Various Realms Viewed by Earnest Practitioners

49) Internal Realms

If we are not diligent and do not exert efforts along the path of cultivation, nothing usually happens; however, if we are diligent and exert a great deal of effort, we will definitely witness different realms. They either come from within the mind or are caused by outside sources. I will speak first about the realms originating from the mind, called internal realms.

Internal realms are also called "realms of the Self-Mind" because they do not come from outside, but develop from the mind. Those who do not clearly understand the truth that "the ten thousand dharmas are created by the mind," think that all realms come from the outside. This is wrong. When the practitioner reaches the stage of mutual interpenetration [of mind and realms], completely severing external conditions, the seeds of latent dharmas in the Alaya consciousness suddenly manifest themselves. For the Buddha Recitation or mantra-chanting practitioner, the power of the Buddha's name or the mantra penetrates deep into the mind, eliciting a reaction from the wholesome or evil seeds in the Alaya consciousness. The realms that result are very complex and usually appear in dreams, or even when the practitioner is awake and striving to recite the Buddha's name. In Buddhism, this condition is called "changing manifestations of the Alaya consciousness.

Dreaming scenes

If the events or scenes result from evil seeds, the practitioner, in his dreams, may see various species of worms crawling out of his body, or witness himself, night after night, removing from his body six or seven loathesome creatures with many limbs, such as scorpions or centipedes. Or else, he may see various species of wild animals and/or spirits or ghosts. Such realms are innumerable and cannot all be described!

In general, individuals greatly afflicted with greed, who are miserly and wicked, usually see marks of men and women,[63] snakes and serpents and odd species with white features and forms. Those harboring a great deal of anger and resentment usually see tigers and leopards or strange species with red forms and features. Those who are heavily deluded usually see domestic animals, clams, oysters, snails or different species with black forms and features. The above, however, is merely indicative; it does not mean that everything will be exactly as described.

If the scenes in his dreams come from good, wholesome seeds, the practitioner sees tall trees and exotic flowers, beautiful scenery, brightly adorned with nets of pearls.[64] Or else, he sees himself eating succulent, fragrant food, wearing ethereal garments, dwelling in palaces of diamonds and other precious substances, or flying high in open space.

Thus, in summary, all the seeds of the ten Dharma Realms are found in the minds of sentient beings. If wholesome seeds manifest themselves, practitioners view the realms of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, human and celestial beings; if evil karma is manifested, they witness scenes from the wretched three Evil Paths. If the cultivator has followed externalist ways in lives past, he usually sees his body emitting electric waves, or his soul leaving the body to roam, meeting demons, ghosts and the like, to discuss politics and the rise and fall of countries and empires.[65] On the other hand, when the practitioner's mind is pure, he will know in his dreams about events that will occur three or four days, or seven or eight months, hence. In general, those who have cultivated in previous lives will immediately see auspicious realms when reciting the Buddha's name. Those with heavy karma, lacking merit and virtue, will usually see evil realms when they begin Buddha Recitation. In time, these evil omens will disappear and gradually be replaced with auspicious omens.

Waking scenes

If the practitioner's efforts have reached a high enough level, there are times during his waking hours when all deluded feelings suddenly cease for a while, body and mind being at ease and free. At other times, the practitioner may recite for four or five hours but feel that the time was very short, perhaps two or three minutes. Or else, at times during recitation, wholesome omens will appear. At other times, unconsciously, his mind experiences great contentment and bliss. Sometimes, he realizes for a split second that mind and realm are both empty. At other times, just by hearing or seeing something once, he becomes awakened to the truth of suffering, emptiness, impermanence and No-Self, completely severing the marks of self and others. These occurrences are too numerous to be fully described!

A layman was once reciting the Buddha's name while seated in the dark. Suddenly, he saw two types of flowers, red ones and white ones, springing up all over the floor, reaching as high as the edge of his bed; meanwhile, other flowers were dropping like rain from the sky. Another layman, while kneeling down to recite the Buddha's name, suddenly saw a red lotus flower appear before the altar, its bud gradually opening up and disappearing after a few minutes.

There was yet another layman who, during recitation, would suddenly see everything around him disappear. In front of his eyes would appear the scene of an immense ocean, calm and still, with no wind or waves whatsoever; countless huge, multicolored lotus blossoms would spring up on the ocean surface. Afterward, the ocean scene would disappear, to be replaced by scenes of mountains, with verdant herbs and flowers, luxuriant century-old trees, and, by and by, a temple complex, sumptuous and magnificent. Then the temple and mountains would disappear, to be replaced by scenes of jewelled nets coming together then drawing apart, drawing apart then coming together again. There are, in general, many such scenes, which the author has heard fellow-cultivators describe and which he has recounted here as examples.

