraits of Christ, Aliens, Phantoms, Materializations.

Mind over Matter, Yoga, Pain Immunity, Psychic Surgery, Fire Immunity, Firewalking, Spoonbenders, Table Turning, Levitation of Objects, Apports, Levitation, Poltergeists.

This is another book I ordered from Amazon in order to give myself something to read during the lockdown. I think I remember it from the time it first came out, and if so, then the book really scared me. I was at secondary school, and the books publication was featured on breakfast TV. I remember one of the presenters of the Beeb’s breakfast show introducing a piece on it by saying something about the unknown being photographed and asking ‘but what are they photographing?’ Which is a very good question. The book I remember had a different cover. This was a monotone/ black and white photo of a medium producing ectoplasm from their mouth, in which there were faces. This doesn’t seem to have this image, which may well have come from the hardback edition. Or it may be that I’m confusing it with a completely different book. There is, however, a photo of ectoplasm coming out of a medium’s left nostril, in which there’s the face of a young soldier killed in World War I. It was these ectoplasmic faces which scared me, and I can remember the fear I felt passing the book on a display table in George’s, the big local bookshop in Bristol on a trip there.

Some of the photos are very well known, like Patterson-Gimlin pic of Bigfoot, a still taken from film footage of the creature walking in the American woods made a few years before. To many people, the film and photo are proof that Sasquatch is a real, paws and pelt animal. The film’s been shown on any number of TV documentaries about Bigfoot and the Yeti. Some of the experts called on in these programmes to give their opinion have said that it’s unlikely to be a fake because the fur is of different lengths. You’d see this in a real animal, but not in a costume. On the negative side, other experts have said that it can’t be real, as the creature seems to have both male and female genitalia. But perhaps it’s just got manboobs.

The debate about this photo still goes on today, but others are hoaxes or almost certainly hoaxes. A few years ago it was revealed that the ‘surgeon’s photograph’ of the Loch Ness monster, which has appeared in countless documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles about the cryptid, was very definitely a fake. It was created by adding a plesiosaurus-style neck to a toy submarine, which was then sent sailing in the Loch.

The same goes for some, at least, of the UFO photographs. There’s a photo of a UFO bearing the Ummo symbol. The Ummo messages were a series of letters sent to various people in Franco’s claim, which claimed they came from aliens, who had travelled to Earth from the planet Ummo. They contained a wealth of detail about their spacecraft, language, home world and so on. Most, if not all UFO investigators now believe they were a hoax. As are the photos of the Venusian spaceships taken by George Adamski. One of the photographs Adamski claimed was of an alien spacecraft was actually of his chicken coop. A few weeks ago I went to an online lecture hosted by the paranormal investigation group, ASSAP, in which the speaker suggested that Adamski’s Venusian spacecraft was actually a photograph of a type of gas lantern then available. And yes, they do look exactly the same.

The ‘thoughtographs’ are the images Ted Serios, an alcoholic bellboy, claimed to produce on film using the power of his mind. This was after he’d drunk enough to start his gums and anus bleeding. I don’t know if Serios was ever caught in fraud, but I’ve watched documentaries where sceptics have shown how it could have been faked. The same goes for the piccie of Soviet psychic Nina Kulagina showing off her telekinesis skills. This was debunked back in the ’90s or so in the Channel 4 programme Secrets of the Psychics.

Sceptics have also argued that psychic surgery is also a fraud. The psychics who claim to be able to perform such miracles don’t actually cut into the body of their unfortunate dupes, and the disease organs they remove aren’t human but chicken guts. This particular paranormal field was the subject of an episode of Jonathan Creek, the BBC detective drama about a crime-busting stage magician. That particular episode involved the murder of someone, who was dying and desperate to have similar treatment, or who had actually undergone it. It was some years ago, and I can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter, as the show came down very much on the side of the sceptics.

Sceptics have also presented a strong argument that firewalking isn’t supernatural either. From what I remember, flesh burns at quite a high temperature, higher than the coals and embers on which people walk, and so anyone can do it. Well, that’s what they claim. I wouldn’t like to test it, and don’t advise anyone else to do either unless they know exactly what they’re doing.

The Fortean Times also carried an article a few years ago, which also claimed that the photograph showing a group of men in broadbrimmed hats and raincoats surrounding a diminutive alien was also a hoax. It was published in a German newspaper as an April Fool’s or Hallowe’en prank, or the German equivalents thereof. As for spoon-bending, made notorious by Uri Geller, there’s a trick to fake that which goes all the way back to the 18th century and the book, Rational Recreations. It’s possible that Geller, if he is a fake, is using that trick or similar.

It’s also entirely possible that some of the spirit photos are also fakes. They’ve been taken since the 19th century and the American photographer Hans Mumler. I have a feeling that Mumler was sued by people, who believed he’d deceived them. They noticed that the dead relatives and other people, who appeared in Mumler’s photos, did so in the same poses, expressions and attitudes as they had in other photographs. There were several ways such photographs could be faked with the plates exposed twice, once for the image of the sitter, and again for the supposed spirit. However, I think Mumler, or perhaps one of his competitors, was found not guilty because the prosecution couldn’t prove which method, if any, he’d used.

There are also problems with the photos of mediums producing ectoplasm. I think some fakes used to swallow cheesecloth, which they’d then regurgitate during seances. It was also noted that the female spirit one of the 19th century mediums used to materialise looked remarkably like her, but the two did appear side by side. It’s probably fraud but this argues against it.

Several of the poltergeist photos seem to be of the Enfield polt that was investigated by the SPR and Guy Lyon Playfair in the 1970s. This is a notorious British case which Playfair seemed to believe was genuinely paranormal, and which he publicised. The sceptical UFO magazine Magonia has suggested instead that it was fraud within an unhealthy family situation.

Other paranormal phenomena are almost certainly camera artefacts, such as the mysterious balls of light in one set of photographs, as the book itself suggests. Others include the mysterious tendrils of light captured by a female photographer. I came across the same effect on photos taken by a visitor to Derby jail, which is now open to ghost hunters as a haunted location. A few quick experiments showed that this did seem to be a trick of the light as it was caught in the camera lens.

I’ve also come across an explanation, which I’m afraid I can’t remember, for the Kirlian photographs that were also all the rage at one time. This showed that, as dramatic as they appear, they definitely aren’t of any aura surrounding living things. But they do look really beautiful, however.

I doubt if any of these photographs would convince a sceptic like the late James Randi or mentalist like Derren Brown. On the other hand, it may be that some are genuine, and that there really are paranormal forces out there that some have been able to capture on film.

ISIS Troops Drugged Up to Fight

November 18, 2015

I found a piece on the atheist news show, Secular Talk, on Youtube discussing a report by one of the mainstream news channels/ programmes claiming that rather than being the fearless ghazis for Islam they claim to be, ISIS’ warriors are so wracked with fear that their leaders have to keep ’em drugged to get them to fight. The claim comes from an interview with a fighter for Hisbollah, the militant Lebanese paramilitary organisation. The fighter claimed that in battles with them, the ISIS fighters all turned tail and ran away. When Hisbollah took one of their bases, they found stacks of boxes of amphetamines. They believed that ISIS had put their fighters on the drug in order to keep them fighting.

So much for the great warriors of the ‘Islamic State’.

Now there are good reasons to treat this report with a pinch of salt. Hizbollah are, like ISIS, a militant Islamic organisation. They too have engaged in bombings and terrorist outrages. Private Eye has published several pieces critical of their non-Muslim supporters in the West, repeating a statement from the self-declared ‘Party of God’ which ran ‘We don’t want anything from you. We just want to kill you.’ An anthropological study of Hizbollah from its origins in the 1980s pointed out that the organisation was claiming to have changed and become more moderate, though the book remained somewhat sceptical of this.

Hisbollah are, in sharp contrast to ISIS, Shi’ah. It has its basis in a Socialist Lebanese Shi’ite party that was infiltrated by religious militants. ISIS are fanatically intolerant Sunnis, who have followed al-Qaeda in murdering and brutalising the Shi’ah population of Iraq. Hizbollah has also used propaganda to promote its aims, and has every reason to try and make ISIS as its opponent look as weak as possible in order to encourage and strengthen its supporters.

On the other hand, that does mean they’re wrong.

