Letters from Mara: part 2
Your first squadron is Sense-Desires,
Your second is called Boredom,
Then Hunger and Thirst compose the third
And Craving is the fourth in rank,
The fifth is Sloth and Accidy,
While Cowardice lines up as sixth,
Uncertainty is seventh,
The eighth is Malice paired with Obstinacy;
Gain, Honor and Renown, besides,
And ill-won Notoriety,
These are your squadrons, Namuci;
These are the Black One's fighting squadrons;
None but the brave will conquer them
To gain bliss by the victory.
(Sutta Nipata III, 2)
From: His Supreme Excellency the Mara Namuci
To: All Squadron Leaders
Re: Status of Current Projects
Dated: 26th Century of Current Buddha-period
Operational Area: Human Realm, Planet Earth
Greetings to all my hard-working minions! As you are all well
aware, our overall strategy seems to be working smoothly, as
usual. The vast multitude of beings who wander in our little
playground, the Great Samsara, are by and large oblivious to the
true nature of their predicament. We must continue our unceasing
efforts to maintain them in our power...You, my loyal squadron
leaders, are doing a fine job. Let us continue to review your
departments, moving on to the second...
The Host of Boredom
"To my Second Army, the Host of Boredom, I extend greetings and
congratulations. Your role is to act in coordination with my
First Army, the Host of Sense Desires. You are, as it were, the
artillery softening up the enemy's defenses for an infantry
assault by sense desires. We must keep beings in a state of
dissatisfaction with the present reality. To be bored is
primarily a state of aversion. When input from the senses is not
providing the desired kick of pleasure, a being gets irritated
with what he calls the dullness of his environment. He becomes
"bored" and seeks to remedy the situation with new and exciting
stimuli, which my First Host is eager to provide. Our victim
becomes lost in sensuality, and once again we have him where we
want him creating the basis of fresh 'becoming'.
"What a scam! We keep them always craving something exciting,
something new. They keep running around in the Great Samsara
like a wretched pet hamster in its exercise wheel. If they ever
catch on and realize how long they've been at it or that there
is nothing really new or fresh to be experienced...Of course, we
can't let that happen. Our trick is to keep them from paying
attention to the present moment, because if they are fully
present, in the here and now, they won't be bored.
"Fortunately, we've managed to foster a social climate that
positively discourages calmness and clarity. Their entire modern
culture is fast and frenzied. Fashions in everything from music
to clothing change so quickly, and they are all eager to keep up
with it. The mass of moderns prefers excitement to subtlety. The
last half-century or so has seen many advances in our efforts to
fracture the human attention span. Television itself was a great
help,but the invention of the remote control may have been the
single greatest advance in the triumph of boredom. There are
millions whose attention span is so pathetic that they can't sit
through a half-hour long television program, let alone sit
quietly by themselves!
"We've succeeded so well in this department that being bored is
considered one of the great evils of life. Of course, this was
never a problem when the poor humans required all their physical
energy simply to survive. But now we have a generation of
enervated dilettantes who cannot bear their own company
(although one can scarcely blame them for that). They create
virtual hell realms of boredom for themselves. You can see them
everywhere in the great modern cities -- riding the subways,
waiting in lines, sitting in offices. The dull lethargic look on
their faces and the glassy stare in their eyes betoken a mind
that would rather be somewhere, anywhere else. Pathetic
creatures! If they only realized that the only place they can
ever be is in the here and now!
"Boredom is based on what our Great Adversary called vibhava
tanha, the craving for non-being, in the vernacular. They find
their current state of existence unbearable, chiefly because of
their own mental state, and they wish to blot it out. In the
purest form, this leads to suicide and a consequently lower
rebirth. In a milder form, it leads to the petty annihilations
of drink, drugs, sleep, or mindless entertainment.
"As long as we keep them trapped by our two strategies of
sensuality and lethargy, they will remain in our power. Should
they stray close to the true escape, which, of course, lies in
the Middle, then we must redouble our efforts. Whisper in their
ears. Don't let them be still. Tell them again and again the
good old lies: 'This is boring. Get out and enjoy life!'
"I'm thirsty, Mara. Can we take a Soma break?" his secretary
pouts. "All Beings are sustained by nutriment," he mutters.
"What's that, Mara, honey?" she giggles as she pours herself a
shining cup of sublime nectar from a crystal decanter. "Nothing.
Just something I read in a book a long time ago. " "You're so
intellectual..." she coos, climbing back into his lap and
turning the page in her memo pad.
