Mara: embodiment of the death of spiritual life
Cindy Mettika Hoffman
Mara: We have heard about Mara, the Evil One from the story of the Buddha’s courageous battle with his armies, minions, and daughters on the evening of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
As soon a Siddhartha started mediating, he was confronted with the figure of Mara, the Lord of Darkness. Mara tried to tempt Siddhartha into despair and in giving up his quest for enlightenment.
Mara’s armies are: desire, lust, dislike for he higher life, hunger, thirst, craving, sloth and torpor, fear, cowardice, doubt, hypocrisy, obduracy, gain, praise, fame, honour, false glory, exalting self despising others. Mara’s daughters represent: lust, greed, desire, pride and ignorance. Mara’s hordes represent the sum total of our deepest fears.
Mara can be viewed as the embodiment of unskilfulness and the death of the spiritual life in all of us. The nuns at the time of the Buddha grappled with Mara. He would sneak into their hearts and thoughts, desiring to arouse fear, trepidation, and terror.
They, Uppalavanna, Cala, Soma, Alavika, Gotami, Vijaya, Upapacala, Sisupacala, Sela, Vajira, to name but a few of the nuns, caught Mara immediately and answered him with brilliant replies whereby Mara sneaks away, caught in the act, foiled again his tricks.
Several years ago, on Visakha Puja, Ajahn Amaro gave a brilliant Dhamma talk. He assumed the voice of Mara, as George Saunders, a British character actor who often played the role of an oily cad.
In this voice Mara confronts the Buddha and asks him who he thinks he is that he should be enlightened as he is a loser who abandoned his wife, son, and palace responsibilities. He couldn’t even make it as an ascetic. He had to start eating again.
Mara shows up in all our lives whispering such things as: “You could have done better, why don’t you have that piece of pie, you deserve it, I need a new I-Pod, you’re no smart enough, I see it, I want it, I like it, I get it, If only I had a boy/girlfriend then everything would be alright, why me? I don’t like it and it shouldn’t be this way. I have really ugly thighs.”
For the past many years, I too have started hearing Mara’s voice. Humor and skirmishes have begun with this dark trickster. On the last evening of a past Thanksgiving Retreat with Ajahn Amaro, I composed a song dedicated to Mara based on the tune, “I’m Just a Gal Who Can’t Say No.” One line read “I’m in your terrible grip.
I always say ‘come on let’s go’ just when I need to do zip.” Another time, I wrote an article entitled “Hearing Mara on the Loop Trail” which addressed my fears of getting lost, getting stuck, encountering a mountain lion, falling off the mountain and missing the meal.
The latest battle with the Evil One was just a few months ago. I had a bone marrow biopsy and was waiting for the results which took two weeks.
There were four possibilities: nothing, something to be checked yearly, a quick exit from planet earth, or an extremely rare blood disease called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia – which I later found out was the diagnosis. During the next two weeks, Mara’s voice was a deep diabolic laugh and then the voice said, “Mettika, you’re going to die.”
Sometiems I was able to feel the fear in the belly which created awareness and then was able to see Mara and watch him slunk away. Sometimes I felt the pure dread of impending death. Mara was happy with that response.
So, Dhamma friends and wayfarers, be on the lookout for Mara in his many forms. The worst form of all is not seeing or hearing Mara’s whisperings and becoming entangled, shackled, trapped, upset, blind, deaf, heedless, and unprepared.
We now have the opportunity to catch Mara’s armies, minions, and daughters. Stay tuned and feel free to write to Mara’s Desk if you too have had encounters. Drop me a line.
Cindy Mettika Hoffman is an upasika who has long been a part of the Abhayagiri community.