Generally regarded as the personification of Death, the Evil One, the Tempter (the Buddhist counterpart of the Devil or Principle of Destruction). The legends concerning Māra are, in the books, very involved and defy any attempts at unravelling them. In the latest accounts, mention is made of five Māras
as shown in the following quotations: pañcannam pi Mārānam vijayato jino (ThagA.ii.16); sabbāmittehi khandha-kilesā-bhisankhāramaccudeva-puttasankhāte, sabbapaccatthike (ThagA.ii.46); sankhepato vā pañcakilesa-khandhābhi-sankhāra-devaputta-maccumāre abhañji, tasmā . . . bhagavā ti vuccati (Vsm.211).
Elsewhere, however, Māra is spoken of as one, three, or four. Where Māra is one, the reference is generally either to the kilesas or to Death. Thus:
It is evidently with this same significance that the term Māra, in the older books, is applied to the whole of the worldly existence, the five khandhas, or the realm of rebirth, as opposed to Nibbāna.
Thus Māra is defined:
The Commentaries also speak of three Māras:
In some cases the three Māras are specified:
but elsewhere five are mentioned e.g.,
Very occasionally four Māras are mentioned:
The last quotation seems to indicate that the four Māras are the five Māras less Devaputta Māra.
A few particulars are available about Devaputta Māra:
In view of the many studies of Māra by various scholars, already existing, it might be worth while here, too, to attempt a theory of Māra in Buddhism, based chiefly on the above data. The commonest use of the word was evidently in the sense of Death. From this it was extended to mean "the world under the sway of death" (also called Māradheyya - e.g., A.iv.228) and the beings therein. Thence, the kilesas also came to be called Māra in that they were instruments of Death, the causes enabling Death to hold sway over the world. All Temptations brought about by the kilesas were likewise regarded as the work of Death. There was also evidently a legend of a devaputta of the Vasavatti world, called Māra, who considered himself the head of the Kāmāvacara world and who recognized any attempt to curb the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, as a direct challenge to himself and to his authority. As time went on these different conceptions of the word became confused one with the other, but this confusion is not always difficult to unravel.
Various statements are found in the Pitakas connected with Māra, which have, obviously, reference to Death, the kilesas, and the world over which Death and the kilesas hold sway. Thus:
The later books, especially the Nidānakathā of the Jātaka Commentary (J.i.71ff.; cp. MA.i.384) and the Buddhavamsa Commentary (p. 239f), contain a very lively and detailed description of the temptation of the Buddha by Māra, as the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree immediately before his Enlightenment. These accounts describe how Māra, the devaputta, seeing the Bodhisatta seated, with the firm resolve, of becoming a Buddha, summoned all his forces and advanced against him. These forces extended to a distance of twelve yojanas to the front of the Bodhisatta, twelve to the back, and nine each to the right and to the left. Māra himself, thousand armed, rode on his elephant, Girimekhala, one hundred and fifty leagues in height. His followers assumed various fearsome shapes and were armed with dreadful weapons. At Māra's approach, all the various Devas, Nāgas and others, who were gathered round the Bodhisatta singing his praises and paying him homage, disappeared in headlong flight. The Bodhisatta was left alone, and he called to his assistance the ten pārami which he had practiced to perfection.
Māra's army is described as being tenfold, and each division of the army is described, in very late accounts (especially in Singhalese books), with great wealth of detail. Each division was faced by the Buddha with one pāramī and was put to flight. Māra's last weapon was the Cakkāvudha (??). But when he hurled it at the Buddha it stood over him like a canopy of flowers. Still undaunted, Māra challenged the Buddha to show that the seat on which he sat was his by right. Māra's followers all shouted their evidence that the seat was Māra's. The Buddha, having no other witness, asked the Earth to bear testimony on his behalf, and the Earth roared in response. Māra and his followers fled in utter rout, and the Devas and others gathered round the Buddha to celebrate his victory. The sun set on the defeat of Māra. This, in brief, is the account of the Buddha's conquest of Māra, greatly elaborated in later chronicler, and illustrated in countless Buddhist shrines and temples with all the wealth of riotous colour and fanciful imagery that gifted artists could command.
