How My Demon Became a God
from the article written by Alta Brown, Ph.D.
and published in  The Mirror in 

Chöd practitioners call the demons lhadra, or god-demons. We experience many types of beings, events and mental states. If they terrify us or cause us pain, we call them demons. If they please us or inspire us, we call them gods. This is a story about how my demon became a god.

My favorite klesha activity has always been passion. Unfortunately, passion is always accompanied by loss and grief. Most parents will agree that the loss of a child is unimaginably painful. The grief is bottomless, and recovery seems impossible. That grief has been the greatest threat to my sanity, my most terrifying demon. This is the face of my demon.

Someone is howling
The sound echos
in the canyons of my heart.
Some loss never fades.
Some grief is like black water,
it sucks the life down.
Even the face of the moon
is lost in that dark place
the empty body of love
lies dismembered.

In 1998, I wrote the following account of my own experience with the loss of a child.

Twelve years ago, my daughter committed suicide. She was seventeen and pregnant. This could be a story of tragedy, grieving, and the attempt to overcome despair, but it is actually a story of magic and an ongoing mystery, because two years ago I met my daughter again.

She is a Nepali girl who I will call Tashi, and she lives with her family on the grounds of a Tibetan monastery outside of Kathmandu. I knew her immediately. Every cell in my body yearned toward her in the same way that my body yearns toward my other five children. I had come to Nepal to study with my teacher Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, and I saw Tashi every day for nearly three months as she played with her sister in and around the guest house.

For three months I watched her, and I watched my own mind, wondering if this was some kind of grief-driven fantasy, but when I left Nepal, I was even more convinced that she was the person who had been my daughter.

Though I saw expressions on her face and gestures that reminded me of Leah, I knew that this recognition could easily be some sort of wish fulfillment, a superficial resemblance. It was the effect of her presence that convinced me. It was almost unbearably painful to feel the mind and heart of my child who now belonged to another mother. I wanted to claim her. My whole body yearned to hold her. Even in my most passionate moments of intimacy with a lover, I have never felt that kind of heart/mind/body recognition.

But I was also aware of the boundary that I knew I could not cross without causing confusion and pain for Tashi and her family. Holding the balance between respect for this boundary and the constant felt connection with Tashi, I was introduced to the mystery that I have heard my teachers talk about for nearly thirty years.

This is the mystery of intelligence that transcends time and space. However, it is one thing to be exposed to the doctrine of Buddha Nature in the context of a teaching situation and quite another to experience it directly embodied in a person I have known and loved. Every day, the fact of Tashi's presence reminded me, with an immediacy that I could not ignore, that for a short time, she had been my daughter and now, she not only belonged to another mother, she would belong somewhere else to even another mother, again and again.

My daughter Leah left journals full of poetry and internal discussions that were shockingly adult and then, again, suddenly very young. In Leah's life, the mind that transcends every individual life would abruptly intrude on the experience of the teenager that I thought I knew. When I was near Tashi, I could feel this double presence even more powerfully, the young child presence of the person with dark eyes and black hair who speaks Nepali and at the same time, like a shadow of light, the mind that her connection to Leah implies.

I was not happy that first year. Tashi's presence stung and burned like pressure on an open wound. My heart felt hot and hollow, as if I could not hold it in my chest, whenever she was close. She is a miracle, a constant reminder that there is so much more than I know how to know. She is the edge from which my mind drops off into a new place that I have only begun to explore.

I met Tashi again this year when I went back to study in Nepal. I was so afraid that I had been wrong that I didn't go to find her for several days. When I finally climbed the hill behind the shrine building, I could hardly breathe for fear that all that I had experienced two years before had been simply an echo of unprocessed grief.

I realized that, even if I were wrong, I had still experienced the touch of the mind beyond individual mind, because Tashi's presence had opened that mind in me. But, if I were wrong, like other mothers who had lost their children in this terrible way, I would not know where Leah was, or in what form of embodiment. Of the many gifts that Tashi had already given me, the knowledge of her location in time, space and form had been one of the most precious.

