We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


In many parts of the world and even in the most "advanced" societies, people believe in spirits, which inhabit their landscape and can have a real impact on their lives.  Traditionally, these spirits have been seen as capricious rather than inherently evil.  They are not to be trusted, which means that they must be placated with gifts and prayers.  Some spirits, however, are evil.  They are demons, if you will.

Demons are real—not as separate spiritual beings, but as inner realities that touch us deeply and hurtfully, they are real.  They infest our inner landscape with anxieties, self-doubt, mistrust, insecurity, resentment, and the worst of them enjoy causing pain in others.  They are the source of racism, sexism, and the deep-seated fear of anyone who is different.  These deep dwelling inner demons teach us to be hardhearted.  They encourage us to walk on by.  They are real, and even the very best of us experience them.

Demons infect our relationships with the seeds of destruction.  They are insidious in undermining our better natures and good qualities.  They can turn our political systems dysfunctional, and at their worst they drive nations to war—masking horrible irrationality with a veneer of false sanity.  It is our demons that turn crowds into mobs.  Demons may not have a reality outside of our hearts and minds, but they are real nonetheless, and the very best single word to describe them is "insidious".  They are subtle, so much a part of us that they feel natural to us.  When Jesus taught that we are all to capable at seeing the splinter in another's eye while missing the plank in our own (Matthew 7:1-5), he was pointing to the demons that reside in us.  Author Frank Herbert in his classic novel, Dune (1965), assigns to a quasi-religious sect of powerful women, the "Bene Gesserit, the following Litany Against Fear: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."  He, too, was pointing to the demons within us, assigning them the name fear.

The thing is our demons cause us to act in ways that are as much hurtful to ourselves as anyone else.  A true goal of all religions is to quiet these demons to such an extent that they cease to be.  In coming to center, learning to truly relax, and discovering the quiet peace that rests in the heart of our hearts, we put our demons to rest.  We can't beat them by fighting them.  We can only discover peace by letting be and letting go or, which is another way of saying, "Letting go and letting God."  Only then do our demons lose their reality.