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Thread: I See You, Mara

  1. #1
    Senior Member Seizan's Avatar
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    I See You, Mara

    I have been reading The Heart of the Revolution by Noah Levine and a part stuck with me that I would like to share. When I read the part about the Buddha and Mara, I moved right on without extra deep reflection, but it kept resurfacing in my thoughts long after the fact. Here are some highlights I made- I am posting from my phone so forgive my punctuation!

    --

    (After enlightenment) the Buddha continued to experience an aspect of his mind that he referred to as Mara- that aspect of the mind that experiences craving, aversions, and doubt.

    The Buddha responds to each attack with wisdom and compassion. In response to doubt, the Buddha reflects on all the hard work... He inclines his mind and heart toward faith and confidence based on the progress that he has made so far.

    Mara came back regularly to see if the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha had wavered. Fear, desire, and doubt still arose in the enlightened Buddhas mind. The difference was that he responded each time with "I see you, Mara." He did not take Mara's visitations personally and did not feel that he had to act on them; he saw fear, desire, and doubt as they were and responded with care and understanding.

    Becoming friendly with ourselves has to include every aspect of our being, including every manifestation of Mara.

    (End Noah Levine excerpt)

    These little excerpts in one form or another have been rattling around my empty brain so I thought sharing might be beneficial to someone! I think there is a lot to reflect on there, and it was easy to miss- the profoundness stands out when quotes are pulled, but I feel I was precariously close to missing a lesson when it was buried in the chapter! I will now cease rambling.

    Thank you, Noah Levine.

    In gassho to all,
    Seizan

    Ps I will edit this from a real computer soon!
    Last edited by Seizan; 03-28-2013 at 02:19 AM.

  2. #2
    Thank you for sharing, Seizan.

    One book of late that was food for thought (and non-thought), to be read slowly in small bites, is Stephen Batchelor's Living with the Devil: a meditation on good and evil.

    One point that Batchelor makes, among many, is that in certain ways the Buddha needs the Devil in order to be Buddha, much as night needs day to make the world, nirvana needs samsara to be nirvana, enlightenment arises in ignorance, doctors need sickness to cure.

    http://books.google.co.jp/books/abou...AJ&redir_esc=y

    From a review:

    'Mara,' [Batchelor says], 'is a way of talking about the contingent and imperfect structure of the world. A lot of western Buddhists, and maybe Asian Buddhists, too, tend to read Mara as a psychological function: as negative states of mind, attachments, grasping and so on. This is only part of the picture. It fails to see that Mara is a metaphor for the very structure of the contingent world that is constantly breaking down, and exposing you to death and the unpredictability of life itself. All that is Mara.'

    The figure of Mara is familiar to most Buddhists as the trickster character in the traditional story who tries to prevent Siddhartha Gautama from attaining Enlightenment while he sits beneath the bodhi tree. Mara sends fearsome armies to assail the Bodhisattva, and gorgeous daughters to tempt him back to worldly life. But Mara fails. The Buddha is victorious, and the defeated Mara slinks away, dejected.

    ...

    'The Buddha describes Mara as antaka, which means 'the maker of limits'. We have no trouble understanding this psychologically: if I'm in a state of anger or attachment, I'm limited, trapped. I'm in one of Mara's snares. It's harder to understand this in the context of our lives as a whole, but the fact is that our existence here is finite, and so Mara is a metaphor of finitude. If I have a stroke, that will probably limit my capacity to realise those values I most deeply cherish. If I'm imprisoned by some tyrannical regime, that's Mara. Death is more obviously a limit to our freedom. So Mara is that which blocks my way in life, inhibits my capacity to realise my values and goals.'

    ...

    We talk about how orthodox this understanding of Mara is. In both Theravada and Mahayana traditions, the figure of Mara quickly became the four maras, and was turned into a theological doctrine. Most of the stories about Mara in the suttas weren't translated into Tibetan. Meanwhile, the figure of the Buddha was elevated to higher and higher degrees of perfection, as all-wise, all-loving and so on, until he was effectively dehumanised, becoming completely devoid of limiting features apart from his human body.

    'But the early tradition did preserve the sense that the Buddha exists in a constant tension with this counter-image, or shadow, called Mara, which I understand as his own conflicted humanity. That leads to my point - which is not at all orthodox - that Mara never goes away. Although the Buddha achieved a certain freedom, Mara was still around, whispering in his ear. But I don't have any sense that the Buddha was troubled by this. He was subject to temptation, you might say, subject to thoughts and feelings arising in his mind that we might call "self-doubt". This self-doubt appears as a personality - there is something very consistent about Mara's voice. It reminds me of Satan's voice in Milton's Paradise Lost. It's insidious; alternately extremely self-confident then un-self-confident, swinging from arrogance to despair.'

