Lama Tsultrim Allione on Feeding Your Demons

Feeding your demons rather than fighting them might seem to contradict the conventional Western approach to what assails us, but it turns out to be a remarkably effective path to inner peace and liberation. Demons are our obsessions and fears, chronic illnesses, or common problems like depression, anxiety, and addiction. They are not bloodthirsty ghouls waiting for us in dark places; they are within us, the forces that we fight inside ourselves. They are inner enemies that undermine our best intentions.

The approach of giving form to these inner forces, and feeding rather than struggling against them, was originally articulated by an eleventh-century female Buddhist teacher, Machig Labdrön (1055-1145). Her exact dates are debatable and vary according to the source, but most scholars agree she was born in 1055 and lived well into her nineties. Her spiritual practice was called Chöd (pronounced “chuh”), which means “to cut through.” She developed this form of meditation, unusual even in her time in Tibet, and it generated such amazing results that it became very popular, spreading to all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism and beyond.

In today’s world we suffer from record levels of inner and outer struggle, and find ourselves ever more polarized politically and spiritually. We need a new paradigm, a fresh approach to conflict. Machig’s strategy of nurturing rather than battling our inner and outer enemies offers a revolutionary path to resolve conflict that leads to psychological integration and inner peace.

In 1967, at age nineteen, I had the good fortune to travel to India and Nepal and meet the Tibetans who had settled there as refugees after being forced into exile during Communist China’s invasion of Tibet. I fell in love with the Tibetans and returned to India in 1969 after spending six months at the first Tibetan monastery in Scotland, founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. in 1970 I was ordained as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition by His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, in Bodhgaya, India, and for the next few years I had the immeasurable blessing of receiving teachings at the feet of many great Buddhist masters trained in Tibet. As I describe in the following pages, after several years I made the decision to return my monastic vows, It was at this time of great transition and uncertainty that I was first introduced to Chöd. I subsequently returned to America, became a mother, and sought to integrate Tibetan wisdom into my life as a layperson. I was eventually guided to discover Machig Labdrön’s biography (written in Tibetan), and her teachings became pivotal for me.

Because I myself was able to find such enormous relevance in Machig’s teachings, I was motivated to find a way to make her approach accessible in a Western context. When I began to teach
the Chod practice in the West, I developed an exercise of visualizing, dialoguing with, and feeding demons that yielded tangible results. Gradually from this exercise the five-step process described here evolved into a method I call feeding your demons, which began to be used independently of the Tibetan Chöd practice by my students, For the past twenty-five years-most recently at our Colorado retreat center, Tara Mandala, in Chöd and in Kapala Training retreats-I have taught this way of feeding your demons to make friends with that which we would most like to avoid.

Those who have used the method report that chronic emotional and physical issues such as anxiety, compulsive eating, panic attacks, and illness were resolved or significantly benefited from this approach. The five-step process has also proved helpful in dealing with short-term upheavals such as the breakup of a relationship, the stress of losing a job, the death of a loved one, and interpersonal problems at work and at home. Sometimes the results have been instantaneous and seemed nothing short of miraculous, while other effects have been more gradual and subtle.

The method that I call feeding your demons-based on the principles of Chöd- is a simple five-step practice that doesn’t require any knowledge of Buddhism or of any Tibetan spiritual practices. In the first step we find where in the body we hold our “demon” most strongly. This demon might be addiction, selfhatred, perfectionism, anger, jealousy, or anything that is dragging you down, draining your energy. To put it simply, our demons are what we fear. As Machig said, anything that blocks complete inner freedom is a demon. She also spoke of gods and god-demons. Gods are our hopes, what we are obsessed with, what we long for, our attachments. God-demons occur when a hope and a fear are closely attached to each other; when we shift back and forth between hope and fear, this is a god-demon. Although in the following pages I refer for the most part to demons, the same approach applies equally well to our gods and god-demons.

In the second step we allow the energy that we find in the body to take personified form as a demon right in front of us. In the third step we discover what the demon needs by putting our-self in the demon’s peace, becoming the demon. In the fourth step we imagine dissolving our own body into nectar of whatever it is that the demon needs, and we let this flow to the demon, In this way we nurture it, feeding it to complete satisfaction. Having satisfied the demon, we find that the energy that was tied up in the demon turns into an ally. This ally offers us protection and support and then dissolves into us. At the end of the fourth step, we dissolve into emptiness, and in the fifth and final step, we simply rest in the open awareness that comes from dissolving into emptiness.

Paradoxically, feeding our gods or demons to complete satisfaction does not strengthen them; rather it allows the energy that has been locked up in them to become accessible. In this way highly charged emotions that have been bottled up by inner conflict are released and become something beneficial. When we try to fight against or repress the disowned parts of ourselves that 1 call demons, they actually gain power and develop resistance. In feeding our demons we are not only rendering them harmless; we are also, by addressing them instead of running away from them, nurturing the shadow parts of ourselves, so that the energy caught in the struggle transforms into a positive protective force.

