By Zen Shaman
Centuries ago the coming Buddha sat under the Bodhi-tree and vowed not to move until he learned to eradicate suffering, unfolding Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, the Consumation of Incomparable Enlightenment. But Mara, the personification of evil, tried to usurp his plans by sending his three daughters Tanha (desire), Raga (lust), and Arati (aversion), to seduce him and break his concentration. However, the coming Buddha was too strong for Mara.
In Buddhism Mara is the lord of misfortune, sin, destruction and Death. Mara is the ruler of desire and death, the two evils that chain man to the wheel of ceaseless rebirth. Mara reviles man, blinds him, guides him toward sensuous desires; once man is in his bondage, Mara is free to destroy him.
Buddhist tradition holds that Buddha encountered Mara on several occasions. When he abandoned the traditional ascetic practices of Hinduism, Mara reproached him for straying from the path of purity. Mara later reappeared as a Brahmin, criticising him for neglecting the techniques of the yogins. At another time, Mara persuades householders in a village to refuse to give alms to the Buddha. Mara also accuses Buddha of sleeping too much, and not keeping busy like the villagers.
In a famous incident similar to the temptation of Jesus in the Christian religion, Mara urges Buddha to become a universal king and establish a great empire in which men can live in peace. He reminds Buddha that he can turn the Himalayas into gold if he but wishes so that all men will become rich. Buddha replies that a single man’s wants are so insatiable that even two such golden mountains would fail to satisfy him.”
While Mara is unable to subjugate Buddha, he is more successful with Buddha’s followers, even approaching the Buddha’s own brother, Ananda. As the source of evil, he causes misunderstanding between teachers and pupils, casts doubt on the value of Buddha’s sayings by calling them nothing but poetry, or encourages monks to waste their time on abstruse speculations. Worse, he appears in the guise of a monk, nun, relative or prominent Brahmin, bringing false news that a disciple is destined to be a new Buddha. If the disciple succumbs to the temptation, he will be filled with sinful pride. Mara could even appear in the form of Gautama Buddha in order to confuse Buddhists or lead them astray.
Mara is lord of all men who are bound by sense desires. His origin, according to Theravada commentators, was as a rebellious prince who seized control of our world from the supreme god of the highest heaven. As prince of this world, Mara can boast of possessing great majesty and influence. Though he has only a spirit body, he is endowed with the five modes of sensual pleasure, has plenty to eat and drink, and lives to amuse himself.
Many Buddhist scholars imply that Buddha’s references to Mara are mere figures of of speech; but the Buddhist texts do not necessarily imply anything of the sort. In Theravada countries, veneration of good spirits, the placation of evil spirits, and Consulting Mediums are characteristic Buddhist practices. For example, the Burmese hang a coconut tied with a bit of red cloth near their home altars as an offering to the spirits. Special dances are also performed during the winter harvest season, during which a participant becomes “possessed” by spirits in order to bless the crops, while some participate in diviniation by casting bones. Even so, the following should be remembered:
The Buddha said that neither the repetition of scriptures, nor self-torture, nor sleeping on the ground, nor the repetition of prayers, penances, hymns, charms, mantras, incantations and invocations can bring the real happiness of Nirvana. Instead the Buddha emphasized the importance of making individual effort in order to achieve spiritual goals.
Buddhist texts, through inference, may suggest the possibility of a specific, living prince of evil; but Buddhist writers take pains to point out it has no Adam and Eve story and no doctrine of original sin. Yet for Buddhists, the present state of human existence is “fallen” in that men are caught in a web of illusion, and long for liberation. Even though, according to Buddhist theory, men have not inherited the guilt flowing from an original sin, they are still trapped in a present state of suffering as result of evil committed in numerous past lives. Buddhism and Christianity agree that man is far from what he should be and his world is subject to the control of a malicious spirit, a powerful king of desire.
In India, prior to the advent of Buddhism, Mara was a God of Love in Vedic mythology. His name is in the language of Sanskrit and literally means death. He is a God of both Sex and Death. It is the act of love that brings a person into the world and death terminates a person. Thus, this god of death and love could be interpreted as a symbol for samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. By conquering Mara the Buddha is in effect conquering samsara. Occasionally, he is referred to as the Prince of Darkness in Buddhism. See also the Shaman spiritual entity and sometime foe similar to Mara to the Buddha called the Ally.
