Mara, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas

Dr. Nancy Lethcoe 

According to the legends, on the night of his Enlightenment, Sakyamuni, sitting alone in meditation, defeated Mara in a conflict between his spiritual power and that of Mara. Hitherto, the mighty God Mara, ruler of the sixth sphere, earth, and hell, and personification par excellence of all that binds beings to samsara, had held almost unlimited spiritual power over the inhabitants of these realms. Now, at last, another Buddha-to-be had appeared whose accumulation of merit endowed him with the spiritual power (anubhaya, adhisthana) to overcome the claims and seductions of Mara, to break the chains of life and death, and to become a Buddha.

In these legends the bodhisattva Sakyamuni by his own spiritual power defeats Mara’s spiritual power just prior to obtaining Enlightenment. Later texts became concerned with the effects of Mara’s spiritual power on the bodhisattvas.  How can the novice, who is lacking in the spiritual power acquired through years, even aeons, of meritorious activities, not fall victim to the ways of Mara?  By what practices does an irreversible bodhisattva acquire the spiritual power to recognize and resist Mara?

The Astasahasrika prajnaparamita sutra1 provides answers to both questions. Concerning newly-set-out Bodhisattvas, the text first describes the situation in which Mara might be encountered, then states what a bodhisattva is expected to do himself to avoid Mara’s influence, and finally promises that if a bodhisattva does exert himself correctly, then the Buddha(s) will come to his aid.

The Astasahasrika is quite definite on the thesis that it is because of a bodhisattva’s own limitations, his own spiritual failures, that Mara obtains the opportunity to take advantage of him. In the following passage, the Buddha describes ten such situations to Ananda.

(1)Ananda, some bodhisattvas in the past, when they heard the deep perfection of wisdom, did not receive it with faith. Just this person is hurt and taken advantage of by Mara.

(2)Furthermore, Ananda, when some bodhisattvas heard the deep perfection of wisdom, their thoughts became perplexed and they thought, “Is there this deep perfection of wisdom or is there not?” 0 Ananda, just this person is hurt and taken advantage of by Mara.

(3)Again, Ananda, some bodhisattvas do not have a good friend2; they are taken by a bad friend3: they do not hear the meaning of the perfection of wisdom; not hearing, they do not know and see how they should course in perfect wisdom; how they should develop it. 0 Ananda, these men also are taken advantage of by Mara.

(4)Furthermore, Ananda, some bodhisattvas adhere to the false dharma.  These men also Mara takes advantage of, thinking, “This man suits me and fits my purposes.”  This person is taken advantage of by Mara.

(5)Again, Ananda, bodhisattvas when they hear the deep perfection of wisdom, say to others, “This perfect wisdom is very deep. We can never reach the bottom of it.” Just this person is taken advantage of by Mara.

(6)Ananda, some bodhisattvas say disparagingly to others, “I course in solitude. You do not have this virtue.” Therefore, Mara is greatly pleased.

(7)Ananda, if when Mara pronounces the name of some bodhisattva, because he has received the name, now he disparages the perfectly pure good thought (of enlightenment) of other bodhisattvas and thinks that he himself has the merit and signs of an irreversible bodhisattva. Not being irreversible, he increases his own defilement, he exalts himself and deprecates others saying “Whatever virtues I have, you do not.”  Thereupon Mara is greatly pleased and thinks, “My realm will not be empty; there will be an increase in the hells and animal kingdoms.”  Because of Mara’s spiritual power, other men have faith in what these men say. Having faith, they will follow what they have seen and studied and will practice according to the (false) preaching. So doing, their defilements will increase. On account of these men’s perverted thoughts, they produce karma of body, speech, and mind that will bear suffering. Because of this object support, there will be an increased (population) in the hells and animal realms. 0 Ananda, Mara, the Evil One, sees this growth and is overjoyed.

(8)Ananda, some who seek the Buddha’s path quarrel with the sravakas. Mara, the Evil One, thinks, “Although these men are completely separated from all knowledge, yet they are not greatly removed (from it).”

(9)Ananda, if some bodhisattvas quarrel with other bodhisattvas, Mara, the Evil One, is overjoyed and thinks “Both these men are Completely separated from all-knowledge.”

(10)Ananda, if a bodhisattva who has not received the prediction (to utmost, supreme Enlightenment) is hostile to one who has, and quarrels, wrangles, speaks foully, and curses him, then if he has a yearning for all-knowledge, then he must mindfully put on the great adornment repeatedly for kalpa after kalpa.

To be continued.

1 Cf. Kumarajiva’s translation of the Astasahasrika, T. 227, 573b6-cll. The parallel but not identical passage occurs in the Sanskrit P.L. Vaidya, Buddhist Sanskrit Texts (BST), “Astasahasrika- prajnaparamitasutra” (Darbhanga, 1960) p. 206.17: For an English translation from the Sanskrit, cf. E. Conze, The Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines, (Calcutta, 1958) A (Mitra page references given in Conze’s text) 417. All quotes in this paper originally appeared in my dissertation The Bodhisattva-structure in Kumarajiva’s Astasahasrika -prajnaparamitasutra (University of Wisconsin, 1971).

2 A good friend is defined by the Astasahasrika thus: “A bodhisattva’s good friend instructs him in training in the perfection of wisdom. He tells him about the deeds and faults of Mara. When he knows the deeds and faults of Mara, then the good friend teaches him to avoid them. This is called the good friend of the bodhisattva, mahasattva, who has put forth the thought of the great vehicle and is dressed in the great adornment.” (KA T. 227, 538 cl2ff; A 17; BST 9.16). “The Buddhas, the Lords, are the bodhisattva’s good friend.  Why? Because they instruct him so that he enters the perfection of wisdom.  0 Subhuti, they are called the bodhisattva’s good friend. Furthermore, Subhuti, the six perfections are the bodhisattva’s good friend.” (KA T.227, 571b25ff;A 396; BST 197.6).

3 A bad friend is defined in Kumarajiva’s version as a person who teaches others 1) to stay far away from perfect wisdom, 2) not to take pleasure in enlightenment, 3) to train in taking hold of a sign and discriminating it, 4) to compose and embellish literary verse, 5) to train in the dharma-sutras of the sravakas and pratyeka-buddhas, and 6) to become with them, (the sravakas and pratyeka-buddhas), accessories to the deeds of Mara. (KA T. 227, 538c8ff; not in the Sanskrit version).


A Tiger with Horns

The Sino American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Temple, and Vajra Bodhi Sea together will sponsor three cultivation sessions this coming Winter. The first, a Kuan Yin Seven, consisting of seven days of recollecting Kuan Yin Bodhisattva (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva) will begin on October 30th and end November 5th. The following day, November 6th, is the anniversary of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva’s birthday, which will be celebrated with recitation of s5tras and mantras, and a vegetarian feast at 11:00 A.M.

Beginning December 6th will be three weeks of Dhyana Meditation ending on December 26th. Meditation will begin early in the morning and last until late at night each day during these three weeks. Instructional talks will be given daily by the Master. The following day, December 27th, will begin a Seven-Day Recollection of the Buddha Session, which runs through January 2nd, 1972. January 3rd is the anniversary of the Birthday of Amitabha Buddha and there will be ceremonies throughout the day and a vegetarian feast at 11:00 A.M.

Cultivation of Dhyana Mediation is compared to a tiger, and cultivation of the Recollection of the Buddha is compared to horns. Thus the combination of both meditation and recollection is “A Tiger With Horns”, a most powerful creature.

For further information, call or write the Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Temple, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco, California, 19103. Tel: 621-5202 (415)T