The Urban Dharma Newsletter - June 15, 2004


In This Issue: Mara and His Armies

0. Humor...
1. Mara in Buddhism
2. The Great Enlightenment
3. Mara
4. Mara and His Children
--- Buddhist teacher Eugene Cash
5. Temple/Center/Website: None
6. Book/CD/Movie: eBook - Letters from Mara
...A story by Punnadhammo Bhikkhu - (Free eBook)


0. Humor...

The LALA Times.com - Buddha's Gym: Becoming One With Any Body


Physical and spiritual toning are the twin pillars of a quietly trendy gym in Venice, California, built around the embodiment of the Buddha. Members dig the low-key approach to getting buff.

VENICE, Ca. —When you enter Buddha's Gym on Rose Avenue, hanging purple drapes, flickering candles and distant chanting bring your attention to an inscription on the far wall: "Embrace suffering — and move on."

Ananda Jones, the gym's founder and manager, is a 37-year-old woman with raven-black hair, a wiry frame and "Get Over Your Self" inscribed across the seat of her velour sweatpants. She practically floats through a tour of prospective members, who attempt to keep pace. "The first illusion you've probably already encountered is that because of the image of the Buddha, you must be chubby to get in here. That's simply not true; the goal is not to sit and gain weight — though we respect that if that's your choice."

One tour member asks if there's a dress code. "You may perceive a certain… aesthetic here," says Jones, "but there's no dress code. If someone wants to come in wearing a g-stringy thing, everyone just goes with the flow — men may see it for the temptation that it is, and even women may ponder that woman's beautiful physical presence… but you won't find people judging her. In fact, many of our female clients admit they come here because they're tired of the leers they get at the mainstream meat-market gyms. The vibe here is totally chill, totally hip, 100% shanti."

On the way to the workout room, we pass a food and juice bar with esoteric names emblazoned on the menu overhead: Lotus Power Shake, Himalayan Smoothies, Tibetan Drink of the Dead, Nirvana Nutritional Bars, Chakra & Okra, Tofu or Not Tofu, Dharamsalad, Tantric Toast & Cosmic Egg, and Kundalini Alfredo.

Jones brings us to the first workout machine, where a muscular blond young man wears a shirt which depicts the Buddha sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, eyes shut, curling dumbbells with his wrists. "We call this step machine the Eightfold Path. Each of the eight levels gets increasingly difficult, but when you get to the top, you'll see that it's well worth the work." In fact, as we sneak a peek at the exerciser's monitor, it shifts from level six, "Right effort," to level seven, "Right mindfulness."

We pass another step machine which simulates climbing 108 steps to the top of a Buddhist stupa while chanting plays in the person's headphones. In this case, as the exerciser walks along he gazes into the screen image of the so-called "third eye," commonly depicted on the tops of stupas.


"We also offer a popular 'BuddhaSizeIt' class... and then there's always 'Dharma and Spinning,' featuring the dreaded cycle of Samsara... and our 'Karmaerobics' classes are really catching on, too."

— Ananda Jones - founder/manager, Buddha's Gym


At another station, a man grunts as he tries to turn a giant brass "prayer wheel" cylinder around a steel pole. Each rotation changes the digital number on a nearby monitor.

"In L.A.," admits Jones, "not everyone will make time to meditate, but they'll make time to go to the gym. So we sort of kill two birds with one stone... well, we don't really hurt anything — you know what I mean.

"We don't like to get too hung up on machinery, too," says Jones. "That's why in these other rooms you'll see we also offer a popular 'BuddhaSizeIt' class… and then there's always 'Dharma and Spinning,' featuring the dreaded cycle of Samsara… and our 'Karmaerobics' classes are really catching on, too."

The end of our tour fittingly brings us to a sign over the exit which states simply, "If the roots are strong, the tree will flourish."

Jones clasps the palms of her hands together and bids us all a shanti day.

