These days one hears little about the devil for the same reason that most people don’t talk much about God. The existence of these deities as external forces that control our lives, to whom one can on the one hand pray for deliverance or on the other hand bargain with for what one desires, just flies in the face of both our life experience and scientific knowledge. God has thus been declared dead by many.
But another concept of God is very much alive for those who walk the path of spirituality/mysticism … whether it’s Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamic Sufism, Jewish Kabbalah, or Christian Gnosticism. Their truth is that the Buddha/God essence is within each of us from the moment of our birth and remains there throughout our life. Our salvation comes from within us, not from some outside force.
But while we learn, for example, that the Buddha was tempted by Mara, a Buddhist version of the devil, I have never, I believe, heard that word used when speaking of the challenge of healing ourselves, protecting ourselves from suffering. The reference is rather to freeing ourselves from the control of our ego-mind. As the Buddha said, to free ourselves of the conceit “I am” is the ultimate freedom.
A few years ago, however, (as related in my post, “Wounded - Our Ego-Mind Becomes the Devil”) I felt the presence of the devil. I was having dinner with a friend who knows he has to limit his consumption of alcohol. But he said he wanted a second glass of wine that night. And that after dinner he wanted to go to some bars and have a beer like he does when he travels with other friends of his. Knowing I would disapprove and say “no,” the expression on his face when he talked was a mocking one, sly. I was aware of the strangeness of it at the moment, but I didn’t recognize it. Only when I meditated the next morning, did I realize that I had been in the presence of the devil.
I now understand that just as in some religions the devil is thought to be a fallen angel, in Buddhism, as well as the mystical traditions, the devil can be equated with our ego-mind, which is our internal fallen angel/Buddha/God nature. We have been so wounded repeatedly over the years that the ego-mind has no trust, no faith, and is consumed by fear; it has become cynical of the world around us. It has overpowered our true self to “protect” us; we are in its control. And so the Devil, our own Devil, is inside each of us; it is the nature of our ego-mind. But at this stage, we still hear the voice of our true Buddha nature, even if it is often ignored.
When Ernestine, the Flip Wilson drag character, would say, “The Devil made me do it!” or when in a comic strip a person is portrayed with an angel sitting on one shoulder whispering in his ear and the Devil sitting on the other doing the same, being confused by the competing advice … we have all experienced that … these are an acknowledgment of our internal Devil as well as our internal God. So the concept is not foreign to our culture or experience.
At some point though, some of us become so wounded, so lost to our trauma, that we unconsciously turn to the darkness, to the devil, for our strength, not the light or our true Buddha nature. When one sells his soul to the devil in exchange for strength and survival, one become the devil incarnate. At this point one is irredeemable. One no longer hear’s the voice of your true Buddha nature. One is evil.
In navigating our lives, it is very important to be able to distinguish whether one is dealing with someone who is still human, who despite the force of the devil still has the capacity to hear and respond to his true Buddha nature, or whether one is dealing with the Devil incarnate, with evil. For how to deal with evil, see my post “Evil - How Should a Buddhist Respond.”
How do you recognize whether someone has, what I will refer to as “the Devil Syndrome” and what psychiatrists refer to as, “Narcissistic Personality Disorder?” I think that the standards of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are helpful. This is a sociopath who is dangerous to themselves and others: 1) has significant impairments in personality function such as exaggerated self-appraisal and requires excessive admiration to support self-esteem; 2) impairment in interpersonal function such as a lack of empathy; relationships are largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem; little genuine interest in others; exploits others for personal gain; 3) pathological personality traits such as antagonism and grandiosity, believing one is better than others; condescending, arrogant, haughty; excessive attempts to attract the attention of others.
Think of any of the tyrants of this world, whether Donald Trump, Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin or seriously deranged people like Charles Manson or Jim Jones, and you know how an evil person, a person with Devil Syndrome, acts; how they present. But beware, just like inhumanity is not restricted to horrific atrocities, so to the Devil Syndrome is not restricted to large-scale evil.
A person with DS can be the person you are dating, your spouse, a parent, a boss … really anyone in your life. And their evil can be masked by a banality, even by charm. That is part of their method of seduction. But in all cases, their goal is to suck the life force out of you.
The importance of being aware of the distinction between someone who is under the devil’s influence as opposed to someone who is the devil incarnate is the differing advice for how to deal with the two situations. If someone is just under the influence of their devil ego-mind, one can appeal to their humanity, you can reason with them. If someone is evil, the devil incarnate, the advice is to remove yourself from the situation (for there is no way to reform a person with DS) or if there is someone with DS who is trying to get a position of power, doing what you can, working with others, to prevent the person from obtaining that power.
While it may no longer be fashionable or even considered reasonable to talk of the devil, we had best get over this barrier. It serves only to give the devil free reign in his pursuit to control humanity. Denying the devil’s existence does not in any way remove his power to destroy.