Tantra, Buddhist Psychology
and The Prince of Darkness
Question: My friend did a Yamantaka sadhana up on his farm and now he's being choked out by a dark spirit regularly. I feel like it was irresponsible of the rinpoche to give such a high tantric sadhana to him so early on and without support. But maybe he's meant to go through this, who knows...
Kim: All buddha dharma is based on the teaching of emptiness. You are empty, I am empty, horrible monsterous dark spirits are empty. Emptiness means that the self is not permanent, that there is no such constant entity in me, in you or within the devil. If there is, it is just a convincing mirage. In the desert people die after chasing mirages. That's how convincing images and thoughts are. We are son of a rich man, wandering around among the poor, as Hakuin put it. Because of self stored in thoughts, we are confused.
Buddhist view of emptiness, which is the ground without ground, puts a very different spin on harmful entities, compared to religions of dualistic view and exorcism. If there is no one here, and this is known through first hand experience, who is there to fight, who is there getting harmed, who is there doing the harming? If one has no taste, no experience of emptiness/selflessness, then one is likely to think in terms of self and other, and consequentially gets into conflict and confusion. But it need not be that way.
If one has a problem, like your friend, that she or he thinks she is being attacked by a dark spirit, one first needs to remind what the mahayana buddhist doctrine is and not get confused about duality. The things is that there is no stronger protection or medicine than emptiness which is both nondual and non-unitary. But if you think that ”emptiness protects me”, then it again becomes topsy turvy. In emptiness there is life in the form of beings who share the common ground of empty awareness. Empty means being without self, without me, without colour, without shape, without story, without excuse, without fear, without being screwed. That is where all beings; whether they are good, bad or liberated, meet, whether they know it or not. In one way or the other, all buddhists seek to know themselves as this basic awareness. So when discussing about protection, it's not like we would surround ourselves with some substance called emptiness so that the esoteric mafia couldn't get to us. No. When we know ourselves as empty awareness, there is no need for protection, for how could anyone fight or abuse space? You can't make space scared, either. This is the beauty of buddhist doctrine.
Regarding your friend's problem. Adopting a different view would be helpful. It'd be helpful if, what is first seen as a malefic entity, instead, would be viewed as a traumatic energy or self of one's own mind. I mean seeing the spirit to be part of one's own mind rather than something external. How did she or he come to think it's a dark spirit, in the first place? If a nasty presence or choking is felt, it can be seen as a manifestation of stress, rather than being attacked by an external being. This gives it a very different spin. From there, apply common vipashyana instructions.
You know, people can actually have such strong entities, emotional selves, that cause very strong sensations like the one you mention. The thing is that we may have very strong trauma or karma stored in our subconscious mind. You can think of all the worst actions committed by humans (that are abound!) and safely make the assumption that you, me and everyone else has done it in some life, at some stage in the past. What if you experience dark presence and getting choked because you might have choked someone to death in the past? I am merely suggesting that what if that is what is happening? What if this has nothing to do with anyone else except you and your own karma? Of course, understandably, it is difficult because of reactive fear and anxiety. We get scared of things unknown. The main point is that when we clarify our own stand (of emptiness), there isn't anything for the demons, devils and Princes of Darkness to dig their fangs on.
Samsaric mind is tricky and complex but the principle is simple. Students of vajrayana need to study and understand both sutra and tantra, not only tantra. Without sutra studies, one doesn't necessarily comprehend the psychological aspect of dharma, which is what I am suggesting here.
I do not know who the concerned rinpoche is or whether he gave the practice based on clairvoyance (therefore the practice being suitable despite of difficulties) but one thing that apparently is missing is opportunity for one-on-one with the lama. This is common problem and a lot of people complain about that. It's a valid complaint.
-Kim Katami, 29.6.2019
Open Heart Sangha,