Confronting Māra in Old Age

Thirty-seven years or so after the Enlightenment, when the Buddha was seventy-two years old, when the Sangha was well developed, thriving, and flourishing, Devadatta (the Buddha’s first cousin) made several attempts to take over the Sangha and end the Buddha’s life. Troubling events such as these would be expected for the Buddha, given his influence and prominence as a spiritual leader of his time. But what might be unexpected is the Buddha’s confrontation with Māra during his troubles with Devadatta.

The Buddha was walking in the shade of the Vulture Peak Rock when Devadatta attempted to kill the Buddha by dropping a large stone on him. The stone was miraculously stopped before hitting the Buddha, but a splinter came upon the Blessed One’s foot as a result and drew blood. The Blessed One felt painful, racking, and harsh feelings as a result. Mindfully aware of his feelings, embracing them without vexation, he lay down in the lion’s sleeping pose.

At this time, Māra the Evil One came to the Buddha and said to him:

What, are you stupefied, that you lie down?
Or else entranced by some poetic flight?
Are there not many aims you still must serve?
Why do you dream away intent on sleep
Alone in your secluded dwelling place?

The Buddha responded:

I am not stupefied that I lie down,
Nor yet entranced by some poetic flight.
My aim is reached, and sorrow left behind.
I sleep out of compassion for all beings
Alone in my secluded dwelling place.

Māra, hearing this, understood: “The Blessed One knows me, the Sublime One knows me.” Sad and disappointed, he vanished at once.

The Buddha, well after the night of his enlightenment, the night when he cut away the roots of greed, ill will, and delusion for good, when he attained unshakable liberation, still confronted Māra the Evil One. Whether Māra is viewed as a demon that tempts from outside or as that psychological aspect of our minds that tempts from within, it is significant that this confrontation took place. Even Buddhas must stand face-to-face with the same worldly and psychological affairs that everyone else has to deal with.

One difference between Buddhas and everyone else is in how they deal with Māra. When we confront our own version of Māra with our Buddha-mind and Buddha-heart, that is Buddha-action. When we give in to greed, ill will, and delusion, we become Māra.

May our practice bring clarity and insight into our lives so that we may respond as Buddhas to all that arises, hangs around, and passes away!

(Note: Devadatta’s attempts to take over the Sangha and kill the Buddha are related in Bhikkhu Nānamoli’s The Life of the Buddha, chapter 13. The quotes above can be found on page 262 in that chapter. The idea of becoming Māra was suggested in a recent comment from Barry Briggs (thank you!).)

4 thoughts on “Confronting Māra in Old Age”

  1. I recently read the words of a modern teacher (can’t remember the name of the teacher, nor can I quote exactly):

    Buddhism is not about changing our minds, but changing how we experience our minds.

  2. Later thought: Does this story mean that, when faced with strong emotions, the Buddha went to sleep?

    If so, I’m gonna try that the next time my wife and I get into it!

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