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 What is "Mara" supposed to be?

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Lise
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PostSubject: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Tue May 01, 2012 1:13 pm

I got into a discussion of Mara the other day, along the same lines of the hungry ghost question that still puzzles me. The person I was speaking with would say things like "we let Mara win when we cling to our selfish views", etc. I asked him, is Mara real to you, as a force or entity? Or is this an embodiment, an aspect of delusion, like Kanzeon is an aspect of compassion? I wanted to understand his viewpoint in order not to assume that he meant this as an actual being or "thing" that is trying to trip us up in training, you know, a foe with whom we do battle and who must be guarded against and defeated. The latter would seem to run counter to the teachings about not pushing things away, setting up opposites or trying to kill the parts of ourselves we don't like.

My questions didn't go over well, probably they only highlight my position at the back of the pack in the Enlightenment Derby. I still think about this anyway.

Is Mara "real" to anyone? Have you ever had someone tell you that you are "helping Mara defeat you", "letting Mara win", or similar?
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mstrathern
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Tue May 01, 2012 9:31 pm

It's always the problem with embodiments isn't it; they tend to aquire the status of the real thing. And so there's another case of taking the pointing finger for the moon.
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Wed May 02, 2012 12:01 am

As usual, Mark says in a few words what takes me paragraphs.
But..

Nothing says spiritual verbiage like Buddhisms externalization of the various attributes of training.

This was why the historical Buddha admonished his followers to not replicate his own image. Externalizing Mara, Kanzeon, etc. is no different.

On one side it does have some value as a visual memory aid but on the other side it mostly smells of the un necessary mystification of a simple meditative experience. It ends up usually being just another obscuration of our own innate truth.

I think Mara is a good term for that innate force of resistance we all face to being open and present.

Making Mara into something more mystical than this is what I think the Buddha feared for those following his path.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Wed May 02, 2012 2:25 pm

Yes, there's something that sounds a wrong note to me, when people borrow a concept and put it to an external use that it doesn't seem intended for. Mara almost seemed like a substitute for the old Horned One, the way the speaker used the term. The conversation put me in mind of Mia's recent post about being bullied online by someone who self-identified as a "great monk". I'm reasonably sure I was talking to a former monk (not sure what tradition but he claimed vast experience as a senior-level teacher) and this person took great liberties with the whole construct of Mara, in my opinion. In refuting a statement I'd made, he would tell me that "this is how Mara works", meaning, if I let non-doctrinally-compliant ideas into my head, only delusion would follow .. . and other dire things. It was amusing, mostly because he didn't know that I don't follow any doctrine now. Possibly he assumed I was Zen because I recognise some Soto Zen buzzwords and others.

It is interesting to me how people put the concepts of "Mara" and "hungry ghost" to work when they need a fear-inducing agent to play some role in their story, as a way of driving a point home.

One thing about the absence of fear is that it allows us to be disturbed by the truth though, doesn't it. This is what I understand being open and present to mean. Not afraid of Mara, or of breaking someone's doctrine and causing the sky to fall in . . . just looking, seeing, admitting something is there, and yes, it's got my attention and maybe I am even disturbed by it.

Mara. meh.


Last edited by Lise on Wed May 02, 2012 3:08 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typos)
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Wed May 02, 2012 4:20 pm

My friend Stephen Batchelor wrote a book about this:

LIVING WITH THE DEVIL

The author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and a former monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions, Batchelor works to reconcile the fears, desires, and compulsions of the ego (the devil or Mara) with the certainty of death. Drawing on a rich variety of literature, religious tradition and history, Batchelor demonstrates how the anguish associated with the transient nature of life has preoccupied humans for centuries: Job wrestles with his fate; Pascal's writings reflect his dread at being expelled from the universe when his existence would eventually come to a close. Surveying responses to this intractable problem, Batchelor concludes that mankind has always relied on the temptations of the devil to still anxiety and create an aura of permanence. Compulsive activities, lustful behavior and behaving violently and destructively to others are all evils that stem from Mara. Overcoming these feelings and pursuing the way of love and compassion, for Batchelor, rests on one's ability to make peace with the devil and nourish one's "Buddha nature." Although he explores a number of philosophies, Batchelor's focus is on the path to nirvana (a cessation of desires) forged by Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince and the historical Buddha, whose life and thinking are presented in some detail. Some of the references will be obscure to neophytes, but Batchelor's genuine concern and desire for a better world come through clearly.