1. Mara in Buddhism


In Buddhism Mara is the demon that tempted Gautama Buddha trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women. In Buddhist cosmology, Mara is personified as the embodiment of unskilfulness, the "death" of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting us from practising 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. Firstly, there is klesa-mara, or Mara as the embodiment of all unskilful emotions. Secondly, mrtyu-mara, or Mara as death, in the sense of the ceaseless round of birth and death. Thirdly, skandha-mara, or Mara as metaphor for the entirety of conditioned existence. Lastly, devaputra-mara, or Mara the son of a 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. Whichever way we ourselves understand the term, Mara has power only to the extent that we give it to him.

2. The Great Enlightenment


One morning, seated under a banyan tree, Gotama accepted an offering of a bowl of milk rice from Sujata, the daughter of the landowner of the village of Senanigama. This was his last meal before his Enlightenment. He spent the day in a grove of sal trees and in the evening went to the base of a pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), now known as the bodhi, or bo, tree, and sat cross-legged, determined not to rise without attaining Enlightenment.

At that point, the greatest of Gotama's struggles began: Mara, the evil one, the tempter who is the lord of the world of passion, determined to defeat him and prevent him from attaining Enlightenment; he approached Gotama with his hideous demonic hordes. Gotama, however, sat unmoved in meditation, supported only by the 10 paramitas ("great virtues") that he had perfected during innumerable past lives as a bodhisattva ("buddha-to-be") in order to attain Enlightenment. (In order to attain buddhahood, all bodhisattvas [i.e., those who aspire to become buddhas] have to perfect, during innumerable lives, these 10 paramitas: charity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, effort, patience, truth, determination, universal love, and equanimity.) Mara was thus vanquished and fled headlong with his armies of evil spirits.

The battle with Mara is graphically described in ancient Buddhist texts and depicted in paintings on the walls of Buddhist temples. In the Padhanasutta ("Discourse on the Exertion") of the Pali Suttanipata, one of the earliest texts, the Buddha states that, when he was practicing austerities by the Nerañjara River in Uruvela, Mara approached him, speaking such words as: "You are emaciated, pale, you are near death. Live, Sir, life is better. Do meritorious deeds. What is the use of striving?" After some preliminary words, Gotama replied:

Lust is your first army; the second is dislike for higher life; the third is hunger and thirst; the fourth is craving; the fifth is torpor and sloth; the sixth is fear (cowardice); the seventh is doubt; the eighth is hypocrisy and obduracy; the ninth is gains, praise, honour, false glory; the tenth is exalting self and despising others. Mara, these are your armies. No feeble man can conquer them, yet only by conquering them one wins bliss. I challenge you! Shame on my life if defeated! Better for me to die in battle than to live defeated. Mara, overcome with grief, disappeared.

Having defeated Mara, Gotama spent the rest of the night in deep meditation under the tree. During the first part of the night he gained the knowledge of his former existences. During the second part of the night he attained the "superhuman divine eye," the power to see the passing away and rebirth of beings. In the last part of the night he directed his mind to the knowledge of the destruction of all cankers and defilements and realized the Four Noble Truths. In words attributed to the Buddha himself: "My mind was emancipated, . . . Ignorance was dispelled, science (knowledge) arose; darkness was dispelled, light arose."

Thus Gotama, at the age of 35, attained the Enlightenment, or Awakening, and became a supreme buddha during the night of the full-moon day of the month of Vesakha (May) at a place now called Bodh Gaya (Pali and Sanskrit: Buddhagaya).

3. Mara


As soon as he started meditating, Siddhartha was confronted with the figure of Mara, the lord of darkness. Mara tried to tempt Siddhartha into despair and into giving up.

Mara represents all the parts of us that don't want to change, that are threatened by change, and want to deny it. Mara is that part of you that opposes the good that you want to do and tries to stop you acting upon what you know is right.


As he meditated, the great snake, Mucalinda, came out and sheltered the meditating prince from the rain, he wound his body seven times round the prince and sheltered the prince with his head.

Mucalinda is the serpent. In Buddhist mythology the serpent or Naga represents the forces of the depths, of the unconscious. The serpent also represents the yogic idea of Kundalini - the coiled serpent energy at the base of the spine, which is liberated by yogic practice and rises up through the seven chakras or psychic centres. So through Meditation the Buddha liberated his blocked and dormant energies.

