The following story is one of my favorite parables. It’s about a famous Tibetan meditator who lived many hundreds of years ago. He was called Milarepa. Milarepa spent three months every year meditating in a cave in the Himalayan mountains. He was sent up there by his teacher, Marpa.
Our story begins with Milarepa out in the mountains collecting firewood. He’s been at it for many hours when he finally decides to return to his cave. To his horror, he finds his cave infested with all kinds of strange demons and dragons. At first, he’s terrified of these creatures and stands stunned outside his cave. But after a while, Milarepa realizes that many of the demons and dragons have noticed him but don’t seem to care about him at all. And so, he manages to gather the courage to enter his cave.
They’re everywhere. They’re sleeping on his bed, eating his food and going through his personal belongings. When he sees that they’ve even taken over his meditation spot, Milarepa becomes quite furious. He starts screaming at them, “Get out you rotten demons and dreadful dragons! This is my cave. Mine. You have to leave RIGHT NOW!” But the demons and dragons hardly even glance at him. Milarepa doesn’t understand. He sits and thinks for a while and remembers that he is a Buddhist. The Buddhist way is a way of compassion, not a way of screaming at the top of your lungs. So he decides to be kind to these squatters. He offers them the food he has, talks to them politely, even begins to teach them the ways of Buddhism. This time, the demons and dragons do not even bother glancing at him.
Poor Milarepa just can’t figure out how to get all these nasty creatures out of his cave. He’s tired after collecting wood but there’s no place to sleep and the demons and dragons seem to be getting louder as the seconds go by.
Milarepa decides to leave his cave. He finds a tree and begins to meditate under it. The hours pass by in silence and around midnight, Milarepa has his ‘Aha moment’.
The next morning he goes back to his overpopulated cave and approaches the first demon he sees. He looks right into its eyes and says, “I realize now that you are a projection of my mind. I don’t want to get rid of you anymore. I don’t even want to mollycoddle you. But I want to learn what you’re here to teach me.” Poof. The demon disappears in a puff of smoke. Milarepa walks over to a nearby dragon. He looks right into its deep black eyes and says, “I’m ready to learn what you’re here to teach me.” Poof. The dragon disappears. And so Milarepa patiently goes to each and every demon and dragon and learns their lessons no matter how difficult or strange they are. He does this all day and as nighttime falls they’re all gone except for one.
One very large, mean, vicious dragon remains stubbornly in the cave. It refuses to look at Milarepa, sitting silently without moving. Milarepa cannot, for the life of him figure out what this dragon wants. The cave is a mess and Milarepa can’t quite bring himself to sleep with this terrifying creature so he goes back out under the tree to meditate. This time he prays to his teachers for insight and wisdom. Around dawn, the realization of what he needs to do enters him. He goes back to his cave and walks right up to the dragon. Without saying a word, he takes the bottom jaw of the dragon in his left hand, the top jaw in his right and opens the dragon’s mouth to reveal a large black throat and giant sharp teeth. He puts his head right into the mouth of the dragon and let’s go of its jaws. Poof. The dragon disappears.