Four Maras

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Mara and His Children

In a final, desperate attempt to foil the intent of the bodhisattva, Shakyamuni; to diminish his merit and his karma in the face of all the universe as he sits in determined meditation under the Tree, the Tempter and Sower of Doubt, Great Mara manifests with his offspring:  Devaputramara, child of the gods; Kleshamara, mental afflictions; Skandhamara, appearance as form, and Mrtyamara, mortality. 

Maras According to Thrangu Rinpoche

Mara is most commonly presented in the Buddhist tradition as four different types of maras called: Devaputramara, the mara that is the child of the gods; Kleshamara, the mara that is the mental afflictions; Skandhamara, the mara that is the aggregates; and finally Mrtyamara, the mara that is the lord of death. These are primarily internal.

The first of these, Devaputramara, the mara that is the child of the gods, refers not to some kind of external demonic force but primarily to your own great attachment and great craving.  Therefore, it is given the name of child of the gods, because when this mara is depicted iconographically — because it is craving or wanting something so much —it is not depicted as something ugly and threatening, but as something attractive, because that is the feeling-tone of attachment. It is liking things so much that it interferes with your dharma practice and your attainment of awakening.

The second mara, Kleshamara, the mara that is mental afflictions, is your mental afflictions themselves. These become a mara because, due to the beginning-less habit of maintaining and cultivating them, they keep on popping up again and again. They are very hard to abandon or even to suppress, and when they are momentarily absent, they come up again, and in that way they interfere with your practice of dharma.

The third mara is Skandamara, the mara of the aggregates. The aggregates here refer to the five aggregates that make up samsaric existence — forms, sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness. Now, these aggregates are themselves mara, because being aggregates or composite, they are impermanent. Being impermanent they are constantly changing, and therefore they are always a cause, directly or indirectly, of suffering.   In order to attain permanent happiness, in order to transcend the suffering of samsara, we must transcend the five aggregates.   There is simply no way to attain a state of permanent happiness within the bondage of these aggregates.

The fourth of the four maras is death itself, which is depicted iconographic[al]ly as wrathful or unpleasant. Death, of course, is what we are most afraid of. Death is what comes with great agony and fear and pain.

~ issue 10 of Shenpen Osel news.


Ven. Traleg Khyabgon Rinpoche:  "The devil is that aspect of ourselves that is unexplored, unacknowledged, denied, pushed out.  Mara it is called in Sanskrit."

Gampopa in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation:   ... "the name of certain limiting experiences, which, as the term Mara [<cf. French: mort] implies, have a deadening influence on life." 

... elaborating on the mara-nature of skandhas "the psychosomatic constituents of individual life" which when we conceive of any of these as Real or "ultimates" they have deadening influence - so we practice to maintain insight (and non-attachment) as they arise.

And "The experiences in meditation which [seem to] have a 'divine' character because they go beyond the merely human concern, are also nothing ultimate in themselves. But by clinging to them instead of understanding them they turn into dead concepts which are likely to undermine the mental health of the individual. Hence they are termed 'the deadly influence of divine powers'. It is necessary to overcome these deadly foes if spiritual freedom is to be won."

"So -- rather like something in my fridge when it has sat in there too long unattended to. Phew! has to be thrown out! I like the notion that clinging to anything as "me" or "mine" as "deadening" -- it seems so.  Solid, opaque bodies that cling certainly leave the realm of our Unborn BuddhaNature and thus tend to smell, and to die."

~ J. on the Kagyu email list


Devaputra Mara

This Mara is a way of talking about a condition of life, or a thing, that seems so good  that we give it special consideration instead of regarding it with equanimity. 

"This describes something instantly recognizable that I never had a name for.  Actually it is something I reflect on every morning on the bus. As a somewhat lonely gay practitioner who was celibate from age 22 to 34, and is still without a partner at 50, handsome men can provide a certain challenge to my morning equanimity.  [For] Somehow I have never found the aversion therapy approach of the oft- recommended "bag of pus," [viewing the body as merely the sack of vile fluids] ...  very appealing.  

In the face of beauty I prefer to briefly acknowledge the suffering of the afflictive emotions and move on to attempt to engender bodhicitta:  Joy dedicated rather than denigrated.

For some time now these "devaputtra maras" have caused me to offer up prayers that [those people] come to experience the blessings [as expressed] in the Four Immeasureables

And then I reflect that their beauty alone makes them no more deserving than any one else on the bus, and my seemingly casual gaze and intention embraces all of [the passengers with no exceptions] as well. Alternately I pray that the object of my interest, and all beings, be reborn from the lotus buds in Sukhavati [the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha.] 

Some days the escalators at Vancouver's Granville Skytrain Station carry a stream of lotuses up and out into the morning."

~ The Kagyu Mailing List

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