isciple: I have a question. Sun Wukung (“Monkey” in the book Journey to the West) was born from a rock. How did that rock give birth to a monkey? Can such phenomena occur after a rock has been exposed to the essence of the sun and moon over several tens of thousands of years? Is Monkey’s case the same as that described in the Sutra? That is, there is an essential energy created during an eclipse of the sun and moon, and it is absorbed by such things as gold, jade, a rare fungus, a unicorn, phoenix, tortoise, or crane, transforming them into demons. From reading the book, it seems that Monkey has a few good roots. He knows that transmigration entails a lot of suffering, and so after eight hundred years, he started on a quest for the Way. He mastered various spiritual arts, and later became a Dharma-protector of Buddhism. Monkey is an example of someone who is good, but here it’s talking about spirits, sprites, ghosts, and monsters who turn into demons in their old age. Under what conditions do they turn into demons when they get old? It seems that these demons are like bandits in that they do evil things. Is it the case that some turn into demons while others don’t, because some are good and others aren’t?
Monkey was a demon, and there are many other cases which are similar. Monkey probably ran into trouble as he was cultivating at the level of the thinking skandha, and so as a result, he turned into a monkey that could ascend to the heavens and burrow into the earth. He is exactly what the Shurangama Sutra calls “a representative of the demons.” As for other demons, when they are tired of being demons, of course they will also take refuge in the Triple Jewel. If they ever have a single thought of reflecting within and they awaken, they can become a disciple of the Buddha. If they do not awaken, then they are still demons. The older demons get, the greater their spiritual powers become. If they are young, they aren’t that strong, and their spiritual powers aren’t that great. The older ones have inconceivable strength and spiritual powers, which is why they are called demons. Demons are even fiercer than ghosts. The Chinese have the term “demonic ghost” because ghosts can turn into demons.
Have you heard about the “as-you-wish demon woman”? She had been a ghost in the Zhou Dynasty, but because she didn’t follow the rules, she was struck by lightning. However, the lightning didn’t destroy her completely, and she pulled herself back together with a concentrated effort. Then she cultivated and became a demon who went around demanding people’s lives. Why did she demand their lives? It was because she wanted to increase her own power and the power of her retinue. Every time this demon caused a person’s death, the other demons would congratulate her: “You’re really powerful!” It’s similar to how other officials act towards an official who has just been promoted. By killing one more person, a demon increases its power, and even ghosts have to follow the demon’s orders. Later, when the “as-you-wish demon woman” encountered me, she took refuge with the Triple Jewel. This is a case of a demon taking refuge in the Buddha.
Demons are born in the heavens because they have cultivated many blessings. The Sutras talk about celestial demons, but you shouldn’t think they are only in the heavens. They can go to the heavens, but they are not necessarily always there. The demons in the human realm endowed with spiritual powers can all be considered celestial demons. If the demons in the heavens need them to go there, they can go at any time. Although they are born in the heavens, not only do they still have desires, they also have huge tempers and are incredibly stubborn. It’s just because of their belligerent character that they become demons. If they weren’t belligerent, if they didn’t have any temper, then they would be in the retinue of the Buddhas. Those with heavy habits and ignorance are in the retinue of demons.
As for what kind of retribution they will receive in the future, that’s a very distant matter which cannot be investigated. If they are rather resistant to being taught and transformed when encountering someone with great spiritual powers, they may be pulverized into nothingness, until they are the same as the void. Even if they aren’t pulverized, if they do a lot of evil and fail to reform, if they still turn away from enlightenment to unite with the worldly dust and continue to be so confused, then of course they will have to undergo retribution, and it will be full of suffering. They may become foxes or weasels, falling into the destiny of animals. It is the spirits of demons that cause them to turn into such creatures. They may become snakes or rats, or various other strange animals. These are all transformations of malicious demonic energy. Ferocious creatures, such as tigers, all have demonic power aiding them. That’s why they are so powerful.
en. Master: Right, that’s referring to the cultivator!
