Maras and Demons

Lama Tharchin Rinpoche

In order to practice effectively, we must understand what is meant by the eighty thousand kinds of negative forces. Actually, this is not an easy subject for Westerners, but it was popular in Tibet and so we’ve imported it America! Whenever I mention "demons", most people seem doubtful. They immediately think: "Do demons and spirits really exist? And are there 80,000 kinds?" Now for a Tibetan with a background in Vajrayana, it is easy to relate to the idea of spirits and demons. But in the West, people have to stop and think about it for a while. The point is this -- this kind of constant thinking is the demon in the West because while you’re busy thinking, you’re not doing the practice that dispels demons, so how can you go beyond just thinking? Westerners also entertain the demon that doubts the inconceivable qualities and beneficial activities of the buddhas.

The next point is how negative forces manifest according to the two levels of truth. If practitioners meditate with the idea that demonic forces do not exist, they are holding a nihilistic view. Worse than that, this nihilistic view prevents them from doing the practices that eliminate the negative force of nihilism. How can they ever attain ultimate realization? Simply denying the existence of demons doesn’t eradicate them, so we must examine closely whether or not enemies and demons exist.

Ask yourself: "Do I exist?" If you answered "Yes", then enemies and demons do exist because that "I" is the king of all demons. We don’t have to look any further and actually try to find each one of the eighty thousand different kinds. The king of demons, clinging to a self-identity, is right there! As to the eighty thousand kinds, this refers to the all the emotional and confused ways we have of clinging to self-identity. And come to think of it, any discursive thought or confusing emotion is a demon, so actually there are far more than 80,000 types of obstructors and 21,000 kinds of demons! Why is belief in a self-identity demonic? It is because it supports the erroneous belief that phenomenal world is external to us and thus eliminates the potential for liberation. Maybe the words "enemies and demons" are not the right words to use in English but I think that they work once we understand the true meaning.

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