Visionary scenes such as the above, called "internal realms" or "realms of the Self-Mind," have their origin in a thought of peace and stillness, or are caused by wholesome seeds generated by Buddha or Mantra Recitation. They appear suddenly and are lost immediately. The practitioner should not be attached to them, thinking that they are real, nor should he remember them fondly. It is a very great mistake to develop nostalgia for them, thinking how ethereal, calm and peaceful, beautiful and well-adorned they were, then day-dream about them, unable to forget them, longing for their reappearance. The ancients have criticized such thoughts as "scratching in advance and waiting for the itch." This is because these scenes have their origin in diligent exertion and appear temporarily. They have no true existence. We should realize that when the practitioner exerts a certain level of effort, the scenes and features particular to that level will appear naturally.

Take the example of a traveller who views different scenery as he passes along various stretches of the road. If he has not reached home, yet develops such an attachment and fondness for a particular scene along the road that he refuses to proceed, his travel will be impeded. He will then be helplessly lost in the midst of his journey, not knowing when he will finally return home to rest. The practitioner is like that traveller; if he becomes attached to and fond of temporary realms and scenes he will never attain the true realms. Were he to dream of them to the point of insanity, he would be destroyed by demons and waste an entire lifetime of practice!

The Diamond Sutra states:

Everything in this world that has marks is illusory; to see marks as not marks is to see the Tathagata.

"Everything that has marks" refers here to compounded, conditioned dharmas. Those marks cannot be said either to exist or not to exist, or to be true or false. Delusions arise precisely because unenlightened sentient beings discriminate, become attached and think that these marks exist or do not exist, are real or are false. Even the fondness which some Zen practitioners develop for samadhi (upon entering concentration and experiencing this immense, empty, still, transparent, peaceful and free realm) falls into the category of "having marks." The same is true when these practitioners, once awakened to a certain lofty, transcendental principle, joyfully grasp at it. Once there are marks, there is delusion.

"To see marks" means to see such marks as auspicious/evil, good/bad, dirty/clean, existent/ non-existent, Buddha/sentient beings, even the realms of the Five Skandas or the Six Dusts, etc.

"As not marks" means seeing but neither becoming attached to nor rejecting them -- just letting everything be. Why should we not reject them? It is because marks, while illusory, are not non-existent. This is not unlike the reflection of the moon in the water. Although the reflected moon is not real, this does not mean that there is no illusory mark of moonlight. Therefore, if we see marks appear while we are cultivating, we should disregard them and redouble our efforts, just like the traveller, who views varied scenery en route but must push forward to reach home quickly.

"To see the Tathagata" is to see the original Buddha Nature, to see the Way.

In summary, all states of mind, from those described above to the state of one-pointedness of mind, belong to the category of "internal realms." These realms have two aspects: "attainment-like" and "partial attainment." "Attainment-like" realms appear temporarily and disappear immediately. "Partial attainment" realms are those that once achieved, we have forever, because we have actually attained a part of True Thusness. Regardless of whether it is internal or external, if it is "attainment-like" it is not a True Realm; it is merely a full understanding of some of the manifestations of the True Mind.

Practitioners who truly seek liberation should not confuse these aspects, taking attainment-like marks for the True Realm. Attainment-like marks are like a dark, leaden sky which suddenly clears, thanks to the winds which temporarily push away the dark clouds, letting a few rays of sunlight through before the sky becomes overcast again. They also resemble the "mark" of smoke just before the fire, that people used to get when they rubbed two pieces of wood together.

The True Realm can be likened to the bright sunlight in a clear and calm sky. It is like rubbing pieces of wood together and already having fire. However, we should not underestimate attainment-like marks, as they demonstrate the genuine existence of the True Realm. If, from that level, we diligently redouble our efforts, the True Realm is not that far away after all.

50) External Realms

External realms are realms which are not created by the mind, but come from the outside. For example, some practitioners might see Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appearing before them, preaching the Dharma, exhorting and praising them. Others, while reciting the Buddha's name, suddenly experience an awakening and immediately see the Land of Ultimate Bliss. Some practitioners, in the midst of their pure recitation, see deities and Immortals arrive, join hands and circumambulate them respectfully, or invite them for a leisurely stroll. Still other practitioners see "wandering souls of the dead" arrive, seeking to "take refuge" with them. Yet others, having reached a high level in their practice, have to endure challenges and harassment from external demons.

For example, there was once a layman of rather dull capacities who constantly worshipped the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. During a dream one night, he saw the Bodhisattva urging him to meditate on the following stanza, and in time he would experience a Great Awakening:

Great wisdom develops from the Mind, 
Where in the Mind can it be found? 
To realize all meanings, 
Is to have neither past nor present.

