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Mara (demon)

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

In Buddhism, Māra is the demon who tempted Gautama Buddha by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be his daughters.[1] In Buddhist cosmology, Mara personifies unskillfulness, the "death" of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive.

The early Buddhists, however, rather than seeing Mara as a demonic, virtually all-powerful Lord of Evil, regarded him as more of a nuisance. Many episodes concerning his interactions with the Buddha have a decidedly humorous air to them.

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. Mara is described both as an entity having a literal existence, just as the various deities of the Vedic pantheon are shown existing around the Buddha, and also is described as a primarily psychological force - a metaphor for various processes of doubt and temptation that obstruct religious practice.

"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.

Contents

Mara in Popular Culture

  • Mara appears in several of Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei series as a persona of the Tower Arcana and a demon of the Tyrant Clan. This demon is portrayed as a giant anthromorphic penis fused with a horseless golden chariot. In Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, he is shown as an optional boss, but as a slightly phallic slime due to a rushed summoning ritual caused by Baphomet.
  • Mara is also one of the sixteen daedric princes in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, where she is commonly associated with the dead.

Notes

  1. See, for instance, Samyutta Nikaya 4.25, entitled, "Māra's Daughters" (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 217-20), as well as Suttanipata 835 (Saddhatissa, 1998, p. 98). In each of these texts, Mara's daughters (Māradhītā) are personified by Craving (taṇhā), Aversion (arati) and Passion (rāga).

Sources

  • 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. (trans.) (1998). The Sutta-Nipāta. London: RoutledgeCurzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-0181-8.

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