Astral projection (or astral travel) is a term used in esotericism to describe a willful out-of-body experience (OBE) that assumes the existence of a soul or consciousness called an “astral body” that is separate from the physical body and capable of travelling outside it throughout the universe.
The idea of astral travel is ancient and occurs in multiple cultures. It is sometimes reported in association with dreams, and forms of meditation. Some individuals have reported perceptions similar to descriptions of astral projection that were induced through various hallucinogenic and hypnotic means (including self-hypnosis).
According to classical, medieval and renaissance Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, and later Theosophist and Rosicrucian thought the astral body is an intermediate body of light linking the rational soul to the physical body while the astral plane is an intermediate world of light between Heaven and Earth, composed of the spheres of the planets and stars. These astral spheres were held to be populated by angels, demons and spirits.
Similar ideas such as the Lin’ga S’ari-ra are found in ancient Hindu scriptures such as the YogaVashishta-Maharamayana of Valmiki. Modern Indians who have vouched for astral projection include Paramahansa Yogananda who witnessed Swami Pranabananda doing a miracle through a possible astral projection.
The Indian spiritual teacher Meher Baba described one’s use of astral projection:
In the advancing stages leading to the beginning of the path, the aspirant becomes spiritually prepared for being entrusted with free use of the forces of the inner world of the astral bodies. He may then undertake astral journeys in his astral body, leaving the physical body in sleep or wakefulness. The astral journeys that are taken unconsciously are much less important than those undertaken with full consciousness and as a result of deliberate volition. This implies conscious use of the astral body. Conscious separation of the astral body from the outer vehicle of the gross body has its own value in making the soul feel its distinction from the gross body and in arriving at fuller control of the gross body. One can, at will, put on and take off the external gross body as if it were a cloak, and use the astral body for experiencing the inner world of the astral and for undertaking journeys through it, if and when necessary….The ability to undertake astral journeys therefore involves considerable expansion of one’s scope for experience. It brings opportunities for promoting one’s own spiritual advancement, which begins with the involution of consciousness.
Astral projection is one of the Siddhis considered achievable by yoga practitioners through self-disciplined practice. In the epic The Mahabharata Drona leaves his physical body to see if his son is alive.