A moving and timely study of the problem of evil from a Buddhist perspective...highly illuminating. -- Library Journal

Opens the doors of understanding we might not even have known were closed...an illuminating read. -- Joseph Goldstein, author of One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism

This book is an interesting and intelligent approach to the dualistic struggle of Good and Evil that is rooted deeply in the human character. Most of the expositions are Buddhist, but parallels in literature and in other religions are also considered with cultural poise and maturity. (Although the author used to be a monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions, the Pali Nikaya is the predominant source of his quotations.) Many subtle points in Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice are made surprisingly accessible in lucid and poetic prose. If you have read "Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime," you will find that the author's wonderful explanations of "contingency," "emptiness" and "path" are reintroduced in this book. Yet, Buddhism goes beyond the moral connotations of Evil and Good: the meditator looks directly at Concept and Reality, at Fabrication and Truth. Freedom from suffering is ultimately freedom from all fixations, or "absence of resistance" as the author aptly puts it.

This book could serve as a better introduction to Buddhism than most books that are so dry and doctrinal they put you to sleep. If you are a Buddhist scholar or meditation practitioner, read it too, as it may give you a few fresh perspectives (or take away some of your beloved opinions). Enjoy the book, and its reminder: There is no Buddha without Mara; there is no Nirvana without Samsara.
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Sat May 05, 2012 11:35 am

I was listening to a recent "Fresh Air" on NPR about a particular evangelical sect that cultivates a personal relationship with God in a particular way (many such sects have variations). In this sect, on sets out a cup of coffee for God and speaks to him about all sorts of mundane matters. God is your friend and you converse with him accordingly. They have various practices that cultivates use of the imagination so that God becomes more real. The idea is that God, being unprovable by reason or through investigation of tangible things, is perceived within one's own mind. In that realm, use of the imagination is considered, if I understood correctly, to be the doorway through which you let God in.

It seems to me that there is a purposeful imagination and the mind imagining things on its own. The purposeful imagination can prime the imagination functioning on its own to produce God, the devil, Mara, and many manifestations. But can we know for certain that the latter is imagination and not a doorway to things that exist outside our own inidvidual self contained mind? A very tricky question. An absolute certainty of either end of that polarity presents its own problems.
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Sat May 05, 2012 12:43 pm

thoughts on this -- partly the reason there are so many bodhisattvas and saints and deities in all the various religions. In original Buddhism, you can't talk to, converse or pray to Nirvana or sunyata. Nirvana does not have a voice. No form, no nothing.

The Buddha said clearly not to pray to him. Meditation was never about visualizing him. He wasn't going to answer prayers or talk to you from the beyond. The Dharma he taught when he was alive was who he was and was his teaching.

So later on, we have all the various Mahayana bodhisattvas like Avalokita - Quan Yin, Kanzeon who becomes a female deity in China (people wanted a feminine aspect of the supernatural - more motherly, kinder), and answers prayers, protects you from poisonous snakes and floods and illness. The Buddha is not going to protect you from suffering or change, is he? He is not going to heal you or save you or tell you everything will be fine. The Buddha is not going to tell you what to do, what truck to buy or who to marry.

But the many bodhisattvas perform that function. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are 21 different Taras -- and some specifically protect believers from stampeding elephants - actually, very handy when you live in parts of Asia. Truly.

