Close this search box.


The Secret of All Demons

Image courtesy of the author

I should begin by saying that gods and demons do exist. We know very well when one or the other is whispering in our ear. They make their abode in our mind, this infinite universe of vast space—wormholes, blackholes, worlds, and mysterious corners—throughout which the “I” travels: our minds might not be confined to our brains alone; instead they encompass the entire universe. 

Besides what all demons do—whispering interesting questions in our ear—they feel that their job is to question everything that the gods within us seek to affirm: 

“Why are you doing this?” “Wouldn’t it be better if . . . ?” “What if you . . . ?” “Have you dared to imagine . . . ?” “Are you brave enough?” “Are you good enough?” “Are you as spiritual as you portray yourself to be? Don’t you actually want something else?” 

All these questions can make us doubt ourselves, our goodness, our choices, and our faith. If our faith remains unshakable after being questioned thus, we gain a “godly” feeling of superation and conquest. But this makes me wonder: what would become of us without our doubt? Would we gain faith? What would courage be without fear? What would kindness be without witnessing all the suffering in the world? These are questions that arise from a neutral point of view, without judgements of “good” or “bad,” it’s just how we flow between the polarities of thought that our minds create. This makes me wonder about the role of demons. Would creation be wrong in allowing such extremes of light and darkness in our existential lives if it didn’t support our spiritual evolution? 

There is no culture I know of that hasn’t spoken of “good” in terms of a god or gods and goddesses, and “bad” in terms of demons, and created a fantastic pantheon of archetypes from all the “faces” they can embody. It is fascinating, but, above all, they are creations of our own minds, with no existence anywhere but inside of us.

The realms of the gods and demons—heaven, purgatory, hell—are of the substance of dreams. Myth, in this view, is the dream of the world. — Joseph Campbell (1904–87)

Image courtesy of the author

So often, we confront gods and demons as external forces, viewing all the conflicts and problems we encounter as being out there to harm us, and seeking salvation from somewhere else—from heaven perhaps? A Polynesian expression quoted by the American author Joseph Campbell states: we are “standing on a whale, fishing for minnows,” signifying that we are riding the source of our activity, which is the ground of our being; we look outward and we see problems around us, yet we fail to realize that we are the source of it all. This perspective has caused great troubles in the world and has definitely shaped cultures and belief systems. 

Consider, for instance, how the desire a man feels to possess a woman’s body has compelled them cover up the female body. The imposition of restrictions on women even led to the persecution by fire of thousands of wise women during the time of the Inquisition. This externalization of desire is caused by the belief that by exterminating an exterior factor, one can exterminate the inner desire. But is it really so? Or do the attempts of men to silence the voice of desire merely result in them amplifying the voice of fear, in the process making men into the demons they seek to suppress? 

In refusing to feed one demon, we open a portal to another hungry demon. In strongly desiring something or someone, we become subject to the influence of the chorus of voices in our head, the pantheon of gods and demons. Yet by pausing to listen, observe, and analyze mindfully, we have a chance to explore all phenomena as they arise in our perception, we have a chance to comprehend and the ability to navigate our internal realms without favor or preference. By confronting the questioning demon and recognizing desire in the intimate silence of awareness, we have the rare opportunity to experience love, beyond the experience of fear and attachment. When we surpass the fear of losing ourselves in the experience of desire, we can surrender to the dissolution of the identity that we were so busy defending. 

But we cannot transcend into the mystical divine union without confronting our innermost demons. Like guardians of the doorway to paradise, inner paradise, one must pass their tests to be worthy of entry. The world we see is a reflection of who we are. If I am in conflict with my inner gods and demons, then I see the whole world as a battlefield. If I am able to sit in contemplative dialogue, silencing the cacophony of inner voices and images, then I have the opportunity to find peace with the world and with other people.

There is an Indian fable of three beings who drank from a river: one was a god, and he drank ambrosia; one was a man, and he drank water; and one was a demon, and he drank filth. What you get is a function of your own consciousness. — Joseph Campbell

How can one attain peace when the demon is merely locked away in the hidden recesses of the unconscious mind—unheard, untamed; not transmuted nor integrated? 

Two stories, one from Bhutan and the other from Greek mythology, can illustrate this transformative process.

In the seventh century, Tibet was a military force under great the king Songtsen Gampo. He wished to enter the neighboring kingdom of Bhutan, but every time he tried, natural disasters would arise. By observing the shapes of the mountains and lakes there, the king realized that the entire country was covered by the body of a demoness. Songtsen Gampo did not want to kill her, as this was against Buddhist morality, instead he pinned her down by constructing 13 temples (some stories say 108 temples) across Bhutan on a part of her body in order to transform her wrath, which was pure energy, into the protection of the Dharma. The energy would be the same, but directed toward subtracting the harm she was causing and enabling her to support all living beings to practice good. 

