Ghosts and Evil Spirits
Stories about ghosts, evil spirits or haunted houses form part of some beliefs. According to these beliefs a ghost is the manifestation of a dead person or of being frightened by something unusual. An evil spirit may be wandering anywhere including entering the bodies of some people. Haunted houses create fright. Such beliefs exist in Hindu as well as Semitic faiths.
In Hindu terminology the male spirit is referred to as Bhoot meaning ghosts and that of a female, Churrail. It is common belief that these ghosts are the spirits of those who were tortured, killed or otherwise ill-treated and come to haunt the perpetrators. The concept of ghost is therefore based on a feeling of guilt and the resultant fear.
The Semitic concept is that of evil spirits or devils and ‘Ghost’ is used for soul. According to both the Bible and the Quran the devils are those who disobey God and motivate others to do so. The New Testament talks of the serpent that persuaded Eve who in turn convinced Adam to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit:
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Revelation 12:9).
The New Testament describes some cases of those possessed by unclean spirits or devils who are cured by Jesus acting as the exorcist. The concept has accordingly been institutionalized in Christianity based on the instructions given by Jesus to his disciples, thus:
“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease” (Matthew 10:1).
The Christians also believe that multiple devils may be present in a person. For example Mary Magdalene is mentioned as having been relieved of seven devils by Jesus:
And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils” (Luke 8:2).
The Muslims call them Jinn or demons. The Quran quotes God saying that Jinn have been created along with men to serve God:
[51.56] And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.
The Quran refers to an angel Iblis who pre-existed Adam and became the first Jinn or Shaitaan (devil) because he disobeyed God:
And when We said to the angels: Make obeisance to Adam they did obeisance, but Iblis
(did it not). He refused and he was proud, and he was one of the unbelievers (Quran 2:34).
Iblis is considered the chief of the Jinn.
As may be seen the various faiths consider the concept of the ghost or devils as those disobeying God or acting in a manner that creates fear of retribution in their minds. The evil spirits therefore really represent psychological problems. It is hard to believe that more than one’s own soul or spirit can be present in a body or ghosts of the dead walk.
The phenomena associated with haunted houses are usually represented by strange visions or sounds, fear or even death. These seem to be the result of carbon monoxide poisoning whose symptoms are normally given as listlessness, depression, dementia and hallucinations. Attributing them to ghosts only represents a feeling of fear.
It would also appear that feelings about ghosts and evil spirits are experienced by those who suffer from lack of self-confidence, and fear.
The Sikh religion being the latest and science oriented faith has answers for most, if not all, problems faced in practical life. This was possible by the chain of Gurus who walked this earth for 239 years and mixed with the people.
They took note of the beliefs regarding evil spirits, examined why some people consider this a real phenomenon, and then gave solutions. It is interesting that not only did people believe in ghosts some of them even thought Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith was a ghost or one possessed by evil spirits. In the words of Guru Nanak himself:
Koee aakhai bhootna ko kahai baytaala; koee aakhai aadmi Nanaku vaychaar:Bhaiaa divaanaa saah ka Nanaku bauraana;hau hari binu avaru na jaana:1:Pause: (M: 1, SGGS, p 991).
Some call me a ghost, some say I am a demon, others say Nanak is just a hapless man. (Actually) I am inebriated by the love of the Master and take note of none else; people think I am mad.
Let us understand what was that people found in Guru Nanak to give him such names. He was born when the two main communities in India, the Hindus and Muslims had lost the true values of their faiths. Both were being held to ransom by the rituals and superstitions under the directions of their priests. Such practices are generally performed because others are doing. Guru Nanak challenged both of them and started his mission by saying “There is no Hindu and no Musalmaan”. He told them what their respective religions really stood for. This was different from the then practices. People thought he was sick. Even his own parents thought so and sought medical intervention.
Not being able to understand what Guru Nanak actually was, some gave him the two names above, Bhoot (ghost or evil spirit that walked) and Baytaal (one out of step with times or demon).
Guru Nanak certainly was out of step so he knew why people called him a ghost or demon –because they did not understand him.
So the idea of evil spirits is nothing but ignorance. It is also caused by fear. Guru Nanak himself describes it thus:
Nidariaan darru lagi garbi si gaaliaa;naavuh bhulaa jag phirai baytaaliaa (M: 1, SGGS, p 149).
