Below is the transcript^ of a question and answer video from the late, great Bhikkhu Samahita regarding Early Buddhism and the role of Mara.
^ As English is his second language, I have taken the liberty of changing a few words to make the text easier to read. Any errors are mine and mine only.
Is there an individual or person called Mara or is he the defiled thoughts of human minds?
In a very neat and subtle way, both.
Because Mara is a real individuality. He lives with the Devas wielding power over others, that is, the Parinirmitavasavarti Devas.
They have this funny feature that they don’t get a kick if they perceive something. They can only perceive pleasure if somebody else is doing something. We are part of their computer game. We are part of their gaming experience. So, they only get a kick if, for example, regarding sex; they don’t have any pleasure if they have sex themself. They have to see others have sex or make others have sex. Then they tend to make some kind of kinky sex.
At that level, Mara is regarded as a rebel, as a terrorist at that level.
So, they can go into various peoples’ minds (both in an individual case or a whole society, for example, the whole planet Earth, or a whole village, or a whole country) and induce certain kinds of thoughts in them. And they do that all the time.
If you’re not aware of it, Mara can walk in and out of your mind without you noticing, like an open door.
He has one particular political idea that sense pleasure is the highest pleasure. And he wants to invoke that on the world. And whoever goes against that he feels as a threat to his authority; to his ability to push around these inhabitants that he thinks he’s wielding his power over…which he also is actually…to various degrees.
He doesn’t wield any power over those that can step out of it, that can control themself. But those that cannot control themself, if he induces any kind of thought in them, then they will act upon it as if it were their own thoughts.
The way to recognise whether one is under the influence of this Mara; this being who is frightening because he’s exceedingly intelligent. But at the same time, he is probably the largest psychopath in the universe.
If one comes into his presence, and one knows about it, then within two or three metres, it feels like your bone marrow has been dipped in fluid nitrogen…and it is frozen down instantly! It is truly a chilling experience. And you have to hold your horse so that you don’t pee your pants from fear. Even knowing who he is. So frightened are you.
However, still one can hold their horse. And then it’s just like any other being, they can attack you and kill you and so on, but that also goes for other beings than Mara.
He makes all kinds of tricks. There are multiple reports of monks being afraid, for example, he made an artificial earthquake for a monk who sat meditating inside his hut. So, his hut started dancing on the ground and the monk became very frightened and ran out of his hut…and out of the forest, and back to the monastery and asked the Buddha what was happening, and the Buddha said, “Calm down, go back to your hut and meditate. It’s Mara pulling your leg. And if you don’t act on it then there will be no dancing of the hut.” And this (the) monk did.
There are also several other cases. He tries to seduce a nun, but she said, “there’s nothing here that you can seduce. There’s no person here. There’s no individuality here you can seduce.” So, he’s kind of puffed up (with annoyance).
There are also many recorded conversations between Mara; which in Christian terminology is called Satan – the Evil One; and also known as Namuchi – the One you cannot escape; nobody gets out of his grip except by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble student can get out of his grip.
But the rest will follow sway because they cannot stop acting upon their own thoughts. Which are not actually only their own, but which is another individuality’s thought and his deliberate induction because of his power…his degrees of freedom.
Remember that conscious is non-local, and they are overlapping at any point in space…that means that he can affect directly other consciousnesses than his own conscious. And this he does.
In order to answer more specifically, Buddha was asked this…I can just say that we say that there’s several kinds of Mara.
Mara means Death; it means the Evil One; it means the Tempter.
There are four kinds of Mara:
1. Khanda Mara – made of all things that are put together.
2. Klesha Mara – the mental defilements.
3. Devaputta Mara – Buddha overcame the army of Devaputta Mara. A real personality at one of the 31 levels of existence.
4. Apisankhara Mara – means everything that is put together out in the world.
Devaputta Mara is at the highest level you can be and still be at Kammaloka. He’s not in the Brahmaloka; he’s still at the Kammaloka…but much higher than human.