That this account of the Buddha's struggle with Māra is literally true, none but the most ignorant of the Buddhists believe, even at the present day. The Buddhist point of view has been well expressed by Rhys Davids (Article on Buddha in the Ency. Brit.). We are to understand by the attack of Māra's forces, that all the Buddha's
"old temptations came back upon him with renewed force. For years he had looked at all earthly good through the medium of a philosophy which had taught him that it, without exception, carried within itself the seeds of bitterness and was altogether worthless and impermanent; but now, to his wavering faith, the sweet delights of home and love, the charms of wealth and power, began to show themselves in a different light and glow again with attractive colours. He doubted and agonized in his doubt, but as the sun set, the religious side of his nature had won the victory and seems to have come out even purified from the struggle."
There is no need to ask, as does Thomas, with apparently great suspicion (Thomas, op. cit., 230), whether we can assume that the elaborators of the Māra story were recording "a subjective experience under the form of an objective reality," and did they know or think that this was the real psychological experience which the Buddha went through? The living traditions of the Buddhist countries supply the adequate answer, without the aid of the rationalists. The epic nature of the subject gave ample scope for the elaboration so dear to the hearts of the Pāli rhapsodists.
The similar story among Jains, as recorded in their commentarial works - e.g., in the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra (ZDMG. vol. 49 (1915), 321ff ) - bears no close parallelism to the Buddhist account, but only a faint resemblance.
There is no doubt that the Māra legend had its origin in the Padhāna Sutta. There Māra is represented as visiting Gotama on the banks of the Nerañjarā, where he is practicing austerities and tempting him to abandon his striving and devote himself to good works. Gotama refers to Māra's army as being tenfold. The divisions are as follows:
"Seeing this army on all sides," says the Buddha, "I go forth to meet Māra with his equipage (savāhanam). He shall not make me yield ground. That army of thine, which the world of devas and men conquers not, even that, with my wisdom, will I smite, as an unbaked earthen bowl with a stone." Here we have practically all the elements found in the later elaborated versions.
The second part of the Padhāna Sutta (SN. vs. 446f.; cf. S.i.122) is obviously concerned with later events in the life of Gotama, and this the Commentary (SNA.ii.391) definitely tells us. After Māra had retired discomfited, he followed the Buddha for seven years, watching for any transgression on his part. But the quest was in vain, and, "like a crow attacking a rock," he left Gotama in disgust. "The lute of Māra, who was so overcome with grief, slipped from his arm. Then, in dejection, the Yakkha disappeared thence." This lute, according to the Commentary (SNA.ii.394), was picked up by Sakka and given to Pañcasikha. Of this part of the Sutta, more anon.
The Samyutta Nikāya (S.i.124f.; given also at Lal. 490 (378); cp. A.v.46; see also DhA.iii.195f ) also contains a sutta ("Dhītaro" Sutta) in which three daughters of Māra are represented as tempting the Buddha after his Enlightenment. Their names are Tanhā, Arati and Ragā, and they are evidently personifications of three of the ten forces in Māra's army, as given in the Padhāna Sutta. They assume numerous forms of varying age and charm, full of blandishment, but their attempt is vain, and they are obliged to admit defeat.
Once Māra came to be regarded as the Spirit of Evil all temptations of lust, fear, greed, etc., were regarded as his activities, and Māra was represented as assuming various disguises in order to carry out his nefarious plans. Thus the books mention various occasions on which Māra appeared before the Buddha himself and his disciples, men and women, to lure them away from their chosen path.
Soon after the Buddha's first vassa, Māra approached him and asked him not to teach the monks regarding the highest emancipation, he himself being yet bound by Māra's fetters. But the Buddha replied that he was free of all fetters, human and divine (Vin.i.22).
On another occasion Māra entered into the body of Vetambarī and made him utter heretical doctrines. (S.i.67; cp. DhA.iv.141, where Māra asks the Buddha about the further shore.
In the Brahmanimantanika Sutta (M.i.326) Māra is spoken of as entering the hearts even of the inhabitants, of the Brahma world).
The Māra Samyutta (S.4) contains several instances of Māra's temptations of the Buddha by assailing him with doubts as to his emancipation, feelings of fear and dread, appearing before him in the shape of an elephant, a cobra, in various guises beautiful and ugly, making the rocks of Gijjhakūta fall with a crash; by making him wonder whether he should ever sleep; by suggesting that, as human life was long, there was no need for haste in living the good life; by dulling the intelligence of his hearers (E.g., at Ekasalā; cf. Nigrodha and his fellow Paribbājakas, D.iii.58).