The Host of Hunger and Thirst
"My mighty and terrible Third, greetings! Your methods may be
crude compared to the refinements of my beloved First Army, but
they are powerful nonetheless. The cravings you engender are
even more primeval than those of sex. Sex, after all, they only
imagine they cannot live without. Food and drink they really do
need to sustain their physical organism.
"Surveying the state of the world today, it seems you are
succeeding splendidly. Half the world is starving and the other
half obese. In both cases they are obsessed with food. Keep them
that way, and they will not turn their thoughts to things beyond
"I will always remember that it was you, the minions of Hunger,
that first lured the race now called human into my clutches. Ah!
How long ago now was it? A couple or three billion of their
quick years? I remember it as if it were yesterday. The great
Earth was formless and void, and the beings that dwelt therein
were glorious, self-luminous, and fed only on jhanic bliss. Bah!
Not much we could do with them in that tedious state of affairs.
So we caused the seas to develop a nutritious foam. Patiently
and slyly we whispered in their godlike ears for many a
millennium, "Mmm. Tasty." One by one, they dipped a fingertip
and delicately licked. They began absorbing the coarse physical
stuff, and gradually, imperceptibly, they took on coarser and
coarser forms themselves. Now we have the fools lining up for
"Of course, the purely physiological response of an empty belly
is not our real weapon. It's the imaginary hunger -- the greed
for tastes, the lust for savors -- that has them quite obsessed
with food. Their obsessions take on so many amusing forms. The
gourmet who spends a small fortune on exotic dishes, the health
nut who makes a fetish of diet, the glutton who overloads his
system with calories, and the anorexic who starves herself with
a pathological vanity. They are all in a state of delusion that
exaggerates the importance of what is merely fuel for the
organism, when all is said and done.
"Our Great Adversary understood the dangers of the Third Army.
As always, in his maddeningly direct way, he taught a Middle
Path through our swamp. He tried extreme fasting, which often
serves our ends quite as well as gluttony, and rejected it. His
rule for his monks stipulates moderation in eating and a limited
form of fasting, abstaining from food for half of each day. Even
so, you, the Army of Hunger, are one of my chief weapons against
these monks in their efforts to escape our grasp. We can bedevil
their minds and dreams with images of delicious food. As
celibates, food is their chief outlet for sensuality. With the
monks of other orders who do not keep this rule, we have often
had great success in this area, creating many a jolly Friar
"The main thing we must remember is to prevent them from eating
mindfully. If a human keeps her wits about her and eats with
awareness, contemplating the sensations and feelings aroused,
then she can learn a lot. This is very dangerous for us.
Fortunately, it is a difficult exercise, and we all know how
little the humans like difficult exercises."
Mara swivels around in his chair, musing. He looks around at his
well-appointed office, his beautiful secretary, his own
well-groomed finger nails. How glad he is to be Mara!
The Host of Craving
"Greetings and congratulations to my busy legions of the Fourth
Army and to each of your three divisions -- the Division of
Sensual Desire, the Division of Craving-To-Be, and the Division
of Craving-Not-To-Be. Since your first division duplicates the
work of the Great First Army, I'm enclosing a copy of the notes
I sent to them...
" The secretary interjects, "Shouldn't we do something about
"Why?" snaps Mara. "This organization is the last in the
universe that will have to consider downsizing! Don't interrupt
me again! Now, where was I? Oh yes...
"The second division, promoters of the Craving-To-Be, has a
vital role to play. Beings exist because of your work. The
technical details of this process have been explained by our
Adversary in his teaching on Dependent Origination, and
grudgingly we admit the accuracy and clarity of his exposition.
We needn't go into the details here. Those of you who are so
inclined can consult the relevant literature. Let us merely
consider the central idea from the practical angle -- that
beings in our power exist because they crave existence.
"You have done your work well and insidiously. Beings don't as a
rule begin to understand what existence means, and they are
mostly not even fully conscious of this craving. Their craving
for being usually manifests most clearly in a cruder form, a
second derivative, as it were. It's not the will simply to be,
but the craving to be this or that thing in particular -- to be
loved, to be rich, to be healthy, to be President of the United
"Your attack must also be two-pronged. As long as it is possible
to do so, keep feeding the secondary manifestation, the craving
to be this or that. We have been doing quite well in this regard
in recent times. Our possibilities were limited when society was
hierarchical and stable. But for the last few centuries the old
certainties have become less and less effective. Society is now
so open as to be almost totally chaotic. Not that this so-called
"freedom" does them any real good. Most of them never will be
rock stars or presidents or any of those other ridiculous things
they seem to crave so much. No matter. For our purposes, it's
good enough that they want it. Keep the dream alive! And if
things start looking too hopeless, remind them to buy a lottery
"Sometimes, of course, they may truly surprise us and actually
become something. Then, we need just up the ante. If one of them
gets to be president, make sure he wants to be a great
"In spite of our best efforts, these humans occasionally come
close to being satisfied, even with quite humble and ordinary
circumstances. This is very dangerous. In such cases, consider
Plan B and bring them closer to the root craving for sheer
existence. Here, our principle weapon has always been the
Eternity View.** Tell them, 'You are, or can be, immortal. Your
essence can continue forever.' Don't let them think about death.