Another story concerns a nun of the author's acquaintance who was cultivating in the vicinity of Dalat. After her Buddha Recitation session, as she was seated in meditation, she saw two men of noble countenance, dressed like deities or Immortals, respectfully inviting her to scale the mountains and visit their beautiful grounds. In her samadhi, she asked them, "How can I go, when the mountains are so high and I am so weak?" One of the men said, "Do not worry, I have a way." He then touched her lightly with something similar to a willow branch and requested her to follow him. She suddenly saw her body glide effortlessly over the grass, and, in no time, she was scaling the mountains. There she witnessed ethereal scenes, with gigantic trees and a palace and tower in the distance. At that very moment, a companion in the back room dropped something with a bang. The nun suddenly awakened from meditation. All scenes had disappeared but her thighs were still aching from overexertion.

The realms and manifestations summarized above are called "external realms." Some might ask, "To see Buddhas and lotus blossoms -- is it not to see demonic apparitions?"

Answer: If cause and effect coincide, these are not "demonic realms." This is because the Pure Land method belongs to the Dharma Door of Existence; when Pure Land practitioners first set out to cultivate, they enter the Way through forms and marks and seek to view the celestial scenes of the Western Pure Land. When they actually witness these auspicious scenes, it is only a matter of effects corresponding to causes. If cause and effect are in accord, how can these be "demonic realms"?

In the Zen School, on the other hand, the practitioner enters the Way through the Dharma Door of Emptiness. Right from the beginning of his cultivation he wipes out all marks -- even the marks of the Buddhas or the Dharma are destroyed. The Zen practitioner does not seek to view the Buddhas or the lotus blossoms, yet the marks of the Buddhas or the lotus blossoms appear to him. Therefore, cause and effect do not correspond. For something to appear without a corresponding cause is indeed the realm of the demons. Thus, the Zen practitioner always holds the sword of wisdom aloft. If the demons come, he kills the demons, if the Buddha comes, he kills the Buddha -- to enter the realm of True Emptiness is not to tolerate a single mark.

A caveat: we are only talking here about novice cultivators. High-level Zen practitioners do sometimes see various marks which are not demonic realms. When their minds become enlightened, Zen Masters who have practiced meditation for many eons can see evil as well as transcendental realms, including the pure and defiled lands of the ten directions. This is because all worlds are within the light of the True Mind. On the other hand, despite what we have said earlier, Buddha Recitation practitioners sometimes see various marks which are "demonic realms," as will be explained later.

In short, when we refer to "internal" and "external" realms, we are speaking at the level of beginning cultivators. For those who have attained the Way, Mind is realm, realm is Mind, the ten thousand dharmas and ourselves have but one common Nature. There is no inside or outside at all.

51) Discussion on Demonic Realms

As indicated above, sometimes the Buddha Recitation practitioner sees marks and forms which could actually be demonic realms. These are instances where cause and effect do not correspond. For example, while visualizing the physical features of Amitabha Buddha, a practitioner may suddenly see the features of a beautiful woman. Another cultivator, diligently reciting the Buddha's name in the hope of seeing auspicious scenes of the Pure Land, may unexpectedly see a slum area, with men, women and domestic animals running back and forth in all directions. Yet another practitioner, hoping to see precious lotus blossoms in the Pure Land, suddenly sees a small cart instead. These are demonic realms, as cause and effect do not correspond.

There are five criteria that can help us determine which events are real and which belong to the demonic realms.

1. Instances where cause and effect do not correspond (such as visualizing one mark but seeing another, hoping to see one realm but seeing another), as well as scenes and realms that do not resemble those described in the sutras, are all demonic realms.

2. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have pure compassion; therefore, even if they take the appearance of "demons" to test us, we still feel calm, at peace and pure. Demons, on the contrary, are inherently evil and wicked; thus, even when they take the appearance of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we feel agitated, angry and uneasy.

3. The Buddhas' light makes us feel calm and refreshed; it has neither shadow nor a blinding effect on the eye. The light of demons, on the other hand, affects our eyes and makes us feel agitated rather than calm and peaceful; it also has shadows. The reference to the Buddhas' light in the Lankavatara Sutra illustrates this point.

4. The teachings of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are in accord with the sutras and the truth. The words of demons are contrary to the truth and not in line with the sutras' teachings.

5. When an auspicious mark appears, the practitioner who wishes to test it need only concentrate on reciting the Heart Sutra with a pure mind, or reciting a mantra or the Buddha's name with one-pointedness of mind. If the mark really is auspicious, the more he recites, the clearer it becomes, because genuine gold is not harmed by fire. If it belongs to the demonic realm, it disappears as he recites, because evil can never withstand the truth.

