Mara (demon)

Mara, his lusty daughters, and demonic army, attempting to tempt Buddha, on a 10th-century icon from Mogao Caves

Mara (Sanskrit: मार, Māra; Japanese: マーラ, romanizedMāra; traditional Chinese: 天魔/魔羅; simplified Chinese: 天魔/魔罗; pinyin: Tiānmó/Móluó; Tibetan Wylie: bdud; Khmer: មារ; Burmese: မာရ်နတ်; Thai: มาร; Sinhala: මාරයා), in Buddhism, is the demonic celestial king who tempted Prince Siddhartha (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.[1]

In Buddhist cosmology, Mara is associated with death, rebirth and desire.[2] Nyanaponika Thera has described Mara as "the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment."[3]

The word "Māra" comes from the Sanskrit form of the verbal root 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'.[4] 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.

The root mṛ is related to the Indo-European verbal root *mer meaning "die, disappear" in the context of "death, murder or destruction". It is "very wide-spread" in Indo-European languages suggesting it to be of great antiquity, according to Mallory and Adams.[5]

In traditional Buddhism, four metaphorical forms of "māra" are given:[6]

Early Buddhism acknowledged both a literal and psychological interpretation of Mara.[7][8]

Mara is described both as an entity having an existence in Kāma-world,[9] just as are shown existing around the Buddha, and also is described in pratītyasamutpāda as, primarily, the guardian of passion and the catalyst for lust, hesitation and fear that obstructs meditation among Buddhists. The Denkōroku refers to him as the "One Who Delights in Destruction", which highlights his nature as a deity among the Parinirmitavaśavarti devas.[10]

"Buddha defying Mara" is a common pose of Buddha sculptures.[11][12] 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 bhūmisparśa "earth-witness" 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 instead they came willingly after Māra's setback in his endeavor to eliminate the Buddha's quest for enlightenment.[13] Mara's three daughters are identified as Taṇhā (Thirst), Arati (Aversion, Discontentment), and Rāga (Attachment, Desire, Greed, Passion).[12][14] For example, in the Samyutta Nikaya's Māra-sayutta, Mara's three daughters were stripping in front of Buddha; but failed to entice the Buddha:

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.[citation needed]

The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp and the Denkoroku both contain a story of Mara's conversion to Buddhism under the auspices of the monk Upagupta.

According to the story, Upagupta journeyed to the kingdom of Mathura and preached the Dharma with great success. This caused Mara's palace to tremble, prompting the deity to use his destructive powers against the Dharma. When Upagupta entered samadhi, Mara approached him and slipped a jade necklace around his neck.

Upagupta reciprocated by transforming the corpses of a man, a dog, and a snake into a garland and gifted it to Mara. When Mara discovered the true nature of the gift, he sought the help of Brahma to remove it. Brahma informed him that because the necklace was bestowed by an advanced disciple of the Buddha, its effects could only be assuaged by taking refuge in Upagupta.

Mara returned to the human world where he prostrated before the monk and repented. At Upagupta's recommendation, he vowed never to do harm to the Dharma and took refuge in the Three Jewels.[16]

The former source includes a gatha that Mara recited when his suffering was lifted:

Adoration to the Master of the three samādhis,
To the sage disciple of the ten powers.
Today I wish to turn to him
Without countenancing the existence
Of any meanness or weakness.[17]

Mara has been prominently featured in the Megami Tensei video game series as a demon. Within the series, Mara is portrayed as a large, phallic creature, often shown riding a golden chariot. His phallic body and innuendo-laden speech are based on a pun surrounding the word mara, a Japonic word for "penis" that is attested as early as 938 CE in the Wamyō Ruijushō, a Japanese dictionary of Chinese characters. According to the Sanseido dictionary, the word was originally used as a euphemism for "penis" among Buddhist monks, which references sensual lust as an obstacle to enlightenment.[18]

Mara appears in Roger Zelazny's novel Lord of Light as a god of illusion.[19]

is a 2018 film directed (and co-written) by Clive Tonge about an ancient demon.

In 2020, the singer-songwriter Jack Garratt released a song entitled "Mara". Inspired by the story of Mara’s distraction of the Buddha, "Mara" describes Garratt's experience of intrusive thoughts. [20]