Mara's Daughters

Mara then sent his daughters to tempt Siddhartha. These represented the spirits of lust, greed, desire, pride and ignorance. Siddhartha kept his mind strong and resolute. Mara had tried to tempt Siddhartha with these forms, but Siddhartha resisted them.

He managed to master his own craving and desire. Siddhartha saw through and dispelled the compulsions of Tanha (desire), Arati (aversion) and Raga (lust).

Mara's Hordes

Mara became angry and sent his armies, the hordes of Mara, they represented fear, and sum up all our deepest fears. The armies lined up before Siddhartha and fired their arrows and spears at him. Siddhartha was unmoved, and looked full square into his fears. The flying arrows and spears turned to flowers in the air, their petals raining down on the prince.

Siddhartha faced his fears, he realised how we are all driven and dictated by our fears, how they dissolve our ability to act and take control. The Buddha let go of his fear and anger, and what he feared turned into flowers.

The Buddha's Ego

Then Mara faced the Buddha himself, taking on the guise of the Buddha himself. The Buddha faced Mara, and told him that this false self, this ego, did not exist.

Mara here represents the Buddha's ego, his false self. The self is the object, the thing that one sees in the mirror. This is the idea of a you that says, "I can do this", or "I can't do that", or "I am like x", or "I am not like Y", as if the self is a thing that can be fully described and fixed. But the Buddha realised that this idea, this ego, is pure illusion.

Earth Goddess

Mara demanded to know what right Siddhartha has to claim to be a Buddha. Siddhartha then touched the earth, and called the earth, in the shape of the Earth Goddess to witness his efforts over many lives. The Earth Goddess testified to his right to occupy the "throne" or the Vajrasana, the Diamond Seat. This episode represented the natural forces in harmony with the Buddha's path.

As the morning star arose, the Buddha experienced full awareness or Bodhi. He saw the ultimate reality of all things, that all things are impermanent, they change, and that all movement in the universe is an effect brought by a cause, he saw too that there is no wisdom without compassion. From that moment he was called the Buddha the awakened one.

4. Mara and His Children


In a final, desperate attempt to foil the intent of the bodhisattva, Shakyamuni; to diminish his merit and his karma in the face of all the universe as he sits in determined meditation under the Tree, the Tempter and Sower of Doubt, Great Mara manifests with his offspring: Devaputramara, child of the gods; Kleshamara, mental afflictions; Skandhamara, appearance as form, and Mrtyamara, mortality.

Maras According to Thrangu Rinpoche

Mara is most commonly presented in the Buddhist tradition as four different types of maras called: Devaputramara, the mara that is the child of the gods; Kleshamara, the mara that is the mental afflictions; Skandhamara, the mara that is the aggregates; and finally Mrtyamara, the mara that is the lord of death. These are primarily internal.

The first of these, Devaputramara, the mara that is the child of the gods, refers not to some kind of external demonic force but primarily to your own great attachment and great craving. Therefore, it is given the name of child of the gods, because when this mara is depicted iconographically — because it is craving or wanting something so much —it is not depicted as something ugly and threatening, but as something attractive, because that is the feeling-tone of attachment. It is liking things so much that it interferes with your dharma practice and your attainment of awakening.

The second mara, Kleshamara, the mara that is mental afflictions, is your mental afflictions themselves. These become a mara because, due to the beginning-less habit of maintaining and cultivating them, they keep on popping up again and again. They are very hard to abandon or even to suppress, and when they are momentarily absent, they come up again, and in that way they interfere with your practice of dharma.

The third mara is Skandamara, the mara of the aggregates. The aggregates here refer to the five aggregates that make up samsaric existence — forms, sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness. Now, these aggregates are themselves mara, because being aggregates or composite, they are impermanent. Being impermanent they are constantly changing, and therefore they are always a cause, directly or indirectly, of suffering. In order to attain permanent happiness, in order to transcend the suffering of samsara, we must transcend the five aggregates. There is simply no way to attain a state of permanent happiness within the bondage of these aggregates.

The fourth of the four maras is death itself, which is depicted iconographic[al]ly as wrathful or unpleasant. Death, of course, is what we are most afraid of. Death is what comes with great agony and fear and pain. ~ issue 10 of Shenpen Osel news.

Ven. Traleg Khyabgon Rinpoche: "The devil is that aspect of ourselves that is unexplored, unacknowledged, denied, pushed out. Mara it is called in Sanskrit."

Gampopa in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: ... "the name of certain limiting experiences, which, as the term Mara [<cf. French: mort] implies, have a deadening influence on life."

... elaborating on the mara-nature of skandhas "the psychosomatic constituents of individual life" which when we conceive of any of these as Real or "ultimates" they have deadening influence - so we practice to maintain insight (and non-attachment) as they arise.

And "The experiences in meditation which [seem to] have a 'divine' character because they go beyond the merely human concern, are also nothing ultimate in themselves. But by clinging to them instead of understanding them they turn into dead concepts which are likely to undermine the mental health of the individual. Hence they are termed 'the deadly influence of divine powers'. It is necessary to overcome these deadly foes if spiritual freedom is to be won."

"So -- rather like something in my fridge when it has sat in there too long unattended to. Phew! has to be thrown out! I like the notion that clinging to anything as "me" or "mine" as "deadening" -- it seems so. Solid, opaque bodies that cling certainly leave the realm of our Unborn BuddhaNature and thus tend to smell, and to die." ~ J. on the Kagyu email list

Devaputra Mara

This Mara is a way of talking about a condition of life, or a thing, that seems so good that we give it special consideration instead of regarding it with equanimity.

"This describes something instantly recognizable that I never had a name for. Actually it is something I reflect on every morning on the bus. As a somewhat lonely gay practitioner who was celibate from age 22 to 34, and is still without a partner at 50, handsome men can provide a certain challenge to my morning equanimity. [For] Somehow I have never found the aversion therapy approach of the oft- recommended "bag of pus," [viewing the body as merely the sack of vile fluids] ... very appealing.

In the face of beauty I prefer to briefly acknowledge the suffering of the afflictive emotions and move on to attempt to engender bodhicitta: Joy dedicated rather than denigrated.

For some time now these "devaputtra maras" have caused me to offer up prayers that [those people] come to experience the blessings [as expressed] in the Four Immeasureables.

And then I reflect that their beauty alone makes them no more deserving than any one else on the bus, and my seemingly casual gaze and intention embraces all of [the passengers with no exceptions] as well. Alternately I pray that the object of my interest, and all beings, be reborn from the lotus buds in Sukhavati [the Pure Land of Buddha Amitabha.]

Some days the escalators at Vancouver's Granville Skytrain Station carry a stream of lotuses up and out into the morning." ~ The Kagyu Mailing List

5. MARA --- Buddhist teacher Eugene Cash, from "Letter to a Householder," Spirit Rock News


I have tried to study the Eight-Fold Path as you recommended. In fact I spent some time contemplating "Right Speech" and when I examined the content of my conversation it was appalling. I’d say 90% of the time is spent telling stories about someone who isn’t present, analyzing their problems or maybe even discussing their plight for sheer entertainment value! If I’m not talking about someone else in social situations, then I’m most likely worrying, planning, comparing or complaining. I suppose I could talk about the weather . . . .

In your letter one attitude stands out that needs to be addressed and responded to: the level and identification with self-criticism, self-judgment, and self-condemnation. In psychological terms, the super-ego. This one area, if left unilluminated, will render much spiritual work and practice impotent and ineffectual. So I want to speak to this in some detail. Personally, I see the condemnation and self-attack to be the single most pervasive hindrance to spiritual (or psychological) understanding. It functions, as far as I can tell, to keep the (familiar) sense of self in place. It doesn’t allow for objectivity or maturation. Thus it is vital to become aware of, and to learn to dis-identify with, the inner critic. It is imperative that we study this aspect of self.

