October 29, 1997

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Tonight I shall tell a Halloween story. Halloween in your time and place is drawn from ancient myths and traditions. One of the functions of Halloween is to offer an opportunity to confront demons. By confronting them I don't mean to go out on the street and confront the first spook that you meet. Rather, the demons that you pretend to be in disguise are symbolic of your own internal demons.

Is there one of you who does not have any demons? What are you going to do with these demons? We talk about the practice of inviting them in for tea. At times that is very difficult to do. We can learn how to do that practice with our own personal demons when we also practice with that which symbolizes the personal demon.

What do I mean by the word demon? First, let us explore a moment. Is there anything that is inherently evil? I do not find it so. There is only light and relative absence of light. I do not experience inherent darkness. Nevertheless, that which has become warped and closed off from the light may be extremely negative and have great intention to do harm. If we define demon in this way, as that which is primarily expression of fear, does this definition help us to better understand our own personal demons, such as the demons of self-judgment, a sense of unworthiness, strong desire, greed, or other forms of clinging, strong aversion states. These are really aspects of the self that have become shut off from the light.

It is not that desire for service to all beings is not there, but it becomes enshrouded in clouds so that we cannot directly experience it. Then we experience that strand of the self which is afraid and increasingly closed into darkness as a reaction to its fear. When this kind of mind-state comes frequently, we begin to consider it as our personal demon.

Are you all squirming and saying, “Enough theory, Aaron, time for a story?” All right.

There was a lifetime in which the being I was was a Buddhist monk. There was a hillside shrine which monks often visited to meditate, one of several shrines in a very small woods. Hidden within the hillside there was a deep ravine, at the foot of which there was a stream. The only access route was through a dense woods with a steep, single track path. The path broke through the woods into a clearing. From that clearing one could continue down into the ravine or climb the wooded hillsides which rose on either flank from the ravine.

Just across the stream, the hill rose as a sheer cliff, so this downward path was a dead end. Beings seldom walked that very wild and desolate way. Just at the edge of the woods where the hill rose up there were the sacred shrines. What made them sacred? There was strong energy there. Various kinds of light had been experienced there, and sometimes mystical beings experienced also. Legend had it that the ashes of both holy and demonic beings had been spread there and drew intense light and darkness to this place.

At that time I was a wandering monk and was drawn to this area of which I had heard tales, but never visited. When I arrived, the night was dark. Clouds shut out the moon and in the woods it was pitch black. I had a torch, a small bit of wood held flaming to light the way. I broke through the edge of the woods and there before me lay the path plunging down sharply to the stream which I could hear bubbling in the distance, although the sight of the stream was lost in the black shadow of the cliff that lay beyond it. I had been told by a fellow monk to climb the hill on my right, and did so, and came to a circle of rocks, with a low flat stone that served as an altar. There was sand there into which I plunged my torch to hold it erect and allow a bit of light. The area seemed to reverberate with energies.

I had been warned that, along with very beautiful lights and strong positive energy, I might also feel that energy which raises the hairs on one's neck, and hear what seemed to be sounds of pain. It was explained to me that what I was hearing was the 10,000 sorrows of the world. It echoed and re-echoed through this place, where the sorrows might be absorbed, released, by the positive energy there, or might find new containers through which to touch the world with their tears and horror.

I had been on the road for many months. I was looking for something, something I could not quite name. And I hoped that I might find that Nameless here. And so I was determined to sit, not just through the night, but to spend days or even weeks here. I'd been told by other monks that, because it was known as a place where monks came to practice, people from the next village brought food and left it just at the edge of the forest. Thus, my physical needs would be provided for.

I cannot tell you what I hoped to find. I gave it the title “freedom.” I can only tell you what I was running from, which was my own negativity, my own anger. I had resided with a sangha in a forest monastery. I found myself often judging the practice of other monks, rather than attending to my own practice. I found myself judging my teacher, who was wise and kind, also often appeared slovenly and greedy to me. In that regard, he did not enact what I considered to be an enlightened mind. Looking back, I perceive that one part of me was searching, hoping to stumble into the teacher, the sangha, which totally exhibited that enlightenment which I sought. I thought that by my proximity to it I would gain it for myself.

A wiser part of me knew that the enlightened mind was always there, within me, within my old sangha and my teacher, that it was just obscured a bit. So at one level I knew that my work was not to uncover something new so much as to break through my own self-contempt, which took the form of judging others.

So that is who I was as I emerged from the woods that night, climbed the hill, found the stone circle which had been described to me. I wrapped my spare robe around me as extra protection against the evening's chill and wind, and began to meditate. The night was stormy. Thick clouds blew across the sky which offered just an occasional glimpse of the moon. I was afraid, my entire body tense, defended, listening to the silence.

In a few minutes I began to hear some of the harrowing sounds that I had been warned I might hear. There came a shrill piercing cry, a wail that I could not begin to imitate for you. It sounded so much like the wind whistling through the rocks and trees that I told myself I was being deceived, that it was just the wind. But the wind picked up and the wail stopped, and then the wind stopped and the wail began again! A thin shrill cry. I sat for 2 hours hearing that cry. I confess I was afraid to go and investigate it. But it became more intense. Finally I knew that I had to do it, had to walk down my hillside, down into that black ravine toward the river, from where the cry seemed to come. To ignore that cry was to ignore my own shadow, to continue to hide from that shadow. To investigate was to acknowledge the willingness to investigate my own inner shadow.

