Mara, Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas

Dr. Nancy Lethcoe


Just as it is only because a bodhisattva is weakened by faults stemming from his attitude towards the Dharma (perfect wisdom) and the members of the Samgha that Mara is able to dominate him, so it is also true that a bodhisattva by his own efforts is expected to place, himself in a position to receive the Buddha's protection4:

The Buddha:... 0 Sariputra, if a person writes down, studies, recites, and preaches the perfection of wisdom, he will be brought to mind and protected by Buddhas residing in unlimited incalculable world systems in the ten directions. When he recites the perfection of wisdom, one should know that because this bodhisattva is protected and brought to mind by the Buddha, he is able to recite it successfully.

The suggestion that the ability to practice the perfection of wisdom is a visible demonstration that the person has received the Buddha's assistance is strengthened by the following passage5:

The Buddha : So it is, so it is, Subhuti, if a man does not receive, hold, study, recite, and make endeavors in the perfection of wisdom, then know that he is newly-set-out. His intelligence is small, his faith is small; and he does not take pleasure in the great dharma but has been claimed by Mara. 0 Subhuti, although there are many deeds of Mara and obstacles against the perfection of wisdom, if a good son or daughter is able to receive and hold a copy, to study and recite it, then know that they have the Buddha's spiritual power. Why? Because when Mara repeatedly with great effort and skill in means desires to destroy the perfection of wisdom, the Buddhas repeatedly will with great effort and skill in means protect it.

Thus, even if a person is just a very lowly bodhisattva, one who has only for a short time been following tie path, if he will but study the perfection of wisdom, even merely copy it, the Buddhas will exert their spiritual power and skill in means to protect him from Mara. By thinking about the Dharma of perfect wisdom whereby the Buddhas won their Enlightenment, the bodhisattva insures that the Buddhas will think about him. The power of the Buddha’s thought protects the novice from Mara and assures that he may continue unhindered in his pursuit of the Dharma.

The theme of the efficacy of the Buddha's spiritual power over Mara's in protecting his followers is stressed again in the following passage. And again, the role of the newly set out bodhisattva in obtaining this aid is minimized while the force of the Buddha's power and assistance is stressed6.

Sariputra: 0 Bhagavant, by whose spiritual power is Mara unable to make difficulties for (those who study, etc.) the perfection of wisdom?

The Buddha: 0 Sariputra, because of the Buddha's spiritual power, Mara cannot make difficulties. 0 Sariputra, it is also because of the spiritual power of the Buddhas who reside in unlimited world systems in the ten directions that Mara is unable to make difficulties. Because the Buddhas protect and bring this bodhisattva to mind7, Mara is not able to gain the advantage. Why? 0 Sariputra, because a bodhisattva is protected by the Buddhas, there can be no obstacles to the dharma.

Thus, although there is a reciprocal relationship between a bodhisattva's own endeavors with perfect wisdom and the powerful response of the Buddha's thinking of him, the novice practitioner of perfect wisdom primarily owes his successful practice to the Buddha's efforts. Once the bodhisattva has placed himself in the appropriate circumstances to receive the Buddha's aid, it is henceforth the Buddha's spiritual power that shields him from Mara until he develops his own spiritual power.

As the newly-set-out bodhisattva continues to practice the perfection of wisdom, his own spiritual qualities increase and he becomes less and less dependant upon the Buddha's spiritual power. However, even irreversible bodhisattvas are depicted as receiving the Buddha's spiritual power and hence being immune to Mara. But, as the following passage indicates, there is a significant difference. Bodhisattvas are immune to the deeds of Mara not only because they have copied, etc. the perfection of wisdom, but also because they have understood the emptiness of all dharmas and yet refused to abandon all beings. This refusal to forsake all beings constitutes the bodhisattva's inherent spiritual power, his skill in means, whereby he remains in Mara's kingdom but is not Mara's subject.8

      0 Subhuti, if when a bodhisattva practices perfect wisdom, he is brought to mind by the Buddhas, then know that this bodhisattva is irreversible. O Subhuti, even if all the beings in the world systems as numerous as the sands of the Ganges were to become Maras, and if each one conjured up a host of Maras, these Maras cannot ruin a bodhisattva who courses in perfect wisdom. If a bodhisattva is endowed with two Dharmas, then Mara cannot ruin him. What two? First, he observes the emptiness of all dharmas, Mara cannot ruin him. O Subhuti, there are two more dharmas whereby Mara cannot ruin him. What are they? First, his practice is in conformity with the preaching. Secondly, he is brought to mind by the Buddhas. If he is endowed with these two dharmas, then he is honored and supported by the gods.



  1. KA. T. 227, 555a13ff; A221; BST 110.24.

  2. KA. T. 227, 557b22; A251; BST 124.6.

  3. KA. T. 227, 555a11; A 221; BST 110.16.

  4. KA defines "bringing to mind" as: "O Subhuti, bodhisattvas who have been brought to mind by the Buddhas do not stand in the other abodes; they certainly will be in the state of utmost, supreme Enlightenment. Surely, these bodhisattvas will not fall into the three evil paths; constantly they will be born in good abodes which are not devoid of a Buddha." (KA 579b6ff; A 473; BST 233).

  5. KA T. 227, 576b22ff; A 448; BST 221.17.


The Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Temple, and Vajra Bodhi Sea Publications together will sponsor a Buddha's Birthday Celebration on Saturday May 20th. We cordially invite all Buddhists to attend this celebration. There will be two ceremonies, one at 9:00 A.M. and another at 6:00 P.M. There will also be a vegetarian luncheon at 11:00 A.M. Set this day aside now!


      As you walk the way, recollect the Buddha, recollect the Dharma, and recollect the Sangha. Here follows the true story of one who recollected his teacher and thereby had his illness cured:

      In Manchuria, the birthplace of Master Hsuan Hua, there was a six-year old child who had a heart disease. His heart had become enlarged and as a consequence doctors ordered him to stay in bed, without getting up, for at least five years. After five days in bed, however, he felt he couldn't sleep anymore and began to have fantasies of flying. One day he saw a book with a picture of a monk on the cover. People told him the monk was Dhyana Master Hsuan Hua. Thereafter, while his relatives recited "Na Mo Amitabha Buddha," the boy sat in bed, palms together, facing the picture and recited, "Na Mo Dharma Master Hsuan Hua." At first he had no great response, and continued to have fantasies of flying.

      After about seventy days of recitation, however, a strange thing happened. As he faced the image and began to recite, the bhiksu on the cover stepped out of the book, stretched out his hand and gently rubbed the child's head, and spoke with him. The child took no more medicine, and much to their surprise, the doctors found that his illness had been completely cured.

      The child then went to visit the Master Hsuan Hua at the temple where the Master was lecturing the Ksitagarbha sutra. As soon as the Master saw him, he felt that they were old friends. After taking refuge, the child opened great wisdom and became the Master's translator. He had been stupid and slow in school, but after taking refuge, he could commit anything to memory after reading it only once, and quickly advanced five grades. At recess, when other children went to play, he stayed inside the building, meditating in the men’s' lavatory or he climbed a hill and sat quietly on a rock. Like the Buddha's son Rahula, he could enter samadhi anywhere, even in the bathroom.

      You want to know his name, but you do not need to know and he does not wish to be known. In the future, when the time is right, you will find out.

      His heart was sincere and his actions vigorous. He had an inconceivable state.


What benefit is there in reciting "Na Mwo Amitabha Buddha?" The only way to find out is to try it and see what kind of a response you get. A response can be an ability to do something you weren't able to do a moment ago. A miracle can be something as sudden as a full, deep breath of air when the next breath simply won't come, or a peaceful night's sleep when you are so ill and in pain that you fear you won't be able to endure it.

Once I was very ill for several days and had difficulty breathing. I didn't want to see a doctor, and so this disease, a cold, the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, I don't know what it was, got progressively worse every day until I could hardly draw a breath. At this point I wanted to go to the hospital, but I was alone in my apartment, with no phone, and too weak to get up. At that point I remembered a phrase Dharma Master Heng Ch'ih had taught me to say, the great vast name of Amitabha Buddha, "Na Mo O Mi T'o Fo." There was nothing else to do so I picked up some beads and began to recite. Barely able to mumble the syllables of the phrase, I was glad no one was able to see or hear me. I felt silly because I really didn't have much belief, and didn't know why I was doing this.

After a while my voice became stronger and clearer; it felt really good to recite. I felt a kind of peaceful energy fill the room, like on a rainy day when the clouds part and sunlight comes streaming in through the windows again. I recited for half an hour, and when I stopped I could breathe easily and felt very good. From that point, the course of my disease reversed, and I was perfectly well in a couple of days.

Upasika Kuo Hsu

(Barbara Waugh)


      Now that the Library has been completed in the new Bodhimandala, we welcome the donation of books. Books on all subjects, and in any languages will be greatly appreciated. Help support the new library.

Spring Sessions

The Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Temple, and Vajra Bodhi Sea Publications together will sponsor two cultivation sessions this spring. The first, beginning March 11, will be one full week of Dhyana Meditation ending on March 18th.  Meditation will begin early in the morning and last until late at night. Instructional talks will be given daily by the Masters.

The second will be a Kuan Yin Seven, consisting of seven days of recollecting Kuan Yin Bodhisattva (Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva) and will begin on March 25th and end April 1st. The following day, April 2nd, is the anniversary of Kuan Yin Bodhisattva's Birthday which will be celebrated with recitation of sutras and mantras beginning at 9:00 A.M., and a vegetarian feast at 11:00 A.M.

For further information, call or write the Sino-American Buddhist Association, Gold Mountain Temple, 1731 15th Street, San Francisco, California, 94103. Tel: (415) 621-5202.


Jan.   3    Amitabha Buddha’s Birthday
23    Anniversary of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Realization
      of the Way

Feb.  13    Birthday of the Bodhisattva Avatamsaka
15    Birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva
20    Birthday of Samadhi Light Buddha

Mar.  22    Anniversary of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Leaving Home
      29    Anniversary of Sakyamuni Buddha’s Nirvana

April  2    Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva’s Birthday