Although thus with bodies and minds
without killing, stealing [and] sexual (mis)conduct…
if [beings are with] great false speech,
immediately, [their] samadhi [meditative concentration]
will not attain purity, becoming [or being possessed by]
demons of attachment and delusion,
losing the Tathagata’s [Buddha] seed [for Buddhahood].
– 楞严经 (释迦牟尼佛)
Surangama Sutra (Sakyamuni Buddha)
A question that often bothers spiritual practitioners, including Buddhists, is this – ‘How can we avoid demonic obstacles (魔障)?’ Before answering, let us first understand what are ‘demonic obstacles’. There are two main kinds of ‘demons’ – the inner and the outer. Inner demons refer to the three poisons of attachment, aversion and delusion (i.e. greed, hatred and ignorance). These are the mental roots of all evil and suffering, the origin of all physical outer demons, who are troubled and troublesome beings, including ourselves. Thus, all outer demons are extended manifestations of inner demons. With no one poisoned by the three poisons, there would be no one who attempts to poison others with the same poisons.
‘Demonic obstacles’ then refer to spiritual (and physical) obstructions for well-being and progress caused by inner (personal) and outer (other) demons. Such obstacles can discourage us from learning and practising the Buddhadharma (the Buddha’s Dharma teachings) purely, even leading us to spiritually backslide and go astray. The truth is, whether aware of them or not, all of us unenlightened ones already face demonic obstacles from our inner demons. That we are all affected by the three poisons (which sustain these demons) to various extents is why we should diligently purge the poisons by nurturing the antidotes of generosity, (loving-kindness and) compassion and wisdom with continual Dharma learning and practice.
What about outer demons? How do we keep them at bay? First and foremost to do is the above, to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by our three poisons to personally become anyone’s outer demons. In ‘The Great Buddha’s Crown’s Foremost Surangama Sutra: Section On Clear Instructions For Purity: Passage On False Speech’ (大佛顶首楞严经: 清净明诲章: 妄语篇), the Buddha taught that, ‘[With the] causal ground [or direction] not true [at the start, the] fruit [or effect] attracted [will be with] twists and turns, [away from the true goal]’. (因地不真，果招纡曲。) We must have motivation for Dharma practice and it must be pure, for purging the three poisons (and guiding others to do the same).
To do so, we must keep sincerely learning and practising the true teachings of the Buddha taught in his sutras. Otherwise, we are likely to go spiritually astray. The Buddha also assured in the same sutra that, ‘[with] minds like straight strings, all will be true, [with] entering of samadhi [in deeper Dharma practice], forever without demonic matters [obstacles].’ (心如直弦，一切真实，入三摩地，永无魔事。) To have ‘straight’ minds again means to have the directly pure motivation for the true goal of Buddhahood, to benefit one and all. Having pure motivation ensures there is pure conduct from observation of the four heavy precepts, to be without killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying. (See opening quote.)
Having pure moral conduct is thus the way to always be free from demonic obstacles – by ensuring we do not feed inner demons that lead to breaking of precepts. Since all demonic obstacles arise from being morally weak, which resonates with outer demons who manifest further troubles, if we fortify ourselves with strong moral integrity, they will be unable to find weaknesses in our spiritual armour for infiltration and disturbance. These ‘demons’ are not always evil spirits encountered in meditation. They can be humans in the ‘guise’ of lay and monastic ‘Buddhists’ too, who do not teach or behave morally. Those who learn from them might become like them, to be certainly bound for the lower realms for an uncertainly long time!
The good news is that there is a single wonderful streamlined method of Dharma practice highly recommended by all Buddhas, capable of protecting us from all inner and outer demons. It is taught in the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经) that all who are wholeheartedly mindful of the name of Amituofo (阿弥陀佛; Amita[bha] Buddha) with the right Faith and Aspiration will be mindfully protected by all Buddhas. Not only is there external protection, there are blissful blessings offered too. Mindfulness of Amituofo is also being mindful of our Buddha-nature. This naturally keeps our spiritual motivation and conduct in check, purges the three poisons and aligns us to the precepts. It even eventually leads to birth in Amituofo’s Pure Land, where we will be forever free of all obstacles on the path to Buddhahood!
Gathering the mind for [observing the] Precepts,
due to Precepts giving rise to Concentration,
due to Concentration giving rise to Wisdom,
these are thus named as the ‘Three Learnings Without Leakages’.
– 楞严经 (释迦牟尼佛)
Surangama Sutra (Sakyamuni Buddha)
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra: Introduction To Pure Land Buddhism (16th Run)
Destination Pureland: How To Have The Best Rebirth (3rd Run)
The Buddha’s Admonition Against False Spiritual Claims
How To Prevent Being Tricked By ‘Buddhist’ Cults