    We talk about the character of Satan in Milton's poem, the archetypal rebel. I suggest that the figure of Satan, who rebels against an omnipotent, omniscient, tyrannical God, is attractive because he represents something about our humanity, something imperfect yet magnificent in his courage and individuality. 'Mara is rebelling against Enlightenment,' adds Batchelor. 'Mara is that part of us which, when we sit in meditation, for example, does not want to watch the breath. I think Mara is our humanity. There's something touching about those passages in the suttas where Mara fails in his tempting of the Buddha.

    'You lose sight of the Buddha when you delete Mara, because you lose sight of that part of the Buddha with which you can identify. You can see yourself in Mara much more easily than in the Buddha. And yet if you bring these two split-off parts back into a single image, the Buddha becomes humanised while Mara paradoxically becomes 'Buddha-ised'. In this sense, Mara is not just a problem, Mara is necessary for Enlightenment to happen. Mara is the problem without which there would be no solution.
    http://www.dharmalife.com/issue25/devil.html
    Not a book to read in one sitting, but in many sittings ... and to put down and just be sat too.

    Gassho, J

    a traditional image of Buddha being tempted by fear and temptations sent by Mara ...

    Last edited by Jundo; 03-28-2013 at 03:09 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Thanks for this thread - it seems to strike at the heart of our practice.

    Gassho

    Willow

  4. #4
    Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts, Seizan and Jundo!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    One point that Batchelor makes, among many, is that in certain ways the Buddha needs the Devil in order to be Buddha, much as night needs day to make the world, nirvana needs samsara to be nirvana, enlightenment arises in ignorance, doctors need sickness to cure.
    Thich Nhat Hanh writes something similar in his book "The Heart of Understanding":
    You cannot be good alone. You cannot hope to remove evil, because thanks to evil, good exists, and vice versa. When you stage a play concerning a hero, you have to provide an antagonist in order for the hero to be a hero. So, Buddha needs Mara to take the evil role so Buddha can be a Buddha. Buddha is as empty as the sheet of paper; Buddha is made of non-Buddha elements. If non-Buddhas like us are not here, how can a Buddha be? If the rightist is not there, how can we call someone a leftist?

    [ ... ]

    In the West you have been struggling for many years with the problem of evil. How is it possible that evil should be there? It seems that it is difficult for the Western mind to understand. But in the light of non-duality, there is no problem: As soon as the idea of good is there, the idea of evil is there. Buddha needs Mara in order to reveal himself, and vice versa. When you perceive reality in this way, you will not discriminate against the garbage for the sake of a rose.
    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  5. #5
    Thank you for sharing Seizan.

    Gassho
    Shingen
    真 眼

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  6. #6
    I really like this (and I like Batchelor very much). One thing that gets said a lot around here is "Nothing to add" or "No thing needs added." For quite a while now, I've been thinking of the inverse of this, which is actually the same, and I think fits in well here, which is no thing needs subtracted. I think we often go around thinking not just "if I got this, I'd be better and complete" but also "if I just got rid of this, I'd be better and complete." We believe that we have to subtract something from our life, usually that Mara-thing, in order to be Buddha, enlightened, our true self, whatever. The great trick is to be with that ugly stuff that is also part of us, to not want to subtract so much, to really face up to who we are and not be intimidated by the ugly junk (this also reminds me of Hans' great post on the latest koan case). Nothing to be added, nothing to be subtracted. And sometimes if we can be with those things that we feel we have to get rid of, sometimes that the first thing that helps us let go of them. Being with Mara, being Mara and not always fighting it, but openly living it and accepting, that is something.

    Gassho
    Shōmon

  7. #7
    Thank you, Seizan
    Gassho,
    Kaishin

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by alan.r View Post
    ... We believe that we have to subtract something from our life, usually that Mara-thing, in order to be Buddha, enlightened, our true self, whatever. The great trick is to be with that ugly stuff that is also part of us, to not want to subtract so much, to really face up to who we are and not be intimidated by the ugly junk (this also reminds me of Hans' great post on the latest koan case).
    There is nothing to take away, not one thing to change.

    At the same time, there may be many things to take away and change, and we should not be prisoners of greed, anger and ignorance.

    Zen folks are always talking out of both sides of their no sided mouth. All at Once, As One.

    Here is a "beginningless beginners" talk on that:

    ----------------------


    Every moment of Zazen is complete, sacred, a perfect action, with not one thing to add, not one thing to take away. When we sit Zazen, we are a Buddha sitting.

    And all of this life and world can be known too as sacred, a jewel, with not one thing to add, not one thing to take away. Perfectly just-what-it-is.

    But we have to be very cautious here, not misunderstand … Saying that there is “no place to go, no destination” does not mean that there are not good and bad paths to get there! Saying “there is nothing that need be done” does—not—mean there is nothing to do. Saying that “nothing is in need of change” does—not—mean that “nothing is in need of change.”

    Saying “we are already Buddha” is not enough if we don’t realize that, act like so!