Giving our demons form by personifying them brings inchoate energies or harmful habitual patterns into view, allowing them to be liberated rather than leaving them as invisible destructive forces. The alternative to feeding our demons is to engage in a conflict we can never win: our unfed demons only become more and more powerful and monstrous as we either openly battle them or remain ignorant of their undercover operations.

Although the therapeutic technique of personifying a fear or neurosis is not unfamiliar in Western psychology, the five-step practice of feeding your demons takes this approach deeper. Its additional value lies in dissolving our own bodies and nurturing rather than just personifying and interacting with our inner enemies, and in the experience of non-dual meditative awareness that occurs in the final step of the process. This is a state of relaxed awareness, free from our usual fixation of “self” versus “other,” which takes us beyond the place where normal psychotherapy ends…

– Lama Tsultrim Allione, Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Rylan Mims
    July 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    wow, demon is the heart, cool to face the demon, understand, heal, the peace of harmony… also the concept of both but neither, explained well here, recommend to all…

    • Reply
      narayana asso
      July 9, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      well…so tell us how the fuck “demon is the heart” without your candies like “heal, peace of harmony” to help us drink that fuckin poison you pretend to be nectar.

      • Reply
        Shaggarot
        January 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm

        Look within Narayana. Your peace will be found within, not in Rylan, as Rylan’s is found in Rylan. One of you seems to understand this. Be still.

  • Reply
    themysticindian
    July 6, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Absolutely brilliant. This article helped me connect the dots and see things clearly. I was struggling with many demons inside me for years and slowly.. my positivity has helped me.. and i realized i’ve reached step 3..without even knowing that there was something like this… now i have the confidence to progress to the final steps. Thank you so much. It just feels as if the universe and divinity has spoken to me through you.

  • Reply
    narayana asso
    July 6, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    This what is called black magic…

    Feeding demons as well as fighting them leads to suffering, victory over it to joy and fullfilment. It requires also efforts. That effort to break threw obstacles drives to stillness.

    But one can also experiments the freedom of letting be our so called dark tendancies and see what happen. Well transmuted in the kapal, poison can reveal itself as nectar. That’s the point of some “left handed practises”.

    There is something dark that fights the “dark” tendancies. What is called Mahakala and acts as Vajyana guardian.

    One surely falls down for its own sake to get rid of it finally.

    The other method is to SEE what are the structures of the neurosis and listen to its secret message to its own absorption into the void, To see that the Ennemy actually never existed…

    But to think and imagine is not enough, one have to expriment it on his own body. Take care.

    • Reply
      Rylan Mims
      July 9, 2015 at 10:06 am

      one level deeper

      this is more that just recognizing “black magic”, it seeks to totally change ones base mindset, no longer is the goal to seek one and run from the other, the goal becomes finding flow and balance in the lands between…

      the dis harmony of our time comes from a basic dis balance, the yang is given full support while the yin is left with scraps, the yin has been labeled black magic, i call this a curse, label it as you will…

      to end the curse, disempower sexism, to bring harmony to the group mindset, all seems possible here, with a change in mindset…

      both but neither, both light and shadow, yin and yang, are both mirrors not destinations, they are more as boundary markers, they show us where the edges are, its not in balance to get to close to either, balance is found in the middle lands…

      • Reply
        narayana asso
        July 9, 2015 at 10:21 am

        Indeed.
        What we call “black magic” is the other face of the coin. What we fear and desire at the same time, what brings death, troubles, etc…It is part of the cosmos and our constitution. Understand, fight it, accept it, spell it, conjure it, experience it, whatever.

        My point was to say that if one feeds what he fears or feeds his anger, etc, at goal it flourishes, it is the law of karma. The only way to find out where the bardo takes place in such experience is to understand the true point of existence, what lies beyond duality. But to use demons as vehicule for those experiences require a master level. It shouldn’t be used as personnal developpement tool because it is too much dangerous. It requires mastery over poison. A mahasiddha achievement.

        • Reply
          Rylan Mims
          July 9, 2015 at 3:24 pm

          agreed that there are levels of shadow that are risky, especially for the unskilled with just enough knowledge to run afoul, but the demon(s) as used/implied here are illusionary in nature, they are only empowered because of a false believe, once a false belief is seen, removed from awareness, its power vanishes…

          beyond duality, i see this as a false goal, i feel we must master it first, we must face our fear of it, i’m a simple person, far from any claim of master of anything, but i feel the wheel of time has progressed to the point that even simple minded people like me are starting to be able to understand…

          all i can claim is that life put me in a position where the need to understanding the nature of my own duality forced me to ponder on it, study on it, work circle magic within it, to understand/be able to accept who i am, someone who fires their primary awareness within their intuitive/girl side in spite of being born in a boy suit…

          for me coming to understand this forced me to accept the other side of myself, that to be whole both the girl/yin and boy/yang must learn that neither is the boss and both together make for wholeness, but what i found was when i produce an awareness of both the intuitive mindset and the rational mindset at the same time a third level of awareness is formed, it feels like a depth perception of though, like our eyes, each give a slightly different viewpoint, when put together a third viewpoint is formed, 1 and 1 is 3 the magic of the trinity…

          i’m a simple person, if i can do this…

          • narayana asso
            July 9, 2015 at 4:49 pm

            So the shadows lie within the female part of you?
            I cannot understand why do you speak about the existence of duality beetween male and female in that “feeding demons issues”.
            Anyway…Everyone has to find a way to exit his own labyrinth…haha
            Good luck

