Maara legends in canonical texts | Daily News


Maara legends in canonical texts

Mara’s assault on the Buddha  (an aniconic representation: the Buddha is only symbolized by his throne), 2nd century, Amaravati, India
Mara’s assault on the Buddha (an aniconic representation: the Buddha is only symbolized by his throne), 2nd century, Amaravati, India

The Paali Canon includes several accounts attributed to the Buddha himself on his quest for deliverance and these have obviously provided the raw material for the reconstruction of his biography. Among them, the most comprehensive as regards the details of the discipline and training which the Buddha followed is the Mahaasaccaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaaya (No. 36). It elaborates the circumstances leading to the renunciation, the Great Departure, as the term Abhinikkhamana is usually translated; the period of studentship under AA.laara Kaalaama and Uddaka Raamaputta; the austerities he practiced for six years; the process of meditation and contemplation and the progressive spiritual attainments; and the final achievement of Enlightenment.

The entire statement has a ring of authenticity — a purposeful recollection of the highlights of his life and career. But, as E.J. Thomas has pointed out, “the most remarkable feature in this recital is the entire absence of any temptation by Maara.”

The same comment would also apply to the Bhayabherava Sutta (No. 4 of the Majjhima Nikaaya), where the Buddha recounts the doubts and fears which he encountered in the days of his austerities in the forest. Nor does the Dvedhaavitakka Sutta (No. 19) of the same Nikaaya, which analyzes the Buddha’s thought process prior to the Enlightenment and how it led to his Enlightenment, digress from the philosophical treatment of the theme to refer to temptations by Maara.

Prose sermons

Thomas’s explanation is “that later authorities put additional events in different places.” But a more reasonable explanation, to my mind, is that poetical imagery or allegorization is more the domain of poetry and hence not to be expected in prose sermons. That is precisely why almost all the accounts of Maara’s temptations in the Paali Canon are in verse, fully or partially, and the conversations with Maara invariably are recorded in verse.

The most important among them is the Padhaana Sutta in the Sutta-nipaata (vv. 425 ff.) of the Khuddaka Nikaaya. Here, Maara is presented as Namuci and described as a person who approached the striving Bodhisatta speaking kind words ( vaaca.m bhaasamaano). The words attributed to him are as follows:

“O you are thin and you are pale,

And you are in death’s presence too;

A thousand parts are pledged to death,

But life still holds one part of you.

Live, Sir! Life is the better way;

You can gain merit if you live,

Come, live the Holy Life and pour

Libations on the holy fires,

And thus a world of merit gain.

What can you do by struggling now?

The path of struggling too is rough

And difficult and hard to bear.”

The reply which the Buddha gave Maara has the makings of the entire concept of the allegorization or personification of temptation and psychological conflict. We find here all the ingredients which, in course of time, fired the imagination of countless writers, poets, painters, and sculptors all over Asia for over two millennia.

Sense desires

The Buddha recognizes the speaker of these “kind” words and is conscious of Maara’s hidden agenda. So he rebukes him as Pamattabandhu (the Friend of Heedlessness), Paapimaa (the Evil One), and Ka.nha (the Black One). The hosts of Maara are also identified:

“Your first squadron is Sense-Desires,

Your second is called Boredom, then

Hunger and Thirst compose the third,

And Craving is the fourth in rank,

The fifth is Sloth and Torpor

While Cowardice lines up as sixth,

Uncertainty is seventh, the eighth

Is Malice paired with Obstinacy;

Gain, Honor and Renown, besides,

And ill-won Notoriety,

Self-praise and Denigrating Others:

These are your squadrons, Namuci.”

Although the numbering of the “hosts” stops at eight, two more sets are identifiable. Thus the concept of ten “hosts” has also been established. Similarly conceived is Maara riding an elephant (savaahana), which could, of course, mean any ride — elephant, horse, or chariot — and arrayed for war with an army all around (samantaa dhajini.m disvaa).

The Buddha himself announces his readiness to give battle:

“None but the brave will conquer them

To gain bliss by the victory...

Better I die in battle now

Than choose to live on in defeat...

I sally forth to fight, that I

May not be driven forth from my post.”

The Buddha’s squadrons, however, are not named; but earlier, in listing the psychological defenses he possessed against Maara’s “kind” persuasive words, the Buddha had said:

“For I have faith (saddhaa) and energy (viriya)

And I have wisdom (paññaa) too.”

Further to underline the psychological dimension of the battle, as conceived in this context, the Buddha proceeds to tell Maara:

“Your serried squadrons, which the world

With all its gods cannot defeat,

I shall now break with wisdom

As with a stone a clay pot.”

One element, however, is still not evident: Maara does not claim the seat on which the Bodhisatta is seated, and hence the need to call as witness the earth (or the earth-goddess, as the later versions have it) has not arisen. It may, nevertheless, be noted that the Buddha’s reply assumes an effort on the part of Maara and his hosts to dislodge him from his position:

“I sally forth to fight, that I

May not be driven from my post

(Maa ma.m .thaanaa acaavayi).”

On the other hand, a further reason is given for the Buddha’s determination to fight:

“From land to land I shall wander,

Training disciples far and wide.”

This implies a further element in the legends of Maara’s temptations, which are found in canonical texts as well as elsewhere relating to the obstacles he had tried to place on the Buddha’s advent into his mission as a teacher.

Another pointer in the Padhaana Sutta to other legends is contained in the last three verses, which speak of a later encounter of Maara with the Buddha. Though Chalmers interprets this passage as a statement addressed to the Buddha, the accusative case Gotama.m in verse 24 indicates that it need not be so construed. Here, Maara says:

“For seven years I pursued the Buddha at every step

Yet with the wakeful Buddha I got no chance.

As a crow that hopped around a fat-colored stone

Thinking ‘we may find a tender delicacy’

Flies away in disappointment

In disgust I give up Gotama.”

The final verse of the sutta, which tradition assigns to the Buddha but which appears from the contents to be of much later origin than verses 1-20, shows the degree to which the personification of Maara had developed. Here, he is called ‘dummano yakkho,’ a “disappointed sprite” (N.B. not Vasavatti-Maara, the devaputta) and is said to be so frustrated that his lute drops from his armpit. We shall return later to the implications of this reference to Maara as yakkha.

Altogether absent from the Padhaana Sutta is the episode with the daughters of Maara, who are elsewhere represented as tempting the Buddha with their charms after their father with all his hosts had failed. This story (SN 1 124ff.), along with several others, occurs in the Maara-sa.myutta of the Sa.myutta Nikaaya. The majority of these episodes do not fall within the category of temptations by Maara. They reflect mostly the hostility which Maara had to the Buddha’s mission and consist largely of disturbances he had created in different guises — making noises, breaking things, disrupting sermons. It is Maara preventing the people from getting out of his clutches in the sense of escaping from Maaradheyya. 

Visit Sri Lanka's Largest online shop. Over 125,000 unique categories such as Fresh Flowers, Cakes, Food, Jewllery, Childrens Toys and other Sri Lankan e-commerce categories. Low delivery cost to most cities here and free delivery in Colombo.

Add new comment