Question: Is the cultivator the disciple?
Ven. Master: Not necessarily. The teacher is also that way; he’s also a cultivator. An example of this was the People’s Church. There’s a point of distinction, which is whether or not a person has lust. If you have lust, you’re a demon. If you don’t have lust, then you’re proper, and you’re a Buddha. That’s where the difference lies. If he hasn’t cut off lust, then he can’t subdue his mind. He may be able to sit there and enter samadhi, but while in samadhi, he is still greedy and seeking. “He engages in greed and lust on the sly.” That’s how you can recognize him.
Everything in this world is wondrous and inconceivable. This Sutra only describes a small bit. If we were to go into detail, each skandha has thousands of myriads of demons of all different kinds. One kind is mentioned so people can get the general idea and avoid having thoughts of greed and craving. Without thoughts of desire, you won’t fear any demon whatsoever. If you don’t have any greed or desire, no demon can have its way with you. Demons will come in only when they see that you’ve opened yourself up to them. If you always keep the doors closed, they won’t come in.
Right now, we are bring up everyone’s opinion to study together, and we don’t need to say that any opinion is correct or incorrect. We are studying true principles; true principles are true gold. Anything that does not agree with true principle is wrong. Why do I say that the Shurangama Sutra is real? It’s because the explanations it gives of the principles are so clear and so true that the celestial demons and externalists are exposed for what they are. Those who pretend to be Good and Wise Advisors and so forth are all exposed, so they have no recourse but to claim that the Shurangama Sutra is false. They try to pass off fish eyes as pearls; they stir up confusion and then exploit the situation.
Think about it: while cultivating within the realm of the five skandhas, if he had already cut off the delusion of thought, would he be thinking about north, south, east and west, and be speculating upwards and downwards? Would he make all kinds of discriminations as he investigates the principle? No way. He would be able to decisively resolve any matter which comes up without having to discriminate and speculate about it. Those false thoughts all come from his consciousness. His consciousness is constantly discriminating the subtlest details. Not only has he not realized any fruition, he can’t even ascend to the Heaven of Neither Thought nor Non-thought. Why not? Because he hasn’t even seen through and put down his body! He’s still applying effort on that stinking skinbag, spinning around and around.
He hasn’t realized any fruition yet. Those are all false states. It is all unreal. Even if he has broken through form, feeling, thinking, activities and consciousness, he still hasn’t realized any fruition. He is just traveling on the path of cultivation, that’s all. So everyone should recognize this kind of state clearly and not be like the Unlearned Bhikshu, who thought the Fourth Dhyana was the Fourth Stage of Arhatship. After breaking through the five skandhas, one’s state is still that of the First or Second Dhyana. Let me tell you, if he hasn’t severed the delusions of views and the delusions of thought, how can he talk about realizing the fruition? It’s simply not possible. If he had realized any fruition, he would become irreversible; how could a demon possess him? Even a person who has realized the first fruition cannot be possessed by a demon.
Even after a person has broken through the form and feeling skandhas, he can still get possessed by demons all the same. Breaking through all the skandhas of form, feeling, thinking, activities and consciousness is a very ordinary matter. It doesn’t mean he truly has samadhi power and won’t get possessed anymore. He is simply at a very high level, but even at that high level, he can still get possessed. Why? Because he still harbors love and greed in his mind. Maybe he is greedy for knowledge and vision, for spiritual powers, or for responses. Once he becomes greedy, the door is opened. It’s not that he can be free from demonic possession just by thinking about it. In fact, he gets even more possessed.
As for all religions, of course they are all revolving around in the realm of the five skandhas. In the text later on it says that both the teacher and disciples get in trouble with the law. If this isn’t talking about a religion, why would it talk about a teacher and disciples? They obtain a small result and are satisfied with it, so then they set up a religion and say that theirs is the real one...and so forth. We don’t need to mention the names of the religions. We can just use symbolic names and still let everyone understand the idea. If you insist on knowing which skandhas those religions fall under, then we must study the fifty skandha-demons until we understand them thoroughly. Then we’ll know what level they have reached.
