The Devil, You Say

The popular media rarely reports the challenging side effects of meditation when one uncovers hidden afflictive emotions stuffed way down in the psyche. Zen Buddhism has a word for these sometimes disturbing experiences: makyo, which combines the Japanese words for “devil” and “objective world.” Philip Kapleau, the late American Zen master, once described confronting makyo as “a dredging and cleansing process that releases stressful experiences in deep layers of the mind.”

Anyone who meditates with commitment will notice these subtle and/or profound changes as deeply held obscurations of mind are purified. The Tibetan word for such ‘spiritual experience’ is nyam. A nyam may be experienced as either good or bad. It is important to develop equanimity of mind so as not to follow after these impressions when they arise. This starts with cultivating proper motivation.

Many who begin practicing meditation and/or visualization are motivated by a wish for stress management and relaxation. In the early stages one may experience a calming effect. But, for meditation to result in real benefit, we will necessarily be put in touch with the root cause of our anxiety and emotional instability. This is not always so pleasant. Therefore, our motivation must be securely rooted in bodhicitta, the heart/mind of compassion for all beings.

So, if you are having ‘a devil of a time’ developing a consistent practice, remember the road will have some bumps and turns; not always smooth. If we do not follow after a strong spiritual experience, good or bad, we recognize it is nothing more than a temporary ‘gas pain’ and let it go. It is only a moment of purification, nothing more. If our bodhicitta is strong, we will offer up our challenges while visualizing the easing of suffering for all beings. With proper motivation, the fruit of our practice will result in greater clarity and increased ability to skillfully deal with emotions as they appear in daily activities.

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