Mara, the personification of Death in Buddhism (L.A. Day of the Dead 2007)
Friday, August 29, 2008
Causes of Abdominal Discomfort
Buddhist practitioners, like everyone else, take ill because of germs. And like everyone else, those germs come opportunistically. The cause behind them is psychological/spiritual/karmic. That is to say, weakness in a given part of the body precedes infection. The germs (parasites) are merely adventitious.
All illness has only one of four direct causes, according to Edgar Cayce, dysfunctional: assimilation, elimination, circulation, or relaxation. We must take in what we need, but then we must break it down, bring it into the cells, clear out its waste products, and have some serenity. A breakdown in any of these will lead to the manifestation of symptoms. But the symptoms only indicate the breakdown, not the cause of the breakdown that set the chain in motion. This could sometimes be past karma coming to fruition, current causes (such as stress, attack, etc.), or other conditions (diet, mental outlook, weather, etc.) weakening us. Humans do not get sick because they grow old; they grow old because they get sick.
Interestingly, for advanced Buddhist practitioners (and one assumes that this is also true of all virtuous figures regardless of their Dharma, faith, or religious label), another cause has also been identified. As the Dalai is currently suffering a bout of "abdominal discomfort," it is interesting to note the similarity to a previous case.
At times for renowned figures, Maras have been known to not take kindly to such activities or noble ideas. Thus, in the form of malicious spirits with the power of physical transformation, they have attempted to obstruct and impede the spread of Dharma (truth that runs counter to the world). Such a case occurred when Maha Moggallana was practicing meditation in a hut.
The Rebuke to Mara
The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Bhikkhu Nanamoli & Bhikkhu Bodhi)
Thus have I heard. On one occasion the venerable Maha Moggallana was living in the Bhagga country at Sumsumaragira in the Bhesakala Grove, the Deer Park.
Now on that occasion the venerable Maha Moggallana was walking up and down in the open. And on that occasion Mara the Evil One had gone into his belly and had entered his bowels. Then the venerable Maha Moggallana considered thus: "Why is my belly so heavy? One would think it full of beans." Thus he left the walk and went into his dwelling, where he sat down on a seat made ready.
When he had sat down, he gave thorough attention to himself, and he saw Mara the Evil One had gone into his belly and had entered his bowels. When he saw this, he said: "Come out, Evil One! Come out, Evil One! Do not harass the Tathagata [one of the Buddha's many titles] do not harass the Tathagata's disciple, or it will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time."
Then Mara the Evil One thought: "This recluse does not know me, he does not see me when he says that. Even his teacher would not know me so soon, so how can this disciple know me?"
Then the venerable Maha Moggallana said: "Even thus I know you, Evil One. Do not think: 'He does not know me." You are Mara, the Evil One. You were thinking thus, Evil One: 'This recluse does not know me, he does not see me when he says that. Even his teacher would not know me so soon, so how can this disciple know me?'"
Then Mara the Evil One thought: "The recluse knew me, he saw me when he said that," whereupon he came up from the venerable Maha Moggallana's mouth and stood against the door bar.
The venerable Maha Moggallana saw him standing there and said: "I see you there too, Evil One. Do not think: 'He does not seem me.' You are standing against the door bar, Evil One.
"It happened once, Evil One, that I was a Mara named Dusi ["the Corrupter" or "Corrupted One" since "Mara" is more the title of a position than a single being like Christianity's "Devil"], and I had a sister named Kali. You were her son, so you were my nephew.
"Now on that occasion the Blessed One Kakusandha [a previous buddha from aeons ago], accomplished and fully enlightened, had appeared in the world. The Blessed One Kakusandha, accomplished and fully enlightened, had an auspicious pair of chief disciples named Vidhura and Sanjiva..." (MN 50.1-9).
He goes on to recount how, as a Mara named Mara Dusi, he himself had considered that he did not know the coming and going of virtuous Buddhist monks and nuns. So he took possession of brahmin householders, telling them: "Come now, abuse, revile, scold, and harass the virtuous recluses of good character; then perhaps, when they are abused, reviled, scolded, and harassed by you, some change will come about in their minds whereby the Mara Dusi may find an opportunity." [By causing defilements to arise in their minds, he hopes to prevent them from escaping Samsara.]
Then, when he had taken possession of the brahmin householders, they did indeed abuse, revile, scold, and harass the virtuous recluses: "These baldheaded recluses, these dark skinned menial offspring of Brahma's feet, say 'We are meditators, we are meditators!' and with shoulders drooping, heads down and all limp, they meditate, premeditate, out-meditate, and mismeditate. Just as an owl on a branch waiting for a mouse meditates, premeditates, out-meditates, and mismeditates..."
[While it might sound good to meditate with the focus of an owl, the terms taken together elsewhere (MN 108.26) describe the meditation of someone whose mind is obsessed by the Five Hindrances.]
[The commentary takes great pains to point out that Mara did not exercise control over their actions (karma), in which case he alone would have been responsible and the brahmins would not have been responsible and could not have generated bad karma by their deeds. Rather, Mara caused the brahmins to imagine scenes of the monastics engaged in improper conduct, and this aroused their antagonism and induced (not forced) them to harass the recluses. Mara's intent in doing so was to make the recluses give rise to anger and dejection.]
Maha Moggallana now explains to Mara (whose name is Namuci) what happened to them as a result of their karma: "Now, Evil One, on that occasion most of those human beings, when they died, reappeared on the dissolution of the body, after death, in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell."
He further recounted how the Buddha Kakusandha told the recluses what the Mara Dusi was up to and how they should practice universal loving-kindness meditation in all directions. And how he asked them to follow that up with universal compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity [the Brahma Viharas, "Divine Abidings," a.k.a., the "Four Immeasurables"].
This caused a problem for the Mara Dusi who considered: "Though I do as I am doing, still I do not know the coming or the going of these virtuous recluses of good character. Let me now take possession of the brahmin householders, telling them: 'Come now, honor, respect, revere, and venerate the virtuous recluses of good character; then perhaps, when they are honored, respected, revered, and venerated by you, some change will come about in their minds whereby the Mara Dusi may find an opportunity."
He did so, and as a result of their karma, when they died, most of them were reborn in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world[s]. The Buddha Kakusandha instructed the recluses on a meditation to overcome pride, negligence, egotism, conceit, complacency, and other such mental defilements. This also frustrated the Mara Dusi until he was driven to possess a boy to throw a rock at the head of one of the chief disciples causing him a bleeding gash. The Buddha Kakusandha turned to look at the Mara Dusi while stating "This Mara Dusi knows no bounds." He then fell into the Great Waste to suffer unbelievably for millenia only to be reborn as a repugnant chimera and now himself, aeons later, a chief disciple of a buddha.
What followed was the recitation of an extraordinary set of verses readers might find too hard to believe.