Layperson: Venerable Master, Dharma Masters, and Good and Wise Advisors, I’d like to share something which is closely related to everyone’s cultivation. When the feeling skandha comes to an end, the cultivator tends to be in an anxious state in which he craves clever and skillful expedients. He wants to merge with the cosmic principle, unite with potentials, and convert living beings. After he has this kind of anxiety, several things may happen. For example, some people who have never read Sutras before will be able to speak many Sutras after being possessed by a celestial demon.There are many cultivators in Taiwan—I’m calling them “cultivators” to be polite—who have read only a very limited amount of Sutras and who may have violated the substance of the precepts they received. Yet they want to obtain clever and skillful expedients, because when they see other people explaining Sutras and speaking Dharma, and getting a large following, they are very happy and hope they themselves will quickly bring forth wisdom and be able to explain Sutras and speak Dharma to many people. Having this kind of thought, they become possessed by demons as they sit in meditation. You see many people who seem to be very good at explaining Sutras; actually, they are already possessed by demons. If a person upholds the precepts strictly, is diligent in reciting mantras and Sutras, and works very hard, then he may not be possessed. However, if you see that a person is casual about holding precepts and doesn’t recite Sutras or bow to the Buddhas, and yet he goes onto a stage and closes his eyes, then not only he, but even the listeners who go to that Way-place and give rise to false-thinking, after two or three days, will also be able to lecture very well, without having to Study the sutras.
I don’t think this will happen at the Venerable Master’s Way-place. If you go to other Way-places where the Dharma-protecting spirits don’t do a good job, and you give rise to false thinking and greedy attachments, then you may have these states, especially if you like to meditate. It is not very likely that people who don’t meditate will have these states. There’s an elderly woman in Taiwan who was basically illiterate, but after three or five days, she could write Chinese calligraphy much better than Upasika Lü. I’ve seen so many cases like this. After a few days, people suddenly become Buddhas. They really become “Buddhas.” She couldn’t explain Sutras before, but after three days, she was very good at explaining them. Strange things like this really happen. And this is the reason everyone wants to learn deviant dharmas, and no one wants to learn the proper Dharma. If you explain the Buddhadharma to these people, they won’t listen. We probably are more aware of these phenomena. These states probably won’t happen to people at this Way-place, but you have to be careful when you go out.
These are all cases of people being possessed by fox spirits. This is what is meant by “its spirit possesses a person.” For example, in the course of a person’s cultivation, he may start doing taijiquan moves and shouting, but in his mind he knows this is wrong. The demon is not able to confuse his mind. What if the person has not cultivated? In that case, as soon as he is confused, even his mind doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand anything and doesn’t realize that a demon has come, or the things it has done. Most people who don’t cultivate are this way. When the demon comes, it makes him say things, and after he finishes talking, the deviant force leaves. Then when you ask him what just happened, he says, “I have no idea!” That’s because he was confused—even his mind was confused. As for the person who was not confused, his mind stayed clear. You should understand all these various interpretations, not just one. If you only interpret the text as saying that the demon possesses another person, your interpretation is not complete. These are all possibilities, and none of it is fixed. You should think of the situation as being able to proceed to the right, left, front and back. It is not fixed.
The demon “seizes the opportunity it has been waiting for.” That is, he seizes the opportunity provided by the cultivator’s greed and opens up the door. Demons are very smart. They see what you’re greedy for and use that to tempt you. Therefore, cultivators don’t need to recite a certain mantra or use a certain dharma. Just be honest and true; don’t contend, don’t be greedy, don’t seek, don’t be selfish, and don’t want self-benefit. Put your shoulder to the grindstone and cultivate diligently; then no demon can bother you. But as soon as you become greedy or you start scheming for advantages and shortcuts, it’s easy for demons to possess you. Demons have great wisdom; they can see what level of cultivation you’ve reached and know what methods should be used to lure you. As for choosing a person to possess, that’s not a problem, because the person is only a false front for them. They use the person, and they use various methods to entice and delude you. If a cultivator is unselfish and doesn’t think about benefiting himself, he won’t fear any demon.