One could interpret Mara as representing an ‘Anti-Buddha’ — as the opposite of everything the Buddha represents, “the enemy of the Good Law.” Buddhism advocates the Middle Path in between indulgence and asceticism, while Mara is a representative of the carnal pleasures. The Buddha stands for the end of death via the Death of the Ego while Mara is death. Mara is violent. Sakyamuni Buddha is peaceful.
Early on the full moon day of Kason (April) in the year 103 of the Great Era, that is, some 2551 plus years ago, the now emaciated prince sat beneath the Bodhi Tree near the big village of Senanigãma. Around the same time, Sujãtã, the daughter of a rich man from the village, was making preparations to give an offering to the tree-spirit of the Bo tree. She had sent her maid ahead to tidy up the area around the spread of the holy tree, but at the sight of the starving man seated beneath the tree the maid thought the deity had made himself visible to receive their offering in person. She ran back in great excitement to inform her mistress. Sujãtã went to the tree and gave the prince nourishment in the form of a rice-milk gruel (Madhupayasa), inturn from which, the future Buddha regained his strength and health.
Prince Siddhartha began to eat the food beneath the shadow of the tree, sitting in a meditative mood underneath the tree from early morning to sunset, with a fiery determination and an iron resolve: “Let me die. Let my body perish. Let my flesh dry up. I will not get up from this seat till I get full illumination”. He plunged himself into deep meditation. At night he entered into Deep Samadhi.
The to-be Buddha’s encounter with Mara begins with that meditation. The possibility of Siddhartha becoming a Buddha and being liberated from the Earthly realm was not something that Mara desired. Mara decided to lure Shakyamuni away from his quest for Enlightenment. He beseeched the Prince to follow his duties of father, ruler and husband and to abandon the quest for liberation from the material world. It is not proper for a king to renounce the world that he rules. The best life, Mara claimed, is to “subdue the world both with arrows and with sacrifices, and from the world obtain the world of Vsava.” Mara threatened the Prince with his bow and arrow stating that he spares those who indulge in carnal pleasures. Even when the arrow was shot, Sakyamuni stirred not. After failing to lead Gautama to the path of sensual gratification Mara utilized fear in his attempt to make Sakyamuni run away from the search for liberation. Mara gathered his fiendish minions from the deepest pits to wage war with Prince Siddhartha. The Ten Chief Sins, the Daughters of Mara first, then the remaining children of Mara, were sent into the fray:
Sakkaya-ditthi is translated as “personality belief”. Conceit, arrogance, pride.
Vicikiccha means “skeptical doubt’ about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha. One of the The Five Hindrances.
Silabbata Paramasa means “adherence to wrongful rites, rituals and ceremonies.” The Dark Sorceress.
Kama-raga means temptation, “sensual desire.” As Tanha, one of the three daughters initially unleashed by Mara as found in the quote at the top of the page. One of The Three Poisons and Five Hindrances.
Patigha: ill will, including feelings of hatred, anger, resentment, revulsion, dissatisfaction, aversion, annoyance, disappointment. Arati, another of the three daughters initially unleashed by Mara. As hatred, another of The Three Poisons as well as one of The Five Hindrances.
Rupa-raga is “attachment to the form realms.” It is a fetter when it continues to bind one to the Samsaric world. Patanjali’s samprajnata samadhi is usually considered as being at the same level. Samprajnata-samadhi incorporates the first four Jhanas within its scope, which when overcome can lead to the eradication of The Five Hindrances, a major step toward liberation. As lust, Raga is also considered one of the Three Daughters of Mara.
Arupa-raga is “attachment to the formless realms.” It remains a fetter impeding liberation if the attachment is not breached. Patanjali’s asamprajnata samadhi is usually considered to be at the same level. Asamprajnata-samadhi incorporates the last four Jhanas within its scope. Asamprajnata-samadhi is sometimes known in Vedanta circles as Nirvikalpa-samadhi.
Mana “conceit, arrogance, self-assertion or pride, feeling oneself to be superior to others.
Uddhacca, self-righteousness, “restlessness,” agitation of the heart, turmoil of mind. One of The Five Hindrances.
Avijja is translated as ignorance and delusion, especially of the Four Noble Truths. As ignorance, the last of The Three Poisons.
After each Sin failed in subverting Shakyamuni, Mara sent forth the Lords of Hell from a thousand Limbos. The weather was turbulent, the power of Chaos, Hun-tun, mirroring the anarchic behaviour of the demons and the turmoil of the conflict.