As we engage the Path to Liberation, we are faced with challenges and impeached with impediments that are sometimes very difficult to deal with.

To succeed in overcoming these obstacles we are advised by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thayay in his “Buddhist Ethics” to proceed to the recognition of the obstacle makers themselves and the need to train in the following two points:

(1) Shunning bad friends; 

(2) Overcoming demonic forces. 


(1) Shunning Bad Friends

Shun non-virtuous friends who have bad characters, cynical outlooks, and prejudice, 

Believe their own view to be the best, are boastful, and disparage others. 

It is imperative that we avoid spiritual teachers, instructors, preceptors, students, and companions who engage in unwholesome activities out of worldly concerns since they are not true spiritual friends. 

  • We should particularly avoid persons who give the impression of integrity but [in fact] create obstacles to our own attainment of liberation;
  • Similarly, we should forsake those who have bad characters and cynical outlooks; 
  • those who are strongly prejudiced, or who consider as best only their own views and doctrines; those who praise themselves and disparage others; 
  • those who covertly belittle and thereby reject other spiritual systems; and those who discredit the spiritual guides and friends who are shouldering the burden of other beings’ welfare. 

If we associate with these kinds of people, devoting ourselves to or befriending them, we will become polluted by their faults and our characters will gradually worsen. 

The scriptures on discipline state: 

“Just as kusha grass wrapped around rotting fish will soon begin to smell the same,A person who associates with bad friends, in time, will certainly come to resemble them.”

Therefore, we should always be careful not to associate with bad friends in any circumstances, as stated in the Great Mindfulness Scripture: 

“The main obstacle to the cultivation of any wholesome quality is a non-virtuous friend. Hence, don’t associate or converse with such a person or even allow his or her shadow to fall on yourself.


(2) Overcoming Demonic Forces

When working with a spiritual teacher, recognise demonic forces and defeat them with their antidotes. 

As soon as a disciple has met a true master who embodies the genuine doctrine and begins to listen to, reflect on, and make a living experience of the instructions, he or she may be beset by demonic forces that block the way. 

The Condensed Transcendent Wisdom Scripture states: 

“The Buddha’s doctrine is a rare gem, but perils lurk close by: Disciples of limited capacity who are beginners in the way and have not yet discovered this gem’s worth are provoked by demonic forces who enjoy making obstacles.”

The scriptures speak of four general demonic forces (the emotions, etc.). The secret instructions of masters refer to eighteen specific demonic forces belonging to three classes (outer, inner, and secret, each co:


The four kinds of demonic forces བདུད་ཞི།- “Düd-zhi” – Four Maras:

  • ཕུང་པོའི་བདུད། the demonic force of the aggregates (phung po’i bdud), 
  • ཉོན་མོངས་པའི་བདུད། of the emotions (nyon mongs pa’i bdud), 
  • འཆི་བདག་གི་བདུད། of the “lord of death” (’chi bdag gi bdud); and,
  • ལྷའི་བུའི་བདུད། of the “child of the gods” (pride) (lha’i bu’i bdud). These four, however classified or differentiated, comprise all possibilities of interference on the path of one’s spiritual growth. 

In Questions of Sagaramati Scripture (Blo gros rgya mtshos zhus pa’i mdo) the Buddha gives a lengthy explanation of how these demonic forces may be conquered: 

  • The demon of the aggregates is conquered by understanding the illusory nature of phenomena, by comprehending the truth of suffering and the nature of suffering of all composite phenomena, by dedicating to the attainment of omniscience the merits accrued by practicing generosity untainted by emotion, and by maintaining ethics detached from the desire for worldly forms of life. 
  • The demon of the emotions is conquered by understanding emptiness, by forsaking the source of suffering, by comprehending the transient nature of all composite phenomena, by dedicating to omniscience the merits accrued from generosity that is not bound by attachment to one’s body, and by maintaining ethics permeated by the understanding of selflessness. 
  • The demon of the lord of death is conquered by understanding non-birth and non-arising, by actualising the truth of cessation, by under- standing that all phenomena are selfless, by dedicating to omniscience the merit accrued from generosity imbued by the knowledge that wealth and possessions are impermanent, and by maintaining ethics able to free oneself from old age and death. 
  • The demon of the child of the gods is conquered by eliminating all reifications constructed by pride, by meditation on the path, by understanding that nirvana is peace, by dedicating to omniscience the merit of generosity performed with great compassion in order to set others in the state of freedom from suffering, and by maintaining ethics for the sake of turning those who violate ethics to higher forms of morality. 

These sources also describe at length the causes that can provoke the demonic forces; their forms, their influence, the various signs indicating their presence; and the common and extraordinary means to drive them out. 

In the context of our relationship with a teacher, we should recognise the following mental states as evidence of demonic forces that will obstruct our path to freedom: 

  • An overly critical attitude toward our spiritual guide; 
  • Lacking the desire to apply ourselves to study and reflection; 
  • Nurturing the causes of anger, such as creating discord and passing time in idle talk;
  • Excessive concern with food and drink, residence, furniture, business, etc.; 
  • Apathy due to drowsiness, dullness, and laziness; and, 
  • Being overpowered by infatuation and other emotions. 

As soon as we recognise these negative forces, we must skilfully overcome them by wearing 

The armour of thesefour antidotes:

  • Faith in and respect for our spiritual master and companions; 
  • Enthusiasm for study, reflection, and meditation; 
  • Unwavering confidence in the teaching; and, 
  • Freedom from distractions and unrealistic ideas.

Lama Sangyay Tendzin