The Sutra text says: “The empty wonder of the feeling skandha": it has to be empty in order to be wonderful, and it has to be wonderful in order to be empty. What is wonderful is that when you have no faults, you won’t be troubled by any deviant mental states. Deviant mental states refer to feelings of worry and fear. What is meant by worry and fear? It’s like the man of Qi, who worried that the sky would fall down. He said he didn’t know when the sky would fall. That’s a deviant mental state.
He already has some skill in the feeling skandha and shouldn’t encounter this kind of state. He is free of these feelings of worry and fear. Why would he for no apparent reason enter a deviant state? Although he is free from these feelings, his defense is not strong enough. So thieves from outside—deviant demons, ghosts, and goblins from outside—come. Why is there trouble from outside? Because he harbors thoughts of love, greed, seeking, and selfishness inside. There is also the thought of self-benefit hidden within him. That is why he encounters this kind of state. As soon as he is turned by states, they will be able to trouble him. If he is free from these thoughts and these old faults, he should not encounter these deviant states. Why does he get turned by these states? Isn’t this a contradition? No, it’s because he opened the door to thieves by entertaining a thought of desire. He covertly indulges his greedy desires. “Covertly” means on the sly; he sneaks around engaging in immoral conduct, not abiding by the rules and precepts.
These deviant mental states are not merely thoughts; they also refer to feelings of worry and fear. For example, when we are afraid of things, then we have a deviant mental state. When others oppress you and you’re afraid to speak out about it, that’s fear, and it’s also a deviant mental state. You can’t bear up under the pressure. None of you should be afraid. If you’re afraid, then even if you don’t want the demons to come, they will come. If you are not afraid, then even if they wanted to come, they wouldn’t be able to. That’s the essential secret: not being afraid. If you’re not afraid of anything, then you are “upright.” Being upright, you can subdue anything whatsoever, because the deviant cannot overcome the upright. The qualities of being upright, open, and proper are exactly what demons fear.
You should never at any time casually say that you are enlightened and can do whatever you want, including indulge in lust. One who does that is nothing but a great demon king. Oh! After they’re enlightened, they don’t have to follow any rules. They smoke, drink, play around with women, and do everything else. So the most important thing is lust: If he has lust and he indulges in impure conduct all the time, then he’s a demon. If he isn’t greedy for money and doesn’t have any lust, then he is real. Here, he publicly announces in front of the audience, “You were my wife in a former life,” or “I was an emperor,” and so forth, in order to induce people to have thoughts of lust.
When I was young, I particularly liked to have dharma-contests with demons. I fought with them until all the demon armies in the universe wanted to gang up on me. Many times, I almost lost my life. Because of this, later on no matter how much I wished to have dharma-contests with demons again, I didn’t dare to use any dharma to fight against them. Now when a lot of demons come to bully me, I just cultivate the skill of forbearance and don’t give them any opposition. I only use kindness and compassion to gather them in and influence them, rather than using the Dharma of Subduing to subdue them.
I remember that at the Moral Society in Manchuria, the dean of the training school was called Xu Guilan. There were fifty or sixty students in the Moral Society, and one of them came under demonic possession. That is, a demon took possession of her body. Xu Guilan, thinking she herself had some authority as the dean of the training school, tried to get rid of the demon. She spat a mouthful of cold water at the possessed girl, but the demon didn’t leave. It said, “Okay, you want to get rid of me? Now I’ll possess you instead, and see what you do about that!” Thereupon, the possessed girl got better, and Xu Guilan herself was possessed by the demon. Earlier, Chang Guohung said he had used this method of reciting a mantra and then spitting on the possessed person, and the person had run off. Probably the demon who possessed him didn’t have enough magic-power, and that’s why it ran off. But the demon that possessed Xu Guilan wasn’t afraid of being spat on with cold water, and it didn’t go away. Then Xu Guilan started acting demonic. She could no longer live at the Moral Society and had to move back home. The demon came to disturb her every day at her home, until all the harmony was gone from her home. What demon was this? It was a gibbon spirit, a very large one. When it came, it engaged in sexual intercourse with Xu Guilan. It would possess her body and torture her. Sometimes it would confuse her to the point that she would utter how much she loved it, and so on. Then they would have sex, and after it was over, Xu Guilan would be bleeding from her eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouth. This is how the gibbon spirit sucked away all her energy and essence, leaving her paralyzed and near death.
The Moral Society sent someone to see our monastery’s abbot, who was well-known in Manchuria as the Filial Son Wong. They had heard that the Abbot of Three Conditions Monastery was very virtuous and could subdue the demon, so they sought him out. However, when there was any business to take care of, the Abbot would always ask me to take care of it, and when there was any trouble outside, the Abbot didn’t deal with it himself. He always sent me to resolve the problems. For example, this happened when the family of Gao Defu in Danangou Village was in trouble, and in many, many other cases, which people all know about. This time, the Abbot also asked me to go, and so I went. When I got there and they informed the demon that they had me asked to come, guess what the gibbon spirit said? “Ah! You wasted your efforts asking him to come. It won’t work. Even if you asked Jigung (the ‘Living Buddha’) to come, it wouldn’t scare me.” It was there talking, not afraid of anything. When I went there, the gibbon spirit really came, and we really had a dharma-fight! We were fighting, fighting, fighting! After two days of fighting, I finally managed to subdue it. After it was subdued, the person got better and didn’t die. I have been through many experiences similar to this one. I’m not willing to get involved in other people’s business anymore. My creed now is that I won’t contend with anyone.
What proof is there that demons were around when the Buddha was in the world? After the Buddha entered Nir-vana, when the Sutras were being com-piled, Ananda took the seat of the Dharma host, because someone was needed to direct the Dharma assembly. At that time, Ananda's appearance be-came inconceivably adorned and perfect. The Arhats in the assembly didn't know what was going on, and wondered, "Eh? Has Ananda become a Buddha?" Others thought, "Has a Buddha come from another world?" Some Arhats thought, "Oh, can this be a demon?" Think about it. If there were no demons when the Buddha was in the world, how could those great Arhats enter-tain such a doubt right after the Buddha had entered Nirvana? It must be that when the Buddha was in the world, demons also made frequent appearances. That explains why they would have all those doubts. All of you should reflect on this. When we apply ourselves to cultivation, we must not be careless even for an instant. At all times, we must plant our feet on solid ground and seriously culti-vate. We are pursuing the truth, and if we slack off even the slight-est bit, our karmic obstacles will appear.
When you explain the text, you can explain it in any way that makes sense. Do not become too attached to the Sutra text, for it only gives people a general idea, and the actual situation may not be like that. You shouldn't think of it as being that profound and eso-teric. Regard it as if it were spoken by an ordinary person, and don't always be splitting hairs. Don't beat your head against the wall try-ing to figure out just exactly what it means.
The Dharma-ending Age is a time when the Dharma is weak and demons are strong. The Shurangama Sutra is a demon-spotting mirror in Buddhism. All the celestial demons, externalises, and the li, mei, and wang hang ghosts reveal their true appearance when they see the Shurangama Sutra. They have no way to hide and no place to flee to. Therefore, as long as the Shurangama Sutra exists, the Buddhadharma exists. If the Shurangama Sutra is abolished, then the Buddhadharma will also become extinct. Who will abolish it? The celestial demons and externalists will. When the celestial demons and externalists see the Shurangama Sutra, it is like a nail in their eyes and a thorn in their flesh. They can't sit still, and they can't stand steady; they are compelled to invent the deviant theory saying that the Shurangama Sutra is false. As Buddhist disciples, we should recognize true principles. Every word of the doctrines in the Shurangama Sutra is the absolute truth. There isn't one word which does not express the truth.