Story about Milarepa and the Demons

by Sweety Vyas

  There’s a famous story in the Tibetan tradition about Milarepa, a yogi who lived in the eleventh century. It goes like this. 

    One evening when he returned to his cave, Milarepa found it filled with demons. They were everywhere – on his bed, reading his books and cooking food. It was such a nuisance! He decided to get rid of them. He realized that they were projected by his mind. They were undesirable parts of him.     

     However, he didn`t know how to get rid of them. He chased them around and tried to force them out of the cave. But the demons remain unfazed. The more he chased them the more comfortable they became in his cave. Next, he tried to teach them about the concepts of dharma. He talked about kindness and compassion, emptiness and equality. He hoped that hearing about the teachings would make them leave. But the demons still remained. Not a single one of them left. Finally, in frustration, he said, “I’m not going away and it doesn’t look like you`re going away either, so let’s learn to live together.” Hearing this, all the demons left, but one. Milarepa didn`t know what to do with the remaining demon. Finally, surrendering totally, he placed himself right to the demon’s mouth and said, “Eat me up if you wish.” Hearing this, the last demon dissolved and left.

    The spiritual pathway is all about letting go. We usually try to get rid of our challenges (demons). We chase them round and round, but they still remain. By using indirect manipulation, we  sometimes even use our spiritual practices to disassociate ourselves from life. Avoiding the demons at all costs becomes our goal. Ultimately, we realize that resistance doesn`t work. As Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist said: “What you resist not only persists but grows in size.” 

    We gradually learn to be less scared of the demons, inviting them to join us from time to time. Most demons then go away. One may remain and come back to hit us with full force. Then we learn to look it in the eye and confront it. We face our fears and pain without pretending that we are above it. Surrendering helps. There is no interest in fighting to survive. At this stage, all our resistance is gone. Finally, we learn to practice awareness and compassion towards ourselves, becoming open to learning what is ahead of us. Our fear then transforms into acceptance and openness.

    That is when and how we make progress.

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