Mara

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  • Joyo
    • Jul 2024

    Mara

    I am confused about Mara in Buddhism. Is it equal to the devil in Christianity, or is it more of a non-literal concept with the things humans struggle with such as anger, lust, greed etc. etc.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39450

    #2
    Hi Emmy,

    Most folks, especially in modern times, take "Mara" to represent the harmful emotions and psychological states of anger, greed, jealousy and like mental traps and temptations harmful to ourself and others. "Buddha" thus has an aspect (among many aspects) of being those mental states free of such. As I mentioned on another thread, the great Buddhist Skeptic Stephen Batchelor has an excellent book (the kind of book best read in small bites) on Buddha and the counterpart ...

    book review of Living with the Devil by Stephen Batchelor reviewed by Vladimir K.


    However, it is a fact that, in centuries past (and still today, in many places in Asia primarily), people took these things quite literally. I have written this before:

    Many Buddhists traditionally did (still do!) believe in rebirth in heavens or hells based on volitional actions (Karma) in this and past lives. Some of the descriptions of "Buddhist Hells" are as hellacious as anything in Western imagination (although the images seem to have developed independently) ... complete with pitchforks and brimstone ... look here. Not for the squeemish. I have seen similar images here and there at temples in China, Japan, Thailand and Korea ... images that would make any Fire & Brimstone preacher in the Bible Belt faint. Just like in the West, images of "hell" were often used by Buddhist preachers to get people to "be good". WARNING: 18 and OVER



    I personally am a skeptical, but open minded, agnostic on literal, mechanical models of rebirth. It is not vital to my practice. But I do believe ... and see all the time ... people who make very terrible "hells" for themself and others in this life through their actions in this world. As I often say ...

    If there are future lives, heavens and hells ... live this life here and now, seek not to do harm, seek not to build "heavens" and "hells" in this world ... let what happens after "death" take care of itself.

    And if there are no future lives, no heavens or hells ... live this life here and now, seek not to do harm, seek not to build "heavens" and "hells" in this world ... let what happens after "death" take care of itself.
    Buddhism also has an image of "the Devil" ... the tempter "Mara" who, in the old Suttas, is often seen trying to lead Buddha off a good course. Does Mara exist literally? Well, like Kannon as a symbol of Compassion who exists through us and is "made real" when we choose our actions and whenever we do something caring and beneficial to others, Mara likewise exists through us when we do something harmful through the temptations of greed, anger and ignorance. In the sense, yes, they are real because compassion and generosity and selfishness and hate all exist as "real forces" in this universe as humans make them real through our words, thoughts and acts.
    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 06-04-2013, 06:45 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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    • Kyonin
      Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
      • Oct 2010
      • 6742

      #3
      Mara tends to visit me every so often: when I get lazy and don't want to sit, when I don't feel like going out and run... and every time I look for a second helping of a food that's harmful to me.

      I must admit that Mara won over my will for about 35 years... now I think I do a little better trying to live at peace with him.

      That alone is a full time practice :P

      Gassho,

      Kyonin
      Hondō Kyōnin
      奔道 協忍

      Comment

      • Mp

        #4
        I find sitting, nature, and running to be a great antidote for Mara. I struggled with Mara in my early twenties when I was coming to terms with some family members.

        Gassho
        Shingen

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        • Seimyo
          Member
          • Jan 2012
          • 861

          #5
          mara.jpgMara is in the mirror every day.

          With practice I notice Mara less (or my head is getting fatter). Perhaps one day my fault line will vanish. I wonder if I will notice.

          Gassho.
          Seimyo

          明 Seimyō (Christhatischris)

          Comment

          • Jinyo
            Member
            • Jan 2012
            • 1957

            #6
            Ah Seimyo - we all have our Mara lines

            Living at peace with Mara means understanding where the negativity comes from - TNH teaches to comfort, nurse like a baby and give attention to understanding. Mara can be a great teacher IMHO - showing us which parts of our selves need working on.

            It is keeping me very busy right now!

            Gassho

            Willow

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            • Myozan Kodo
              Friend of Treeleaf
              • May 2010
              • 1901

              #7
              o, everybody. Won't Mara always be there?



              Antaka, Mara, the maker of limits,
              You parade your sumptuous daughters always,
              And always Siddhartha touches the earth.
              Yet when he rises you are with him,
              Even after the morning star revealed its all.
              You walk with him as a shadow,
              You lie down with him in dreams of desire,
              You delight his eyes with the sparkle of promise.
              All along the dusty ways of the earth
              You bring the shiver of night, doubt to ability;
              We will see you were with us in our final hours,
              A constant companion, limiting the road.
              You will whisper farewell in our dying ear,
              As we cross over limitless, beyond all care.

              (Ps: Seimyo, hope that's not a tattoo!)
              Last edited by Myozan Kodo; 06-05-2013, 09:54 AM.

              Comment

              • Shokai
                Treeleaf Priest
                • Mar 2009
                • 6391

                #8
                Of course, i met him/her this morning (again)
                合掌,生開
                gassho, Shokai

                仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

                "Open to life in a benevolent way"

                https://sarushinzendo.wordpress.com/

                Comment

                • Seimyo
                  Member
                  • Jan 2012
                  • 861

                  #9
                  Originally posted by Myozan Kodo
                  o, everybody. Won't Mara always be there?



