Shakyamuni being tested by the Daughters and Children
of Mara under the Bodhi tree.

the Wanderling

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 [1]; 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.(source)

Buddhist texts, through inference, may suggest the possibility of a specific, living prince of evil; but Budhist 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 refered to as the Prince of Darkness in Buddhism. See also Kali Ma as well as 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 Senanigăma. Around the same time, Sujătă, 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. Sujătă 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.

  • Silabbataparamasa means "adherence to wrongful rites, rituals and ceremonies." The Dark Sorceress.

  • Kama-raga means temptation, "sensual desire," Tanha, one of the three daughters of Mara. One of The Three Poisons.

  • Patigha: ill will, including feelings of hatred, anger, resentment, revulsion, dissatisfaction, aversion, annoyance, disappointment. Arati, one of the three daughters of Mara. As hatred, another of The Three Poisons.

  • Rupa-raga is "attachment to the form realms," binding ourselves to Samsara; Raga, lust, one of the three daughters of Mara.

  • Arupa-raga is "attachment to the formless realms."

  • 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.

  • 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. See also The Ten Fetters of Buddhism.


The Coming Buddha

Until recently, almost no Buddhist scholar, Western or Eastern, would term Buddhism messianic. While all books on the religion mentioned briefly the traditional hope in a Buddha-to-come, no one felt that it deserved more than passing notice. Messianism, however, has reappeared in contemporary Theravada Buddhism, especially in Burma.

According to Buddhist scripture, Gautama predicted that at some future time another Buddha would come to help men set up an ideal kingdom of righteousness and peace. The coming Buddha is called Mettaya, (Sanskrit: Maitreya) meaning "love." In Theravada temples he is portrayed as a king rather than a monk because of his role as a ruler in the new world order. Most of the time the Maitreya hope has not been a major part of Buddhist piety. However, when Theravada monks and laymen were freed from colonial subjection after World War II, in the excitement of win- ning their independence, a new age seemed at hand. If the first 2500 years was a time of toil and trial for them, the next 2500 years would be filled with dazzling victories.

In one of his speeches Dharmapala briefly explained the Maitreya hope. The present cosmic aeon is called the great good one because four Buddhas have already come and a fifth is expected when a new race of men appears. The present human race will continue to deteriorate; righteousness will gradually disappear as injustice, cruelty and lust increase. This aeon (Kaliyuga) will last for 2,500,000 years, and then will begin the dawn of a new era. Men as we know them now will gradually die off but the remnant will provide the nucleus for a better race to come. The next Buddha, declared Dharmapala, would be born at Benares in a family of Brahmin caste. With his advent a reign of perfect righteousness will commence. There will no longer be any killing, stealing, adultery, drunkenness, filth or mud huts. The cities will all be lighted; parks and gardens will abound. Then, man will enjoy heaven on earth.

Buddhists clearly distinguish between Gautama and Maitreya. In Buddhist eschatalogy, Gautama is not expected to return; Maitreya is a different person whose mission and status are identical to that of Gautama. According to the oldest texts, Buddha does not promise to come back; what he promises is that Maitreya will become the next Buddha whose success will be far greater than his own. Also, Maitreya will bring to fulfillment the Buddhist Dhamma and inaugurate an era of cosmic bliss; he will do so as a teacher and holy man. As the Dialogues of the Buddha report, Maitreya will be "fully awakened, full of wisdom and a perfect guide, himself having trodden the path to the very end; with knowledge of the worlds, unsurpassed as an educator, teacher of gods and men, an Exalted Buddha.... From his own understanding and penetration of it, he will proclaim (the nature of) this universe...and (the nature of) living beings. And he will proclaim the teaching that is lovely in its origin, lovely in its progress, and lovely in its consummation...the higher life will be made known in all its fullness and in all its purity.... He will be the head of an order of many thousand monks, just as in the present period I (Gautama) am the head of an order of many hundred."

Since the very beginning Buddhism offered the hope for the highest kind of individual contentment based on liberation from worldly cares. Without denying this supreme goal, Buddhists today stress the value of creating a just and prosperous social order. This is the necessary prerequisite for the pursuit of the higher joys of the spirit; only in a just environment will men have the security and leisure they need for spiritual advancement. Gautama Buddha and Maitreya Buddha actually complement each other, the first reminding us of individual self-perfection, the second challenging us to bring about the messianic age of justice and material abundance for all.

Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.






DEATH OF THE EGO: A Buddhist View


(please click)




Zen and the Personification of Mara:

[1] With the help of similes, metaphors, and comparisons as an effective part of his teaching method, the Buddha explains his ethico-philosophical contepts to his audience. These figures of speech are significant and important both from the preaching point of view and literary point of view.

For the preaching point of view, the Buddha has utilized comparisons, similes and metaphors to enable the hearer understanding the "Dharma which is profound, difficult to realize, hard to understand, not to grasped by mere logic, subtle and comprehensible only by the wise." Without these figurative images the hearer may have difficulties in understanding the meaning of his teachings.

With reference to literary point of view, these figurative images used by the Buddha are to make the little-known and unfamiliar, the Upamana, of an unfamiliar abstract object, familiar. Upamanas thus presented sometimes illuminate and beautify the object to be compared, and sometimes vividly present before us the unfamiliar. In short, we can say that similes (and metaphors) concretize the most abstract things." (source)

The above through the graceful services of: Dr. Young Oon Kim

From World Religions, Vol. 2

As well as Ankokumon Plyon

Illustration courtesy of the Dharma and The Illustrated History of Buddhism

UPAMANA: Upamana is the process by which the knowledge of A’s similarity to B is gained from the perception of B’s similarity to A, which has been seen elsewhere. This methodology is seen as distinct from mere inference, and is thus accepted as a valid mediate method of knowledge. For example, a person who has seen his cow at home goes to a forest and sees a gavaya (a wild cow but without dewlap). The person sees the similarity ‘This gavaya is like my cow’, and on this basis also concludes the opposite to be equally true, that ‘My cow is like this gavaya’. Thus by upamana he gains the knowledge of his cow’s similarity to the gavaya from the perception of the gavaya’s similarity to his cow.

Upamana is a distinct means of knowledge, and cannot be clubbed under anumana (inference), because we cannot have a universal proposition that a thing is similar to whatever is similar to it. Such a knowledge cannot be gained without the observation of the two similar things together. Advaita uses this method of knowledge by comparison and similarity to logicaly communicate the nature of Brahman and various other things. Brahman is said to be resplendent as the sun. By percieving the luminosity of the sun, the seeker can appreciate the terms like the self-luminosity of Brahman. (source)

Just as a subject of interest compare the centuries old Sanskirt Upamana, above, with what the western philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) wrote in a similar vein.