We should judge events by all five of the above criteria, not just one or two. This is because there are many celestial demons, externalist deities and Immortals who want to lead us their way and therefore falsely take the appearance of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas preaching the Dharma. Although their cultivation is not the ultimate Way leading to liberation, they may have good karma or a fairly high level of samadhi. Thus, their "light" can also make us feel refreshed and peaceful. Moreover, their teachings at times also encourage the performance of good deeds, keeping the precepts, vegetarianism and Buddha Recitation. However, they diverge from the Buddhist sutras on certain crucial points [such as the need to escape Birth and Death]. Only by exercising careful judgement and understanding the Dharma in depth are we able to know.

For example, certain externalist deities urge vegetarianism and Buddha Recitation, but teach that the sacred words should be visualized as circulating throughout the body -- this, they say, is "turning the Dharma wheel," to release blockages in the energy system. This is the preaching of externalist demons.

There are also demons who take the appearance of Elder Masters and say, "Buddha statues made of bronze or cement cannot vanquish water, because they sink in water; Buddha statues made of wood or paper cannot vanquish fire, because they would burn. Only the Mind-Buddha cannot be destroyed by anything. You need only cultivate the Mind-Buddha, striving to make it pure; there is no need to cultivate body and speech. Therefore, even 'eating meat and drinking wine, lusting and begetting children' [in the case of monks and nuns] are of no consequence. Cultivating body and speech through such restrictive, ascetic practices as precept-keeping, vegetarianism, Sutra, Mantra and Buddha Recitation is of no use and brings no benefit!" This is a typical teaching of some spirits of long years' standing or demons of sexual lust.

There are some types of demon who have reached a fairly high level of attainment and can use their powers of concentration to help the practitioner reach a state of samadhi for a period of seven or twenty-one days. However, their teaching does not lead to ultimate liberation and, in the end, cannot transcend the cycle of ego-attachment.

Ancient masters have said:

When we see demons yet remain undisturbed, the demons self-destruct; when we see ghosts yet remain undisturbed, the ghosts are vanquished.

This saying means: if we see demons and ghosts but our minds are unmoved and unafraid, holding fast to correct thoughts or singlemindedly reciting the Buddha's name, these demons and ghosts cannot hurt us in any way, and will leave of their own accord.

Not only should we act in such a manner when seeing demons, but even when we achieve some results or see auspicious marks during cultivation, we should not be moved to astonishment, sadness or joy. It is as if we had lost a diamond at the bottom of the lake and because the water was murky, we were unable to recover it despite our best efforts. However, once the water became still and transparent, we found it. Since the diamond had always belonged to us, why should we have been astonished and happy? If the cultivator's mind is not calm and peaceful and is overly given to sorrowful compassion, he will be harmed by the demon of sorrow and cry all the time. If he is given to too much happiness, he will be harmed by the demon of happiness and laugh all the time, as though insane.

Thus, although the Pure Land practitioner may also hope to see transcendental realms and scenes, he should not long for or dream of them too much, because to recite is already to seek. He should be calm and "seek but not seek, not seek but seek," so as to avoid disturbing his mind. He should just earnestly recite the Buddha's name and in time, when the power of his recitation is pure, there will be a response and he will witness auspicious realms. To continuously seek and hope for them is deluded thought which brings harm.

Long ago in China there was a layman who had engaged in meditation for some thirty years. One day, he suddenly attained the faculty of transcendental vision. At the beginning, he would see through walls; later on, he could see things within a few dozen miles as clearly as though they were in front of his eyes. Realizing that he had achieved "transcendental vision," he was very astonished and happy! As time went on, he was not only able to "see" but also "hear" the voices of human beings and animals from far away. This is transcendental hearing, which develops after transcendental vision. As time went by, he could see and hear things that occurred within a radius of several thousand miles. Still later, he was able to predict future events. Thus, he "knew" in advance of a war between two neighboring kingdoms and "witnessed" the pitiful sight of countless dead and dying among the populace. He was so moved that he would weep and lament to whomever he met, "A great, violent uprising is going to occur. There will be massacres and utter misery. The people deserve pity and compassion. How can they be helped!

At the time, everyone who heard him thought he was insane. Later on, however, war and rebellion did occur as he had predicted. Even when the disturbances were over, he continued to go around lamenting. A respected master once commented:

This is a case of possession by the "demons of sorrow and sadness." The cultivator who has reached a certain high level of practice suddenly develops "transcendental vision." He should reflect it toward the Self-Nature, not letting worldly Dusts move and disturb his mind. He should realize that these psychic powers have always been in his possession and should therefore not be unduly happy or astonished or consider them strange and wonderful occurrences.