In the Buddhist scriptures this phenomenon is at the center of the story of Gautama Siddhartha’s enlightenment. As he sits under the bodhi tree, rooted in his commitment and resolve to awaken, he is attacked by Mara, the evil one in Buddhist mythology. Mara attacks the Buddha with what are called the armies of Mara to dislodge him from his goal. After all the armies of greed, hatred and delusion fail, Mara himself shows up and challenges the Buddha: "What right do you have to enlightenment?" Mara comes at this penultimate moment in the quest for freedom as judgment. A Buddhist version of "who do you think you are, buddy?" And the Buddha responds by touching the earth to acknowledge his right to be here, his right to awaken. And he awakens in the next moment.

How can we relate to and use this archetypal story in our own struggle for liberation, for freedom? In my practice I find it is essential to be aware of what is occurring, whether I like what is happening or not. This is true even if what is happening goes beyond the reality with which I am familiar and the constructed sense of self, which is based on familial, cultural, societal, or spiritual injunctions. In order to let go of something (greed, aversion, fear, lust, apprehension, etc.) I have to know it directly, without denial, repression, or pejorative judgment.

We need to study the judging mind and learn to dis-identify, to de-cathect from it. We need to disempower this habit of mind because it disembowels us. We begin by paying attention to judgment. We want to see it. How does it come? As words, images, beliefs, a sense of feeling bad about ourselves, a sense of unworthiness? What are the specifics of it? It can be helpful to add some reflection and investigation to mindfulness of judgment. Why do we believe it? What happens if we don’t believe it? What other practices will help diminish the power of judgment? How is it addressed in Buddhism? How is it viewed and worked with in other traditions? Does modern psychological understanding offer any help for working with the form of Mara? What practices of compassion and loving-kindness might be called for here? What books might be helpful? (See Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown (Shambhala); Loving-Kindness and Heart as Big as the World by Sharon Salzburg (Shambhala); and Tara Brach has a set of tapes called "Radical Self Acceptance".)

We begin to learn how to work with judgment as part of our practice. When Mara comes we touch the earth, figuratively or literally sometimes, to acknowledge our right to stay present, wakeful and compassionate with experience. With those qualities as a foundation, awakening can occur, release happens!

Now developing those capacities requires practice, patience, resolve and kindness. So my question to you is what are you doing to cultivate these qualities? For me sitting practice, just doing it regularly at home and on retreat, teaches me to be patient with myself and my experience because I can’t control it; develops my sense of resolve and the power of commitment; and helps nourish kindness through the recognition of the suffering (mine). If you pay attention you may notice that parenting can also develop these qualities and more. To parent well we need to be aware, responsive, patient, kind, etc. I have no doubt that you bring these qualities to your parenting practice. My question is: Do you recognize this as practice? Do you recognize the qualities being developed? The cultivation of "Right View" ("Right" meaning "that which brings us in accord with the truth") is to begin to recognize that each moment is practice. If you can begin to do this you can begin to recognize the positive qualities that are being cultivated in your relationship, parenting, work and community.

How do we respond when we discover qualities that are not so positive? You describe your reaction as you become mindful of your speech and seeing how much speech is disconnected to the qualities you would wish. You sound disturbed by this realization. Dharma practice is disturbing! If it weren’t it wouldn’t be worth the time, effort and struggle that it calls for. Dharma practice is difficult, disturbing and challenging. But there is a big difference between being disturbed and being attacked, between waking up and beating (ourselves) up. It is the difference between objectively perceiving that my speech is inappropriate and condemning myself. The self-condemnation is Mara. It arises out of delusion, the delusion of not seeing clearly how deeply we have been conditioned. One of the natural responses to seeing clearly our conditioning is compassion. Other objective responses are resolve and commitment to study this part of ourselves.

So Mara comes to us . . . Big surprise! Even after the Buddha was fully and completely enlightened Mara kept coming. Mara would appear in many disguises and the Buddha, through the power of his presence and mindfulness, would say "I see you, Mara." In the texts Mara would say "the blessed one has seen me" as he crept away. This is our work: seeing Mara. Bringing a kind and caring attention to what is true and not true as we "study the self."