    Simple, exaggerated example …

    Perhaps a fellow sits down to Zazen for the first time who is a violent man, a thief and alcoholic. He hears that “all is Buddha just as it is“, so thinks that Zen practice means “all is a jewel just as it is, so thus maybe I can simply stay that way, just drink and beat my wife and rob strangers“. Well, no, because while a thief and wife-beater is just that … a thief and wife-beater, yet a Buddha nonetheless … still, someone filled with such anger and greed and empty holes to fill in their psyche is not really “at peace with how things are” (or he would not beat and steal and need to self-medicate). In other words, he takes and craves and acts out anger and frustration because he does not truly understand “peace with this life as it is” … because if he did, he would not need to be those violent, punishing ways.

    If the angry, violent fellow truly knew “completeness“, truly had “no hole in need of filling“, “nothing lacking” everything “complete just as it is” … well, he simply would not have need to do violence, steal and take drugs to cover his inner pain.

    You see … kind of a non-self-fulfilling Catch-22.

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...%28Part-XIV%29
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-29-2013 at 02:32 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Senior Member Seizan's Avatar
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    Thanks for the thoughtful responses

    Alan, I like your "nothing to subtract" point and Jundo your reply to that as well I think I fall into the "something to subtract" category- that if I could just NOT do/could just take away ONE thing, it would be so much easier. Not the point!

    Perhaps a fellow sits down to Zazen for the first time who is a violent man, a thief and alcoholic. He hears that “all is Buddha just as it is“, so thinks that Zen practice means “all is a jewel just as it is, so thus maybe I can simply stay that way, just drink and beat my wife and rob strangers“. Well, no, because while a thief and wife-beater is just that … a thief and wife-beater, yet a Buddha nonetheless … still, someone filled with such anger and greed and empty holes to fill in their psyche is not really “at peace with how things are” (or he would not beat and steal and need to self-medicate). In other words, he takes and craves and acts out anger and frustration because he does not truly understand “peace with this life as it is” … because if he did, he would not need to be those violent, punishing ways.

    If the angry, violent fellow truly knew “completeness“, truly had “no hole in need of filling“, “nothing lacking” everything “complete just as it is” … well, he simply would not have need to do violence, steal and take drugs to cover his inner pain.
    Jundo, in a roundabout way, that led me to a reflection I had about Taigu's Dharma Is Useless talk. To me, you can study the dharma, learn the dharma, absorb the dharma to free that aspect of Buddhahood/tap into your Buddha nature naturally. It is a part of your natural self, perhaps, that just needed a refresher or chance to be brought into the light. So Mara helps provide those chances, and the dharma helps you realize your potential.. but at the same time, you cannot consciously make USE of the dharma, or the purity is ruined and you are not being true! If this guy twisted around the meanings or took them to heart in an incorrect way, he would just continued as is... but really, when you are truly living dharma, you would not need to do violence, steal, or take drugs to cover the pain!

    I'll copy the thoughts I sent to Taigu after that talk. I feel like I had a hard time expressing myself there, so trying to paraphrase it might get messier yet! I think Mara and Kannon are two sides of a coin that walk down the path with us.

    I think the heart of the matter was that the dharma becomes utterly useless when you attempt to USE the dharma, when you make an effort to put it into your life and act upon what you think of as dharma. I had spent some time studying the Sutra on the Middle Way. In this sutra the Buddha says that the dharma and his path are all left behind when you reach enlightenment. The Middle Way isn't the middle road between two extremes- it is the highway to enlightenment, and you can fall off by not living life as you should or by being too fanatical, among many other things. The sutra held that, when you reach enlightenment, you drop everything- including the dharma. So the dharma is useless! It is useless because when you reach enlightenment, or whatever the end of the road is, the dharma becomes a spontaneous part of you that you do not have to “make use of” or put an effort into displaying. I don't think the Buddha, you, or Thich Naht Hanh meant that it is useless to study dharma or take it to heart. Just that it's useless to use it as a crutch, to rely on it or to call on certain principles like a genie.

    I think that tied in with one of your Kannon videos, about Kannon radiating from inside, being a spontaneous act of kindness, not a contrived image you are presenting or even an authentic image you are working hard towards becoming. To me, that's the Middle Way, and the real dharma. It's not contriving, not working towards being authentic.. but maybe studying these things, understanding these things and taking them to heart to the point that they are spontaneous and natural. Awakening a seed that is naturally already there, and that is effortless when it sprouts. The dharma, Kannon, all these things are not to be made use of maybe, but are just to be realized?

    I had a hard time writing this down and feeling like I was properly expressing all that I thought about over the last week. In summary, don't use the dharma, let it be natural. Study it, but don't let it become a scholarly, contrived part of who you are. That isn't dharma.

    So, to wrap up, I might add "I see you, Mara! And thanks!" ;D I didn't think this discussion would get so broad, but I am continually intrigued by the web everything weaves.

    Deep gassho,
    Seizan
    Last edited by Seizan; 03-29-2013 at 07:13 PM.

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