Frankly, we human beings often need religion and faith that has a human face to it, that is approachable -- and that is transactional. Transactional -- that's most religion in the world -- we want the divine to protect us, help us, give us good crops, keep our kids safe, keep away the floods and the fires, heal us when we are sick, make sure we and our relatives have a good afterlife, and sometimes lay waste to our enemies. So if we pray right, make the correct offerings, say the right mantras, connect to the one "true" god or the many most powerful and useful gods, there is a pay off. We give and we get. Sometimes bad things don't happen and good things do and we feel we are heard, our prayers are answered, there is a connection, the two way street is working. And when crops fail or we lose the battle or the baby, we might think we didn't pray right or hard enough, didn't make the correct offerings, the deities (or our ancestors) are cursing or ignoring us. We are being punished for our sins. So we pray harder, build more cathedrals and stupas as offerings, give more money to the temples and priests - to create more merit, good karma, more connection, in hopes of a better result.

So the divine is often related to very personally. The Virgin Mary performs that function or St. Jude or St. Christopher. That's why some gurus and saviors are so popular - because they are much approachable than the impersonal TAO or Nirvana or father God. But most people in the world who pray to saints or bodhisattvas and gurus - to them it is not imagination. Yes, they visualize the object of their devotion and interaction, but they are seen as quite real and alive and functioning on some higher plane. Many Tibetans absolutely believe that all the Bodhisattvas are completely "real" - yes, they are empty of self-nature - a magical display -- but nonetheless, they exist as visualized and embody unique power and truth. Some lamas will say these deities / bodhisattvas are metaphorical, others not so much. Who knows? Maybe these various buddhas and bodhisattvas are aspects of meditational awareness? Maybe visualizing the Virgin Mary or Tara can help you connect with the feminine aspects of your nature? For some people, that is the certainly the case.

As you say Henry, it can be tricky, especially when we concretize the whole thing - make it very solid and "real" and the one true way. This process has its light and dark aspects and can go terribly wrong, as we have seen. Can we work with these aspects of our minds and still keep a "don't know" attitude at the same time? We have all seen this. We meet someone who is very devotional to say Jesus - and it has made them warmer and softer and kinder -- and we have met fundamentalists whose connection to Jesus has made them mean and hyper-judgmental. Very different dances.

end of my babble......
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Sun May 06, 2012 6:32 am

:-) This is very 'facty', Lise, in the sense of being an abridged quote from Kelsang Gyatso's Ocean of Nectar on the "four maras"...

Quote :
...A māra [from mer meaning "to die"], or demon, is anything that obstructs the attainment of liberation or enlightenment. There are four types: the mara of the delusions, the mara of the aggregates, the mara of the Lord of Death, and the Devaputra [literally, "son of a deva"; or devic race] maras. Of these, only the last are actual living beings.

Our deluded minds such as attachment, anger and confusion are maras because they function only to obstruct our attainment of liberation. Without abandoning the delusions, there is no way to attain liberation.

The mara of the aggregates is our appropriated, contaminated aggregates. Generally, an aggregate is an assembly of parts produced by causes and conditions. Aggregate, product, and functioning thing are synonyms. A contaminated aggregate is an aggregate produced from contaminated causes - delusions and actions motivated by delusions - and that functions to stimulate further delusions...There are two types of contaminated aggregate: internal contaminated aggregates and external contaminated aggregates. The former are contaminated aggregates that are a basis for imputing a person, and the latter are contaminated aggregates that are not a basis for imputing a person...Each time we take rebirth in samsara we appropriate contaminated aggregates...Since we cannot attain liberation without abandoning these contaminated aggregates, they are called maras. However, not all aggregates that are a basis for imputing a person are contaminated aggregates. A Buddha's aggregates, for example, arise from the collections of merit and wisdom, not from karma and delusion. Only internal contaminated aggregates are maras.

As for the third type of mara, the Lord of Death, or Yama, is not an actual living being but simply uncontrolled death. It is called a lord because right now it has complete dominion over our lives. Je Tsongkhapa said there are two main obstacles to the attainment of liberation - death and ignorance. If we lose money, possessions, or friends we may suffer a temporary setback but our spiritual practice will not end; however if we lose our precious human life we lose our opportunity to practise Dharma and thereby our opportunity to attain liberation. For this reason uncontrolled death is called a mara.

The fourth type of mara, Devaputra, is wrathful Ishvara [from "īś, meaning to 'have power'; may be used interchangeably with terms such as īśa and īśana, all of which can also be translated as 'lord' or 'possessor of power'" - Wikipedia], a worldly deity inhabiting Land of Controlling Emanations [the Para-nirmita-vaśa-vartin heaven, where the devas are said to enjoy or use the creations of others; the highest of the six heavens of kāmadhātu/kāmaloka]...He and his manifestations try to prevent Dharma practitioners from attaining liberation from samsara by disturbing their mental peace...
.

Elsewhere I came across mention of a fifth, the "mara of conditioning", but have no further information on that. I guess the above five approximately cover ways in which the term māra traditionally may be used in Buddhism.

Henry wrote:
...purposeful imagination can prime the imagination functioning on its own to produce God, the devil, Mara, and many manifestations. But can we know for certain that the latter is imagination and not a doorway to things that exist outside our own inidvidual self contained mind? A very tricky question. An absolute certainty of either end of that polarity presents its own problems.
Sādhu, Henry!

For instance (not to be conflated with the above), do we really know that the almost-entirety of everything is not balanced on the back of a giant poodle? Though, to my knowledge, no one ever raised this specific question with the Buddha, it belongs to a category that he described as "unthinkable", acintya, because no amount of thinking will produce a definite understanding or answer. (But, unlike God in the transcendental sense (of which people may have some sense of, or insight into, what they mean), or giant poodles beyond the triple-world (which may sound logically impossible but that's superlative giant poodles for you), Mara has been described as an entity within the realm of kāmaloka.)

Thinking of the epithet "wrathful Ishvara" reminds me of an occasion when I had been struggling to free myself entirely of critical or hateful thoughts because I believed that, with training, these thoughts should not be appearing. As I understand it, this conflict comes partly under the banner of kāmarāga, or devotion/addiction to sense-desire (one of the ten "bonds" or "fetters", samyojana, of Buddhism), because desire for the presence or absence of certain thoughts is a sense-desire and, in the example described, I was pretty devoted to getting rid of them! Despite my already knowing these thoughts as not-I, and my taking responsibility for them within all I could muster of intent of holistic compassion, the fetters pratigha ("enmity, fighting, opposition, wrath") and vyāpāda ("death, destruction, harmful intent") eventually manifested as apparent presage of an approaching avenger who would exact 'justice' for my past murderous thoughts by annihilating me non-maliciously. At the time, this seemed like an utterly real though invisible being heading for me...one committed to carrying out a merciless yet apparently ethically motivated intent, yet holding no personal malice; but I did not see or hear anything to indicate an actual 'other'. After resolving the issue, I could not really decide if such another being had actually been involved; but from later reflection I believe that, in this instance, the 'approaching destroyer' was a perception of my own psyche that seemed to be coming from elsewhere because subtle illusoryself-grasping had 'divided up' the natural spaciousness of my mind.

Rebirth in the Para-nirmita-vaśa-vartin heaven is said to be a result of generosity and commitment to preceptual living. I am intrigued to know what would be meant by "engaging in power over things constructed/created/performed by another" (if I have used the online spoken Sanskrit dictionary correctly...or am I answering my own question here?) I wonder if understanding the translation might reveal something readily recognisable in ordinary experience...?... (-:
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Sun May 06, 2012 1:38 pm

Anne,

It seems every culture has its own "beings" that are considered to have an existence independent of another individual's mind, yet most people view the other's beings as being figments of the imaginatiion. This makes me a skeptic, but not a denyer, of the independent existence theory. On the other hand, a mind open in meditation or dreams may perceive many things that truly exist outside of the meditator's/dreamer's individual mind yet is perceived only through the mind and not the sense organs (I doubt what we "hear" in dreams has an actual vibration in the ear drum; and the eyes are closed after all). This makes me a skeptic, but not a denyer, of the position that these beings are always figments of the imagination.

As you said, some things belong "to a category that he described as "unthinkable", acintya, because no amount of thinking will produce a definite understanding or answer." Seems unfair.
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PostSubject: Re: What is "Mara" supposed to be?   Sun May 06, 2012 4:11 pm

:-) Thank you for expanding on your remark, Henry. It's always good to see your thoughtful comments. (-:
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