The other story is about Persephone, the beautiful daughter of the Greek goddess of fertility, Demeter. One sunny day, while Persephone was picking flowers, Hades, lord of the underworld, saw her and, falling madly in love, kidnapped her to the hell realm. At first, Persephone fought, then cried, then almost starved herself in protest. Eventually, she was tricked into eating six pomegranate seeds and, in doing so, part of Persephone became queen of the underworld. Her mother Demeter desperately sought her daughter’s return, but she was only able to visit her mother on some months of the year. These visits made Demeter very happy, and spring would flourish in its lush splendor. But as soon as Persephone returned to the underworld, Demeter neglected the soil, bringing the gray embrace of winter. 

Map of Bhutan depicted as a female demon. From

It’s intriguing that in both stories, evil does not die but is transformed, and the environment is also transformed by a shift in perspective.

While we are in hell, we feel that our inner demons have taken over: they consume us from within and the voices of guilt, or attachment, or anger reverberate loudly, denying us respite. Our first instinct is to flee, however since our torment is within us it follows wherever we go. We might romanticize meditating in a cave like some holy yogi, but samsara lies in the very center of our being, right where we sit. 

Faced with this uncomfortable reality, some of us feel compelled to fabricate a new narrative for our troubled lives, or we seek novel distractions to avoid confronting the howling demon. Peering into our own shadows is no easy task, especially when there is no guarantee of emerging unscathed. It might take years, and even then the outcome is uncertain. In such times, the gods seem silent and a sense of isolation prevails. 

However, when the remembrance of the gods’ presence lingers, even in the dark silence, we turn to fervent prayer. I never prayed so intently to the goddesses as during my own dark years, finding within myself the energy and power of a star moved by a visceral need to be closer to the divinity within me. The darkness one can endure is proportional to the bliss one is ready to experience. Without the night, one could never appreciate the day; without fear, one could never discover courage. It is battle that makes heroes, and inner battles breed silent heroes. Of course, I do not advocate for wars to birth victory, but I acknowledge their inevitability. 

The beauty of balance in the universe is the real meaning of harmony: of spring and winter; day and night; demons and temples; hell and sacred wisdom; life and death. 

For thousands of years, the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva has personified creation, pervasion, and destruction. This same holy trinity is mirrored within us. Hinduism also refers to the polarity of dualism, Shiva and Shakti, that we experience within and in our perception of our world. We face decisions and struggles between “good” and “bad.” We navigate our life decisions based on what we think will bring less suffering and more happiness, such is our simple compass. 

Meanwhile, alchemists have long pointed to the gold lying within heavy metals and the deep, mystical journey of spiritual burning, melting, distilling—transmutation without death, until the alchemical process culminates in the legendary philosopher’s stone, the immortal soul.

Machig Labdron. From

We have to consider what becomes of us if we choose to flee from or attempt to suppress our demons. Yet there remains the question of how to approach them, because they still posses the power of profound destruction. 

One practical and profound practice, akin to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of chod, called “feeding your demons” was created by the 11th century yogini Machig Labdron and has been contemporized by the American Dharma teacher Lama Tsultrim Allione.

Machig Labdron’s teacher, Dampa Sangye, instructs her: “Confess all your hidden faults! Approach that which you find repulsive! Whoever you think you cannot help, help them! Anything that you are attached to, let go of it! Go to places that scare you, such as cemeteries! Sentient beings are limitless like the sky, be aware! Find the Buddha inside yourself. In the future, your teaching will be as bright as the Sun shining in the sky!”

The practice of feeding one’s demons begins by recognizing one’s feelings of anger, hatred, fear, or sadness—anything that torments you—and pinpointing where it is stored in the body. With this first step, in an attempt to make the energy more concrete, one imagines its size, color, texture, sound, smell, and all the details of its appearance. At this stage, one is able to draw the demon. Now that we have given it a face, one begins to question the demon: “What do you want?”“What do you really want?” No matter the response, you visualize feeding this demon whatever he/she craves—often warm, sweet nectar from the most devotional heart, cascading over and enveloping this demon. 

With this image, foster a deep understanding of the sorrow and anger that has sustained this demon and embrace it with boundless love and fearlessness. During this process, the demon will morph into what is known as the ally, then you can allow him/her to make a solemn vow of guidance and protection toward you. 

You can find comprehensive details on performing this practice in Lama Allion’s books and YouTube videos. However, above all, let the guiding force of intuition lead you—that glittering light behind the dark storm clouds that we gain through the practice of silent meditation and non-judgmental contemplation. Acknowledge the place that all things hold in the universe, honor it, recognize it, permit it, and move gracefully like a dancer between the waves and portals that life, sovereign above all things, may present for your experience.

Image courtesy of the author

See more

Tiffani Gyatso
Yangchenma Arts & Music
“The Senmo Map, or the Resurrection of the Demoness” By Woeser (High Peaks Pure Earth)

Related features from BDG

Atoms of a Thought: Emotional Intelligence in the AI Era
The Horse, the Rider, and Onions . . .
Natural Radiance and the Outer and Inner Sun

See more from Geometry of Life by Tiffani Gyatso

Related features from Buddhistdoor Global

Related news from Buddhistdoor Global

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments