Noble Layperson – Part 4

 Sūrambaṭṭha – Experiential confidence

This is an interesting topic because it deals with Mara.

The supernatural opponent of Buddha and Buddhists is not a demon condemned to hell but a celestial being named Mara. Mara is an advocator for sensuality and “enjoyments” of Samsaric existence. He doesn’t like people breaking free from the bondage of Samsara.

Mara tried to prevent Buddha’s enlightenment by waging a celestial war to thwart Buddha’s meditation. When he failed, Mara’s daughters tried to seduce Buddha away from meditation instead. His 3 daughters are known as  Tanha (Thirst), Arati (Aversion, Discontentment), and Raga (Attachment, Desire, Greed, Passion)

In Buddhist scriptures, Mara is portrayed as a real being who can assume any guises to confuse practitioners. Here, we witness how Surambattha was wise enough to discern something amiss. More importantly, we can learn how to face doubt in our spiritual path.

One day, Buddha surveyed the world and found Surambattha’s mind ready for enlightenment. As was customary of Buddha, He approached Surambattha during His alms round. After receiving alms offering from Surambattha, Buddha gave a discourse that is suitable for Surambattha’s awakening. And indeed, Surambattha gained the 1st stage of enlightenment after hearing Buddha’s sermon.

Meanwhile, Mara became alerted to Surambattha’s conversion to Buddhism. After Buddha had left Surambattha’s house, Mara manifested himself in the shape of Buddha and stood outside Surambattha’s house. Surambattha was surprised to see Buddha outside his home again but dutifully went out to pay obeisance to the Fake Buddha (Mara in disguise). Then Surambattha politely asked the Fake Buddha what merited his second visit within a day.

Comment: Even a Sotapanna cannot discern Mara’s disguise. In our world today, many charlatans proclaimed themselves as Buddhist teachers. They displayed Buddha images and relics. They also have an entourage of monks/nuns with many followers bowing at their feet. As a beginner, we may even pay respect to these charlatans for a prolonged period of time. Don’t be embarrassed with yourselves. The deception of Mara is hard to tell. This is why Buddha informed us to know Him through His Dharma.

The Fake Buddha then informed Surambattha that he had a slip of the tongue while preaching to Surambattha earlier on. Therefore, he (the imposter Buddha) was here to rectify that mistake earlier on. The Fake Buddha then taught Surambattha that not every aspect of the 5 aggregates is impermanent, woeful, and insubstantial. Instead, there are certain of the five aggregates that are permanent, stable, and eternal.

Comment: It is very important for us to know this as a fact. Buddha does not make mistakes nor tells lies. The message of ALL the Buddha(s) are in sync because they are the Ultimate Truth. Buddha’s Dharma does not contradict but is consistent from the beginning to the end. Since the goal of Buddhism is Nirvana, any messages that encourage one to look away from that goal are suspiciously amiss. The core of Dharma is the 4 Noble Truths. Therefore, we can use that as a benchmark or a tester to gauge the authenticity of various teachings. Next, the 1st stage of enlightenment is always the realization of non-self or no-soul (a.k.a emptiness), any contrary messages are also probably dubious.

However, Surambattha found this new message perturbing. To put it simply, it contradicted his experience of awakening. Surambattha had become a Sottapanna after the real Buddha’s sermon. In that manner, Surambattha experienced the non-self. He knew from that experience that the 5 aggregates are insubstantial, woeful, and impermanent.

Moreover, Surambattha had unshakeable faith in Buddha. He knew that a Buddha will never utter words frivolously (ie, without mindfulness). Therefore, Buddha never makes any mistakes in His speech.

Furthermore, Surambattha had previously heard about Mara’s opposition to Buddhism. Thus, he thought, “This is not Buddha, I think more likely he is Mara.” When this thought came to mind, Surambattha confronted the Fake Buddha, “You are Mara, aren’t you?”

Mara was taken aback when confronted by an Ariya (noble disciples of Buddha who had experienced Dharma). He could only meekly affirm his identity as Mara. Surambattha told Mara to get lost and Mara vanished from sight. Later in the afternoon, Surambattha visited Buddha and recounted his encounter with Mara. Thus, it came about where Buddha praised Surambattha for his experiential confidence in the Truth.

Comment: When we realised that something is amiss with our “Buddhist” teachers or we think that the “Buddhist” organization that we participate in, might be fake; Do not be afraid to ask questions and gain clarification. Remember how Surambattha had initially mistaken Mara to be Buddha? That did not stop him from courageously disassociating himself from the Fake Buddha. Likewise, do not be afraid to walk away. For example, there is a cult in Taiwan that pray to various Buddhist deities. To become a member, one must undergo a ritualistic swearing ceremony that threatens you with divine punishments upon betrayal of faith. Thus, many followers were terrified of divine retribution and dare not leave the organization. Actually, there is nothing to be afraid of. Once we are determined to take refuge in the real Triple Gems, we need not fear Mara and his gangs.

May all be well and happy.

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