Those who defy Divine commands – laws of nature and the laws of the land, are gripped by fear; forgetting God they wander like demons.
The fourth Guru says that fear is a result of evil deeds, one who remembers God and does no wrong remains happy:
So darai ji paap kamaavda dharmi vigsayt; Tu sachaa aapi niaao sachu ta dareeai kaytu (M: 4, SGGS, p 84).
One who does evil is afraid, the righteous remains happy; O Eternal Lord You deliver true justice so why should we be afraid?
The third Guru says that the idea of ghosts and evil spirits comes to those who look elsewhere than God, i.e. are caught in duality:
Veervaar veer bharami buhlaaey; prayt bhoot sabhi doojai laaey (M: 3, SGGS, p 841).
O brother misled by delusion one gets caught in duality and feels he is possessed by evil spirits and ghosts. (Veervaar has no meaning just the first letter is as for Veer).
It is common that whenever some one displays an unusual behavior he or she is believed to be possessed by some thing. We hear of people being possessed by gambling, drugs, lust and so on. There are also cases of people constantly under stress for some wrong they might have committed, like disobeying the law, torturing or killing some one and are afraid of retribution. It may also be simply out of delusion. I saw this in one of my relatives who on seeing a bad character being arrested by the police remarked “serves him right”. But for years he was haunted by the idea that the man might have heard him and would kill him.
It therefore seems safe to assume that the so called evil spirits or ghosts are psychological rather than any external entities wandering, haunting houses entering a person’s body.
Gurbani also says that our behavior is influenced by Peiai Kirt our Karma that is what types of influences the soul acquired in previous births Guru Nanak says:
Bandhan bandhi bhavaaey soay; Peiai Kirt nachai sabhu koay (M: 1, SGGS, p 465).
Being in the bondage of past karma every one acts under their influence.
There is an oft quoted verse of Bhagat Trilochan in this regard:
Ant kaali jo mandar simrrai aisee chintamahi jo marai; prêt joni vali vali autrai (Trilochan, SGGS, p 526).
One who thinks of his mansions at the time of death, is born again and again as evil spirits (that haunt empty homes).
Here the saint is saying is that any one who keeps thinking of gathering property, forgetting the purpose of life will think of it at death also (because then the subconscious mind speaks) and his soul will take birth as one who wanders in empty homes but gains nothing from them. It therefore refers to a life in which nothing is achieved.
Those who believe in evil spirits look for exorcists to drive them out.
The fourth Guru explains that the demonic nature of the mind comes about by losing direction i.e. the purpose of life given as Divine commands. The Guru can help cleanse the mind:
Satigur ki sayva nirmalee nirmal jannu hoay su sayva ghaalay; jin andar kapatu vikaaru jhooth oay aapay sachai vakhi kadhay jajmaalay; — jinaa andari preeti nahi hari kayri say kichraku vayraaeeani manmukh baytaalay; satigur no milai say aapnaa mannu thaaey rakhai ohu aapi vartai aapni vathu naaalay; jann Nanak iknaa guru mayli sukhu dayvai ik aapay vakh kaddhay tthagvaalay (M: 4, SGGS, p 305-06).
Those who have deceit, evil and falsehood in their minds are sick and isolated like the lepers from the healthy; those who realize this follow the Guru and the are cleansed; — the self-oriented (manmukh) go their own way, do not find peace for long and wander like ghosts; peace is found when one meets the perfect guru and enjoys the self within; thus God grants happiness to those who follow the Guru and isolates the deceitful.
Valvanch kari upaav maaiaa hir aaniaa; jamkaalu nihaalay saas aav ghatai baytaaliaa; Nanak gur sarnaaee ubray Gari Gur rakhvaaliaa (M: 4, SGGS, p 1248-49).
Man misappropriates others’ wealth by deceit, such a person is ever afraid of the messenger of death and passes life without direction; if he seeks guru’s sanctuary, God and guru protect him.
Satguru charan jin parsiaa tay pasu prayt suri nar bhaia (Nall, SGGS, p 1399).
Those who fall at the guru’s feet even if they are beasts or ghosts become angel-like men.
Ultimately those who become fearless do not entertain the ideas of ghosts and evil spirits. This fearlessness comes by meditating on God’s virtues, Naam, following the Guru and obeying the laws of nature and of the land. The thought of needing an exorcist does not come to the mind of one who leads a life of Dharma.