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Articles on Science and Vedanta:
ESP: ExtraSensory Perception
Tackling The Subconscious Mind
Neurophysiology of Meditation
Samkhya and Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta as Quest for Knowledge
Training The Mind
Articles on Indian Philosophy and Religion
What is Hinduism
Religion In India Today
Six Systems of Indian Philosophy
Religion of Sri Ramakrishna
Basic Point About Philosophy
Avidya and Maya
Religious Social Movements
Necessity and Problems of Holding on to Spirituality
Articles on Upanishads and Yoga
Introduction to Upanishads
Tat Tvam Asi
Yoga Part 1
Yoga Part 2
Tantra and Kundalini Yoga
Karma Yoga In the Gita
India's Contribution to the World
Science Vedanta and Samkhya
Swami Vivekananda and His Relevance
Training the Mind
Prayers and Worship
Harmony of Religion
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
List of All Articles
FAQ | Glossary of Indian words
Extra Sensory Perception - ESP
Many people are skeptical about Extra Sensory Perception - ESP - and related states like telepathy, mind reading, clairvoyance etc. The main criticism has often been leveled at para-psychologists that there may be a tendency to be fraudulent and to fake the results. The chief reason is lack of scientific knowledge about ESP. Secondly, it is indeed very difficult to accept such states without self-experience, which is difficult and rare to come by, by itself or without regular and adequate practice of controlling the mind.
A final criticism is that, for phenomena such as extrasensory perception and psychokinesis to be true, fundamental physical laws would have to be broken!
Some adopt the view that psychic phenomena are outside the realm of science, whereas others believe that breakthroughs in science (e. g. particle physics etc.) might one day provide explanations for such phenomena. The resultant awe associated with such 'superstitions and supernatural display' makes people apprehensive and fearful. In this confusing state, genuine extrasensory perceptions are also designated as superstitious and fake, and are neglected without any in-depth study.
Till we find scientific basis for these extrasensory phenomena, all sorts of opinions and theories will continue to find their way in the minds of peoples. The extra sensory perceptions would be labeled as superstitious, unscientific and irrational. However, one must accept the fact that some persons do experience and are capable of exhibiting such powers. Our interest should be to document these real life events and try to explain the same on the basis of present day scientific progress. While in most cases, the origin of such phenomena is obscure, some persons develop such mental powers - "siddhis" - during the course of practice of mental concentration and Yoga. The state is a kind of altered consciousness.
Parapsychology is the study of the ability of the mind to perform psychic acts without any known physical energy acting as the carrier of the information or force. Psychic phenomena, as the term is applied to the human mind, generally fall into two broad categories:
1) Psychokinesis is defined as the ability to move or alter animate or inanimate matter by thought alone.
2) Extrasensory perception (ESP) is defined as the ability to acquire information without the benefit of the senses.
Extrasensory perception is further divided into two sub-categories:
It means the perception of someone else's thoughts by intercommunication between one brain and another by means other than that of the ordinary sense channel. It has bearing on all psychic phenomena. Many cases are on record where vivid impressions have been transmitted from a distance. It is believed that telepathic communication goes direct from one mind to another irrespective of the distance. The mechanism of telepathy is generally supposed, so far, to be in the form of yet unknown ethereal vibrations or "brain waves".
Clairvoyance or 'remote perception' is 'sensing of an object or event out of range of the senses'. The term denotes the supposed supernormal faculty of seeing persons and/or events which are distant in time and place, and of which no knowledge can reach to the seer or perceiver through the normal sense channel.
Most scientists outside of the parapsychological field are reluctant to accept the existence of ESP. But recently some scientists have shown interest in these phenomena because such events are recorded and documented, and can be said to constitute the 'facts'.
"Many hundreds of carefully studied cases and laboratory experiments have now established that ESP (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, etc.) exists - but what does all this mean? Primarily that there is far more to man than we have known. We have the data, and they are strong and clear. But they could not exist if man were only what we have believed him to be. If he were only flesh and bone, if he worked on the same type of principle as a machine, if he were really as separate from all others as we have thought, it would be impossible for him to do the things we know he sometimes does. A new concept of man, a new way of looking at others and ourselves, a knowledge that there is more to man than our old concepts allow, is scientifically demonstrated in these facts. And that is the real importance of extrasensory perceptions."
Because of such intense concern being shown by many a scientist, it is decided to describe the extrasensory experiences in the life of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, without much emphasis to explain the same.
Below we see that on two occasions, Sri Ramakrishna was able to correctly read the mind of Swami Vivekananda with the help of telepathy, without any physical sense perception channel.
(1) "...Some days later, Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) was with the Master. Sri Ramakrishna looked at him and went into samadhi. Narendra felt the penetration of a subtle force and lost all outer consciousness. Regaining presently the normal mood, he found the Master weeping."
"Sri Ramakrishna said to him: 'To day I have given you my all and I am now only a poor fakir, possessing nothing. By this power you will do immense good in the world, and not until it is accomplished will you return."
Doubt, however, dies hard. After one or two days Narendra said to himself, 'If in the midst of this racking physical pain he declares his Godhood, then only shall I accept him as an Incarnation of God.' He was alone by the bedside of Sri Ramakrishna. It was a passing thought, but Sri Ramakrishna smiled and gathering his remaining strength distinctly said, 'He who was Rama and Krishna is now, in this body, Ramakrishna - but not in your Vedantic sense.'
