Whether they be the horned, bewinged, goat-like satyrs of the Western World, or the flesh-devouring, multi-headed wraiths more common in the East, demons play a popular part in the global imagination. Every country in the world, no matter how anomalous or unique, possesses its own personal heritage of demons and the systems of Hells or torturous realms in which they are often both prisoner and jailer. Even Buddhism, with its strong emphasis on compassion and loving-kindness, has devoted numerous murals to the intricate portraiture of the cleansing purgatories that await the evil and impure; and Tibet, for all its veneration as the birthplace of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – (my personal hero) – has possibly one of the richest pantheons of demonology in the history of the human race.
But just what does this demonic fixation say about us? Why do they cleave so eagerly to our thoughts and our nightmares? Why do we need demons?
Everyone is familiar with the story from The Gospels regarding the ordeal of Jesus in which he was tempted by The Devil for 40 days and 40 nights. Buddha, too, as he sat under the Bodhi Tree, assiduously striving to attain enlightenment, was constantly beset by the devil, Mara – (the personification of selfishness and greed) – who did his utmost to prevent him from achieving tranquillity. Looking beyond these famous personages, and into the biographies and legends told of mystics and sages – and often artists, too – we find this same trend repeating itself. Whether the mystic in question was Christian, Muslim, Korean, Japanese, Hindu, Taoist, or Yaqui Shaman, we hear the same old story of saintly spiritual seekers being waylaid by devils in the wilderness, attacked, tempted, bewildered, and seduced, some emerging triumphant, whilst others, less unified in their will-power, succumb to their wiles and charms, and end up either mad or dead. Many modern scholars and researchers – including Jacques Vallee – have drawn parallels between these tumults and more recent accounts of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon. The demons have followed us into the present. But just what is it they want with us? Or rather, what is it we want with them?
The Tibetan Buddhists – or, specifically, in this case, the ‘Chödpas’ – would go one better in these accounts. Instead of allowing themselves to be assailed unawares by these murderous imps, they would deliberately invoke them, in order to fully test the strength of their psychic development. In a ritual known as ‘Chöd’, the initiate betakes themself to a burial ground or alternate location of sinister repute, draws attention to themselves by blowing through a human thigh-bone trumpet, and undergoes a meditational practice in which they visualize themselves as being surrounded by demons and other spiritual beings, to whom they offer their body as a source of sustenance. In vivid, gruesome detail, they imagine themselves as being eaten, and torn apart, piece by piece, by these wretched fiends, until there is nothing left, and they are then liberated from the torture of selfishness.
It might seem strange to most people that anyone would choose to betake this terrifying ordeal of their own volition, but behind it is the desire to achieve the greatest of accomplishments: complete freedom from fear.
Fear is the root of all evil. Take it away, and no impurity or delusion can prevail. Greed is driven by the fear that we will not have enough to survive. Lust is driven by the fear that pleasure is only temporary and can only be begotten by external things. Anger is fuelled by the fear that things will never go our way unless we violently coerce them too; jealousy, by the fear that good things only happen to others; and paranoia by the belief that the universe is conspiring against us. Together, all of these children of fear form a nightmarish plexus, a self-imposed prison that prevents us from being ourselves, enjoying our lives, and joining as one with reality.
So, to excise fear, and become completely fearless, is the only way to attain utter freedom. No matter what we may accomplish or achieve otherwise, if we still have fear, then we are still imprisoned, and have a lot more work to do if we wish to escape.
That’s why the biggest demon of all is LAZINESS. LAZINESS is very a clever demon. He deludes us into loving our prisons. “You might be very unhappy in here,” reason the demon, “but it’s a lot worse out there. If you stay in here, you’ll be comfortable and safe, and won’t have to do any work. You’ll only alert the guards, and cause a mass of confusion if you try to escape. Best stick with what you know – even if that makes you miserable.”
These lies of LAZINESS’s are very effective, and most people succumb to them at one point or another in their lives. Why? Because the only way to escape from Fear is to confront Fear directly. And it is much easier to stay ensconced in our self-made hells, then to attempt to navigate The Valley of Death that lies outside our cage.
So what are demons?
Demons are what happens when our negative thoughts and beliefs are repeated so much that they begin to take on a life of their own. We all get beset by worries, fears, and concerns from time to time. If we ignore them or deal with them, then they will go away. But, if we pay them too much attention, and begin to take them seriously, so that passing fears turn into lifelong patterns of habit and belief, then we have promoted a weak demon into our lord and master. It is like trying to get rid of flies by coating yourself in honey: what you sought to dispel has become part of you, and it’s a hell of a process trying to wash them all off.
Meditation is the best means of achieving this purification.
The Meditator as an Exorcist
More and more people are becoming attracted to meditation as it’s begun to become a much more mainstream practice. But people are still very afraid of meditation, and will make as many excuses as they can to avoid trying it. “I can’t do it,” they say, “my mind just won’t turn off!” Of course it won’t! Not at first! It takes practice! No one can play like Steve Vai the first time they pick up the guitar, or speak fluent French when they first open a phrasebook. So why do we expect to be virtuoso yogis the first time we pick up the mind?
The reason people are afraid of meditation is because it takes an enormous amount of courage. It is easy to stave off thoughts when we are in a state of constant action, watching fast-paced television, listening to music, and doing several jobs all at the same time. But when we seat ourselves in stillness, and these distractions are no longer available to us, there is no hiding anymore. We must look directly into our minds, confront the demon-filled hells we find there, and tear them apart piece by piece. It is like Room 101. All our fears are created by us, for us. And only we have the power to either maintain them or take them away.
“Mankind will do just about everything to avoid looking at their own souls,” observed Carl Jung in Psychology and Alchemy. And, considering how much we’ve neglected them, it’s no surprise they’ve grown so shabby. But if you meditate with perseverance and courage, never giving up, then you will be able to turn your Hells into Paradise, and your demons into Buddhas and angels. ‘All things are Buddha things’ sayeth the Zen Monk, even demons. Find the Buddha within the demon, and you will revoke all his power. That’s why Lao Tzu said:
When Tao harmonizes the world
Demons lose their power
Learn to harmonize your own mind, and no demon will ever be able to enter into it.