(This article uses a real-life case study to exemplify the process of thought and action needed to help the possessed.)
Introduction To Buddhist Exorcism: From ‘Different Religions Take Various Approaches To Exorcism‘ (AsiaOne, The Straits Times: 1 Nov 2007): ‘Said Mr Shen Shi’an, Chief Editor of the Web and Library Departments at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery [in 2007]: “Buddhist exorcism does not aim to kill, trap, hurt, or chase away harmful unseen beings. Prayers and mediation are carried out for the purpose of persuading the spirit to leave the body [for a better rebirth]. Buddhist exorcism aims for win-win situations for the involved human and spirit – who are seen as two parties negatively affected by grudges that require peaceful negotiation.“‘
Why learn about exorcism? Well, even if one thinks one will never need the know-how for oneself, others might need it. As no one, including oneself, who gets possessed suddenly ever prepared to be possessed, this means all of the possessed will need someone else with the know-how to help them solve the problem of being possessed.
In Buddhism, ‘exorcism’ (驱鬼) is not the ideal term to be used, as it only means to dispel a spirit, to cast him or her out of a person. In the name of compassion for both parties, this is only half of what should be done. The other half is ‘deliverance’ (超度), to guide that spirit to the best destination thereafter (i.e. Pure Land). Without such guidance, if strong deluded attachment or aversion remains, re-possession and/or continual haunting is still possible.
If exorcism with non-Buddhist methods is attempted by those non-virtuous or weak in virtue, what more with animosity, they might not only not work well, but aggravate the situation by feeding fuel to the fire of the spirit’s anger. As such, Buddhists do not demonise spirits or try to ‘banish them “back” to hell’. Although Buddhism does not subscribe to belief in an almighty creator deity (since there is widespread suffering from birth to death, including by possession), god-centric exorcism methods might still work to some extent, by exerting of personal virtues through prayers and equipment used. However, this alone has no deliverance effected.
The Buddhist method(s) below might seem surprisingly simple. Yet, as they are based on the profound Buddhist teachings, they will surely work. If so, one might wonder why non-Buddhist ‘exorcists’ do not use these methods. First, very good karma or meritorious virtues are needed to encounter these methods. Next, there must also be strong faith in these methods, or there will not be interest in them at all, what more wisdom and skilful means to use them. For pseudo-exorcists who pretend to summon the enlightened to assist in exorcism, due to such severe deceit, they are surely not virtuous enough, to accept and use Buddhist methods respectfully. Thus, those who do use Buddhist methods properly are usually already proper Buddhists; not non-Buddhist ‘exorcists’.
Question: A friend’s son (A), who just moved into a rented place, was possessed by a spirit (i.e. wandering spirit or ghost), who seemed to be an old lady. She claimed that the place is hers, and was unhappy with the furniture rearrangement, saying it made it hard for her to move around. Other than demands for food, water, coffee, cigarettes and joss money, she wanted to ‘bring’ A to follow her. My son (B), who was around, told her loudly that this is not possible, as A has a family, and that the place is just being rented for a few months. After a while, she left.
B started chanting the ‘Oṃ Maṇi Padme Hūṃ’ mantra to wake A up. The next day, they made the offerings requested. This is not the first time A was possessed, but the first time a spirit wanted to bring him along, which would be to die, to become a ghost to ‘join’ her. His family is worried that this might happen when no one else is around, including when ‘asleep’. After all, they had discovered A to be possessed when they could not wake him up, while the spirit spoke through him. What is the solution?
Answer: First are some notes based on the above information…
[a] Offerings: If the possession was genuine, the consumables wanted, other than food and water, are due to habitual worldly greed, that can be consumed by smelling. Although asked for, burnt joss paper money offerings cannot really be received, with nowhere to use it too, even if received. (Interestingly, there are no cases of ghosts from non-Chinese culture who ask for money, as the belief that it is needed is from Chinese culture only. This also means such money is not essential, even if burnt to ‘appease’ temporarily.)
[b] Chanting: The chanting should have been done by everyone together, once knowing there is possession. With chanting full of Faith, be it a Buddhist mantra, name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva, there WILL be instant protection of everyone, that will also undo the possession. (The Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì [净土宗九祖蕅益大师] taught that with one recitation of Āmítuófó’s name [阿弥陀佛] is connection to his blessings, with immediate radiating of 33.3 metres of protective light from the heart area.) The only cases when it does not seem to work is if Faith is not strong enough, or if the person is not truly possessed (but acting for attention or relieving pent-up stress and rage, be it purposely or subconsciously, through ‘auto-suggestion’). The average practitioner might take some time to ‘pump up’ Faith with chanting though.
[c] Guidance (1): Chanting any mantra, name of Buddha or Bodhisattva without offering guidance does not offer the spirit any sense of direction, as if to chase her away only. Thus, ideally, there should be guidance to reach Pure Land, as below, followed by sincere Niànfó (念佛: mindfulness of the Buddha’s name), which is the most simple yet direct long-term solution – for her, him and all in the family, to prevent future disturbances.
