Buddhists: How do you understand Mara?

It is said that, as Buddha sat under the bodhi tree, Mara tried to lure Buddha away from his practice. First, Mara sent his beautiful daughters in an effort to arouse sexual desire in Buddha. When this failed, Mara sent an army of warriors in an effort to arouse violence in Buddha.

In your tradition, or in your own personal experience, did Mara have independent existence from the Buddha? Or was Mara simply a manifestation of Buddha's inherent sexual desire and violence?

Thank you for sharing your views on this.


Mawkish, how then do you understand devas? As having independent existence? Or as manifestations of mind?

Everyone, I ask this because the question appeared today while I was reading passages from various sutras in the Pali Canon in which Buddha speaks of these things as having independent existence.

13 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    Hi P'ang.

    I personally resonate most with the practice implications of these stories and images. And, as I sense, in the spirit of the Cula-Malunkya Sutta, I look to questions of metaphysics only insofar as they support and forward my direct experience. I have an open mind about the possible modes of existence of beings like devas; in fact precisely in "not knowing" whether or how they exist, I am encouraged to hold my views softly and to stay open.

    With specific regards to the story of Mara's presence on the night of Buddha's awakening, I'm immediately reminded of the story's continuation, where the Buddha finally responds to Mara's provocative challenges by simply reaching down and touching the earth.

    I love that. And that earth-touching gesture so much seems to me to be about an experience -- about letting go of desire and entanglement and complication and consternation, and about getting underneath, prior to, more simple and more original than any of that stuff.

    (Just now I'm reminded of a question posed to John of the Cross in the Christian tradition -- are we not making ourselves vulnerable to the influence of the devil when we quiet and empty our minds? No, John explained -- the devil needs something from us to work with. When we let go our thoughts and desires in contemplative meditation, the devil cannot find us. That to me is resonant with touching the earth in the face of Mara's attacks.)

    There have been a few times when I very much felt there was a malevolent Presence or Force in the room with me. To this day, I don't know if that was me or something apart from me (or even, in some species of existence I don't fathom, both at the same time). But it didn't much matter which -- either way I had to draw on wholesome practice principles and a basic grounding purity of intent to deal with it and navigate that circumstance.

    And somewhat more prosaically, especially in intensive meditation retreats, I can at times get into distressed, destructive mood states that, once I have worked past them, look to me in retrospect very much like entire "different personalities" in me. I sometimes call them "Mara."


  • 1 decade ago


    For some reason I thought Mara's final attack on the Buddha was with Mara's beautiful daughters (which would make the most sense to my life!). I always understood Mara to be a mental manifestation and not a true figure. Mara can take many forms, all stemming from desire, whether that desire be sexual, greed, power, etc.

    Whenever I read the Buddha's story, it always takes new meaning (of course, from experience), but the portion of Mara's final attacks on the Buddha has always rung a similar scenario in my brain. I can imagine that the Buddha is sitting and facing his deepest and strongest desires - the desire for sex and power, which are obviously intensely strong. When he defeats Mara, all these desires are then eliminated, thus achieving the ultimate. I imagine him facing the final layers, the deepest layers, of these wants.

    I think we all face such feelings. When I sit, I know I deal with all kinds of desires that try to pry me from my cushion. Why should I sit and do "nothing" when so much can be had out there? There's always that little whisper that happiness is found through grasping the external, because there always seems to be something there that gives momentarily pleasure that eventually leads to be painful.

    I would say I bow to my shrine, statues of the Buddha, and so forth out of respect for a man (and all those men/women) who was able to overcome what I cannot every day!

    Take care.

  • 1 decade ago

    Hello Pang,

    I too have been wondering about how to interpret Mara. The way I see Mara is in the form of all our defilements/selfish desires. Mara is the factor which keeps us in samsara. As far as I can tell from my experience, Mara is a manifestation of our own defilements. It encompasses everything from greed, lust, envy, to anger. I think if Mara had an independent existence, then the Buddha would be constantly tempted by it even after his enlightenment. Also we would be free from Mara once we died then. From what I've read this is not the case, once enlightenment was attained by Siddhartha he was no longer tempted by Mara and he was free. So Mara must not have an independent existence. Maybe I'm misinterpreting what is meant by independent existence.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I think the Pali Canom makes it clear Mara is a deva, responsible for keeping beings in Samsara (by whatever means necessary).

    You can interpret Mara however you find helpful :)

    EDIT: As a recall, discussions about the reality or non-reality of phenomena was one of the aspects of 'Wrong Speach'. I may be wrong.

    The devas in the deva realm are not rupa (arupa), so in that sense they're 'not physically real' on the human realm of experience, however there are plenty of accounts of the Buddha talking in person with devas (like Brahma just after his attainment of Nibbana) and the texts don't indicate that the devas are a mental construct or formation. The Pali Canon, for the most part, is very clear and needs no interpretation.

    So, do devas 'exist'? I think: yes and no :) they neither exist nor are non-existant.

    For the purpose of out OWN journey towards enlightenment, you can understand devas in whatever way you find helpful.

    For me personally, I take the existance of the deva (and other) realm(s) on faith.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Greetings P'ang,

    Your Question is very deep and profound. Mara can be translated in various ways depending on the circumstances. Being tempted by a beautiful man or women, especially if celibate, would be interpreted as being a Mara tempting you. (therefore an independent existence) Mara can also be a manifestation of Karmic interdependent arising. Perhaps you are trying to get to a specific teaching, your car breaks down etc, Some will say that Mara is trying to stop you. Perhaps it is your Karma playing out. Our own mind can also manifest Mara's, fear specifically, or anger, hate and so on. We continuously subject ourselves to outside influences, erotica, music, alcohol, etc, the mind when deprived of its entertainment craves it. That is why we can find it so difficult to meditate, or do the right thing. Mara's existence is continued by this craving, or our 'what about me' needs. When we reach the point of enlightenment our mind continues to assert itself, up until the last moment we need to overcome interdependent arising. (Karma). Yes Mara's exist, are they our enemy or our friend? When we succumb to them, our foe? When we overcome them, our friend. We have learnt the lessons they gave us. Without Mara's it would be to easy. So yes, they are independent beings, thoughts and emotions.

    Thank you for the question.

    May all beings have the causes for peace and happiness. Yeshe Tsomo

    Source(s): I am an Ordained Buddhist Nun
  • 1 decade ago

    I think there are four ways Mara is typically used.

    One is as a metaphor, one is as an existent being, another as an emotion, and the last is difficult to explain it revolves around death and rebirth and that state (not achieving enlightenment).

    It's used in both of the ways you mention in most of the old scriptures but i think more often than not its a metaphor for the tempation and doubt that we all have in our minds while trying to achieve enlightenment.

    Espeically since buddhism puts a large emphasis on mastery of one's self/becoming awake i think the metaphor would be the better way to interpret it for practical purposes.

  • 1 decade ago

    Mara is Nature. Nature's most important objective is perpetuation of the species,reproduction. If we can conquer the desire for sex and reproduction. the species will come to an end. So there is a strong resistance from Natural forces to Man's attempt to conquer sexual desire.

    I have never understood the relevance of the Power instinct.(the desire for power over others,whether it is an instinct ,if so what is the purpose?)

  • bo k
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    Mara is nothing but an obstacle to wisdom.

    The only obstacle to wisdom is attachment.

    When mind tries to get rid of attachment, other components that make us try to interfere mind (mainly the brain).

    Any interference to goal can be referred to as Mara.

    Mara is not a being, but just a phenonmenon.

    Sutras are sutras.

    Nobody can guarantee that the contents are 100% correct.

    Take with a pinch of salt.

    'Do not take it for granted because it is written in the books.'

    ( Buddha)

    Source(s): Buddhism
  • mared
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    Mara I think was just like the devil when Jesus was fasting for 40 days and was trying to tempt Him. When someone is trying to be in concentration or meditation usually temptation sets in.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Mara is deluding and discriminating thoughts , It has no physical existence. Mara is inextricably linked to the psyche of every being.

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