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Author of this essay:

Yin Cai Shakya
(December 15, 2008)

by Yin Cai Shakya

“Pleased to meet you.
Hope you guess my name.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.”

--The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

When I was a kid my friends and I listened to heavy metal music more than anything else. Some kids bought baseball cards with their allowance. We bought albums –the kind of albums that Tipper Gore and her Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC) warned righteous folks about during the mid 1980’s and early 90’s.

I can recall a good friend of mine having amassed quite a collection by the time he was fourteen. He had all the classics: Reign In Blood and Altars of Madness, two metal masterpieces by Slayer and Morbid Angel respectively, along with other ground-breaking works by bands like Metallica, Obituary, and Sepultura. He had everything that Iron Maiden had recorded up to that point. Quite a bit of his hard-earned pocket money was tied up in that album collection of his - this was during the advent of the compact disk, and CD’s were far more expensive than cassette tapes. You cannot imagine his stunned horror when his mother, intent on saving his immortal soul, destroyed several of his favorites. Like many others back then, his mother had heard ominous rumors that satanic messages were concealed in the tracks, obscured by way of backward-masking and other equally sinister subliminal techniques that would assure their being implanted in the unconscious part of the fertile teenaged brain.

Looking back I have to laugh. I can remember laughing with my friends, sitting together in his room, listening intently with the hopes of catching the hidden message that was rumored to be planted somewhere on Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind album just a few short weeks before his mother descended upon his quarters, tossed the place and destroyed the subversive material. I laugh because much later I learned that the subliminal message in question had nothing to do with Satanism or anti-social behavior at all. It was, in point of fact, a recording of Nico McBrain, Iron Maiden’s drummer, doing a drunken impression of Ugandan Military Dictator Idi Amin Dada.


But this isn’t a sermon about music. This subject here is The Devil, and what Zen has to say about him. We’ll talk about music a little here and there, but we won’t risk offending you with examples from heavy metal bands. For the sake of this sermon, The Stones should suit our purposes nicely.

Last night I was working at the computer, listening to the Rolling Stones in that semi-conscious way we hear background music when suddenly a couple of lines from Sympathy For The Devil jumped out and slapped me with their meaning. I had heard those very same lines many times before but this time it was different. This time, I actually considered them:

Pleased to meet you.
Hope you guess my name.
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game.

Perhaps I was in that meditative state where genius can casually be grasped, or maybe I’d just finally heard those lines the right way, the way they’re supposed to be heard. Whatever the case, it struck me that the fundamental problem with The Bearer of Evil that every religion grapples with was clearly and succinctly stated in that haunting chorus: “Who is the Devil, and what exactly does he do? What is his nature?”

First the Devil says, "Pleased to meet you.” Then he offers two challenges: “Hope you guess my name” and “But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.”

Everything we need to know to meet the mystery of this Infernal Rock n’ Roll Mischief Maker who brags that he “…was ‘round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain” and who “Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate” is contained in his polite introduction and the subsequent challenges he makes.

The Devil has, as he said, “…been around for a long, long year” and though you may not have met him mano-a-mano before, you think you know who he is without looking at his name tag. His reputation has preceded him. Yet he challenges you to guess his identity.

Perhaps if you were a Christian you’d guess his name was Satan or Lucifer. If you happened to be a Muslim, you might guess Iblis. If you were Jewish you’d say his name was ha-Satan. In terms of the individual to which you were referring, you’d be 100% correct in the terms of your religious and cultural background. But that only scratches the surface. A little bit more investigation is called for.

I find that the Hebrew name for the devil is a particularly efficient key for opening this particular lock of the Infernal Gate, so we’ll work with that example first. The Hebrew “ha-Satan” literally means “The Accuser.” That being said, what then is his nature? Simply put, in the Hebrew context, the devil’s nature is to accuse. You can picture him as a large, rather imposing figure, sitting in a brilliantly appointed office behind a large cherry wood desk. On the desk sits a placard which reads Ha-Satan, Chief Accusatory Officer. He is busy studying a rather lengthy list on which our names and various transgressions are inscribed.