Here are the steps on what to do now…
 Medical (Or Psychological) Checkup: If it is uncertain whether the possession is genuine or not, ensure that the problem is not psychological (e.g. due to schizophrenia etc.), by seeing a psychologist. This is especially important as it happened more than once already.
Those who are easily possessed or who mistaken themselves to be possessed often have one or more of the following characteristics. They might be physically weak (身体虚弱), worrisome (焦虑多思), easily fearful (易受惊吓), who seek after the strange and different (追求奇异), are attached to various states and forms (执着境界与相), believe in much speak of ghosts and gods (信鬼神话), not know the Right Dharma (不知正见), and/or easily mistake hallucinated sights and sounds (幻视幻听) as that of ghosts and gods.
 Further Investigation: Check with the landlord to confirm if an old lady lived there before, and if there were similar disturbances of previous tenants. Although she might be a spirit who wandered in from elsewhere, this might help further ascertain if the possession was real.
 Follow-Up Method: With  and  done, affirming that it is not like to be a problem arising from mental illness, if not wishing to, or unable to move out immediately, do the following…
[i] Rebirth Blanket: Add a fully unfolded Rebirth Blanket (往生被) facing outwards above the usual blanket when sleeping to prevent possession. It should cover the body fully up to the chest. (Functioning like a giant ‘combo-talisman’ as a protective shield, with its many consecrated powerful mantras printed on it, although it is usually used for protection and offering blessings to the dying and deceased, it can be used on the living during emergencies that involve the body too. Putting it on does NOT mean there will be quickened death or guarantee birth in Pure Land, as the key criteria are the Three Provisions of Faith, Aspiration and Practice.) As the blanket has many sacred mantras on it, it should be treated respectfully, with minimal tossing and turning that might ‘kick’ it aside. (Note that the name of Āmítuófó is usually printed right at the top of the Rebirth Blanket, which emphasizes its importance.)
As an example, Dharma Master Huìlǜ (慧律法师), (as mentioned in the video below), who helped to popularise use of the Rebirth (or Dhāraṇī: 陀罗尼) Blanket, also taught that living people can use it for protection, saying that since he brought it along when staying overseas alone, he no longer encountered ghostly disturbances. (Sprinkling blessed water [consecrated by chanting the Buddha’s name or other Buddhist chanting], or scattering a little blessed sand can protect the area too, though the latter might be swept away by unaware cleaners.)
[ii] Śūraṅgama Mantra: Wear a Śūraṅgama Mantra (楞严咒) pendant on the body. (This is the mantra compactly printed in fine print and encased with protective material for convenience of wearing.) This is so as it was taught that even without reciting the Śūraṅgama Mantra, wearing it prevents all supernatural disturbances.
(Due to its length, although very powerful, the mantra is challenging to memorise for chanting by the average practitioner. That said, the name of Āmítuófó, although short, is already a supreme mantra with the greatest protective power, as can be learnt at https://purelanders.com/2011/12/16/the-name-of-amituofo-is-the-supreme-mantra. As the Śūraṅgama Mantra was also specifically taught to protect from the supernatural, it is commonly used for doing so.)
As taught by Śākyamuni Buddha (释迦牟尼佛) in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra《楞严经》, ‘Wholeheartedly encourage [and] enable upholding [of] my Buddha Crown’s Dhāraṇī [Śūraṅgama] Mantra. If [there are those] yet able [to] recite [it], writing [it for placing] in [their] meditation halls [to prevent supernatural disturbances during spiritual practice], or wearing [it] on [their] bodies, [they are] by all demonic [beings], not able [to be] touched.’ (一心劝令，持我佛顶陀罗尼【楞严】咒。若未能诵，写于禅堂，或带身上，一切诸魔，所不能动。) (Generally, harmful unseen beings, be they terrestrial demons [地魔] or celestial demons [天魔] in nature, as malevolent ghosts and gods [鬼神], are considered as ‘demonic’ beings [魔]. They should not be mistaken as hell-beings [地狱众生].)
If not comfortable using the blanket (although it is already very light), the mantra should at least be worn, for constant protection. Unlike the blanket, which is usually used only at night, and might be accidentally kicked aside when tossing and turning, one can be with the worn mantra pendant all the time.
(Below is the Śūraṅgama Mantra, as miniaturised to save space, that can be printed for keeping on the body, or used via a mobile phone, or any other display device.)
[iii] Possession Check: As another important tip, without informing its purpose to prevent ‘play-acting’ along, the Śūraṅgama Mantra can be suddenly but gently placed in contact with those suspected to be possessed, to check if they are truly possessed. If they are possessed, they should immediately ‘awake’. If not, they are not truly possessed. Of course, for this checking to be accurate, the mantra used must be genuine.
Likewise, the blanket to be used above should be genuine too. Although printed mantras are already powerful, both items are ideally also pre-blessed with ‘extra’ consecration, by lots of chanting too. In everyday life during peace times, these items should be kept at the shrine at home on standby for continual blessing with personal practice.
