The Sanskrit mara is a verbal noun that means causing death. It's usually translated as demonic force or demon but, it's simply something that deadens. The general reference is to negative forces that prevent liberation from conditioned existence.
The classic example about mara is the legend of Siddhartha Gautama. When he was about to attain enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, mara appeared in the form of seductive women to prevent his liberation. He saw through the seduction and attained enlightenment. Based on this, the phrase "overcoming mara" is a common epithet for a buddha or victorious one.
In Vajrayana, there are several types of mara according to sutra and tantra. This is the sutra example:
Now I would like to share my favorite story about mara. It's usually recounted when someone is going into a long retreat. It's humorous ... sort of ... and applies to everyday life as well.
The story begins with a practitioner going into solitary retreat with the firm intention of attaining enlightenment. The mara demons recognized that he had a lot of potential and was likely to succeed. They held a meeting to discuss the situation.
The first demon announced, "Well, I will make him sick. That will end his retreat." The second said, "I will bankrupt his sponsors. That will end his retreat." The third said, "You guys have it all wrong. I'm going to support him, make sure he has everything he wants and needs and that his meditations are fantastic." The other two demons were puzzled.
When the first demon made the practitioner ill, the practitioner took sickness as the path and practiced even more diligently. He attained enlightenment.
When the second demon caused him to suffer from poverty, the practitioner understood that hardships purify obscurations, practiced more diligently and attained enlightenment.
It was the third demon—the one who did everything to support the practitioner—who succeeded because ... the practitioner looked at his wealth and his beautiful meditations and became prideful. He stopped practicing and never attained enlightenment!
There are several angles to explore in this intriguing story. One is the practitioner's response to the antics of the first two demons.
My question to you is, How do you keep going, move forward, when things are getting worse or at a standstill? How do you regard seeming obstacles?
Please share your reflections in the Comments below.
Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo