Tsultrim Allione was one of the first American women to be ordained in the Tibetan tradition. After studying and practicing for several years in the Himalayas, she returned to the U.S., left the monastic order, married, and raised a family. She also wrote Women of Wisdom. In 1993, she founded Tara mandala, a retreat center in Colorado.
In this substantive work, Allione focuses on a spiritual practice developed by an eleventh-century female Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdron. This five-step ancient meditation practice is called Chod which means "to cut through" and it doesn't require any knowledge of Buddhism or of any Tibetan principles. Allione has been teaching it for the past 25 years at her retreat center. She calls it the art of feeding our demons to make friends with that which we would most like to avoid: this "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."
We in the West are used to another mythology the dragon-slaying hero. It is predominant in our literature, movies, and everyday life. In the battle between good and evil, we identify with the hero and project all evil onto our opponents in an effort to justify their elimination from the earth. This leads to an escalation of violence and cancels out any possibility of knowing our own demons or seeing them as spiritual teachers. The idea of engaging and communicating with the evil-doer rather than destroying it is viewed as heresy.
The demons in this spiritual practice are not ghosts, goblins, or minions of the Devil. They are, according to the author, our present preoccupations, the issues in our lives blocking our experience of freedom. Fears, obsessions, and addictions become demonic by "being split off, disowned, and fought against." Here is the five-step process of feeding your demons:
1. Find the Demon
2. Personify the Demon and Ask What It Needs
3. Become the Demon
4. Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally
5. Rest in Awareness
Allione suggests keeping a demon journal, feeding your demons with a partner, using the five steps with other meditation practices, and working with your demons through art and maps. The process of Chod can be effective against the four kinds of demons originally described by Machig Labdron:
1. Outer Demons (illnesses, relationships, family demons)
2. Inner Demons (anger, anxiety, shame or depression)
3. Demons of Elation (the obstacles we face when we seek success, whether worldly or spiritual)
4. Demons of egocentricity (all challenges stemming from self-importance and ego inflation)
After covering a wide variety of demons, Allione concludes:
"Normally we empower our demons by believing they are real and strong in themselves and have the power to destroy us. As we fight against them, they get stronger. But when we acknowledge them by discovering what they really need, and nurture them, our demons release their hold, and we find that they actually do not have power over us. By nurturing the shadow elements of our being with infinite generosity, we can access the state of luminous awareness and undermine ego. By feeding the demons, we resolve conflict and duality, finding our way to unity."
The author is correct in her assumption that we need a new paradigm that encourages us to stop battling with ourselves and making war on others. In a chapter on "Demons in the Wider World," Allione notes that if we continue to think of other groups, countries, or races as evil, we will only succeed in escalating the violence and hatred in the world. The best place to begin is by resolving inner conflict. This is a wise and helpful resource in the quest for inner and global peace.