When I saw Tashi again, I knew that I had not been mistaken. She had been playing. Her face was so dirty that I could hardly see her features, and her hair was sticking up all over her head. She didn't look like Leah this time, and I felt an instant of disappointment, but just as suddenly, an ache of recognition leapt out of my heart, and my legs melted under me.

I saw Tashi often this year, but I was very careful to stay for only a short time, each time, so that her life would not be disturbed. I am in the process of arranging to sponsor her. If I can help secure her future, I can hold her from a distance without doing any harm.

It is hard to know how to thank my teachers enough for teaching me the practices that have made it possible to find Leah again. When a loved one commits suicide, particularly a child, fear for them is added to the grief. Suicide is an act of violence, and as a Buddhist, I could only fear for her, fear the effect that that violence would have on her next birth. But now I know that she is safe. She is human again, with all of the opportunities that form of embodiment will provide, and she is surrounded by the teachings, "under the umbrella" of two of my teachers.

It may not be clear why this story should be included in a book on compassion. I have been taught that the basis of compassion is the understanding that our bodies, everything we experience around us, and even our minds are not solid, are not dependably enduring. Even time and space, the containers of our ordinary experience, are only ideas.

I have also been taught that if we do not understand the insubstantiality of ordinary things, particularly the feelings and thoughts that contort our attempts to help other beings, it will be impossible to practice compassion. I have experienced the ways in which I always fall all over myself and make very painful interpersonal messes when I forget that the version of myself that I am always struggling to protect is only a complicated idea.

Tashi reminds me, at a level that I can't ignore or dismiss, that there is a vast, luminous, kind of experience that we emerge out of and disappear back into that is timeless, endless, purer than purity, and unbearably compassionate. An actor in a movie that I saw recently would shrug his shoulders and say, "It's a mystery" whenever he was pressed to explain an impossible possibility. Tashi is the embodied mystery that silences my mind and opens my heart. She is a mystery in the same way that everything around us, especially every being, is a mystery, is transparent, luminous, and forever just out of reach of our attempts to make sense of it.

Before Leah was Tashi, in the in-between period after she had died and before she was reborn, I was opened out into the mystery of unbounded compassion by her appearance in a dream. So much of the real business of practicing chöd takes place in dreams, the lucid dreams at the boundaries of waking. The dream in which Leah appeared occurred before I had learned to practice chöd, but it had the same vivid quality of presence.

In the dream, I saw the face of the relative who had continually molested me. I could feel both my rage and my clenched fist exploding up at the same time. I was going to smash that leering, suggestive smile. Then, suddenly, his face disappeared. Leah appeared there, directly in front of my fist, and I came into her arms. She held me, held my arms down at my sides. She held me tighter and tighter until I could barely breathe. I realized then, that I could die, both in the dream and in my waking experience outside of the dream. I realized that I was being warned that the consequences of my rage could be the death of my body and the destruction of the heart awakening that had impelled me into Bodhisattva vows. I struggled awake with tears of gratitude running down into my pillow.

Was this really Leah that I had experienced, or some image dredged up from the deep recesses of memory? A case could be made that the Leah who had held me in my dream and warned me of the consequences of my rage was only a protective image thrown up by my unconscious.

But I know, in the same way that the cells of my body recognized Tashi, that this Leah who held me was the same Leah whom I had held against my heart as she nursed, smiled, slept, and dreamed. How did I know? It is a mystery. But if it is true, as my teachers claim, that time and space are only the ideas that bind and define ordinary experience, anything is possible and, in fact, everything is possible all at once, and the experience of Leah in my dream and the appearance of Leah in her new incarnation as Tashi are only the earliest, smallest glimpses of what has been promised to all of us, a flash from the empty radiance of the mystery that we all are.