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Mara (Demon)

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Mara's assault on the Buddha (an iconic representation: the Buddha is only symbolized by his throne), 2nd century, Amaravati, India

Mara (Sanskrit: māra; Tibetan Wylie: bdud), in Buddhism, is the demon that tempted Gautama Buddha by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara's daughters.[1] In Buddhist cosmology, Mara personifies unwholesome impulses, unskillfulness, the "death"[2] of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making mundane things alluring, or the negative seem positive.


The word "Mara" comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *mer meaning to die, and so it is related to the European Mara, the Slavic Marzanna and the Latvian Māra. Mara in Latvian mythology means the Mother of Earth and has positive meaning; she is wise and generous. [3]

In traditional Hinduism Mara meaning "He who wounds" is one of the several names for the Vedic God of love and desire Kamadeva.


In traditional Buddhism four senses of the word "mara" are given.

  • Klesa-mara, or Mara as the embodiment of all unskillful emotions.
  • Mrtyu-mara, or Mara as death, in the sense of the ceaseless round of birth and death.
  • Skandha-mara, or Mara as metaphor for the entirety of conditioned existence.
  • Devaputra-mara, or Mara the son of a deva (god), that is, Mara as an objectively existent being rather than as a metaphor.


Early Buddhism acknowledged both a literal and psychological interpretation of Mara. Specially Mara is described both as an entity having a existence in Kāmadhātu, just as are shown existing around the Buddha, and also is described in paṭiccasamuppāda as a primarily the guardian of passion a catalyst for lust, hesitation and fear that obstruct Meditation among Buddhists .

"Buddha defying Mara" is a common pose of Buddha sculptures. The Buddha is shown with his left hand in his lap, palm facing upwards and his right hand on his right knee. The fingers of his right hand touch the earth, to call the earth as his witness for defying Mara and achieving enlightenment. This posture is also referred to as the 'earth-touching' mudra.

Three Daughters

In some accounts of the Buddha's enlightenment, it is said that the demon Māra didn't send his three daughters to tempt but came willingly after Māra's set back to eliminate his quest enlightenment. Mara's three daughters are identified as Taṇhā (Craving), Arati (Boredom), and Raga (Passion).[4][5] For example, in the Samyutta Nikaya's Māra-sayutta, Mara's three daughters were stripping in front of Buddha; but failed to entice the Buddha:

They had come to him glittering with beauty —
Tahā, Arati, and Rāga —
But the Teacher swept them away right there
As the wind, a fallen cotton tuft.[6]

Some stories refer to the existence of Five Daughters, who represent the Three Poisons, Attraction, Aversion and Delusion, accompanied additionally by Pride and Fear.


Maras as manifestations of the five skandhas are described in the Śūraṅgama Sūtra. In its section on the fifty skandha-maras, each of the five skandhas has ten skandha-maras associated with it, and each skandha-mara is described in detail as a deviation from correct samādhi. These skandha-maras are also known as the "fifty skandha demons" in some English-language publications.


  1. See, for instance, Samyutta Nikaya 4.25, entitled, "Māra's Daughters" (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), as well as Suttanipata 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, page 98). In each of these texts, Mara's daughters (Māradhītā) are personified by sensual Craving (taṇhā), Aversion (arati) and Passion (rāga).
  2. http://www.nirvanadhamma.com/en/articles/hidden-danger-of-existence!/higher-realms/mara-the-god-of-death/
  3. Turner, Sir Ralph Lilley [1962] (January 2006). A comparative dictionary of the Indo-Aryan languages., Accompanied by three supplementary volumes: indexes, compiled by Dorothy Rivers Turner: 1970. – Phonetic analysis: 1971. – Addenda et corrigenda: 1985., London: Oxford University Press,. Retrieved on 20 Apr 2011.
  4. The Buddha's Encounters with Mara the Tempter
  5. See, e.g., Samyutta Nikaya 4.25 (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), and Suttanipata 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 98). In a similar fashion, in Sn 436 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 48), taṇhā is personified as one of Death's four armies (senā) along with desire (kāmā), aversion (arati) and hunger-thirst (khuppipāsā).
  6. Samyutta Nikaya 4.25, v. 518 (Bodhi, 2000, p. 220).


  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Pubs. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.
  • Saddhatissa, H. (translator) (1998). The Sutta-Nipāta. London: RoutledgeCurzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0181-8.

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