The Battle of Edge Hill was fought centuries ago in England when Cromwell’s Roundheads met the army of King Charles I. Blood, they say, ran in rivers. After the field was cleared, silence reigned until, two months later, a crowd of thousands of Northamptonshire residents, including clergymen and special aides sent by the King, stood watching as strange, ghostly figures performed the same awful fight all over again. In England today, near the battlefields of the War of the Roses, people still sometimes hear the sounds of artillery exploding, soldiers shouting, metal crashing, and the wounded crying horribly. No one is sure where it comes from.
All sorts of similarly “impossible” events challenge the aloofness of our comfortable modern scholars and scientists. Unknown, unexplainable phenomena cover so much of the four dimensions with which science is busy that it is curious anyone can remain indifferent to them.
Ghosts are denied any existence in the modern scheme of things, but nevertheless the exploits of such beings are widely reported in newspapers, periodicals and books, and on television as well. And the case for the reality of the “spirit world” is being championed today by a small group of investigators called Parapsychologists. Parapsychology encompasses all the inexplicable happenings that other branches of research choose to ignore, and rather well-documented volumes from all the ages of history represent evidence that this is no meager or faddish endeavor.
In the “Saturday Evening Post,” July 2, 1966, a very interesting account was presented of the strange experiences of Joe Hyams and his wife, actress Elke Sommers. They had purchased a house in 1964, and right from the start report was made of a stranger on the premises who could not be identified. He appeared one night in the bedroom of Mrs. Hyams’ mother, but again vanished. Frequent noises in the dining room proved inexplicable. Mr. Hyams found that, although he would make sure to lock a certain window at night, it often was found unlocked again in the morning. He also heard the front door open and close, even when he was alone in the house with it tightly fastened on the inside. The chairs in the dining room often sounded as though they were being pushed around, but when he went to investigate, the room would appear empty and quiet. The noises were recorded on a tape recorder hidden for the purpose.
Mr. Hyams left the house for a time, and had it placed under a detective’s surveillance. One night all the lights went on and all the windows and doors of the deserted house were opened. The detective could not find the reason for this. Later, the house was put in the charge of a family friend. He kept the place locked up, but always found the front door open when he came back to the house. Then a repairman observed a large gentleman in the dining room who seemed to evaporate into space.
Mr. Hyams solicited the services of several mediums, people purportedly attuned to the psychic world, who reported the presence of a tall man in his fifties, a doctor who had died of a heart attack and was determined to remain in the house. Mr. Hyams further found that the previous owners had also had eerie experiences in the house. By the second year of Mr. Hyams’ ownership, over thirty mediums, sensitives and investigators had checked the place and agreed unanimously that it was haunted.
New York City is full of haunted houses. In a book entitled “True Experiences with Ghosts, ” edited by Martin Ebon, a Mr . Wainwright Evans has given his description of one such house, 422-1/2 West 46th Street. When Miss Ruth Faison Shaw moved into that residence, she inquired of its history and found that it had once been the coach house of George Clinton, first governor of New York. The governor’s coachman had lived in the rooms above the stables with his young wife. One evening the pregnant wife saw an apparition of the “Old Moor. ” This “Old Moor” had been hanged on the Battery for mutiny at sea, and buried in what was then a field close to the house. The coachman’s wife was terrified, came running down the stairs, fell and died. The baby was saved and raised by the coachman, who observed that whenever the child was ill, an apparition of his mother lingered nearby.
Later, one of Clinton’s granddaughters, Margaret, used to play in the house. She very much enjoyed dressing in old-fashioned clothes and running down the stairs, pretending to be a ghost. One day she, too, fell and died, and needless to say she also became a ghost. Her figure was frequently seen in later years—running down the same staircase. When the building became older and was abandoned for a time, local vagrants would often sleep there, until one night they fled away in fear, having seen the ghost of little Margaret.
Miss Shaw stayed at 422-1/2 for some time without noticing anything strange. But then one afternoon to the good woman’s shock she too beheld Margaret running down the stairs. The little ghost was frequently seen by Miss Shaw from then on, always re-enacting her ghostly drama.
Thousands of encounters of this nature have been reported, and it is far from rational to dismiss them simply by deprecating the character of the observer . The real basis for objection to their stories seems to be, in the final analysis, simple incompatibility with official modern scientific theory . Actually, so-called scientists themselves are cornered when pressed for sound explanations from their side.
All modern science appears superficial when real problems of conscious existence are raised, as in the case of the presence of ghosts. The essential, genuinely rational science aims at the liaison of self consciousness and eternal Truth. The pursuit of anything less, although it may befool all the scholars in the world, is an intolerable waste of the human life span and energy. The man who is really intelligent will try to free himself from the somewhat inflated designations of the organization of prejudice currently worshipped by its votaries as Science. And we should recognize clearly the fact that materialism can be every bit as superstitious an act of faith as unsubstantiated spiritual and psychic phenomena.