(2) Narendranath (Swami Vivekananda) once made himself ready secretly to renounce everything and wander away into the broad world. ...Knowing his intentions through his divine power, Sri Ramakrishna persuaded him to come to Dakshineswar to stay with him that day. Touching Swami Vivekananda afterwards, Sri Ramakrishna sang in a spiritual mood, "I am afraid to speak and also not to speak; I am afraid lest I should lose you." And instead of allowing Narendranath to renounce the world and go away, Sri Ramakrishna kept him with him consoling him in various ways.
One incidence in the life of Swami Vivekananda is quoted to give an example of this type of phenomenon.
Swami Vijnanananda once told of an incident which revealed Swami Vivekananda's superhuman sensibility. Swami Vijnanananda used to stay in the room next to Swami Vivekananda's at Belur Math. One night he (Swami Vijnanananda) woke up at 2 a. m., came out of his room, and was surprised to find Swami Vivekananda moving restlessly along the portico. Vijnanananda asked him, 'Swamiji, why are you not in bed? Don't you feel sleepy?'
I was sleeping well,' said Swami Vivekananda, 'but suddenly I felt a sort of shock and woke up. I am sure there has been an accident somewhere in the world and that many people must have lost their lives.' Swami Vijnanananda did not take Swami Vivekananda's words seriously at first. It seemed incredible to him that Swami Vivekananda while lying on his bed could have become aware of a far off occurrence. But to his amazement, subsequently he read in the newspaper that many people were killed in a volcanic eruption near Fiji. The eruption had occurred at the more or less exact hour when Swami Vivekananda had received that shock.
We see an authentic and recorded state of samadhi for a prolonged period of time in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. By remaining in "Bhavamukha"(on the threshold of relative consciousness) it was possible for him to bring about these aspects of communications in his life. He could by telepathy fathom the minds and thoughts of others with ease and perfection, and by clairvoyance and psychokinesis, he could effect necessary modifications beneficial to the persons he came in contact with. One example will suffice:
"During his last illness, at the garden house of Cossipore, Sri Ramakrishna was bedridden due to loss of weight and weakness as a consequence of his throat ailment. One evening, some of his young devotees were proceeding to take fruit juice at a place south of the garden. Suddenly Ma Saradadevi saw Sri Ramakrishna going out of the room with great speed and returning with the same speed after a while. She was surprised as well as terrified. When she asked about this unusual phenomenon to her husband, he answered that he could see a poisonous cobra in the way of his devotees. That cobra could have done harm to someone. He had gone to drive away the snake for the welfare of his devotees!"
i) In his transcendental states Sri Ramakrishna could identify with both living and non-living things. Once near Kali Temple the lawn was covered with newly grown grass. Sri Ramakrishna in his ecstatic mood (Bhavasamadhi) transcended his normal consciousness and was feeling identified with the grass when a man happened to walk across over the grass. At this the Master felt very restless, feeling unbearable pain in the chest 'as if trampled by the person walking over the lawn'.
ii) At another time, on the bank of Ganges two boatmen had a quarrel. Sri Ramakrishna identified himself with the weaker of them, and the marks of injury were visible on his (Sri Ramakrishna's) chest when the stronger one beat the other.
We have included these incidents, which most of the scientists would be reluctant to accept as scientific, simply because they are authentically recorded and, therefore, might be useful as the subject matter for other scientists in this field.
The explanation modern day scientists give on the basis of "a model of conscious mind, unconscious mind, channel, brain, decoding and behaviour, etc." can be improved upon by adding the concept of superconscious state of mind acquired through prolonged spiritual sadhana or yogic practice. Occasionally in Yogis such powers, known as siddhis, are seen to develop during their arduous spiritual disciplines. It is up to the yogi and his teacher 1) to make use of such powers or 2) to neglect them. The second option is desirable, as is seen in the life of and advocated by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
In other cases of genuine ESP, in the lives of persons who have not undertaken any spiritual practice, the explanation is that the person has perchance acquired these powers of the brain in his or her previous births, of which he is not aware. Therefore, he may himself take such phenomena casually; or often time take undue advantage of such special 'powers' to seek name or fame or for monetary gains. Such chance occurrences can be explained on the basis of "experiences of the past births".
During the sadhana of Raja Yoga the individual may develop subtle faculties of the mind, and such a person might become capable of fathoming/reading other person's mind, as if he is living in more than one body simultaneously. He may similarly live at more than one place at the same time, and thus, such perceptions may become possible for that person. The prayers are answered on the similar basis. You may be in America, and if you pray for the welfare of a person in India, it may happen that your thought-waves may travel across the ocean and stimulate some person to do the needful on your behalf!
Last, but not the least, there is a possibility of developing such a capacity in the course of evolutionary psychology by which the basic human nature is likely to acquire such intuitive powers capable of transcending the limitations of mind and body. Many great saints have shown in their lives that creativity and spirituality happens when the five senses are left behind and something else takes over. That 'something else' is the "factor X"-- the sixth sense.
It must be emphasized that Sri Ramakrishna considered these powers to be of least importance, and even harmful on the path of God realization. He used say, 'such powers should be shunned as the filth, and they are actually obstacles in seeking God.'
Thus, we see the real scientific and spiritual attitude in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. We have given a few examples of ESP from the lives of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda keeping the above statements in view.
c s shah