Behold, I am become Mara, destroyer of worlds*

A few days ago Barry from Oxherding commented on a verse of the Dhammapada (at Without Bounds) about the influence of Mara, otherwise known as the King of demons:

The one who lives for sensation,
Indulgent in eating,
Lazy, and lacking in energy,
The tempter Mara, breaks,
Just as the wind breaks a frail tree.**

I read this as a warning, that if I live without any self-restraint, I’ll eventually succumb to some temptation or situation that will break me (physically or spiritually).

 However, to Barry, it felt like something was missing: 
“…none of these translations really gets to the key point for me. That point is: To indulge in the pleasurable *is* to be overcome by Mara. Even that doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it’s not so much that Mara overcomes, as that we *become* Mara, our inherent Mara-nature co-arises with indulgence.”

Becoming the destroyer of worlds

This is a great point, because it feels like once I succumb to temptation, I am Mara.  I’m the one occupying that unwise thought or action, though there may be some disquiet telling me something’s wrong. You’ve probably heard the joke, “it seemed like a good idea at the time”? Sometimes it’s not so funny.

To be overcome by delusion — to succumb to Mara — is to be doing or thinking something that seems good, right, and pleasureable, and yet is unhealthy for myself, society, and the planet. At that moment, I am Mara, destroyer of worlds. While thinking I’m doing something good, I’m destroying the enviornment, other’s lives, and my own life.

 To be lost in ignorance,
mistaking delusion for truth,
the unhealthy for the healthy,
how to take even one step forward?

So, for me, the key question is how do we step back from this Mara-nature when we’re in the middle of it?  What do we do when we can’t be sure about which way is up and which is down, about what is good and what isn’t?

The only reliable method for me, is to let go of everything:
To let go of the things I don’t know, as well as what I know (which is probably incomplete, or incorrect), and to entrust it all to this bright, inherent Buddha-nature that we all have.

Daehaeng Kun Sunim often compares this true nature to a smelting furnace: it burns away all impurities, and what comes out the other side is pure gold. All I can do is entrust it with what I know, and what I don’t know, and go forward with empty hands, trusting in this empty place that is the source of everything.

This is what works for me, (although I’m not always successful at implimentation.)
What works for you? How do you recover from an incarnation as Mara?

with palms together,
Chong Go


–A bit beside the point, but still important, is the question “what is this Mara-nature?”

Obviously, any good Buddhist is going to know there’s no such fixed entity out there. (right? ;-)) In Korean Buddhism, there is the concept of “karmic consciousnesses,” that is, karmic states of consciousness, or echos of states of mind. When these return to us, they come out through our brains, our awareness, and so we identify with that feeling. “I’m the one who feels that.” Instead, it helps a bit if we realize this is just a karmic echo occupying the same time and place as us, much like a fart in the room. “That’s not me, that’s just here at the same time, and if I wait a bit, it will pass.”

*The actual quote, paraphrased by Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first  atomic bomb, is “Behold, I am become Shiva, Destroyer of worlds.”

**This is from my favorite translation of the Dhammapada, by Balangoda Ananda Maitreya