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Mara (Sanskrit: māra; Chinese: 魔; pinyin: mó; Tibetan Wylie: bdud; Burmese: မာရ်နတ်; Thai: มาร), in Buddhism, is the demon that tempted Gautama Buddha by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara's daughters. In Buddhist cosmology, Mara personifies unwholesome impulses, unskillfulness, the "death" of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making mundane things alluring, or the negative seem positive.
The word "Māra" comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *mer meaning to die. The Sanskrit form of the verbal root is √mṛ. It takes a present indicative form mṛyate and a causative form mārayati (with strengthening of the root vowel from ṛ to ār). Māra is a verbal noun from the causative root and means 'causing death' or 'killing'. It is related to other words for death from the same root, such as: maraṇa and mṛtyu. The latter is a name for death personified and is sometimes identified with Yama.
In traditional Buddhism four senses of the word "mara" are given.
- Klesa-mara, or Mara as the embodiment of all unskillful emotions.
- Mrtyu-mara, or Mara as death, in the sense of the ceaseless round of birth and death.
- Skandha-mara, or Mara as metaphor for the entirety of conditioned existence.
- Devaputra-mara, or Mara the son of a deva (god), that is, Mara as an objectively existent being rather than as a metaphor.
Early Buddhism acknowledged both a literal and psychological interpretation of Mara. Specially Mara is described both as an entity having an existence in Kāma-world, just as are shown existing around the Buddha, and also is described in paṭiccasamuppāda as, primarily, the guardian of passion and the catalyst for lust, hesitation and fear that obstructs meditation among Buddhists.
"Buddha defying Mara" is a common pose of Buddha sculptures. The Buddha is shown with his left hand in his lap, palm facing upwards and his right hand on his right knee. The fingers of his right hand touch the earth, to call the earth as his witness for defying Mara and achieving enlightenment. This posture is also referred to as the 'earth-touching' mudra.
In some accounts of the Buddha's enlightenment, it is said that the demon Māra didn't send his three daughters to tempt but came willingly after Māra's set back in his endeavor to eliminate the Buddha's quest for enlightenment. Mara's three daughters are identified as Taṇhā (Craving), Arati (Boredom), and Raga (Passion). For example, in the Samyutta Nikaya's Māra-saṃyutta, Mara's three daughters were stripping in front of Buddha; but failed to entice the Buddha:
- They had come to him glittering with beauty —
- Taṇhā, Arati, and Rāga —
- But the Teacher swept them away right there
- As the wind, a fallen cotton tuft.
Some stories refer to the existence of Five Daughters, who represent not only the Three Poisons of Attraction, Aversion, and Delusion, but also include the daughters Pride, and Fear.
Maras as manifestations of the five skandhas are described in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. In its section on the fifty skandha-maras, each of the five skandhas has ten skandha-maras associated with it, and each skandha-mara is described in detail as a deviation from correct samādhi. These skandha-maras are also known as the "fifty skandha demons" in some English-language publications.
- See, for instance, SN 4.25, entitled, "Māra's Daughters" (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), as well as Sn 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, page 98). In each of these texts, Mara's daughters (Māradhītā) are personified by sensual Craving (taṇhā), Aversion (arati) and Passion (rāga).
- The Buddha's Encounters with Mara the Tempter
- See, e.g., SN 4.25 (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), and Sn 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 98). In a similar fashion, in Sn 436 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 48), taṇhā is personified as one of Death's four armies (senā) along with desire (kāmā), aversion (arati) and hunger-thirst (khuppipāsā).
- SN 4.25, v. 518 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 220).
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
- Saddhatissa, H. (translator) (1998). The Sutta-Nipāta. London: RoutledgeCurzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0181-8.
- Guruge, Ananda W.P. (1991). "The Buddha's encounters with Mara, the Tempter: their representation in Literature and Art". Indologica Taurinensia. 17-18: 183–208.
- The Buddha's Encounters with Mara the Tempter: Their Representation in Literature and Art
- Taming the Mara
- Mara, the Evil One_99