Padmasambhava, Jackals and Demons
Once again we are faced with grim daily statistics of new Covid infections and increasing hospital admissions. Of course it feels different this time considering that the majority of the population is not in total lockdown and we made it through one upsurge relatively intact. However, new challenges are looming for many people – the job retention scheme is changing dramatically and furloughing is coming to a close. This is a particularly critical period for the West London Buddhist Centre, whose finances have been greatly buffered by furloughing. The future is uncertain.
This Friday is the Full Moon and also the official day that Padmasambhava Day is celebrated in many parts of the Buddhist world. The semi-historical/semi-legendary figure of Padmasambhava, archetype of the enlightened mind, is said to have spent much time in Indian cremation grounds. Here he would meditate in the midst of partly cremated human remains, scavenging jackals and a wide range of demons and spirit beings, ranging from the ghoulish to the beautiful. These were places of challenge where one faced the unknown and one’s natural response to the unknown – fear.
So how do we face our fears for the future as we dwell in the cremation ground of a second wave? If we look on fear as a demon, we can turn to Padmasambhava for an approach to working with it and even harnessing the energy behind it to our benefit. He turns towards the demons, meets them face-to-face and names them. He overwhelms them with a demonstration of the power of the Dharma and recruits them to his cause, entrusting a treasure to their care. This is a courageous, resolute and compassionate approach. It is also inclusive. No demons, no apparent obstacles on our path of liberation should be left out in the cold. Fears, aversions, cravings are all grist to the mill, all so much energy to be harnessed. Perhaps an engagement with the myth of Padmasambhava can provide the inspiration and courage we need to take up this challenge.
There is an opportunity this weekend, the first weekend of October, to do just this. Join me and Bodhilila for a weekend of engagement with the myth of Padmasambhava through our online retreat Fires of Transformation. We will combine looking at his life with meditation, reflection and puja as a means to apply his teachings to the unique circumstances of our lives. If you can’t join us, you could try bringing the figure of Padmasambhava into your practice. You could invoke his presence and inspiration through reflecting on the rich symbolism of his life story. You could chant his mantra and invoke his presence. He vowed never to be separated from those who hold him in their hearts.