Combat stress was known centuries before psychiatrists recognised ‘shell-shock’ amongst the traumatised soldiers of World War I. Paddy Griffiths, a senior lecturer in War Studies at Sandhurst, states that the Vikings recognised it, and called it ‘Battle Foot’ in his book, The Viking Art of War. For all the dark, violent aspect of human nature, some anthropologists believe that killing does not come easily to humans. If you saw the film, The Men Who Stare at Goats, you’ll recall the scene where the mad, New Age major at the heart of the American Army’s secret psychic weaponry programme tells Ewan MacGregor’s character that in the First World War, 80 per cent of the shots initially fired at the enemy were deliberately aimed wide. The same when it came to some of the some conscripts fighting in the Vietnam War. The Men Who Stare At Goats was based on Jon Ronson’s Channel 4 documentary series, Crazy Rulers of the World, in which he went looking for the real psychic warriors in the American army, led by General Stebblebine. And like the mad officer in the movie, Stebblebine really did walk into walls, believing that one day he would be able to pass through them through the sheer power of his mind. The stats about the deliberate inaccuracy of soldiers fighting in World War One and Vietnam are true, however, if only during the initial phases of the conflict before the army realised that they had to train soldiers to kill, rather than just point their guns. The Israeli author, Amos Oz, in an TV interview back in the 1990s, recalled his experiences fighting in the Golan Heights during the Six Day War. He stated that he found the whole situation so difficult to believe and understand, that his initial reaction was to wonder why no-one had called the cops, as the situation was so far beyond his experience.

My guess is that civilised people, regardless of their race or religious beliefs or lack thereof, find killing extremely difficult. Hence all the effort terrorist organisations like ISIS and the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, and violent, genocidal states like Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, put in to demonising their enemies.

And nations have frequently resorted to trying to help their troops keep going through exhaustion and the heavy stress of fighting by using chemical enhancement. The Nazi war machine was extremely efficient, but they used an amphetamine-derivative to keep their troops fighting. The stuff has since re-emerged, to plague deprived American communities as ‘Nazi Crank’.

Another type of recreational drug blighting the lives of the underclass is ‘Black Bombers’. This is again based partly on amphetamines. A friend of mine told me it was developed by the US army to keep their pilots flying bombing missions during the Vietnam War.

And this is the Nazi and US military machines, which were well-funded, trained and professional. And if they had to use drugs to prop up their troopers, it’s not even remotely incredible that ISIS are doing the same to their volunteers.

And the mass of ISIS fighters probably aren’t very good soldiers. A little while ago I found another report from The Young Turks news show commenting on a propaganda video released by ISIS promoting their version of the US’ Navy SEALS. ISIS was showing their version on manoeuvres, loudly proclaiming that they would be swift, efficient killers who would put fear into their enemies.

The result from professional Western soldiers and military analysts was somewhat different. Okay, it was the complete opposite. According to the Turks, it raised laughter and chuckles, rather than heart-pounding terror. The Western military authorities watching it couldn’t believe how bad their fighters were. They even made basic mistakes in the way they held their guns. And these were supposed to be the organisation’s elite killers, the ‘best of the best of the best’.

So, given the caveats above, I’m quite prepared to believe Hisbollah when they say that the ISIS troops they fought ran, and were so bad as soldiers that they needed to take Speed to give them courage.

If it was almost any other army or soldiers, I’d have some sympathy. As I said, for most civilised people all over the world, killing is extremely difficult. I realise that people fight in pubs and nightclubs, or in teenage gang battles, but this usually stops short of the knife or gun or whatever. Quite often before the fight breaks out, somebody jumps in, shouting, ‘Leave it out! It’s not worth it!’ or some such. Or the rozzers arrive to break it up and start giving people rides in the party van.

In the case of ISIS, I have absolutely no sympathy at all. This is the organisation that has butchered and enslaved its way across the Middle East, whose members boasted about how brutal and bloodthirsty they were. The brigade, whose on-line propaganda encouraged some of the jihadi brides to run away from Britain to marry them, bragged that they ‘delighted in carnage’.

Well, long ago a certain Bill Shakespeare, of the Midlands, had this to say about the difference between tough, martial masculinity and loss of humanity, in one of his plays. In the Scottish Play, MacBeth is being urged on by his wife to murder his way to the top to fulfil his destiny, as prophesied by the three witches. He’s initially reluctant, saying ‘Peace, woman, peace; I do all there is to become a man. Who dares do more is none.’
It’s a wise line, which shows you why people are still performing the Bard’s plays after four hundred years. It is, tragically, a lesson in masculinity that thugs and butchers like ISIS haven’t learned, and aren’t interested in learning.

And so I have no sympathy at all. They’re monsters, drugging the mass of their troops up to disguise how weak they really are, while at the same time boasting of atrocities that even the Nazis tried to conceal in case it brought shame on them.