The Demon Mara
Mara, the Lord of Death and the Master of Deception and Destruction. He is well known for his role in the Buddha’s enlightenment. Many tend to compare him to Satan, due to a large amount of parallels similarities between them. This is because of early syncretism in medieval Europe of Buddhism and Christianity, a lot of characteristics that define Mara can be compared to many traits that Satan is known for.
Although there are many similarities between Mara and the Satan of theistic religions, there are also many significant differences. We knew that both characters are associated with evil, it is also important to understand the interpretations of “evil” from the perspective of other religions.
According to Buddhism, Mara is considered a minor figure as compared to Satan in Christianity. Satan is the Lord of Hell while Mara is only the lord of the highest Deva of the Desire World of the Triloka. In other words, Mara symbolised the entire existence of unenlightened humanity and the existence of the whole Samsara realm.
There are various versions of the Buddha’s enlightenment story and so far, I like Joseph Campbell’s retelling best. In Campbell’s version, Mara appeared as three different characters. The first was Kama or Lust, and he brought with him his three daughters, named Arati (Aversion, Discontentment), Raga (Attachment, Desire, Greed, Passion) and Tanha (Thirst).
When Kama and his daughters failed to distract Siddhartha (A Boddhisatva then), Kama became Mara, Lord of Death, and he brought an army of demons. And when the army of demons failed to harm Siddhartha (they turned into flowers in his presence) Mara became Dharma, meaning (in Campbell’s context) “duty.”
Young man, Dharma said, the events of the world require your attention. And at this point, Siddhartha touched the earth, and the earth said, “This is my beloved son who has, through innumerable lifetimes, so given of himself, there is nobody here.” Siddhartha gained full enlightenment and became Buddha.
Mara, Your Dark Side
According to most Buddhism teaching, Mara evolved and fed on our inner 3 poisons (Greed, Hatred and Ignorance). This means we created our demons through our body, speech and mind. Mara stands for those patterns of behaviour that long for the security of clinging to something real and permanent rather than facing the question posed by being a transient and contingent creature.
Mara is characterized as a trickster or deceiver. He is capable to slip into all our gaps of imperfection. If one weakness is greed, Mara will focus all his might to attack this area of imperfection, weakening the ability to resist temptation. The objective is to distract and interrupt the follower from reaching their goal of Enlightenment and blind their vision and mindfulness of the world.
Mara is the personification of unwholesome desires, impulses and distractions. In this sense, he has no power over you if your body, speech and mind are not in accordance with them. He will seem utterly redundant and superfluous in a world governed by Karma. You can also choose not to “believe in” them by focusing on the advancement of your spiritual path.