Nearly all people have some contact with the world of ghosts. My Spiritual Master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, has mentioned several interesting stories, one of which relates to a disciple of his grand Spiritual Master, Srila Jagannath Das Babaji Maharaj. The disciple had detected some strange festival being performed in the jungle at the dead of night, and although cautioned not to go there, he could not resist a closer inspection. He came upon a big feast being served, and was offered many nice foods including rasgolla, sandesh, hallavah, and paratas, very tasteful dishes popular in India. The young man accepted a whole sackful of food, and left the place. Then, when he was ready to eat, he sat down and opened the bag. He was amazed to find it full of stool. Later, Srila Jagannath Das Babaii explained to him that this was the prank of ghosts, who often appear at night in various forms to do mischief.
My Spiritual Master has also told of an interesting adventure he once had as a boy. His family lived for a while in a very large house where a young gentleman had killed himself. Swamiji several times saw the man’s translucent form passing close by. The ghost was well known, as he had frequently been seen by many people. A school teacher who was holding classes in one wing of the house also informed him that the place was haunted. She said that the ghost had talked with her, and she knew his sad history: The ghost had been a debauchee in his previous life, and had squandered a huge family fortune. Later, overcome by remorse, he had committed suicide.
The fashionable members of American society affectionately known as “hippies” often trace a close connection to the world of ghosts. The ancient Vedic literature informs us that ghosts are attracted to places and persons dominated by intoxication and uncleanliness, as they have greater influence over those whose minds are weakened or crippled by intoxication.
Intoxication is actually a prolonged process of committing suicide. Suicide means destroying the physical body, be it quickly or slowly. And nearly all intoxicants, such as coffee, liquor, L.S.D., marijuana and tranquilizers, are harmful to the human organism to one degree or another. Ghosts, in fact, usually are the victims of suicidal folly, being encouraged by the delusion of materialistic nihilism. Due, however, to the fact that the living entity is eternal, the search for self-annihilation yields only more troublesome entanglement with the laws of material Nature.
The superintendent of this department of ignorance is Lord Shiva, who is often described as the leader of a huge army of ghosts. The experience of ghostly phenomena—such as the Delirium Tremens of the alcoholic—is only too well known to those habituated to intoxication.
According to the Vedic teachings, the living entities are not simply material combinations. They are eternal spiritual sparks manifesting their presence within bodies of matter. The agency which connects a material body to the living spirit force is technically known as the mind. The mind is a temporary extension into the field of matter projected by a living being. The mind is the conductor of living activities in relationship to the material body. The Vedic analysis is therefore helpful in describing the situation of material existence as the incarnation of living souls within material minds and bodies.
The souls enter and exit various temporary habitations at the historical reference points known as birth and death. At death the unusable body must be abandoned. The subtle body, the mind—which is also material—then receives a replacement body, according to its cravings and condition at that moment. By too intensive a focusing of consciousness on the past stages of life, one may sometimes fail to progress to anew body. In such a state one remains with only a subtle or mental body. The soul, conditioned by matter yet existing without a gross physical body, remaining only in subtle, mental form, is known as a ghost.
Ghostly life is said to be most unpleasant. The unfortunate ghost is troubled by a variety of material cravings, which he has not the necessary body to satisfy. For example, the desire for palatable food remains, but there is no tongue or stomach to manage it. The pressures of such frustrated hankerings often drive miserable ghosts to extremes. Essentially no more then disembodied minds, they usually become demented, and try tormenting those who still have physical bodies. Many ghosts even try to control normal people’s bodies, or else to scare them to death, so that they will also become ghosts. One who dies in great horror, or too greatly attached to his physical body, his environment, or his possessions, or by suicide, becomes a ghost.
There is a lesson in this which we should try to perceive. One’s living, from day to day, should be carefully considered, and directed not by the events of the past or the fallacies of materialistic hope, but by the consciousness of that which is real and eternal, that which lies beyond the dualities of material life.
The only recourse to an existence of recurring hope and sorrow, happiness and then pain, is to somehow surrender at the Lotus Feet of Krishna, the Supreme Controller of all existences. The soul has a realm natural to it and compatible with it, which lies beyond the twisted world of matter. That spiritual sky, described at length in many of the Vedic writings, such as The Srimad Bhagwatam, is to be attained only by Krishna’s Grace, through His representations here. The primary service to be rendered by us in order to gain the Lord’s grace is the chanting of transcendental sounds which will invoke Krishna Consciousness. The vibration of the Hare Krishna Mantra, the most exalted of transcendental vibrations, provides some interesting side effects in that it drives away ghosts, with all their sinister intentions, and insures the chanter that he himself will not have to accept such a horrible existence in the future. Of course, the value of the chant in terms of stimulating spiritual emotion far outweighs any such negative considerations, but the fact of its exorcising power remains.
The real purpose of the mantra is to offer the highest benediction to all the fallen, miserable living entities, in the form of pure love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who determines to penetrate the vast, haunted cosmic facade will be able to do so by adopting this method . And, by perfection of the chanting process, he will in due course attain the eternal loving association of Lord Krishna.