Skip to main content
Select Source:

Māra

Māra. A Hindu god of pestilence and mortal disease, lord of the kāma-dhātu: it is the attraction of sensual pleasure which makes humans reckless in what they do. Māra is better known in Buddhism, being the opponent of the Buddha. He is also known as Namuci, the tempter. A collection of stories about Māra is in the Māra-Saṃyutta of Saṃyutta Nikāya.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Māra." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Māra." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mara

"Māra." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved November 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mara

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mara

Mara (mâr´ə) [Heb.,=bitter], in the Bible, punning name taken by Naomi out of sorrow.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mara." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mara." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mara

"Mara." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mara

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Māra

MĀRA

MĀRA . Although Māra appears in the Atharvaveda as a personification of death associated with the god Yama, it is in Buddhism that he comes to the fore. There he takes on the role of a mythological antagonist or metaphorical opponent of the Buddha, his teachings, and his community. Māra, one of whose epithets is "the Evil One" (Skt., Pāpīyās; Pali, Pāpimant), has sometimes been compared to Satan; in fact, he is a god, the chief deity of the Realm of Desire (Kāmadhātu), a position he earned by virtue of a meritorious deed in a past life. As such, he rules over most sentient beings who are caught up in sasāra (including humans and the lower deities). He resides in the Sixth Heaven of Buddhist cosmology, the dwelling place of the Paranirmita-vaśavartin gods, and so is sometimes called Vaśavartin (Pali, Vasavattī; "controlling"), or, in East Asia, King of the Sixth Heaven. As Lord of the Kāmadhātu, Māra is best understood as a divine king who wants to keep sentient beings under his command, that is, in his realm of life and death, of desire and ignorance. Hence he actively opposes anyone who seeks to escape from his dominion by attaining enlightenment.

This opposition takes on many forms in Buddhist myth and legend. Most prominently, it is featured in a number of encounters Māra is said to have with the Buddha. He tries, for instance, to block the Buddha from going forth on his Great Departure from his father's palace, an episode often featured in Southeast Asian art and sometimes reenacted in ordination rituals. Later, under the bodhi tree at Bodh Gayā, Māra plagues the Buddha in a variety of ways. Desperate to keep the Blessed One from becoming enlightened, he musters a huge army of monsters, all armed with dreadful weapons, in an attempt to scare him away. Their attack, however, comes to naught. The weapons they fling at the Buddha turn to flowers and perfumes, and the Buddha remains unperturbed in meditation. Māra then challenges the Buddha's right to sit on the seat of enlightenment. He calls on his hordes to bear witness to his own merits, and they all shout that the bodhi seatthe highest point in this worldbelongs to Māra. In response, the Buddha reaches down and touches the surface of the earth with the tip of his right hand, calling on it to bear witness to his merits. This earth-touching (bhūmisparśa) gesture, which became famous iconographically in countless Buddha images, elicits a response from the earth goddess, who affirms in no uncertain terms the Buddha's supremacy. In one version of the story, she appears physically and wrings out the water from her hair, causing a flood (symbolic of the Buddha's merits) that sweeps away the forces of Māra. In some biographical traditions, at this point or a bit later, Māra makes yet another attempt to counter the Buddha's enlightenment by sending his three daughters to seduce him. Needless to say, he is unmoved by their wiles. Having been unsuccessful in preventing the Buddha's enlightenment, Māra then tries to encourage him to pass promptly into parinirvāa (complete extinction) so as no longer to be a threat to his (Māra's) dominion.

Māra, however, did not limit his attentions to the Buddha alone. The Samyutta Nikāya, for instance, contains two collections of stories in which Māra variously tries to tempt, frighten, or trick not only the Buddha but ordinary monks and nuns. Sometimes he seeks to disrupt their practice or meditation; other times he tries to convince them of the truth of heretical doctrines. In doing so, he may take on various forms, even the guise of the Buddha himself. Thus, for example, he appears to the monk Śūra in the form of the Blessed One and deceitfully announces that he had lied when previously he had told him that all five skandhas (personality aggregates) are impermanent, marked by suffering, and without self, when in fact some of them are actually permanent, stable, and eternal. Śūra, luckily, is not duped by this. In other contexts, Hīnayānists are sometimes said to view the new Mahāyāna teachings not as the "Word of the Buddha" but as the "Word of Māra."

More broadly, any form of contradiction or oppositionfrom crude to subtleto the practice and doctrine of Buddhism, however it is defined, may be thought to be an act of Māra. In Southeast Asia, if bad weather, drunkenness, or petty thievery mar the celebration of a Buddhist festival, it is said to be because of Māra. In East Asia, monks who are remiss in their observance of the precepts are sometimes said to be followers of "the way of Māra" (Jpn., Madō ). In Tibet, Māra came to be associated with indigenous demonic divinities (bdud) whose subservience to Buddhism needed periodically to be reasserted. In China, due in part to linguistic confusion, Māra was identified with the god Īśvara, that is, Maheśvara (Śiva), or with the ambivalently-esteemed protector of the northeastern quarter, Īśāna. In Japan, in medieval times, a persistent creation myth told of the attempt by King Māra (Ma-ō)'s to block the creation of the Japanese islands themselves because he knew that Buddhism would thrive there. He only gave his imprimatur to the cosmogonic project when Amaterasu, the sun goddess, agreed to keep Buddhism at bay in her land, an agreement that she did not honor but which is why a taboo was established on Buddhist images, monks, and sūtras at the grand shrine of Ise. Māra's written contract with Amaterasu, moreover, came to be identified as the divine seal (shinshi), one of the three regalia of the Japanese imperial line.