As we observe the Accuser there, in his office, and puzzle over his nature we might ask ourselves, “Where did his list come from? Where did he get this information?” The answer is quite simple. We gave it to him. To illustrate this we’ll look at another example, this time an Islamic moniker; Iblis.

The word Iblis comes from the Arabic verbal root: balasa, which means “he despaired.” The meaning of the word Iblis then, means “he that causes despair.” In other words, balasa and Iblis can be illustrated in the realm of Samsara as: “he causes despair, because in the past, he has despaired…” Next add the Hebrew definition, “and making accusations allows him to cause great despair.” A very interesting profile begins to take shape. A profile, I might add, that is illustrated in The Stone’s song and is beautifully drawn there, too:

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste.

What he’s saying is, in effect: “Treat me well and don’t offend me, and I will not find it necessary to cause you great despair.”

A still greater understanding of the devil, or “He Who Has Despaired And Thus Causes Despair By Way Of Accusations” can be gleaned from the works of Carl Jung. Ever since he and D. T. Suzuki compared notes and discovered a common approach to the psyche, Zen has been using Jung's terminology. The Devil, it seems, is part of our instinct of self-preservation. Jung called these instincts "archetypes," just as the ancient Greeks and Romans referred to them as gods. The archetype of interest to us here is the two-faceted Shadow: Friend and Enemy.

Upon meeting another individual, if you greet him with some courtesy, some sympathy and some taste, and conduct yourself in a polite manner, chances are good that when he projects his Shadow onto you, he will do so with the friendly facet of this archetype. However, if you present yourself aggressively or in some sinister way, chances are good that he'll perceive you as a threat, mortal or otherwise, and, as Mick Jagger warns, he will project the Enemy facet of this archetype upon you and proceed to “lay your soul to waste.”

Should he believe himself to be in mortal danger - for example, if you were to sneak into his home in the middle of the night - he might shoot you. If he perceives that you have tried to undermine his relationship with his wife, he might break your nose. Sabotage his efforts at work and you can believe that he will be discussing your actions with his superiors.

This dynamic works throughout our life. Particularly when we're kids and we must silently suffer despair because of the insults or actions of others, anger and hatred arise in us. We don't brush-off these emotions. No, we take them and store them deep within our unconscious mind. In other words, the number of transgressors and transgressions continually grows; and whenever we feel threatened - regardless of whether the threat is real or imagined - our Champion, the Enemy Shadow, emerges fully armed with the anger and the hatred that were generated by those who had transgressed against us in the past. The Enemy Shadow accuses the threatening individual of being undeserving of mercy, and then, with all that hatred and anger as a measuring rod, it metes out its vengeance upon him. And not just for his transgression mind you, but for countless transgressions committed by the countless individuals that came before.

I find it ironic that those with an irrational fear of rock and heavy-metal music were indeed correct, to a certain degree at least, when they said that this music could unlock the very gates of Hell and bring the listener face to face with The Devil, himself. I’m almost proud to say that my brief teenage encounter with The Infernal was a positive one, one that didn’t end with dangerously sociopathic behavior that would likely end up the centerpiece of one of those “Everybody Panic!” segments on the evening news.

The Buddha understood that the lynch pin of Salvation is compassion. Compassion means that we cease accusing others of being undeserving of mercy. To cultivate compassion means that we have to empty our hearts of hatred and anger, we have to cease keeping that infernal ledger of transgressors and transgressions - and believe me, every single one of us has such a ledger.


A good place to start is by asking the Devil, politely of course, if we may borrow his list. We then take that list and begin with the very first name. We think of that individual, and instead of accusing him of any wrong-doing, we explain to ourselves why he is just as deserving of entering the precincts of Heaven as we are. We put ourselves in his shoes, and try to see things from his perspective. We appeal to the archetypal gods within ourselves to have mercy on this individual. We do this for as long as it takes, until we reach the end and every individual has been given his pardon.

When we humble ourselves to become The Defender as opposed to The Accuser, we learn to be more compassionate. We begin letting go of our anger and our hatred, and we begin to see everyone in the same way that we see ourselves. When we cease keeping that list, and respond to threats with compassion, we reintegrate the Devil back into our unconscious, and, as Zen and Jung would put it, there he will sleep peacefully forever.

Humming Bird