          • Rylan Mims
            July 9, 2015 at 6:19 pm

            yes, shadow, yin, female, receptive, intuitive…

            existence of duality, sure a smaller aspect of the post but it was made clear that the demons can be on either side, so duality was implied in a clever and revealing way…

            exit the labyrinth, yes we exist within an awareness without a reference point, the best we can do is mirror ourselves off others, thank you for honoring me by providing me with such a mirror…

          • narayana asso
            July 9, 2015 at 8:29 pm

            most welcome 🙂

          • narayana asso
            July 9, 2015 at 9:23 pm

            But you are a liar.
            You speak about duality, trinity, wheel of time, sexism…etc.
            These are not words of a simple man.
            “Demon is the heart”.
            Are you hearing what you say and the consequences of it?
            You just want to indulge in your tendencies…
            And find a spiritual excuse to do it.
            You all jump on the same trap..

            Hahaha.
            DO IT.

            Or not.
            😉

  • Reply
    narayana asso
    July 9, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    I know someone who tried to practise that methods inspired by Tchöd. He respected all the steps, and started feeding his own inner demon. He was feeling very joyfull about what he was doing, telling others with a inch of sense of hidden mystery, that he had results.
    He started to push me trying to experiment that method with him.
    At that time, He didn’t know I was coming back from India with aghori “issues”, left handed practises “consequences”. I was not able to understand what was happening, and I decided to stop playing with that kind of thing. I was just feeling cursed, and on the way to make peace within myslef. And as God’s sense of humor, I faced another situation where a guy wanted me to practise a kind of thing again…
    So I accepted it.
    We made the exercice. He asked me to visualize my demon. I felt like he wanted to scare me, provoke me and play with me. HE was actually the form of my demon at the moment. So I’ve been honest with him and I told him “I see you”. He agreed with that and we continued the experiment. Indeed, he (or my demon) was feeding from something I didn’t want to participate, I felt it was a kind of rape. Of course it connected with my own psychological issues.
    We ended the session and I went to bed. I couldn’t sleep all night long. I couldn’t remove him from my mind and continued to have that sensation of rape.
    Then on the morning, I visited him. I spoke with the guy, and told him my feeling, and the fact I was angry against him. There was a kind of electricity as well of raging fire around us, but finally, with what I learned, I decided to just get detached and see the thing from another angle. He saw also his kind of trust and generosity he had for me to invite me to such dept.
    Anyway…
    Few days after that, I saw him with a black beatle in the hand. He was feeding that black beatle and looking at me with his yes as dark as the beatle. I was 100% sure at that time that he was feeding his inner demon by doing this, so I spoke to him telling him “why do you continue doing that? Are you sure of what you’re doing?”. He looked at me with pride and told me “yes I am…”. I said ok.
    Just during that time, I started fighting with his girlfriend.
    They had a life together, project, etc.
    Within few months, all collapsed for him.
    He had to start back to zero…

    So what to think about it?
    What you want…
    I just give the details I had, according to my point of view about that experience.

    After years of sadhana, I started to understand what happen during that kind of practise. Enough to realise that it is high level practise and not a personnal development tool to play with…

    • Reply
      JGat
      July 21, 2015 at 5:31 pm

      I think all the Beatles were actually white. Alhough Ringo had a goodly amount of black rhythm & blues mojo about him…and a strong “left-hand” technique. And “…a black beat, you can’t lose it…”

  • Reply
    Pabitra Bag
    August 31, 2015 at 5:29 am

    This kind of perspective would strengthen the existing cult nature of Buddhism.The romanticity around using, speaking and developing perspectives on demons would one day kill the whole scientific spirit of Buddhism.
    Talking about demons to somehow good for a child as a part of story telling but when there are bigger problems like child exploitation,harassment against women and rape culture,one must talk about social evils than creation, imagination and understanding of imaginary evils.
    It always disappointing to read Buddhism,Gods and Demons in the same breath.I don’t understand why Buddhists talk about Gods, Demons in Buddhist discourse as if these are core of Buddhist discourse.As if without these Buddhist discourse would not sustain !!!This is stupidity.

  • Reply
    Jody
    August 26, 2018 at 5:19 am

    This is an old NLP technique that has been taught since the 1970’s rebranded as a buddhist technique. It is seriously word for word other than the fact they called Demons parts of the self after the inner parts work of Fritz Perls. I’m disgusted this teacher is using it to market herself as a buddhist teacher.

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