Another story concerns the eminent Chinese Zen Master Nan-Ch'uan:

The master was meditating in a hut next to a river. One night he heard two ghosts conversing. One of them was rejoicing that his term was coming to an end because the next day someone would be replacing him. The second ghost asked, "Who will be replacing you?" He replied, "A man wearing an iron hat." The master wondered to himself who this person could be. The next day there was heavy rain and the river rose to a higher level. The master looked out of his hut and saw a man about to cross the river. He had covered his head with a wok for protection against the rain. Immediately, the master knew that this was the man of the iron hat, so he cautioned him saying, "Don't cross the river today. It's too dangerous." The man asked, "Why?" "Because the water is very deep and running rapidly." The man listened to the old monk's advice and returned home.

You must understand that in Chinese lore, water ghosts are prisoners until another person drowns and takes their place. That night as he was meditating, the master heard the two ghosts again. This time the first ghost was complaining, "I have been stuck here for so many years, and I thought my chance for freedom had finally come. But now the old monk interfered and messed everything up. I'll show him what I can do." (Sheng-yen, Faith in Mind, p. 64.)

Upon hearing this exchange, the master immediately entered samadhi. He saw the demons enter, exit and go around his hut, as if searching for someone. However, thanks to the fact that his mind in samadhi was empty and still, "not influenced by the environment, no longer tied to mental objects," the demons could not see him. Discouraged, they finally left.

Of the two stories in this section, the first illustrates the danger of succumbing to the influence of demons while the second points to the way of overcoming their influence. I have recounted them here for the benefit of fellow-cultivators.

52) Various Types of Demons

The author had just finished drafting the previous three sections when he was visited by a Dharma master who requested him to elaborate on the different types of demons for the benefit of fellow-cultivators. In the three previous sections he has, in fact, given a general explanation of the different realms, including those of demons. If the cultivator has understood the main idea, he can keep his mind undisturbed and counteract all harmful occurrences. However, to comply with this request, the author will describe the different types of demons in greater detail, as follows.

"Demons" are called "mara" in Sanskrit. In Chinese, the word has the connotation of "murderer" because demons usually plunder the virtues and murder the wisdom-life of cultivators. "Demons" also represent the destructive conditions or influences that cause practitioners to retrogress in their cultivation. Demons can render cultivators insane, making them lose their right thought, develop erroneous views, commit evil karma and end up sunk in the lower realms.

Those activities which develop virtue and wisdom and lead sentient beings to Nirvana are called Buddha work. Those activities which destroy good roots, causing sentient beings to suffer and revolve in the cycle of Birth and Death, are called demonic actions. The longer a practitioner cultivates, and the higher his level of attainment, the more he discovers how wicked, cunning and powerful the demons are. Although there are numerous demons, they can be divided into three types: demons of afflictions, external demons and celestial demons.

Demons of afflictions

These demons represent the afflictions of greed, anger, resentment, delusion, contempt, doubt and wrong views. They also include the demons of the Five Skandas, the Six Entrances, the Twelve Sense Fields [eyes, forms, ears ...] and the Eighteen Elements. These demons are also called "internal" as they are created by topsy-turvy, delusive states of mind. Therefore, they must be overcome by the bright, enlightened mind.

The human mind is easily moved, developing afflictions not only because of personal karma but also because of the common karma of living in an environment filled to a great extent with beings subject to evil karma. Some persons cannot resist the attractions of the five Dusts and thus fall into evil ways. Others, encountering adverse conditions, grow sad and mournful and lose their determination to progress. Such developments, depending on their severity, render the cultivator despondent, indignant and ill, or worse still, cause him to abandon the Buddhist Order or even to commit suicide out of despair. More harmful still, they can lead to loss of respect and good will toward other cultivators, sometimes even hatred and avoidance of clergy and lay people alike. Loss of faith in cause and effect, bad karma and finally, descent upon the three Evil Paths are the end result.

To counteract these demons, the practitioner should reflect that all afflictions are illusory, upsetting, suffocating, binding, evil and conducive only to suffering for both himself and others. To eliminate afflictions is to return to the True Mind, free and liberated, fresh and tranquil, bright and clear, happy and at peace, transcendental and wondrous. The cultivator should also meditate in the same way on all attachments, from the Five Skandas to the Eighteen Elements. In the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha said:

You should not be greedy and attached to gross and vile forms, sound, smell, taste, touch and dharmas. If you do, they will burn you up.

The Bodhisattva Manjusri once asked a female deity, "How do you see the Eighteen Elements?" The deity replied, "They are similar to the conic fire burning up the whole world." These are words of warning, reminding us to eliminate the demons of afflictions.

If the demons of afflictions (internal demons) are not subdued, they will attract "external demons" which wreak havoc. The ancients have said:

If behind the door there are mean-spirited people, mean-spirited people will arrive at the door; if behind the door there are virtuous, superior people, noble superior people will arrive at the door.