Just to give you an idea, a monk once asked exactly this question and I will read out what the Buddha said:
“Venerable sir”, they said, “Mara, Mara, what is Mara the Evil One?”
And the Buddha said, “Radda (the monk who asked); form, feeling, perception, mental construction and consciousness is Mara. It’s a state of Mara. It’s impermanent. It’s of an impermanent nature. It’s suffering, it’s of a painful nature; it’s no self. It’s of an impersonal nature. It’s in a state of destruction. It’s in a state of vanishing. It’s in an unstable state. It’s always in a state of momentary ceasing; vanishing right there and then.”
“Radda you should therefore eliminate any desire, any lust and any attraction. You should leave behind all desire and lust for whatever is a state of Mara. For whatever is impermanent. For whatever is only impermanent in appearance. For whatever is suffering. For whatever is of a painful nature. For whatever is no self. For whatever is of an ownerless nature. For whatever is a state of destruction. For whatever is in a state of vanishing. For whatever is in a state of arising and for whatever is in a state of cessation.”
“And that Radda, is in a state of cessation. What is it? Form is in a state of cessation. Feeling…Perceptions…Mental Constructions and Consciousness is also in a state of continuous cessation…ending…vanishing.”
“Understanding this Radda, the well instructed noble disciple experiences disgust towards form…disgust towards feeling…disgust towards perception…disgust towards mental constructions and disgust towards consciousness itself.”
“Experiencing this disgust, he becomes disillusioned. Through this disillusion his mind is released. He’s detached. His clinging has stopped. When his mind is released, he instantly knows…this mind is liberated! And he understands that, eliminated is rebirth. This Noble Life is all completed. Done is what should be done. There’s no state of being beyond this one.”
So, there one can see that the Buddha identifies Mara, not only as an individuality…the Evil One (like the Devil), but he also identifies it correctly with the influence he has over this particular monk, Radda.
That he influences thinking in a sensual way to think that, either his body, or his feelings, or his mental constructions, or his consciousness, is his own. And can make him wander around in the world and experience pleasure forever. And he can keep it.
It’s this influence one has to pull out. And see things as they are. That they are impermanent, that there is no self. That they are a form of suffering, ultimately speaking.
And it is right there seeing this, and knowing this, that one stops being attached to this reality. This appearance and disappearance.
Because this reality is not static, it’s a process. It’s a dynamic thing. It comes and it goes. And any moment there is rebirth of ones’ own body and ones’ own mind. And similarly with the world.
So, it is very, very ephemeral. Very, very vanishing. Very, very unreal. Very, very blinking very, very fast.
So, nothing, nothing, nothing is the same from one moment to the next moment. Thereby nothing, nothing, nothing can ever be kept. Thereby is nothing, nothing, nothing ever attractive…in the real sense, because it cannot be a lasting source of happiness.
It cannot be…because of this impermanence.
So, when you ask, is Mara a real individuality…is it like a person…yes!
And truly frightening he is.
And he is probably in your mind right now.
One way of identifying is that if you recognise thoughts in your own mind, this "stinking thinking", that are particularly weird, that is particularly horny, that is particularly perverse, that is particularly tempting, that is particularly pushing you around, wants you to do something, and you are kind of like, “what’s that? What’s going on?” then you can say that “this is not my thoughts…this is somebody else’s thoughts.”
It’s somebody else who wants to push you out, over the edge. To do something because he wants to get pleasure from seeing you doing it.
There’s also plenty of beings at his level that don’t want to see beings do something evil.
And it’s not only on the human level but also on the higher level, for example the two other levels that I just mentioned; Level 6 and Level 7: the Four Great Kings and the 32 Gods; they are also under Mara’s influence. Same as here. That’s why the Buddha called him the most powerful.
He cannot go amongst the Brahma’s, for example. He can go but they are not under the influence of his consciousness because their consciousness is in a permanent state from the first Jhana and above.
This means that you cannot change their object of the mind.
See Early Buddhism and role of Mara - Part 2 for remaining text...