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Home History General The Buddha's Life - Mara's Persuasion

The Buddha's Life - Mara's Persuasion

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Article Index
The Buddha's Life
Noble and Ignoble Quests
Renunciation of Worldly Life
Meeting Alara, the Great Ascetic
Meeting the Sage Udaka
Practising Extreme Austerities
Mara's Persuasion
Right Reasoning
The Enlightenment
Giving First Sermon
Meeting with Upaka
Group of Five Monks
All Pages

Mara's Persuasion

While the Bodhisatta strove hard and practised extreme austerity to subdue himself, Mara came and addressed the Bodhisatta persuasively in beguiling words of pity,

"Friend Gotama, you have gone very thin and assumed an ungainly appearance. You are now in the presence of death. There is only one chance left in a thousand for you to live. Oh, Friend Gotama! Try to remain alive. Life is better than death. If you live, you can do good deeds and gain merits."

The meritorious deeds mentioned here by Mara have no reference whatsoever to the merits accruing from acts of charity and observance of precepts, practices which lead to the path of liberation nor to merits which result from development of Vipassana Insight and attainment of the Path.

Mara knew of only merits gained by leading a holy life abstaining from sexual intercourse and by worshipping the holy fires. These practices were believed in those times to lead to a noble, prosperous life in future existences. However, the Bodhisatta was not enamoured of the blessings of existences and he replied to Mara,

"I do not need even an iota of the merits you speak of. You should go and talk of the merit to those who stand in need of it."

A misconception had arisen concerning this utterance of the Bodhisatta that he was not in need of any merits. It is that "'meritorious deeds are to be abandoned, not to be sought for nor carried out by one seeking release from the rounds of existence like the Bodhisatta." A person once approached me and sought elucidation on this point. I explained to him that when Mara was talking about merit, he did not have in mind the merits which accrued from acts of charity, observance of precepts, development of insight through meditation or attainment of the Path. He could not know of them. Nor was the Bodhisatta in possession then of precise knowledge of these meritorious practices; only that the Bodhisatta was then engaged in austerity exercises taking them to be noble ones. Thus, when the Bodhisatta said to Mara 'I do not need any merit,' he was not referring to the meritorious practices that lead to nibbāna , but only to such deeds as were believed then to assure one of pleasurable existences. The Commentary also supports our view. It states that in saying 'I do not need any merit,' the Bodhisatta meant only the merit which Mara spoke of, namely, acts of merit which are productive of future existences. It can thus be concluded that no question arises of abandonment of meritorious practices which will lead to nibbāna.

At that time, the Bodhisatta was still working under the delusion that austerity exercises were the means of attaining higher knowledge. Thus, he said,

"This wind that blows can dry up the waters of the river. So while I strive strenuously, why should it not dry up my blood? And when the blood dries up, bile and phlegm will run dry. As the flesh gets wasted too, my mind will become clearer: mindfulness, concentration and wisdom will be more firmly established."

Mara was also under the wrong impression that abstention from food would lead to liberation and higher knowledge. It was this anxiety that motivated him to coax the Bodhisatta away from following the path of starvation. With the same wrong notion, a group of five ascetics waited upon him, attending to all his needs, hoping that this abstemious practice will lead to Buddhahood as they intended to be the first recipients of the sermon on liberation. It is clear, therefore, that it was a universal belief in those days that extreme self-mortification was the right path which would lead to Enlightenment.


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