Psychic Abilities: The Mind Reading Monk

Apr 12, 2024

Psychic Abilities

Across cultures and throughout history, the notion of psychic abilities has captivated the human imagination.

From ancient shamanic practices to modern-day ideas of clairvoyance, precognition, clairsentience, telepathy, psychometry, divination, mediumship and even remote viewing, the desire to channel the unseen forces of the universe has been a persistent part of the human experience.

However, when the topic of psychic abilities is raised with any seriousness in the West, it is usually ridiculed

For many it immediately conjures up images of gaudy fortune tellers hunched over crystal balls, unconvincing clairvoyants summoning the spirits, or old wrinkled hands swilling a cup full of tea leaves. 

And that’s a great shame. . .

Yes, there are charlatans everywhere.

Yes, they give anything to do with physics abilities or study of the paranormal a bad name.

However, the automatic pigeonholing of psychic phenomena as the domain of eccentrics or weirdos makes fun of a very complex human experience that extends FAR beyond superstition and showmanship.

The human mind is much, MUCH more powerful than most people understand, but most of us do little to fulfill its potential because we don’t know how.

Most people don’t even know what the mind is; they’ll tell you it’s synonymous with the brain.

But that’s not the case.

Scientists are learning more and more about the human brain but the mind is still largely a mystery to Western science. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s a mystery to all.

And it certainly doesn’t prove that ‘psychic abilities’ do not exist. . .

Buddhism & Psychic Abilities

Here in Thailand, the cultivation and understanding of psychic phenomena are seen not as extraordinary, but as a natural expression of being human and of our innate human potential. 

After having lived here for nearly twenty years both as a lay person and for a short time as a Buddhist monk, I’ve had the privilege of delving into the rich spiritual traditions that Thai culture and Theravada Buddhism have to offer.

I’ve also had some very strange and ‘unexplainable’ experiences (one of which I’ll tell you about in a moment).

The 6 Abilities

The Theravada Buddhist texts outline six distinct psychic powers, or “higher knowledge” (Chha Abhiñña), that practitioners can develop through their spiritual cultivation.

These include:

Psychic power (iddhi-vidha)

The ability to perform feats beyond the realm of the ordinary, such as walking on water or becoming invisible.

Divine ear (dibba-sota)

Clairaudience, the capacity to hear sounds and voices that are far away or subtle, transcending the limitations of normal hearing.

Mind reading (ceto-pariya-ñāṇa)

Telepathy, the power to discern the thoughts and mental states of others.

Remembering past lives (pubbe-nivāsānussati-ñāṇa)

The recollection of one’s own past lives and experiences.

Divine eye (dibba-cakkhu)

The capacity to perceive beings in other realms and to discern the workings of karma and rebirth.

Extinction of mental defilements (āsavakkhaya-ñāṇa)

The ultimate knowledge of liberation, which involves the complete eradication of all mental defilements and the attainment of enlightenment.

A Psychic Experience

Phra Ajarn sitting

One of the most profound experiences I’ve had with these psychic abilities occurred during my time as a wandering forest monk in the northern province of Loei, Thailand.

It unfolded during our communal meal following the morning’s alms round, a sacred time where we sat in silent meditation and practiced mindfulness by savoring each bite with deliberate attention.

The Scene. . .

I was seated in a line with five other monks, each of us silently eating. 

At one end of the line was me, at the other the master.

There was no communication whatsoever.

Although outwardly I appeared serene and appeared to be going about my sacred duty silently, inside my own mind I was screaming — for the toilet!

Rushing to join the alms round that morning, I had neglected a crucial visit to the restroom.

As a result, an urgent need pressed upon me — and my bladder — as I ate.

I was so desperate to relieve myself that I didn’t think I could possibly face another twenty minutes (at least) of ‘mindful’ eating without bursting. . .

But what could I do?

My mind was wild and screaming:

Should I excuse myself? COULD I excuse myself? Would it defy our monastic rules? Could I endure it just a LITTLE bit longer? Could I silently slip away without anyone noticing? OH GOD! HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO SIT HERE FOR?!

The internal struggle was consuming me, my mindfulness had completely vanished and all I could do was think about how I could get out of there and relieve myself.

And then something happened that left me completely speechless.

The Moment. . .

The master monk leaned casually forward, turned his head to me and said quietly with a smile: “Don’t worry, we’ll be finished eating soon, and you can use the toilet then.”


I was absolutely stunned.

Had I really been saying that stuff out loud?

Impossible! No-one else seemed to have noticed. . .

And that’s when I remembered being told that ‘if you think too loudly, they’ll hear you.’

It’s often said of the master monks in Thailand, the ones who practice meditation and mindfulness deeply, that if you think loudly enough, they’ll pick up on it.

And it seemed to be true. 

The ‘Knowing’. . .

There was no WAY I’d said anything out loud; I was making a point of looking mindful and serene throughout, as was my responsibility as a monk; AND, I was also sitting several places away from the master in a line of monks all facing forwards so the only way to see each other was to lean out and look.

There was NO WAY he could have heard me.

There was NO WAY he could have seen me — and even he he had, he wouldn’t have been able to read anything from my expression anyway. . .

That left only one logical conclusion (which to the Western mind isn’t a logical one at all):

The master monk had just blatantly read my mind.

Knowing For Yourself

bare feet walking a zen path

This encounter forced me to confront the extraordinary power of the mind, both my own and that of the wise monk before me.

Is telepathy real? 

Did I really just transmit my thoughts to someone sitting 20 feet away? 

How did he pick up my ‘signal’?

These are simple questions with extremely complex answers that Western science isn’t yet (and may never be) able to give. 

The only way to know for SURE whether these different abilities are real is to follow the steps laid out in the ancient texts for practicing the cultivation of them yourself.

Once you have direct experience, it doesn’t matter what anyone says:

You KNOW FOR YOURSELF what is true and what is not.

It’s the same for everything on the spiritual path.


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