Furthermore, when thieves try to enter a house through the side door, if the owner calmly scolds them in a loud voice, they will naturally be frightened and leave. If, on the other hand, he is terrified and panic-stricken, and begs them to desist, he will unwittingly be inviting them into his house.

External demons

"External demons" take the form of various spirits, ghosts and deities. Once the cultivator has reached a certain level of attainment, he will be subject to demonic disturbances which will put him to the test. External demons may be divided into three groups.

1. Terrorizing Demons

These are ghosts that like to frighten and terrorize people. They usually take the form of tigers, wolves, deadly serpents, poisonous snakes or other ferocious beasts or hallucinatory, diabolic apparitions to scare the cultivator. Their forms change ad infinitum. They may have no head or many heads, many hands, many eyes, or a half-human, half-bestial body. They may brandish weapons or spit fire. If the practitioner is frightened, he loses his right thought and often goes insane.

Faced with these occurrences, we should reflect that all forms and marks are illusory, and that demons can only destroy the illusory body, not the True Mind. Meditating this way, we should remain calm and unafraid of death, peacefully concentrating on Buddha or Mantra Recitation. The demons will then retreat of their own accord.

2. Demons of Lust and Attachment

These are a type of demon which excites a range of emotions, from lust to delusive attachment to the realm of the five Dusts [i.e., this world]. They take the appearance of alluring, nude men and women or of parents, siblings or close relatives, as well as of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas with beautiful, adorned features, in order to entice the practitioner. If he is fond of good food, these demons bring him succulent, fragrant dishes. If he likes diamonds or gold, they take the appearance of strange animals holding precious stones in their mouths as offerings. They cause whatever the practitioner desires to appear. They can also use their psychic power to lead him into evil samadhi, evil wisdom and eloquence, giving him the mystic power to know the past and the future.

Those who do not understand will mistake these occurrences for evidence that the practitioner has attained Enlightenment, and thus believe in and trust him. In reality, however, the cultivator's mind is upside down and he spends all his time engaging in errant, demonic practices to deceive others.

Once there was a Vietnamese monk cultivating at a deserted temple in Laos. In one of his meditation sessions, he saw a group of beautiful, ethereal women, all naked, holding hands and dancing around. The monk, unable to calm his agitated mind, immediately recited the Buddha's name in all earnestness. Only then did this scene disappear.

Another story: Once, in China, there was a monk seated in meditation. Because he was cold and hungry, the thought of food arose in his mind. He suddenly saw a woman presenting him with an offering of food. The woman knelt, put food in his bowl, and respectfully asked him to eat immediately, before the food grew cold and lost all taste. The monk, being hungry wanted to eat at once but remembering that it was not yet noon [the prescribed mealtime for monks and nuns], he patiently told her to put the bowl aside for the time being. The woman left, appearing angry and upset. Some time later, at noon, he uncovered the bowl to discover that it was full of worms, crawling all around. He then understood that his false thought of food had attracted the demonic apparitions. Thanks to his power of concentration, however limited, he avoided consuming the dirty food and violating the precept against killing.

Yet another story concerns a Zen monk who practiced in a deserted mountain area. Lonely and isolated, he had a deluded thought, wishing to have some fellow-cultivators practicing along with him to make life more bearable. Immediately, an old woman appeared from nowhere, leading two beautiful young girls by the hand, who, she said, lived in the village down in the valley. They had come, they claimed, to seek guidance in the Way. The monk, unsuspicious, immediately gave a Dharma talk to the group. One day, after many such visits over a period of time, the old woman respectfully requested that the two girls be allowed to become attendants to the monk and relieve him of his daily chores. The monk, hearing this, became suspicious. He reprimanded the old woman severely and refused the offer. The three women left, apparently angry and ashamed.

The monk, intrigued, followed them discreetly until they disappeared around a bend in the road. When he reached the spot, he found it was a dead end with no habitation or anything else around, except for three very old trees, one big tree and two smaller ones. He thought it over and realized that he had been "tested." A fleeting thought occurred to him, that he should cut down the trees, start a bonfire, and burn them to the ground. At that moment, the three women reappeared, repentant, begging him to forgive them and spare their lives.

Therefore, the cultivator should remember: when the mind is still, all realms are calm; when delusion arises, demons are born.

3. Nuisance Demons

This type of demon concentrates on harassing and disturbing the practitioner. There is a certain species of spirits and ghosts which can be subdivided into many types, each appearing at a fixed time of the day. In general, each hour has three types of spirits ... For example, during the period between seven and nine in the morning, they take the appearance of dragons, fish and serpent-like creatures.