Less mythically perhaps, throughout the Buddhist world, Māra came to be seen as a metaphor for various passions and impediments on the path. Thus practitioners are enjoined to recognize multiple Māras associated with the personality aggregates (skandha-māra) or the defilements (kleśa-māraś). Māra's daughters are said to symbolize pleasure, restlessness, and desire; and various troops in Māra's army are identified with lust, sloth, doubt, hypocrisy, ignorance, and so on.

Yet Māra is not always ultimately maligned and condemned. In contexts in which the doctrine of the potential enlightenment of all beings is asserted, the story is told of Māra's conversion to Buddhism by the arhat Upagupta, who first tames the "Evil One" by binding corpses around his neck, but then releases him when he agrees to stop harassing Buddhist monks, or when, in one version of the tale, he actually makes a vow for future buddhahood.

See Also

Buddha.

Bibliography

For a general overview of Māra, including references to his appearance in Vedic literature and his association with death, see Louis de La Vallée Poussin, "Māra," in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings (Edinburgh, 1915), vol. 8, pp. 406407. See also Alex Wayman, "Studies in Yama and Māra," Indo-Iranian Journal 3 (1959): 112125. For a classic presentation of the textual history of the Māra legend, see Ernst Windisch, Māra und Buddha (Leipzig, 1895). For a study based on Pali sources, see Trevor O. Ling, Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil (London, 1962). For a comparative perspective, see James W. Boyd, Satan and Māra: Christian and Buddhist Symbols of Evil (Leiden, 1975). For accounts of Māra's interactions with various nuns and monks (including the Buddha), see C. A. F. Rhys Davids, The Book of Kindred Sayings (Samyutta-Nikāya) (London, 1917), vol. 1, pp. 128170. On the story of Māra and Śūra, see Edmund Hardy, "Mara in the Guise of Buddha," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1901): 951955. On the role of Māra in China and in the Japanese creation myth, see Nobumi Iyanaga, "Le Roi Māra du sixième ciel et le mythe médiéval de la création du Japon," Cahiers d'Extrême-Asie" 9 (19961997): 323396. On the conversion of Māra by Upagupta, see John S. Strong, The Legend and Cult of Upagupta (Princeton, 1992), pp. 93117. Finally, for a perspective on Māra that highlights the art historical record, see Patricia Karetzky, "Māra, Buddhist Deity of Death and Desire," East and West 32 (1982): 7592.

John S. Strong (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Māra." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Māra." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mara

"Māra." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved November 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mara

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mara

MĀRA

Māra, whose name literally means "death" or "maker of death," is the embodiment of lust, greed, false views, delusion, and illusion. He is a virtually ubiquitous presence in Buddhist texts from the earliest accounts of the Buddha's enlightenment on. Māra stands as an active antagonist of the Buddha and his followers, as well as a powerful metaphor. Paradigmatically, Māra attempts to stop the Buddha in his quest for enlightenment.

In one of the earliest accounts of Māra's treachery, in the Sutta Nipāta (425–449), Māra approaches the about-to-be enlightened Buddha and attempts to convince him to abandon his efforts and to adopt the more conventional Brahmanical religious life, the life of sacrifice and good karma. The Buddha rejects this suggestion, and rebukes Māra and his minions. In later accounts of this episode found in the MahĀvastu (Great Story), Lalitavistara, Nidāna-kathā (Story of Causation), and the Buddhacarita (Acts of the Buddha), Māra sends his various armies, including his own daughters, to frighten and tempt the Buddha as he sits in meditation; all such efforts of course fail. Finally, Māra himself comes to the Buddha and calls into question his right to sit on the bodhimaṇḍa, the place of enlightenment, claiming that it is he, and not the Buddha, who is the rightful occupant of that position (due to his own past good karmic deeds). The Buddha then reaches out his hand and calls the earth goddess, Bhūdevī, to bear witness to his past good deeds; the earth quakes, the goddess appears, and Māra and his armies flee. This episode, known as the Māravijaya, or "defeat of Māra," became one of the most common modes of representing the Buddha in many parts of the Buddhist world, conveying as it does his defeat of the forces of temptation, lust, greed, avarice, torpor and sloth, and, ultimately, death itself. Māra also figures in the postenlightenment of the Buddha, when he deludes Ānanda at the moment when the Buddha's disciple is about to entreat the Buddha to remain on earth, preventing Ānanda from requesting that the Buddha stay until the end of the eon to teach. Māra then reminds the Buddha that he had promised to depart once the dharma and saṄgha were established, and so the Buddha agrees that this will be his final life.

Māra becomes a ubiquitous presence in Buddhist texts and iconography, standing as he does as the embodiment of tṛṣṇā, the grasping that fundamentally leads to further rebirth and, thus, further suffering. In Southeast Asia, it is the saint Upagupta who defeats Māra, binding him with his own snares and converting him to Buddhism. In the Pure Land text, the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabhārāja-sūtra (Sūtra of the Royal Lapis Healing Buddha), the "healing Buddha" vows to free all beings caught by Māra's "heretical entrapments" and instill in them the correct views.

See also:Buddha, Life of the; Divinities; Evil

Bibliography

Boyd, James W. Satan and Māra: Christian and Buddhist Symbols. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1975.

Ling, Trevor O. Buddhism and the Mythology of Evil: A Study in Theravāda Buddhism. London: Allen and Unwin, 1962.

Jacob N. Kinnard

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mara." Encyclopedia of Buddhism. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mara." Encyclopedia of Buddhism. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 13, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mara

"Mara." Encyclopedia of Buddhism. . Retrieved November 13, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mara

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.