An ancient insight about higher human development states very simply: ‘Psychic development is not the same as spiritual growth.’ In the course of one’s spiritual growth, i.e., actualizing your potential for higher human development, there are dangers, dead-ends, byways and traps of which to beware. A principal source of such difficulties is the failure to distinguish between the psychic and the spiritual. All sacred traditions recognize this.
They have made explicit warnings about it and have formulated doctrinal statements and instructional practices to guide people safely along the path to enlightenment and God-realization.
There is a hierarchical relation between the two and spiritual growth is senior, higher. I have known many powerful psychics and have personally experienced their abilities, but those abilities haven’t done much for their character development, which in some cases was sadly immature. If the name of the game is enlightenment, pursuing psychic powers can be a waste of time, a dead end. If psychic abilities develop along the way in the context of spiritual unfoldment, fine, but don’t mistake them for enlightenment.
Psychic abilities often spontaneously manifest themselves in the course of spiritual unfoldment and are there in people waiting to be cultivated. But always the question is, cultivated to what end? Evidence abounds in the history of psychical research and its successor, parapsychology, to show that renowned psychics were often deficient in one or more character traits which are universally regarded as necessary for spiritual growth. Conceit and vanity about one’s psychic abilities are incompatible with God-realization. So are dishonesty and a desire to dominate people. These undesirable qualities, and others, have been seen to one degree or another in some “superpsychics” whose egotism has led them to behave in decidedly unspiritual ways. Accounts of possible fraud and trickery are not hard to find in connection with both famous and lesser-known psychics; their base motives—to be rich, famous, powerful, to control and use others for personal gain, and so forth—are totally contrary to spiritual living.
One of the best-known American mediums, the Rev. Arthur Ford, inspired the founding of Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (SFF) partly to address this problem. SFF is now defunct, but its goals were the development of spiritual growth in the individual and encouragement of new dimensions of spiritual experience within the institutional churches. Ford was keenly aware of the problem of misused psychic and spiritual gifts, and stated flatly in his biography, Unknown But Known, that being psychic did not at all make one spiritual.
This lesson—the psychic is not the spiritual—has been given major emphasis in the teaching of all the world’s major spiritual and religious traditions. Yogic philosophy warns against seeking siddhis (psychic powers) because they can be obstacles to enlightenment. St. Paul spoke at length on this same subject, using different terminology, in chapters 12 to 24 of his Letter to the Corinthians. While plainly acknowledging that people have a “spiritual body” separable from the physical body and that there are “diversities of gifts” such as clairvoyance, prophecy, healing, mediumship, and so forth, he emphasized that, without a solid moral foundation in one’s character, such abilities are “as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” His discourse on love as the essential element in one’s thought and behavior has relevance to all who are interested in psychic development.
Even occult traditions, such as witchcraft, note the difference between the “left hand” or evil path of black magic and the “right hand,” or benevolent path of white magic, and emphasize that evil worked on someone will eventually boomerang upon the black magician. The legend of the sorcerer’s apprentice is a powerful example. The ancient German tale, given widespread notice through its modern presentation in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, teaches very explicitly: paranormal powers can get out of hand and harm the psychic himself, as well as others, unless there is a sound emotional, moral and intellectual basis from which the psychic applies his powers.
The same lesson is found in Tibetan Buddhism in the legend of its most famous saint, Milarepa. As a young man, Milarepa studied sorcery, attaining great powers. But he used them to create pain and suffering upon his family and villagers, who drove him out. In remorse for his evil actions, he studied yoga, eventually becoming a great yogi. Even in his old age, however, Milarepa lamented his harmful—and shameful—misuse of his psychic abilities.
The modern world has its own warnings of the same danger, and it is given most forcefully in the popular culture media of comic books and movies. Since the first editions of Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel, superheroes with extraordinary abilities such as x-ray vision, superhearing, superstrength, and imperviousness to bullets, fire and pain have been there to tempt their possessors to misuse them. But the superheroes do not succumb to the temptation. However, their evil opponents, who sometimes have the same superpowers, do misuse them, and the story line always powerfully underscores the evil of such actions.
We see the same thing on screen with the superhero movies. Most notable are the recent X-Men films, where Wolverine and his fellow mutants have superhuman abilities and superpsychic talents, but always the abilities and talents are used for good to oppose other mutant humans with similar capabilities who lack the moral and ethical safeguards against misusing them.
In short, the benevolent use of psychic functioning requires a high degree of character development and a balanced, integrated personality—indispensable aspects of spiritual unfoldment and God-realization. Without them, the psychic person can get into difficulties which cannot be handled easily or wisely. These difficulties may include delusional belief, uncontrolled telepathy (hearing voices), poltergeist manifestations unleashed by psychokinetic forces, possession by nonphysical entities (giving rise to multiple personality disorders), and a conceited pride or megalomania in which the psychic assumes the position of infallibility and ultimate authority over others.
The following chapters can help you to become more sensitive to the spiritual realm, to distinguish it from the psychic realm, and to be more knowledgeable about both. They also offer what I think are sensible, prudent cautions which ought to be taken by those who seek psychic development. In that regard, it is wise to bear in mind Jesus’ injunction: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33, KJV)
This Introduction originally appeared as my introduction to a collection of articles by other writers entitled The Psychic and the Spiritual: What’s the Difference? I produced it for the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship in 1986. I chose the title and have retained it for this book. I have edited and expanded my introduction somewhat, and I use it here because it still serves as a useful entry point to my own collected essays and articles on this theme—produced over three decades—which I present here. The material begins with a look at the purely psychic, but proceeds to higher levels of understanding in which the spiritual is presented with increasing clarity and comprehensiveness, and is distinguished from the psychic, and always in the context of transcending the ego for the sake of enlightenment.
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published March 2017
Size: 229 x 152 mm