In his commentary Samatha and Vipasyana for Beginners, the Patriarch Chih-I mentioned a type of demon with a face like a pear-shaped lute, four eyes and two mouths, which enjoys disturbing cultivators. Waiting for the individual to begin practice, it takes the form of worms or tiny insects and crawls all over his head and face, penetrates into his mouth, nose, eyes and ears, or goes under his armpits or belly to sting him. At other times it shouts loudly into the practitioner's ears, creating a great disturbance and giving him a headache; or it suddenly embraces him tightly. If the practitioner attempts to seize it in return, nothing is there. This type of nuisance demon also causes scenes of the five Dusts to appear, either favorable or unfavorable, or neither favorable nor unfavorable. Such transformations are countless and can cause the practitioner to become agitated. As he does not know what to make of all this, he loses his concentration. The general way to subdue these nuisance demons is to "gather" the mind in correct samadhi, or diligently recite mantras or the Buddha's name -- they will then all disappear.

Speaking more broadly, the category of "external demons" also includes demons belonging to externalist cults and other false or quasi-Buddhist sects. According to the observations of this author and many of his colleagues, practitioners who have belonged to cults in this or previous lives but have now converted to Buddhism, as well as those who are themselves Buddhists but who come from families formerly active in other faiths and cults, tend to be bothered by external demons. This is because the cultivation methods of externalists are within the realm of worldly afflictions and are tainted with pride, ego attachment, power and fame. Therefore, they stick together and do not want people connected with them in some way to follow other teachings.

A case in point is a friend of the author, a Buddhist monk of gentle and peaceful disposition, who was continuously disturbed by externalist demons during his cultivation. Unfortunately, because of his "externalist" past seeds, he did not apply the Dharma wholeheartedly, but went instead from place to place, seeking help from externalists. In the end, he strayed completely from Buddhism. While taking the outside appearance of a Buddhist monk, he spent all his time "balancing energy currents" while denigrating such practices as bowing to the Buddhas and reciting sutras as attachments to forms. Thus, those who were once affiliated with externalist faiths and later returned to the Dharma, should reflect on this example and be cautious.

Celestial Demons

This refers to the type of demon that resides in the Sixth Heaven, also called the Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Others' Emanations. This type of demon possesses merits and blessings and enjoys the highest heavenly bliss in the Realm of Desire [of which our world is but a small part]. They then mistake such happiness and bliss as ultimate, and do not wish anyone to escape their influence.[66]

When a practitioner has attained a fairly high level of cultivation, his mind-light develops and shines up to the realm of the Sixth Heaven. It is then discovered by the celestial demons, who seek ways to sabotage his cultivation. Such action can take many forms, threatening or cajoling, or even helping the practitioner attain false samadhi, "wisdom" and spiritual power, with the aim of ultimately deceiving him. These demons take turns watching the practitioner constantly and without interruption, waiting for the opportune moment. If the practitioner has a delusive thought, they pounce on him or steer him toward things contrary to the Way. The practitioner's entire lifetime of cultivation is then over, for all practical purposes.

In his Awakening of the Faith Treatise, the Patriarch Asvaghosha admonished:

There may be some disciples whose root of merit is not yet mature, whose control of mind is weak and whose power of application is limited -- and yet who are sincere in their purpose to seek enlightenment -- these for a time may be beset and bewildered by maras and evil influences who are seeking to break down their good purpose.

Such disciples, seeing seductive sights, attractive girls, strong young men, must constantly remind themselves that all such tempting and alluring things are mind-made, and, if they do this, their tempting power will disappear and they will no longer be annoyed. Or, if they have visions of heavenly gods and Bodhisattvas and Buddhas surrounded by celestial glories, they should remind themselves that these, too, are mind-made and unreal. Or, if they should be uplifted and excited by listening to mysterious Dharanis, to lectures upon the paramitas, to elucidations of the great principles of the Mahayana, they must remind themselves that these also are emptiness and mind-made, that in their essence they are Nirvana itself. Or, if they should have intimations within that they have attained transcendental powers, recalling past lives, or fore-seeing future lives, or, reading others' thoughts, or freedom to visit other Buddha-lands, or great powers of eloquence, all of [these] may tempt them to become covetous for worldly power and riches and fame. Or, they may be tempted by extremes of emotion, at times angry, at other times joyous, or at times very kind-hearted and compassionate, at other times the very opposite, or at times alert and purposeful, at other times indolent and stupid, at times full of faith and zealous in their practice, at other times engrossed in other affairs and negligent.

All of [these] will keep them vacillating, at times experiencing a kind of fictitious samadhi, such as the heretics boast of, but not the true samadhi. Or later, when they are quite advanced [they] become absorbed in trances for a day, or two, or even seven, not partaking of any food but upheld by inward food of their spirit, being admired by their friends and feeling very comfortable and proud and complacent, and then later becoming very erratic, sometimes eating little, sometimes greedily, and the expression of their face constantly changing.

