Encountering Mara

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Chapter Thirteen: Encountering Mara

When the Great Sage, sprung from a [whole] line of royal sages, sat down there totally committed to attaining Highest Knowledge, the whole world rejoiced but Mara, enemy of Dharma, was afraid.

The one known to the world as Kamadeva, Lord of Desire, wielder of various weapons including flower darts, is one and the same as Mara, the Enemy of Liberation.

And his three sons Confusion, Gaiety, and Pride, and his three daughters Lust, Delight, and Thirst, asked him the reason for his despair, and this is how he responded:

"The sage armoured in resolution with his arrow of wisdom set with its barb of truth sits right over there, and he intends to conquer my realms -- that's why I am depressed.

"If he succeeds in overcoming me and proclaims the path of final bliss to the world then today my whole realm will empty, just as Ananga [who lost his very form] when he overstepped his bounds.

"Therefore while he is right there within my reach and his spiritual eyesight is not yet focused, I will assail him and cause a break in his vow just as the swollen might of a river assails a dam.

So seizing his flower-made bow with its five infatuating arrows, the great disturber of the minds of living beings along with his children drew near the root of the Asvattha tree.

With tip of the barb touching his extended left hand while he fiddled with the arrow's fletching, Mara now addressed the calm seer sitting there in preparation for his crossing to the far side of existence's ocean:

"Up, up, with you, Kshatriya -fearing-death! Do your duty and abandon this law of liberation! And once you've conquered the lower worlds with your arrows, go on to gain the higher worlds of Indra.

"That is a glorious path to travel; the one followed by former leaders of men.  This mendicant life is ill-suited for the heir to a noble family descended from one of [the Seven Rishis] royal sages.

"But if you refuse to get up, so intent are you on your purpose, then fine -- be firm and do not give up, but this arrow raised against you is the very one which was fired at Suryaka, enemy of the Fish.

"And as I recall, even when poked just a little with this weapon, the son of Ida, grandson of the moon, went mad, and Samtanu also lost his self-control.  So how much more likely is it to affect you since any hero of today is bound to be more feeble due to the degenerate nature of this later age?

"Therefore get up and come to your senses, for this arrow darting out its tongue is ready,  which I do not launch even against the kakravaka [kinnara?] birds, tenderly attached as they are and well deserving the name of lovers."

But the Shakya saint did not change his posture and seemed not to hear when spoken to like that, and so Mara let fly his arrow and set his daughters and sons before him.

Even when that arrow was shot, the Bodhisattva paid no attention and in his firmness, he did not even swerve.  Observing him, Mara slumped down and said slowly and thoughtfully:

"He does not even notice this same arrow that caused Shambhu [Lord Shiva} to be pierced with such love for Parvati [Himalaya's daughter] that he broke his vow of celibacy.  Can he be completely devoid of all feeling?  Or isn't this that very same arrow of mine?

"He is just not worthy of my flower-shaft, nor my arrow "gladdener," nor the sending of my daughter, Rati (to tempt him.)  So now he deserves the shouts and curses and blows (that he will soon get) from all the gathered hosts of demons."

Then Mara called up his whole army, wishing to cause the downfall of the Sakya saint; so his followers swarmed round all assuming  different forms and wielding arrows, tree trunks, darts, clubs, and swords.

They had the faces of boars, fish, horses, asses, and camels; of tigers, bears, lions, and elephants.  They were one-eyed, many-faced, three-headed; with protuberant bellies and with sunken bellies.

They were part goat, with knees swollen like pots; they were armed with tusks and claws, and some carried headless trunks in their hands.  They assumed all different forms with their half-mutilated faces, and monstrous mouths.

Some were copper-red all speckled with red spots, bearing clubs in their hands and with yellow or smokey hair.  Some had dangling garlands and long pendulous ears like elephants; some clad in leather, some in no clothes at all.

There were those with half their faces white, or half their bodies green, or pied red and grey or yellow and black.  Some had arms reaching out longer than serpents, and had belts all a-jangle with rattling bells.

Some were as tall as palm-trees and carried spears, while others were the size of children with fangs for teeth.  There were birds with the faces of rams, and others with men's bodies but cats' faces.

With messy hair, with topknots, or half-bald; in stringy garments and tangled headdresses.  With triumphant expressions or frowning faces, they sapped the strength or they bewitched the mind.

Some leaped wildly about while others danced upon one another.  Some sported about in the sky; others strode along the tops of trees.

One danced, shaking a trident; another bashed about dragging a club.  One bounded with joy like a bull; another blazed flame from every hair.

Such were the troops of demons encircling the foot of the Bodhi tree on every side -- eager to seize and destroy it at the command of their lord.

Beholding, the first half of the night, that contest between Mara and the bull of the Sakyas, the heavens did not shine and the earth trembled while the (ten) regions of space flared and roared.

A hurricane blew in all directions, and the stars did not shine.  The moon gave no light -- a deeper darkness of night spread all around and all the oceans were stormed.

The mountain deities and the dharma-Nagas, indignant at this attack on the bodhisattva, rolled their eyes in anger at Mara, heaving deep sighs their mouths all agape.

But the purely accomplished deities, the Suddha-dhivasas, focused as they were in their mastery of Dharma felt only a pity for Mara, and in their equanimity they remained unperturbed by anger.

And when they saw the foot of the Bodhi tree surrounded with Mara's hosts bent on destruction, the sky was filled with the cry of all the virtuous beings who desired the liberation of the world.

But the Bodhisattva, seeing Mara's army, was as unruffled as a lion seated in the midst of a herd of oxen.

So then Mara commanded his excited army of demons to terrify him; and immediately they set out to break down his composure using all their various powers.

Some wiggled their many protruding tongues and, with sharp-pointed savage fangs and eyes like solar discs; with yawning maws and ears pricked up in spikes, they stood around gesticulating in threatening postures.

But before these monsters all standing there, so dreadful in form and disposition  the great sage remained unworried and calm, putting up with them as if they were only rude children.

Then one, eyes rolling wildly, raised and aimed his club at him, but the arm was instantly paralyzed like Indra's with its thunderbolt so long ago.  And others, having picked up stones and trees, found themselves unable to throw them at the sage, so down they tumbled along with their trees and stones like the foundations of Vindhya when it was finally shattered by that same thunderbolt.

Others leaping into the sky, flung rocks, trees, and axes but they stayed stuck there in the sky like multi-coloured rays of evening clouds, and never fell.

Another one hurled a mass of blazing straw as big as a mountain-peak at him which, as soon as it was thrown, hung poised in the sky until it was split in smithereens by the sage's power.

One rose in the sky like the sun in full splendour, and then rained down a great shower of live embers just like Meru's eruptions pulverising the remains of golden valleys at eon's end. 

However, the hail of sparking embers just scattered at the foot of the Bodhi tree in a shower of red lotus-petals, due to the karma of the great saint's boundless compassion.

But with all those various scorching assaults on body and mind, and all those missiles showered on him, the Sakya saint did not move the slightest bit from his position, holding  firmly to his brave determination.

Then some demons spat serpents out their mouths as if from old decayed tree stumps but when they got to him, as if under some spell, they neither breathed, discharged venom nor even moved.

Others became great clouds flashing lightning and uttering fierce crashes of thunderbolts as they hailed rocks down at that tree, but it all turned into a pleasant shower of flowers.

One fixed an arrow to his bow, and there it stuck gleaming but nothing happened -- it was like the failed furious gesture of an ill-tempered, impotent man.

But the five arrows shot by another froze motionless in mid-air through the saint's influence -- like the five senses of someone experienced in the ways of the world but afraid of physical existence.

Another, full of anger, rushed towards the great saint seizing a club with the intention of striking him down, but it was he who fell powerless, without even a chance -- just like people possessed of the flaws which [are bound to] cause failure.

Now a woman named Meghakali, in an attempt to shock the sage's mind, held up a skull in her hand and flitted about erratically just like the wandering attention of a fickle student bent over sacred texts.

Another glowered at him like a piece of kindling as if to incinerate him with the fiery gaze of a viper but when he saw the sage -- Poof! He vanished like any thrill-seeker once he is shown the true source of happiness.

Another raised high a boulder but this just tired him out to no purpose since all his effort was in vain -- just like someone who exhausts his body trying to reach an ecstasy that can only be achieved through meditation and knowledge.

Others in the forms of hyenas and lions gave such loud fierce howls that all beings in the vicinity quailed in terror thinking that the heavens had been struck by a thunderbolt and were about to burst.  The deer and elephants ran about uttering cries of pain, or just lay down.  And in that night now bright as day, the birds were all agitated, and flew around every which way, shrieking.

Now amidst all these various cries -- though all living creatures were shaken -- the Bodhisattva did not tremble nor was he afraid, for he was like Garuda hearing the noise of crows.

But the less he feared the frightful armies with their thousands, the more Mara, enemy of the righteous, in grief and anger continued his assault.

Then some glorious but invisible being standing in the heavens, watching Mara treating the seer in such a malevolent fashion, addressed him in a loud voice unruffled by enmity:

"Mara! Do not tire yourself out so uselessly.  Cast off your malevolence and retire in peace.  This sage cannot be shaken by you any more than mighty Mount Meru by the wind.

"Fire might lose its heat, water its fluidity or earth its steadiness, but never will the one, with the merit acquired by the karma of innumerable aeons, abandon his resolution. 

"For such is his purpose, his heroic effort, his glorious strength, his compassion for all beings, that until he attains Highest Wisdom, he will never a rise from his seat -- just as the sun does not rise without dispelling the darkness.

"Someone who [persists in] rubbing together two pieces of wood will eventually obtain fire.  And  one who digs the earth finally finds water.  And to him in his perseverance there is nothing unattainable, for all things are reasonable and possible for him.

"Pitying the world lying distressed amidst disease and passion, the great physician ought not to be hindered, for he undergoes all his labours for the sake of the remedy [called] knowledge.

"He laboriously pursues the one true path when all the world is led astray on devious tracks; so, like the one right guide when the caravan has lost its way, he should not be distracted. 

"He is a lamp of knowledge when all beings are lost in the great darkness, and it is not for any right-minded soul to try to extinguish him.  Would anyone do such a thing to a lamp kindled against the gloom of night?

"He sees the world drowning in the great flood of existence, unable to reach the farther shore, and strives to bring them safely across.  Would any right-minded soul do him wrong?

"This tree of knowledge whose roots go deep into firmness, whose fibres are patience and whose flowers are moral actions; [that tree] whose branches are memory and whose thought produces Dharma as its fruit -- surely when it is flourishing, it should not be cut down.

"The one whose sole desire is to deliver mankind whose spirit is bound fast by snares of illusion, as he struggles with task of unloosing the bonds of the world, your wish to overthrow him is not a worthy one.

"To-day is the day designated for the culmination of all those actions performed by him for the sake of knowledge, and he is seated on this seat now -- just like all bodhisattvas before him.

"For this is the navel of the earth's surface, endowed with all highest glory.  There is no other spot on earth like this one -- the home of contemplation; the realm of satisfaction.

"So do not be dismayed but put on calm.  Mara, do not let your grandeur be mixed with arrogance.  It is not well to be [over-]confident, for fortune is an unstable thing.  Why be concerned for your position [poised] on such a tottering base?"

Having listened to the deva's words and recognized the unshaken firmness of the Great Saint, Mara departed [all] dispirited and discouraged from the very same  arrows by which you, O World, are wounded to the core.

So, their triumph over and their labour fruitless, and all the stones, straw, and trees thrown away, Mara's host took off in all directions like any hostile army when its camp has been destroyed by the enemy.

And, as the vanquished flower-armed god fled along with all his hostile forces, the passionless sage remained there victorious.  Having conquered all the powers of darkness, the heavens glowed with its moon like a girl with her smile, and a sweet-smelling shower of flowers fell, all wet with dew.

[Yes.] As that defeated wicked one fled, the different regions of the sky grew clear, the moon shone forth, showers of flowers fell from the sky upon the earth, and the night gleamed like a pristine maiden.

NEXT: Chapter 14 Under the Tree

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Kamadeva: In Indian mythology, Kama is the god of love (desire, lustful yearning) who is a son of Vishnu, maintainer of creation and Maya, deception or illusion.  His consort is the powerful goddess, Rati (passion.) Among his epithets are: Chandarpa -- like the moon, supremely beautiful; Darpaka -- one who impedes, ie. he perceives and can prevent something from happening, especially spiritual progress; Ananga -- formless, for after Shiva incinerated him, he was compensated by being able to act in the world without any physical body, like a ghost; Kama -- sexual desire, and Pancha-shara'ih (Five-arrows) -- the senses of taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight.   

Besides the Buddha, Kama is said to have tempted the famous sage, Vishvamitra.  He also tested the resolve of the 7 Rishis, and also Vishnu in the form of Narayana and Nara.  But they put him to shame by using their powers to create an Apsaras more beautiful than those of his own party. 

Kama's vehicle is a green parrot, and he flies around, especially in springtime or with an attendant named for that time of year, Besant (or Vesant,) equipped with his bow and a quiver of five arrows made of flowers.  The bow is described as made of  sugar cane with a sinew of bees,  and the barbs of his arrows are the buds of the Amra tree.  When they strike, they feel delightful, but they are deeply piercing.  They cause the pain that is the consequence of attachment.  Some say that Kama need only shoot one arrow to subdue a farmer, two arrows for  a merchant, three arrows for kings, and four arrows for philosophers [referring to castes.]  However, all five arrows are required to bring down a yogi and those who are intent on spiritual attainment. 

He may carry a vina which he plays beautifully so as to captivate beings, and also a silken noose and a hook.

When, after the death of his first dear wife Sati, the gods wanted Shiva to remarry, they arranged for Kama and Rati both to be cremated and subsequently reincarnated in shapes unknown to the Divine Yogi.  For once before there was an occasion when Kama disturbed the meditation of the Great Yogi, Hara (Shiva) and the fiery Third Eye flashed open in anger incinerating Kama.  The gods revived him by dripping amrita (nectar of immortality) on his ashes.  

The Kama Sutra, the famous guide to sexual practices is named for Kama. After his birth into a family related to Krishna, Kama was abducted by an ashura and set adrift in a basket which was unfortunately, swallowed by a fish.  However, it was caught  and as a woman began to prepare it for dinner, she discovered the child whom she raised in secret.  Soon the two recognized each other as avatars of Kama and Rati.  

After causing Shiva to fall in love again (after the death of Sati, his first wife)  -- this time with Parvati, they retired to their paradise where they reign as devatas.  However, it is said that Kama spends his time near Agra and some think it is because there the women are the most beautiful, but it might be because that is the site of the magnificent marble mausoleum, Taj Mahal, built by the grieving Shah Jehan to house the remains of his teenaged bride who died in childbirth.

Kshatriya: In the caste system, this is the caste of warriors.  How could Shakyamuni be born a warrior and still fear dying? Here Mara is mocking his very motivation saying the Bodhisattva is searching because he is afraid to die.

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