There is a Buddhist sutra, the Bhayabharava Sutra, in which the Buddha talks about wanting to meditate at a haunted shrine. Noting his terror, his precise words are, “I asked myself to observe the arising of that fear and dread and allow the experience of it until it dissolved itself.” Fine words. How does one stay with terror? As I reached the foot of the hill and began the steep descent into the ravine, suddenly there was silence. The wind died. The scream died. I stood for several minutes motionless, really convinced myself that it was my imagination and that I might climb back up the hill, and then it began again. “Aiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaia!” Higher pitched. Over and over.

I walked into the ravine. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in any life. At some level that scream was my scream; my willingness to walk into the ravine and tend to that scream was a willingness to tend to my own pain, fear and confusion. I think at some level it didn't matter to me if there was really a demon there, nor if it attacked me, even killed me. I had to allow myself to be present with that outer scream as a way of confronting the inner scream.

I walked down the path. Suddenly it dropped sharply to the river. It was difficult going with my robe held in one hand, the other holding the torch that was fluttering in the wind. The river lay in mist and was hidden in darkness.. But as I came around a turn, down there at the foot of the hill I saw a strange light, a very pale glow. The shrill cry seemed to come from within that light.

I approached it most unwillingly, but there was nothing else to be done. Can you understand that to turn and flee from that sound was to flee from my entire life and practice, to flee from that which was fragmented in myself, and which I strived to heal? Each time the scream repeated itself, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up straight.

It's funny, as I reflect now. It was just a scream. Hearing; nothing else. How much we imagine, alone in the dark. As I descended, the light that I had seen began to move. The light and the scream together approached me. I stopped. While I had been able to approach it, I trembled at the idea of its approaching me. Suddenly, reason was no longer in control. What was coming to get me?

The light approached steadily. The thin wail now subsided, then picked up in a shrill, penetrative voice, then declined again.

I simply stood, following the Lord Buddha's advice and asking myself to be present with my fear and dread and allow the experience of it. I stood as the light approached until suddenly I could perceive the faint outlines of a human form seeming to hold something in its arms. It approached, THRUST something at me, and was gone. And I held that wailing bundle in my arms. A baby. A wailing baby, disconsolate. Can you believe that? A baby, simply thrust into my arms. No word. Was it the devil itself? What child did I hold? But by my torch light I could see that it was simply a suffering human baby.

I did not know anything about the care of babies. I carried it up the hill. I wrapped it in my cloak and rocked it and sat with it through the night, listening to its terrible cry, offering it my love which was all i had to offer, as monks do not carry food nor store it..

I was sitting in very deep meditation, the infant finally asleep, holding it wrapped to my body's warmth, when I heard footsteps behind me in the pre-dawn darkness. One step after another. Shuffling, crunching ever so softly on the ground. And then a touch. I really was almost beyond fear at this point. Sat there simply noting the arising tension in my body, noting “hearing” and then this touch. I opened my eyes, turned.

There was a man with red-rimmed eyes sunken deeply into his face. A demon? What was this man? No words. He simply pointed to the baby in front of me and held his arms out, giving clear indication that he wanted me to hand him the child. I had not seen his face in the night. These red-rimmed eyes were filled with horror and grief. Could I hand this baby to him? He was insistent, began to pull my cloak aside. Took the child and looked at it carefully, was satisfied as to its safety and took it back to his own breast, wrapped in his own cloak. The child did not awaken. Just that, and then he walked away.

He had no torch. I could not see which direction he walked. And he was gone.

I sat there reflecting upon what had happened. Who was the man? Who was the child? How did I move so quickly into terror, at this poor baby's scream? Our fear is a reflection of ourselves. It was the negativity in me that was afraid. It was that which was capable of horrible deeds in me that saw the possibility of such harm from another. As I sat there in the pre-dawn, I found my heart opening to the negativity in myself, finding forgiveness that the states of anger, of judgment, of condemnation, jealousy and pride, were there.

It wasn't until many days later, when I finally left that hillside, that I learned the real story. This man lived at the foot of the ravine in a very minimal shelter. Earlier that day his wife had fallen, fallen down the rocks to the river's edge. She was going to the river to get water, lost her balance and fell. He could not save her. He climbed down to the rocks where she was, but she was clearly dying, unconscious, and he single-handedly could not bring her back up. Grief-stricken, he climbed back up himself, pulling the woman's body as far into the rocks above the water as he could. He climbed back up to his shelter, sat there and cried silently to himself. His hungry infant, missing its mother's milk, began to wail. The walk through the black woods and into the village was too arduous a climb. He could not make it with the baby and he could not leave the baby alone. The baby's wails didn't cease and he had nothing to feed it. And then he saw my light, recognized me as a monk as I approached. He had seen my light at the hillside shrine. He simply entrusted his child to me. He went into the village and returned with suitable food for the baby. Took it back and went home.

What made me think it was a demon? It was only my own reflection that I saw, my own negativity, and my hatred of that negativity. Sitting there, allowing space for the fear within me, I allowed space for that which was negative within me. During those hours of hearing the screaming, as I allowed the experience, came to know I had to tame this desperate noise. Gradually I became willing to attend to myself, to my own inner scream, willing to make space for my own demons so that they ceased to be demons.

This is how I learned to invite my own demons in for tea.

Before I left that area, I walked to that humble dwelling. I found the man there, doing some of the work people must do to maintain themselves. In a small box wrapped in a cloth was the baby, sleeping. The man's eyes were not so sunken. Some of his grief was past. He saw me and smiled. We still exchanged no words, but he went and picked up the sleeping child and handed it to me. I had not yet learned his story, but only heard it later in the village. The father placed the child in my arms. All I had seen as demonic was simply a living human being, with its joys and sorrows. That's all there is. The rest is the reflection of our own minds.

(remainder of session not yet reviewed)