On Mara

Thoughts and Opinions
English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in...

English: Painting of Gautama Buddha sitting in Dhyana, unharmed by the demons of Mara. Sanskrit Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra manuscript written in the Ranjana script. Nalanda, Bihar, India. Circa 700-1100 CE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night at my Sangha we had a guest speaker talk about the story of Budda. I have heard the story many times and seem to get something new from each listen or reading (this video is excellent if you are interested in learning about his story, btw).  This time, the part of the story that really stuck out was Buddha’s encounter with Mara as he was sitting under the Bodhi tree:

During the night, he was visited by Mara, the evil one, who tried to tempt him away from his virtuous path. First he sent his beautiful daughters to lure Gautama into pleasure. Next he sent bolts of lightning, wind and heavy rain. Last he sent his demonic armies with weapons and flaming rocks. One by one, Gautama met the armies and defeated them with his virtue. (From http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/footsteps.htm)

There are many versions of this story. The one told last night included magical feats such as Buddha turning arrows into flowers as he sat still.

This is a familiar story to me because it is in the Bible. Jesus also has an encounter with the devil while in the desert, and he also rejects the devil’s temptations. The bible’s devil is evil personified. He is the devil. A real being that actually, physically comes to Jesus to tempt him. Jesus reaches superhero status by overcoming temptation from the devil himself. He does this by fasting for 40 days. We read this and we are made to feel that there is no way we could do this. I mean, that is the whole point. Jesus is God and that is why he could overcome temptation. And that is why we need Jesus.

Mara is the the personification of evil in the Buddha story. Every other time I have heard or read this story I have viewed Mara the same way I have viewed the Devil in the bible. As a real entity that came to tempt Buddha (in the lore of the story, that is. I don’t actually believe in the personification of evil). HOWEVER, for some reason last night something just clicked. Mara is in Buddha’s head. Mara is Buddha’s thoughts. And Buddha was able to shut those temptations down himself, with his own thoughts. That is pretty powerful.

We all have our own Mara. And you know what? It is all in our head. As quickly as the arrows come at us, we can turn them into flowers. We can do this, just like Buddha did.

This reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago. I had an episode of sleep paralysis. I was in that state when you are in-between sleep and wakefulness. I opened my eyes and looked above me and saw a demon sitting on Rafael and me*. When I looked up at it it slowly moved its head toward me and looked into my eyes. As I woke up, terrified, I thought to myself, “this isn’t real” and the demon dissolved into thin air like a cartoon character.

*this is actually a thing that happens – seeing “demons” in this half-awake state. See this article at WebMD.