One last word about Mara. A sense of humor, developing the capacity to hold it all lightly, really helps. We can get so tight that practice becomes a burden, something else to feel bad about, and that doesn’t help anyone. Life is short. Let’s enjoy the absurdity as well as the profundity.

6. Letters from Mara ...A story by Punnadhammo Bhikkhu - Arrow River Forest Hermitage

This is a free eBook (11 pages/54KB) you can download from the link below...


A story about mara and his armies... Author's Note: Apologies are extended to the late C.S. Lewis, author of 'The Screwtape Letters', for my use of his clever idea.

Letter From Mara

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, Honour and Renown, besides,
And ill-won Notoriety, Self-Praise and Denigrating Others.

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 Nyanamoli translation "Life of the Buddha" p.20)

In a faraway realm there is the most intoxicatingly beautiful pleasure park in all the vast swarm of universes. Lovely maidens and carefree youths stroll through groves of ever-flowering trees. Golden leaves swayed by gentle breezes tinkle with soft and lazy melodies. Gorgeous birds and enormous butterflies flutter through the shady groves. The ground slopes up gently and in the distance a fairy castle is visible atop a craggy peak; a marvelous structure of twisting towers and intricate parapets. Its very geometry dazzles the senses, no need to speak of the jewel encrusted walls, the golden roofs or the gargoyles of alabaster and jade.

In the highest tower of this dazzling construction there is a large and tastefully appointed room; an office if you will. Behind a massive desk of rarest wood and cunning joinery there lounges an elegant figure in a comfortable leather chair. He is tall and handsome, impeccably dressed and groomed. His style is timeless yet fashionable, his demeanor polished and suave. A goddess of unearthly beauty sits beside him on a low stool, doing his nails. Another one sits across from him with a dictation pad on her lap.

The being behind the desk glances out the huge picture window with a smile of contentment. He watches the happy godlings at play with a paternal satisfaction. After a while he turns to the lovely goddess across from him, the heavenly secretary, and speaks; "I'll want to dictate a letter in a moment my dear -- in the meantime would you be a sweetheart and prepare a cup of coffee while I survey the state of my empire..." The manicurist gathers up her implements and exits with a smile and a wink.

As his secretary glides gracefully towards the celestial coffee-maker the Prince of the Sense-Realms allows himself the pleasure of a lascivious glance before getting down to business. His now perfectly manicured hand rests upon a computer mouse (unicorn ivory with a ruby button); with a few deft maneuvres he reprograms the view in the window.

First he checks out the various heavens within his dominion; the worlds of pleasure where gods and goddesses sport in gardens and groves; wandering about in heavenly chariots they travel from party to party, from festival to feast. Clothed in gorgeous raiment and bedecked with garlands and jewels they are intoxicated with their own beauty. Heavenly musicians play constantly and celestial nymphs of bewitching loveliness dance for aeons without a pause. Of course every now and again one of these beings disappears - poof - like a Christmas tree light burning out. The others seem barely to notice; the more thoughtful may pause momentarily and blink once or twice but are soon diverted from any momentary melancholy.

"Ah...my children, how they do like to play! But some don't play as nicely as they might..." Another flick of the mouse and the window displays beings in the animal realm. Running and chasing, hunting and devouring, mating and giving birth.Caught in traps or dying through cold or heat, briefly they pass in and out of existence.

Again the view changes. The ghost realm appears, shadowy and dark. Beings move about moaning and wailing, misshapen beings coarse and ugly. Many have bloated bellies and tiny heads, some are like living skeletons, others creep pathetically around refuse piles.

Then the hells come into view. Realms of fire and pain. Worlds of unspeakable cruelty and horror. Beings impaled on red-hot iron stakes, beings thrown into pits of fire and fished out again with hooks. Beings boiled in cauldrons or skewered with knives.

The Prince's mouth curls into a faint frown of disgust. He receives his cup of steaming coffee gracefully as a swarm of writhing beings falls into a pit full of blazing coals. The secretary says with a divine pout "That's simply awful Mara sweetie, I don't know why you keep that place going." A black eyebrow is raised; "My goodness! As if it were my fault! Hell isn't exactly my favorite...


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