Once, when the Buddha was preaching to the monks, Māra came in the guise of a bullock and broke their bowls, which were standing in the air to dry; on another occasion he made a great din so that the minds of the listening monks were distracted. Again, when the Buddha went for alms to Pañcasālā, he entered into the brahmin householders and the Buddha had to return with empty bowl. Māra approached the Buddha on his return and tried to persuade him to try once more; this was, says the Commentary, a ruse, that he might inspire insult and injury in addition to neglect. But the Buddha refused, saying that he would live that day on pīti, like the Abhassara gods. The incident is related at length in SA.i.140f. and DhA.iii.257f.; the Commentaries (e.g., Sp.i.178f.) state that the difficulty experienced by the Buddha and his monks in obtaining food at Verañja was also due to the machinations of Māra.
Again, as the Buddha was preaching to the monks on Nibbāna, Māra came in the form of a peasant and interrupted the sermon to ask if anyone had seen his oxen. His desire was to make the cares of the present life break in on the calm and supramundane atmosphere of the discourse on Nibbāna. On another occasion he tempted the Buddha with the fascination of exercising power that he might rescue those suffering from the cruelty of rulers. Once, at the Sākyan village of Sīlavatī, he approached the monks who were bent on study, in the shape of a very old and holy brahmin, and asked them not to abandon the things of this life, in order to run after matters involving time. In the same village, he tried to frighten Samiddhi away from his meditations. Samiddhi sought the Buddha's help and went back and won arahantship. (Cp. the story of Nandiya Thera. Buddhaghosa says (DA.iii.864) that when Sūrambattha, after listening to a sermon of the Buddha, had returned home, Māra visited him there in the guise of the Buddha and told him that what he (the Buddha) had preached to him earlier was false. Sūrambattha, though surprised, could not be shaken in his faith, being a sotāpanna). Māra influenced Godhika to commit suicide and tried to frighten Rāhula in the guise of a huge elephant. (DhA.iv.69f ). In the account of Godhika's suicide (S.i.122) there is a curious statement that, after Godhika died, Māra went about looking for his (Godhika's) consciousness (patisandhicitta), and the Buddha pointed him out to the monks, "going about like a cloud of smoke." Later, Māra came to the Buddha, like a little child (khuddadārakavannī), (SA.i.145) holding a vilva lyre of golden color, and he questioned the Buddha about Godhika. (This probably refers to some dispute which arose among the monks regarding Godhika's destiny.)
The books mention many occasions on which Māra assumed various forms under which to tempt bhikkhunīs, often in lonely spots - e.g., ālavikā, Kisāgotamī, Somā, Vijayā, Uppalavantnā, Cālā, Upacālā, Sisūpacālā, Selā, Vajirā and Khemā. To the same category of temptations belongs a story found in late commentaries (J.i.63): when Gotama was leaving his palace on his journey of Renunciation, Māra, here called Vasavattī, appeared before him and promised him the kingdom and the whole world within seven days if he would but turn back. Māra's temptations were not confined to monks and nuns; he tempted also lay men and women and tried to lure them from the path of goodness - e.g., in the story of Dhaniya and his wife. (SNA.i.44; see also J.i.231f).
Mention is made, especially in the Mahā Parinibbāna Sutta, of several occasions on which Māra approached the Buddha, requesting him to die; the first of these occasions was under the Ajapala Banyan tree at Uruvelā, soon after the Enlightenment, but the Buddha refused to die until the sāsana was firmly established. Can it be that here we have the word Māra used in the sense of physical death (Maccumāra), and that the occasions referred to were those on which the Buddha felt the desire to die, to pass away utterly, to "lay down the burden"? Perhaps they were moments of physical fatigue, when he lay at death's door, for we know (see Gotama) that the six years he spent in austerities made inroads on his health and that he suffered constantly from muscular cramp, digestive disorders and headache. (It is true that in the Mahāsaccaka Sutta (M.i.240ff.), which contains an account of the events leading up to the Enlightenment, there is no mention whatsoever of any temptation by Mara, nor is there any mention of the Bodhi tree. But to argue from this, that such events did not form part of the original story, might be to draw unwarranted inferences from an argumentum e silentio.) At Beluvagāma, shortly before he finally decided to die, we are told (D.ii.99; cp. Dvy. 203) that "there fell upon him a dire sickness, and sharp pains came upon him even unto death." But the Buddha conquered the disease by a strong effort of his will because he felt it would not be right for him to die without addressing his followers and taking leave of the Order. Compare with this Māra's temptation of the Buddha at Maddakucchi (q.v.), when he laid suffering from severe pain after the wounding of his foot by a splinter. It may have been the physical weariness, above referred to, which at first made the Buddha reluctant to take upon himself the great exertions which the propagation of his Dhamma would involve (e.g., Vin.i.4f). We know of other arahants who actually committed suicide in order to escape being worried by physical ills - e.g., Godhika, Vakkali, Channa. When their suicide was reported to the Buddha, he declared them free from all blame.
