By Bhante Upananda
President, Habitat of Buddha Yoga, USA
The concept of Mara occupies an important place in Buddhism. People seem to be more interested in Mara the so-called Deity, even though we oftentimes hear about all the five Maras, Khandha Mara, Kilesa Mara, Abhisankhara Mara, Maccu Mara, and Devaputta Mara.
In Buddhist spiritual practice, we are not concerned with the EXTERNAL MARA, the Deity, but the rest of the four INTERNAL MARAS. To a Buddhist enthusiastic about awakening, the so-called external Mara is of no concern.
Khandha (Sanskrit: Skandha) is our self made of a psychophysical combination, or simply the Mind/Mentality (Pali: Nama), and Body Corporeality (Pali: Rupa); as the mind is again made of five components/abilities: vedana (feeling), sanna (perception), sankhara (karma-creating response to sensory experience), vinnana (consciousness), it becomes five. Our entire self is then Mara-created. Fascinatingly, the power to subdue this Mara nature, which is the “Buddha-potential,” is within our self.
Kilesa (Sanskrit: Klesha) are the defilements/mental impurities that impede our liberation. We continue to nourish this Mara with the best available ‘food,’ viz. evil thoughts, evil bodily actions, and evil speech. Addiction to fast food, computer games, drugs, child pornography, etc. is a smart agent of this Mara. One so addicted tends to detract from one’s normal behavior.
Abhisankhara (Sanskrit: Abhisanskara) is the karmic energy accumulated and deposited within the subliminal layer of our consciousness, or ‘psycho-microchip’ or “mental continuum” (Pali: Bhavanga-citta). As the karmic energy coexists with the memories within the psycho-microchip, we easily get dogmatized even in spirituality, thereby giving this Mara an ample chance to manipulate us. Unmindful and careless, one can easily have this Mara as one’s Creator, for karma is one’s only Creator strictly in a Buddhist sense. Mindfulness of the reality of here and now is the weapon to fight off this Mara. We tend to forget the karmic data and memories deposited in the mental continuum, whereas this Mara never does.
Maccu (Sanskrit: Mrtyu) is death we die one day. Even though death is part of life, people in general are of a dormant fear from death, therefore, remaining frightened by death. We nurture this Mara, too. A momentous awakening into the ‘khanika marana,’ or “death of the moment” that corresponds to the perpetual change of mind and body, is the way to deal with this Mara. Inability or hesitance to accept the reality of aging and obsession with and worry about the reality of youth long gone paves the way for this Mara to attack us.
Devaputta (Sanskrit: Devaputra) is the so-called external Mara believed to reign the sixth/highest heaven of pleasure, the Paranimmita-Vasavatti. As he lives on the highest plain of sensual please, he is also the Deity of Celestial Pleasure. It is mentioned that he came down with his retinue and struggled to block Siddhartha’s Awakening. As far as his three daughters, Tanha (Desire), Aversion (Arati), Passion (Raga), which are mental tendencies, are concerned, even the Deity Mara could be taken metaphorically. On the other hand, the existence of a Mara as such is possible, for there are living beings, viz. spirits, deities, angels wishing that humans be lustful and evil, so that the former feeds on the negative energy of the latter. Kilesa Mara is the internal agent of external Devaputta Mara. As one fights off the internal one, the external one has no chance to attack one. Siddhartha’s case is the best example. Those who do not believe the external one, can just deal with the internal agent.
As opposed to the internal Maras, the external Mara is the world we are entangled with. To us the world is whatever we see in our average perspective (Pali: dassana).
Buddha, born out of the Mara-oriented world/universe, remains in the world yet untouched by the Mara. People are governed by the Maras, as long as they remain entrapped in illusion. The entire Mara force is an illusion we create through our wrong dassana, or “perspective.”
Yatha-bhuta-nana-dassana, or Perspective of As-It-Is-Ness, is our inborn power to defeat the Maras. Buddha calls it Awakening.
And Siddhartha did that, so that he became the Buddha, the Awakened One. As he ‘woke up,’ his ‘dream,’/’illusion’ due to his clinging to the world of the Mars was gone.
Mara is here and now. So is the Buddha.