Noble Layperson – Part 4a

This post continues with the discussion of Mara.

As highlighted previously, Mara is the opposing force to Enlightenment. In Buddhist lore, Mara is not a demonic being banished to hell for his wrongdoings. Instead, Mara is one of the celestial King who rules over his own heaven. From Mara’s perspective, he prefers samsara instead of Nirvana. In Buddhist lore, when someone attains Nirvana, the energy of “tearing” away from Samsara will ripple through the fabric of existence. That resulted in Mara’s heaven experiencing quakes. Thus, he is not pleased with it.

When Mara appears in Buddhist scriptures, we will note that Buddha simply shoos him away. Much like how we wave off a pesky fly. This position is very interesting because it duly demonstrates how Buddhism interacts with its opponents.

We do not kill or extinguish our opponents

In the previous article, we witness how an enlightened disciple of Buddha revealed Mara’s disguise as Buddha and promptly asked Mara to leave. Likewise, when Mara approached Buddha and his disciples on multiple occasions, They did not eliminate Mara but simply ask Mara to go away.

We do not imprison or banish them

It can be frustrating when people do not see eye to eye with us. And it is worse when our opponents try their best to thwart our goals. For many people, the solution to such a challenge is to eliminate or contain it. In that manner, we lock away problematic humans in prison cells or sentence them to death.

Why doesn’t Buddha lock up Mara or eliminate Mara? The answer is pretty simple. Mara was not the problem in the first place. It is our craving, hatred, and ignorance that is preventing our own enlightenment. Likewise, Mara is also troubled by the same afflictions. From this perspective, Mara deserves our compassion instead.

As we see here, Buddhists do not attribute their ugly mental state to an external cause. Therefore, in the strictest sense, we don’t believe that a person can become bad through possession by a supernatural being like Mara. If there is a demon, then that demon is a part of our personality right from the start.

Ritualistic exorcism in Buddhism

Sometimes we even find it hard to believe how we acted out or said something out of the ordinary. It seems like we lost our minds and are not being ourselves. We don’t normally do that?

Since we rejected our own behaviors and thoughts, it is more convenient for us to blame it on an external factor. And when we cannot find a logical explanation, we say something must have possessed us or them.

In a famous zen story, a monk was troubled by a demon during his meditation. He reported it to his teacher and his Sensei gave him a magic brush. Sensei told the monk to draw a circle on the demon when it appears in his meditation again. That will exorcise the demon. That monk did that and found a circle painted on himself after his meditation.

However, not everyone is ready to accept such a “profound” message. We still want to believe in an external demon. In this manner, compassionate teachers of later Buddhism developed complex rituals and ceremonies concerning exorcism. The style of their rituals is influenced by the local cultures and varies from place to place.

Some of them incorporated sublime Buddhist messages into their rituals. For example, explaining about external, internal, and a “secret” demon. Guiding their “patient” compassionately to discover that “secret” within themselves. We may think there is nothing compassionate about such rituals; but if you consider carefully, how many people in the world will play along with your imaginary enemies and “craziness” week after week, patiently and encouragingly; reassuring you that life will be better? By the way, it was supposed to be a free service by compassionate and wise Buddhist practitioners.

Attachment to form what does it mean?

The Mara in Pali Canon is only interested in preventing enlightenment. Therefore, his main objective is to confuse and mislead a Buddhist. If Buddha taught this, Mara will teach the opposite. Just like what we see in the previous article.

Attachment to form means that we attach too much significance to external appearances.

In that manner, we believe that a big organization must be trustworthy. A man or woman who dons a Buddhist robe must be Buddhist. Someone with a huge temple and a Buddha statue must be Buddhist. And in ancient times when books were rare and distant communication challenging, any books or knowledge from India must be real Buddhist Doctrine?

All the above presumptions are exactly what Buddha discouraged. In that manner, it is easy for charlatans to con and manipulate us through our goodwill towards Buddhism.

What should we do?

There is no shortcut. We need to think for ourselves and use simple logic. But before that, we should obtain some knowledge about Buddhism. Read up on detailed biographies of Buddha. Personally, I find this book informative in answering question like “What would Buddha do?”

Read and understand the “4 Noble Truths”. It summarises the entire Buddhist doctrine.

Read and understand the Buddhist code of conduct.

Understand that anything that discourages craving, hatred, and ignorance is Dharma. The opposite is Mara. Ignorance can be simplified to mean ignorance of the 4 noble Truths.

Naturally, a Buddhist teacher will live according to all these principles and moral codes of conduct. And one last thing, lay Buddhists are not supposed to “pamper” the Buddhist monastics because otherwise, we are just like Mara?

See? Buddhism is pretty straightforward in a nutshell. With the above knowledge, it is quite easy for us to identify fakes and charlatans.

May all be well and happy.

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