Because of all such strange manifestations and developments in the course of their practices, disciples should be on their guard to keep the mind under constant control. They should neither grasp after nor become attached to the passing and unsubstantial things of the senses or concepts and moods of the mind. If they do this they will be able to keep far away from the hindrances of karma. (Wei-tao, tr., in Goddard, A Buddhist Bible, p.402-3.)

In summary and as a further generalization, there are only two types of demon, internal and external. Celestial demons are within the category of external demons; however, I have described them separately to alert the practitioner to the dangerous, subtle havoc they can cause. In addition to the demons of afflictions, external demons and celestial demons described above, Buddhist sutras also mention "disease demons" and the "demon of death." A bout of disease will usually wither the practitioner's efforts, while death in the midst of cultivation can make him retrogress. Thus, disease and death are called demons. In general, they represent obstacles to the Way that affect the physical body, but they cannot harm and destroy the Bodhi Mind in the true sense of the word "demon." For this reason, they are only mentioned in passing, but not elaborated upon here.

Considering the level of cultivation of today's practitioners, they generally face harassment only from demons of afflictions or external demons. Such cultivators are not advanced enough to arouse opposition from celestial demons. However, should the latter set their minds to destroying someone, that person has little hope of escaping harm, unless his cultivation is exemplary.

In the Surangama Sutra, Buddha Sakyamuni, out of compassion for cultivators faced with many dangers along the Way, advised those who practiced meditation to recite mantras at the same time. This would enable them to rely on the power of the Buddhas to escape harm from demons and achieve correct samadhi. The Patriarch Yin Kuang once said:

At first glance, it would appear that the Surangama Sutra has a different viewpoint from Pure Land. However, upon closer scrutiny, that Sutra, in its essence, actually praised and commended the Pure Land School. Why is this so? It is because, if even those who have attained the third level of sagehood can suffer retrogression caused by demons, we can see the crucial importance of Buddha Recitation and rebirth in the Pure Land: in the "gathering" and helping light of the Lord Amitabha Buddha, there is no more danger of demons.

While treading the Way but not yet reborn in the Pure Land, the practitioner of Buddha Recitation may also encounter demonic obstacles. However, in most cases, this is because he does not understand the Dharma and is not skillful at reining in his mind -- letting internal demons (afflictions) spring up, which, in turn, attract external demons. If he can keep his mind empty and still and recite the Buddha's name, external demons will be powerless and afflictions will gradually disappear. Thus, for the Pure Land practitioner, even if demonic obstacles do appear, they are few in number.

[Advanced] Zen practitioners, on the other hand, face many demonic occurrences because they rely only on their own strength and self-power. A Zen follower should fulfill the following five conditions to be successful: first, he should keep the precepts strictly; secondly, his nature and roots should be "quick" and enlightened; thirdly, he should have a clear understanding of the Dharma, skillfully distinguishing the correct from the deviant, the true from the false; fourthly, he should be firm and stable in his determination; and fifthly, he should be guided by a good advisor, who has a thorough understanding of the sutras and many years experience in meditation. If the practitioner does not meet these five conditions, he is very easily subject to harm from demons.[67]

The ancients have said that "in Zen practice, there are many opportunities to go astray." Therefore, to be successful in meditation, it is necessary to possess superior capacities and intelligence. High-level Zen Masters of the past, in transmitting the Dharma to their disciples, would repeatedly warn them:

Be careful not to accept as a disciple anyone who does not have the deepest good roots and the highest capacities.

These words should serve as proof enough of the above observation.

In the Awakening of the Faith Treatise after summarizing the essential points of Mahayana doctrine and explaining the path of cultivation, the Patriarch Asvaghosha added:

Next, suppose there is a man who learns this teaching for the first time and wishes to seek the correct faith but lacks courage and strength. Because he lives in this world of suffering, he fears that he will not always be able to meet the Buddhas and honor them personally, and that faith being difficult to perfect, he will be inclined to fall back.

He should know that the Tathagathas have an excellent expedient means by which they can protect his faith: that is, through the strength of wholehearted meditation-recitation on the Buddha [Amitabha], he will in fulfillment of his wishes be able to be born in the Buddha-land beyond, to see the Buddha always, and to be forever separated from the evil states of existence.

It is as the sutra says: "If a man meditates wholly on Amitabha Buddha in the world of the Western Paradise and wishes to be born in that world, directing all the goodness he has cultivated toward that goal, then he will be born there." Because he will see the Buddha at all times, he will never fall back ... [If a cultivator follows this path], he will be able to be born there in the end because he abides in the correct samadhi. (Asvaghosha, The Awakening of the Faith, p. 102 )

As explained above, diligent Buddha Recitation is a wonderful expedient to escape demonic dangers and swiftly attain correct samadhi.