[To summarise, there are three layers of possible protection. (a) The mind is the environment that one is in all the time, to be protected by frequent mindfulness of Buddha. The next immediate environment is (b) the body, that can be protected by wearing the Śūraṅgama Mantra, especially when awake and moving about. The Rebirth Blanket can offer an extra layer of protection, especially when asleep and still. Blessed water and/or sand can protect (c) the wider environment around the person too.]
[iv] Daily Practices: The whole family should observe the Five Precepts (五戒) to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech and intoxicants, to ensure there is no creating of new negative karma, while clearing past negative karma. They should also practise Niànfó sincerely and go fully veg(etari)an, if not at least more so. Practising together will create more collective protective power. (Prevention is better than cure.)
They should do it daily aloud in the evenings at a fixed time, for at least 15 minutes, ideally for 30 minutes or more. This is how to do it: https://purelanders.com/2016/02/17/how-do-i-start-nianfo-practice. Although it can be done silently too, doing it aloud will motivate all to do so more actively, also to clearer guide the spirit if around, (although spirits can read minds too). This constant creating of merits, with connection to the Buddha, will prevent supernatural disturbances.
[v] Niànfó Device: Turn on a Niànfó device (念佛机) around the clock, to remind all at home to at least Niànfó in the mind whenever possible. (An MP3 player can be used too.) It should be remembered that the mere playing of a mechanical recording does not offer blessings or protection. It is with it reminding listeners to Niànfó, from this Niànfó done, that there are blessings and protection.
[vi] Guidance (2): If another supernatural event happens, anyone present who understands these instructions should lead by saying this clearly and aloud, ‘Everyone! Please Niànfó as sincerely as you can. Whoever you are present, we sincerely apologise for ___ if he/she had offended you in any way. Please Niànfó with us sincerely until you see Āmítuófó, and follow him to his Pure Land, where there is only bliss and no more suffering!’ This will end any possible further disturbances. The above will work when there is SINCERE Niànfó. (If not already worn, the mantra pendant should be put on the possessed. The Rebirth Blanket can also be used to wrap around the possessed.)
If there is more time, with less of an emergency, and more presence of mind of those around, use the more detailed ‘Guidance To Karmic Creditors’ (冤亲债主的开示) at https://purelanders.com/2019/12/15/guidance-text-for-the-dying-deceased-visitors-n-karmic-creditors, followed by the ‘Verse For Sharing Of Merits’ (回向文), AFTER substantial Niànfó. Technically, even if without formal dedication, with the right compassionate motivation, every instance of Niànfó is already direct dedicating of merits to all involved.
Question: I have helped to get all the above items for the family’s use from a Buddhist shop, also advising them to practise accordingly. When I asked to check if there is any improvement, the reply is that it works! There is now better sleep for A, with no heaviness on the shoulders, just waking up a few times on the second night (which might be due to personal tension). I advised to simply Niànfó, after praying to Āmítuófó for help, as there is need to rest for work on the following day.
I did not know the Rebirth Blanket, Śūraṅgama Mantra and Niànfó are so effective together. Previously, he had already seen many people for help, who claimed that they are professionals in the ‘trade’ of solving supernatural problems, but their methods did not work, (while the above advice is based on the Buddhist teachings and offered free of charge for all). This is a relief. He was so doubtful at first, even ‘researching’ on the Rebirth Blanket, which is course stated to be used usually for the dying and deceased, wondering if it was recommended wrongly.
Answer: You must remind him to strengthen his Faith with personal Niànfó daily. He should learn more systematically and comprehensively by coming to related Dharma classes too. As his family’s karma is not very good collectively, which is why there are such disturbances, they have to work harder to observe the Five Precepts well, at least eat less animal products, and practise Niànfó sincerely. This is how they can improve their karma together.
External protective aids like the Rebirth Blanket and Śūraṅgama Mantra should be seen as extra supports, especially useful when there is forgetting or inability to Niànfó, although personal karma might not ‘allow’ them to always be available during emergencies, during which they might even be lost. Thus, it is personal spiritual cultivation of regular Niànfó that matters the most, that will ensure there is readiness to immediately Niànfó whenever needed, be it verbally or only mentally (e.g. if unable to speak). While external aids might not always be around, the mind for practising mindfulness of Buddha is always present with us. Internal aid using the mind should thus be central aid.
Altogether, the instructions above can be said to form a streamlined sequence of steps for Buddhist ‘exorcism’ of ghostly karmic creditors, that does not simply protect the possessed and leave troubling spirits to their own devices, also offering them guidance to the best rebirth possible. (The below verse summarises the superlative power of protection and blessings from dual usage of the mantra and Niànfó for protecting body and mind.)
Verse [On] Mantra [And] Name
[With the] body wearing [the] Śūraṅgama Mantra, all demonic [beings are] not able [to] touch. [With the] mind mindful [of] Āmítuófó’s name, all Buddhas [will] definitely [be] connected [to with] response.
[As ‘Āmítuófó’s name means ‘Immeasurable Buddhas’, he represents all Buddhas.]
With One Recitation Of Āmítuófó Driving Out A Ferocious Possessing Ghost
Mindfulness Of Āmítuófó Protects From Evil Ghosts & Ferocious Beasts
Verses On Prevention Of The Demonic