03 September 2007

The Blue Rite

The Blue Rite is also called The rite of subduing or overcoming. Sometimes it is known as the Black Rite or the Rite of Destruction, but that is in another context from the one that I am considering. This is the magical rite performed by Akṣobhya the blue Buddha of the eastern quarter, and which is related to the story of the defeat of Mara. What is being subdued are the poisons, in this context the demons, of greed, hatred and doubt as they occur within us. When we experience very strong hatred or greed then that does have a demonic feel to it. Under their influence we lose the ability to choose our actions, we may well behave in ways that we are later ashamed of.

I want to be very clear here that I do not advocate applying this, or any other, rite to other people! Unless we have a very clear understanding of, and love for, the other person; a high level of trust; and a lot of skill and experience it is not advisable to start practising any of the rites on others. In any case our own inner demons, our own greed, hatred, and doubt, give us plenty of material to work with.

One can immediately say that there might be a general approach to subduing all demons, based on the response of the Buddha to Mara, which is simply not to respond to them. If we do not respond to greed it has no power over us; if we do not act on hatred it cannot hurt us; if we are confident in our practice then doubt has no purchase on our minds. So this is the first level of defence against demons - not reacting. The story of the defeat of Mara shows how powerful not reacting can be.

Padmasambhava was a great subduer of demons. He would fight them with magic, often neutralising their magic with his own, but then he would always give them an initiation, a secret name, and a treasure to guard. In other words these demonic, or perhaps more accurately chthonic forces within us, which can threaten to overwhelm us and defeat us, are energies that can be harnessed and put to good use in other ways. The same demon that causes us to hate, can function as a protector. In a psychological sense our demons are often just adaptations to extreme situations. For instance if we grow up with a lot of violence, then we will adapt to protect ourselves from that violence, and may even become violent ourselves. The energy that protects me from violence, may have violence at it’s root. This is not a justification for violent behaviour however. It is important not to lose sight of the transformation which demons undergo at the hands of Padmasambhava - when subdued and named they become Dharma protectors, and guarders of our treasures.

Padmasambhava had a very potent weapon in his battles against the demons. He had what in Tibetan is known as a purbha – a demon dagger. The demon dagger is used to pin down demons. It has a blade or point which emerges from the mouth of a mythical beast which is a mix of a crocodile and a fish: called a makara. Above the makara is usually the head of a Buddha which has multiple faces. And finally either the head of a horse, or a the end of a vajra. The Buddha head reminds us of the purpose of the purbha – it is not a weapon designed to hurt people, but to help release us from the grip of a demonic energy. With the purbha you pin down the demon so that you can have a conversation with it. Padmasambhava took this opportunity to give the demons a secret name and a treasure to guard. This is a useful procedure with demons, and contrasts sharply with the image of the Archangel Michael, or later St George, killing the dragon - I'll come back to this in the next paragraph. So one thing we might do when we wish to work with the Blue Rite is to make ourselves a demon dagger. We can build in symbols of power and strength which resonate for us. This may help us to get into communication with our demons, to see that they really want to protect us, and to help us find better ways of going about it.

Another way of thinking about this came to me the other day. I was reminded of the scene early in the story of Peter Pan. His shadow had come loose and is causing trouble. He meets Wendy who helps him to catch his shadow and she sews it back on for him. Jung talked about those aspects of our psyche which we do not accept as being our 'shadow'. The qualities which are not accepted need not be bad. For many years I was unwilling to take on the artistic side of my self and would not give it attention. If we take this kind of view of things then we treat the expressions of greed, hatred and doubt as coming from the psychic shadow. In the Jungian view they are unacknowledged bits of ourselves which have taken on a kind of autonomy. A demon dagger helps us to pin them down, so that we can reclaim them, sew them back on. If the demon is really just an unassimilated part of our own psyche, then we don’t want to kill it, we want, like Padmasambhava, to convert this rebellious energy into some more useful form.

The main idea, then, is that the Blue Rite, is the rite of overcoming and subduing hindrances to spiritual progress; the conversion of demonic forces into Dharma protectors. It is a way of working with inner demons which block our Awakening.
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