This is easy because most of them don't want to anyway.
"Any version of this Eternity View will do for our purposes. It
doesn't have to make too much sense. Very few of our dupes are
willing to think these things through to their logical
conclusions. There are a few good religions around that serve up
this soothing broth, and these religion projects should be
"A surprising number of humans buy into other versions of
Eternalism as well. Most of the simpler ones will be happy to
keep artificially prolonging 'youth' with facelifts and hair
transplants. A few require headier medicine. The myth of all
powerful science, although quite silly really, is very seductive
to these types. Many now believe that science will eventually
prolong human life indefinitely. Some even get their carcasses
frozen in liquid nitrogen. Remember the ancient Egyptians? I am
having the boys in R & D do a feasibility study on starting up
that game again.
"But sooner or later, despite our best efforts, many of them
will begin to lose the zest for existence. Life in the human
realm is very often nasty, brutish, and short. Wishful thinking
goes only so far. This is quite all right if we handle it
properly; which is precisely why the Third Division, the forces
of Craving-Not-To-Be, is needed.
"On a superficial level, this craving-not-to-be manifests as
simple aversion -- the craving-not-to-be in debt, the
craving-not-to-be married to this person, or the
craving-not-to-be whoever I am. Even more trivial forms are
still useful--the craving-not-to-be in the back of a long line
or not-to-be cold, on and on, ad infinitum. All these produce
feelings of unsatisfactoriness, and this keeps our victims
within our power.
"Remember your awful final weapon! When diversion fails to
beguile, then despair will enthrall them. They have invested all
their hopes in some pathetic illusion. When it is at last
punctured, it takes only a short push from us to move them
across the dangerous middle ground into hopelessness. Remember
Hamlet? 'To be or not to be...' sums up our program nicely.
Whatever you do, don't let them even suspect a third
"Obviously, it's not to our advantage to have any of our
subjects actually cease to be, but we need not worry. Even
suicides do not escape us. We can, however, promote the delusion
that such escape is possible. This Annihilation View, while a
minority philosophical position, is useful for snaring some
"We've had great success in the last three or four hundred years
in popularizing this idea. Some of you were skeptical when I
launched 'Project Descartes', but I think the results have
proven my foresight. The scientists who work with issues related
to mind and consciousness -- neurologists, cognitive
psychologists, and the like -- are absolutely blinkered by the
concept that Mind is an emergent property of the brain. They
have no proof of this (how could they?) but accept it absolutely
as axiomatic, so much so that they seem mostly unaware they are
assuming anything at all. This attitude is starting to percolate
down to the masses.
"The Annihilation View underpins many modern trends --
materialism, consumerism, secularism, science, anti-clericalism,
etc. We have gotten many millions believing that their bodies
and minds are nothing more than meat machines. This facilitates
a breakdown in morality. Given the materialist world-view, there
is nothing to stop them from abortion, euthanasia, suicide, or
even genocide. If they do take the final step and 'destroy'
themselves, well, it's unfortunate I suppose, but it does
provide jobs for the crew downstairs."
"That's ghastly, Mara, dear. Just ghastly," the secretary
"Ghastly, but true. Now, on with the dictation. I have six more
armies to write to..."
* Mara's discussion here is based on the cosmological myth found
in the Aggañña Sutta (Digha Nikaya 27). This discourse describes
how human beings devolved from god-like entities. The beginning
of this descent occurred when the entities tasted a primeval
nutritive essence floating on the surface of the sea, causing
them to develop coarse, physical bodies.
** The Eternity View is one of the two principal false views.
This view holds that a living being has a permanent self-entity
("atman" or "soul") that, being immortal, survives the death of
the body. Its opposite is the Annihilation View. This is the
idea that a living being is merely a product of matter in
motion, and consciousness is annihilated at death.
End of Part... 2
Venerable Punnadhammo is the abbot of Arrow River Meditation
Center in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Following ten years at
the center as a lay student of Khema Ananda, he was ordained a
bhikkhu at Wat Pah Nanachat in 1991. For more information about
the center---> Arrow River Meditation Center