Can it be, further, that with the accounts of Māra, as the personification of Evil, came to be mixed legends of an actual devaputta, named Māra, also called Vasavatti, because he was an inhabitant of the Paranimmita Vasavatti deva world? Already in the Anguttara Nikāya, Māra is described (aggo ādhipateyyānam iddhiyā yasasā jalam) as the head of those enjoying bliss in the Kāmāvacara worlds and as a dāmarika devaputta (as mentioned earlier). A.ii.17. Even after the Buddha's death Māra was regarded as wishing to obstruct good works. Thus, at the enshrinement of the Buddha's relics in the Mahā Thūpa, Indagutta Thera (by supernatural power) made a parasol of copper to cover the universe, in order that it might ward off the attentions of Māra (Mhv.xxxi.85).
Can it be that ancient legends represented him as looking on with disfavour at the activities of the Buddha? Buddhaghosa says (MA.i.533) that Māradevaputta, having dogged the Buddha's footsteps for seven years, and having found no fault in him, came to him and worshipped him. Is it, then, possible that some of the conversations, which the Buddha is reported to have had with Māra - e.g., in the second part of the Padhāna Sutta (see above) were originally ascribed to a real personage, designated as Māradevaputta, and later confused with the allegorical Māra? This suggestion gains strength from a remark found in the Māratajjaniya Sutta (M.i.333; cp. D.iii.79) uttered by Moggallāna, that he too had once been a Māra, Dūsī by name; Kālā was his sister's name, and the Māra of the present age was his nephew. In the sutta, Dūsī is spoken of as having been responsible for many acts of mischief, similar to those ascribed to the Māra of Gotama's day. According to the sutta, Māradevaputta was evidently regarded as a being of great power, with a strong bent for mischief, especially directed against holy men. This suggestion is, at all events, worthy of further investigation. See also Mārakāyikā deva.
Māra bears many names in Pāli Literature, chief of them being Kanha, Adhipati, Antaka, Namuci and Pamattabandhu. (MNid.ii.489; for their explanation see MNidA.328; another name of Māra was Pajāpati, MA.i.28). His usual standing epithet is pāpimā, but other words are also used, such as anatthakāma, ahitakāma, and ayogakkhemakāma (E.g., M.i.118).
Māra is called Namuci because none can escape him Namucī ti Māro; so hi attano visayā nikkhamitukāme devamanusse na muñcati antarāyam tesam karoti tasma Namucī ti vuccati (SNA.ii.386). In the Mahāsamaya Sutta, Namuci is mentioned among the Asuras as being present in the assembly. D.ii.259; elsewhere in the same sutta (p. 261f.) it is said that when all the devas and others had assembled to hear the Buddha preach, Mara came with his "swarthy host" and attempted to blind the assembly with thoughts of lust, etc. But the Buddha, seeing him, warned his followers against him and Māra had to depart unsuccessful. At the end of the sutta, four lines are traditionally ascribed to Māra. They express admiration of the Buddha and his followers. In this sutta Māra is described as mahāsena (having a large army).
The Commentary explains (DA.ii.689) that Namuci refers to Māradevaputta and accounts for his presence among the Asuras by the fact that he was temperamentally their companion (te pi acchandikā abhabbā, ayam pi tādiso yeva, tasmā dhātuso samsandamāno āgato). Buddhaghosa says (SA.i.133; cp. MNidA. 328) that Māra is so called because he destroys all those who seek to evade him attano visayam atikkamitum patipanne satte māreti ti Māro; he is called Vasavatti (SA.i.158) because he rules all Māro nāma vasavattī sabesam upari vasam vattati.
Kālī (Kālā) is the mother of Māra of the present age. See Kālī (4).