Mara, the Tempter

  • Mara, the Tempter

In Buddhist lore, Mara is the tempter, the one who personifies unskillfulness and unwholesome impulses, the evil one. Mara is the one who does everything he can to convince the Buddha to give up his quest for enlightenment. As the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, determined to meditate until he became enlightened, Mara sent his three daughters Tanha (desire), Raga (lust), and Arati (aversion), to seduce him and break his concentration. With each temptation and distraction, the Buddha said “Mara, I see you. I am not afraid.” Finally, it is said that as the Buddha became enlightened, Mara was swept away by a great flood. 

The story of Mara is a wonderful tool for looking at the things in our lives that scare us, hinder us, deter us, confuse us, and keep us from believing in and trusting our basic goodness, our innate wisdom. It is important to note that this wasn’t the end of Mara. He appears over and over again in the Buddha’s life because the Buddha was human. He, too, faced the challenges of living a human life, just like us.

When the voice of doubt, fear, craving, self-judgment, surfaces try saying to yourself, “Mara, I see you.” This is mindfulness. This immediately sees things for what they are and cuts the storyline. It may not stop the thought, but it brings a wise and skillful understanding to the situation. If you can also say “I am not afraid,” you bring an added willingness and degree of courage to truly be with what is. This is not easy. It’s a practice.

Meditation Instructions from Sylvia Boorstein

May I meet this moment fully – coming to meditation we bring all of ourselves; the parts we love, the parts we avoid, and even the parts we may not know. There is space for everything. After silently saying the phrase, check in with the body, the feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, or neither, the thoughts and emotions, how are things today? What is present? Breathe.

May I meet it as a friend – approaching oneself in this moment, as a friend; what does it feel like to offer yourself the security, trust and kindness of a good friend? Does the mind relax? Does the heart become more available? Breathe.

You might coordinate the phrases with the breath. One phrase on the in-breath, one phrase on the out-breath. Or one phrase with each full breath cycle. Take your time, focus on the intention of the phrases and notice how they make you feel. No need to rush. Try this for your entire sit, or for just five minutes. When I do this, I feel a sense of brightness and ease in the meditation. It’s lovely.

Watching the moon,

at dawn,

Solitary, mid-sky,

I knew myself completely:

No part left out.

Izumi Shikibu

(from a Japanese woman a thousand years ago)

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