                  Antaka, Mara, the maker of limits,
                  You parade your sumptuous daughters always,
                  And always Siddhartha touches the earth.
                  Yet when he rises you are with him,
                  Even after the morning star revealed its all.
                  You walk with him as a shadow,
                  You lie down with him in dreams of desire,
                  You delight his eyes with the sparkle of promise.
                  All along the dusty ways of the earth
                  You bring the shiver of night, doubt to ability;
                  We will see you were with us in our final hours,
                  A constant companion, limiting the road.
                  You will whisper farewell in our dying ear,
                  As we cross over limitless, beyond all care.

                  (Ps: Seimyo, hope that's not a tattoo!)
                  Not a tattoo. Just a little Sharpie and the art of a furrowed brow.

                  明 Seimyō (Christhatischris)

                  Comment

                  • Joyo

                    #10
                    Well, I can't say I believe in a supernatural mara, but yes being aware of the mara as in struggles with the mind has helped me a lot today. Every time I struggle with a particular issue in my head, I remind myself that this is mara and it weakens its grip on me. I am reading a book by TNH right now called Touching Peace, in which he talks about mara. I was just confused as to whether this is an allegory or literal or supernatural.

                    Comment

                    • Nengyo
                      Member
                      • May 2012
                      • 668

                      #11
                      I do not believe in a literal Mara, but I love the story of the Buddha defeating Mara. I alway smile when I see a Buddha statue in the "earth touching" mudra. Long before I learned of Buddhism, "touching" the earth helped me defeat mara many times (not as well as the Buddha did obviously)
                      If I'm already enlightened why the hell is this so hard?

                      Comment

                      • Joyo

                        #12
                        Originally posted by catfish
                        I do not believe in a literal Mara, but I love the story of the Buddha defeating Mara. I alway smile when I see a Buddha statue in the "earth touching" mudra. Long before I learned of Buddhism, "touching" the earth helped me defeat mara many times (not as well as the Buddha did obviously)
                        It's funny that you posted this today, catfish, because I was thinking the exact same thing. Thich Nhat Hahn describes it as touching the earth will heal you of whatever "mara" is doing to upset you. And he gave the example of the Buddha defeating Mara by touching the earth as his witness. I definitely find being in touch with nature, the birds, my pets, my garden, water etc. to be very healing for whatever non-literal Mara is trying to bother me with.

                        Comment

                        • arnold
                          Member
                          • Mar 2013
                          • 78

                          #13
                          If there are future lives, heavens and hells ... live this life here and now, seek not to do harm, seek not to build "heavens" and "hells" in this world ... let what happens after "death" take care of itself.

                          And if there are no future lives, no heavens or hells ... live this life here and now, seek not to do harm, seek not to build "heavens" and "hells" in this world ... let what happens after "death" take care of itself.


                          Jundo, that's brilliant.

                          Emmy, if you read Bhikkhu Nanamoli's The Life of the Buddha which is essentially a biography that was strung together with excerpts from the Pali Canon (very early writings), you will see that Mara visits the Buddha again and again. Throughout the scriptures you constantly see Mara visit the Buddha and tempt him and then the Buddha says a few words and Mara runs away, always saying "he knows me, he knows me". That "he knows me, he knows me" is profound. Now whether this is literal or not, I love it because it can be read as a pointing away from the notion of the big "one time enlightenment" where all delusion, all poisons, all temptations are gone, and it points at the Buddha as one who continued to mindfully practice throughout his long life. This is particularly interesting because most other facets of these Scriptures drive home this notion of the Buddha as being perfected "free of taints" free of temptation from the moment of his awakening under the Bodhi tree on.

                          This sort of one shot enlightenment narrative is not our way here. In this Sangha, with the guidance of Rev. Jundo, Rev. Taigu, the Unsui and one another, we simply continue to practice, realizing/making real the Buddha way. We are not chasers of Satori, Kensho, or any grandiose moment of "enlightenment". We know that Mara visits us again and again. To paraphrase something that that I believe Jundo said about another topic when Mara visits "I'll sit down with him, I just don't invite him to stay for breakfast."

                          I highly recommend this book for anyone that wants to see what the early Sangha believed about who the Buddha was and what his life/practice/teaching meant to them. I think that for most of us there is much in the Pali Canon (or the later Mahayana scriptures for that matter) that while presented literally, we can re-interpret figuratively but still find that it can enrich our life/practice.

                          I think that perhaps Walt Whitman represented the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha and perhaps our relationship to Mara best when he wrote:

                          "Do I contradict myself?
                          Very well then I contradict myself,
                          (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

                          In Gassho,
                          Arnold
                          Last edited by arnold; 06-07-2013, 12:26 PM.

                          Comment

                          • arnold
                            Member
                            • Mar 2013
                            • 78

                            #14
                            Originally posted by Myozan Kodo
                            o, everybody. Won't Mara always be there?



                            Antaka, Mara, the maker of limits,
                            You parade your sumptuous daughters always,
                            And always Siddhartha touches the earth.
                            Yet when he rises you are with him,
                            Even after the morning star revealed its all.
                            You walk with him as a shadow,
                            You lie down with him in dreams of desire,
                            You delight his eyes with the sparkle of promise.
                            All along the dusty ways of the earth
                            You bring the shiver of night, doubt to ability;
                            We will see you were with us in our final hours,
                            A constant companion, limiting the road.
                            You will whisper farewell in our dying ear,
                            As we cross over limitless, beyond all care.

                            (Ps: Seimyo, hope that's not a tattoo!)
                            Really wonderful Myozan. Is this your poem?

                            Comment

                            • Myozan Kodo
                              Friend of Treeleaf
                              • May 2010
                              • 1901

                              #15
                              Glad you like my hot air, Arnold. Yes. This is my effort. Gassho, with thanks. Myozan

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