Subduing Mara

Short Talks From Venerable Master Chin Kung

There is a proverb that says, “The road to ac complishing good deeds is often strewn with set backs.” It is also said that, “As virtue raises one foot, vice raises ten”. Maras are the obstacles that hinder us from obtaining true happiness in life and from achieving Enlightenment. Thus, we need to find a way to overcome and solve these problems. 

In the Eight Aspects to Enlightenment Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni explained that we overcome Maras not from the outside but from within. When Maras came to create trouble, Buddha Shakyamuni did not defend himself. He applied the Three Learnings of self-discipline, deep concentration, and wisdom. Even when female Maras came to seduce him, Buddha Shakyamuni did not avoid the situation, but ap plied the same principles. Thus, we realize that no matter how threatening the situation becomes or how great the obstacles are, all we need to do is to eliminate Maras from within our mind. 

In actuality, there is no Mara or Buddha in the ex ternal environment. As Master Ou-I said, “there is neither good nor bad in the external environment, only within our mind.” How does the bad external environment come about? It is manifested from Maras, the evil thoughts within our mind, which include deviated thoughts and viewpoints, greed, anger and afflictions. These are manifested from our mind, which constantly changes. The outside environment is only a reflection of whatever takes place in the mind. The Buddha taught that, if we overcome Maras within our mind, Maras of the external environment would no longer be an obstacle.

We need to remember that Maras are also sentient beings. As stated in the first verse of the Four Great Universal Vows of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, “Sentient beings are innumerable, we vow to help them all”. How can we refuse to help them? In the sutra of the Eight Enlightenment of Great Beings, Maras are categorized into four groups of Skandhas Maras, Affliction Maras, Death Maras and Heavenly Maras. The first three are related to our self-nature, the Maras within our mind. Only the Heavenly Maras are external. They manifest from within our mind. Ordinary people are not aware of this. When they encounter these Maras, they try to find ways to avoid or defeat them. But this will never solve the problem. To solve it is to neutralize it. 

Our afflictions and deviated thoughts and viewpoints are the root of all Maras. To be rid of these, we first need to have proper thoughts and viewpoints. Second, we need to be rid of afflictions. If we have proper thoughts and viewpoints and are without afflictions, then the external Maras would also become Buddhas. In this way, we would be extensively helping all beings to achieve liberation. To do so, we need to attain deep concentration or samadhi. However, today we are unable to com prehend what samadhi is. Even if we practice meditation or attain some level of concentration, we are unable to differentiate whether it is proper or deviated. This is why all sentient beings in the nine realms, including Sound-Hearers, Pratyekabuddhas and Bodhisattvas, need to rely on the teachings of the Buddha. All the principles and methods we use, and resultant response that arise from our achievements need to correspond with the teachings. If they correspond with the teachings, then they are proper viewpoints and understanding, which is the proper practice and proper perception. This is Samadhi. 

We have read in the sutras that before Buddha Shakyamuni gave a teaching, when someone raised questions, he would first enter the state of Samadhi. Actually, there was no need to do so because he and all Dharma-Body Bodhisattvas are constantly in the state of Samadhi or deep concentration. He only did so to teach us the importance of deep concentration, that to help and educate all beings, we first need to attain concentration. All dharmas arise in the midst of Samadhi. Samadhi is infinitely pro found and vast, a revelation of our self-nature. In the state of Samadhi, we dwell in the state of the One True Dharma Realm, in which no wandering, dis criminatory thoughts and attachments exists. Thus, in this state, there is no differentiation between first or last, big or small, etc. All the relative ideas and phenomena aspects do not exist, and are called the One True Dharma Realm. However, this realm, the reality that the Buddha had attained in the state of Samadhi, is inconceivable to us. For example, it is said that a mustard seed has the capacity to encompass Mt, Sumeru. The size of the seed is not enlarged nor has Mt. Sumeru been reduced in size. How would one squeeze Mt. Sumeru into a mustard seed? The seed is able to hold the mountain because there is no difference in size. Today we are attached to the differentiation of size, believing that something small is unable to hold something large. 

By ridding ourselves of all wandering, discrimina tory thoughts and attachments, we can comprehend that the mustard seed is able to encompass Mt. Sumeru. We need to understand that there is no difference in size, no interior, no exterior, etc. We, as ordinary beings, think in terms of relativity, what scientists call the theory of relativity. It is not real but purely discriminatory thoughts and attachments. What is so remarkable about Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is that they have no discriminatory thoughts nor attachments, no concept of relativity, thus they have no obstacles in their accomplishments, they are not restricted in their abilities. They regard Maras as their past parents and future Buddhas, and treat them with filial piety and respect. 

As long as we still have deviated thoughts and afflictions, we will encounter obstacles in our cultivation. In other words, Maras would constantly sur round us. If we were able to rid ourselves of deviated thoughts and afflictions, Maras would in turn become Buddhas. Whether a Buddha or Mara, lies in one moment of thought. A moment in delusion, Buddha would become a Mara. A moment in awakening, Mara would become a Buddha. Thus, we can see the difference lies within our mind not outside of it. 

When foolish people encounter Maras, they employ Taoists with special abilities to sketch some magic drawings and chant some incantations to get rid of these Maras. Unknowingly to them, this is solving the problem by force. Even if we are able to win this battle and force these Maras to leave, this victory is only temporary. We have not solved the problem because the anger and resentment still continue to exist in Maras’ minds. They will simply wait for an opportunity to seek vengeance. When Maras do return, they will be more powerful than ever and we will end up being defeated. 

Therefore, Buddha Shakyamuni does not use this method to solve the problem. Instead, he used the mind of compassion, sincerity, purity and equality and tolerance to influence and transform Maras and to encourage them to become Buddhas. This bene fit works both ways. Once Maras become Buddhas, they will always be grateful. When we help others to become Buddhas, they will be our protectors and supporters in the Dharma teachings. This is the only way to truly solve our problems. 

To try to handle matters with ignorance would only make the situation worse. Thus, we need to rely on wisdom, and know how precious and important it is. Buddhism seeks to attain wisdom, for only with wisdom can we perfectly and completely solve problems whether of this world or beyond. All of us originate from the same Dharma nature: all beings are one entity. Our nature is ultimately perfect and complete. All phenomena are perfect and complete because they manifest from our self-nature. We need to deeply and firmly believe in the principle that all problems, of this world or beyond, can be solved. If we cannot solve problems, it is because we lack the wisdom and the skill in applying the methods. Therefore, we need to cultivate to attain the true wisdom needed to apply the methods cor rectly, expediently and skillfully. 

Buddha Shakyamuni stated in the sutras that once we become Buddhas, we would see that our surroundings, all sentient and non-sentient beings possess the same innate true wisdom. So the key to solving worldly problems lies within our mind. The Buddha’s teaching are attained from within, not from outside. If we seek the teachings externally, then they are external teaching, which cannot truly solve problems. Only those sought from within can truly solve problems. 

What Buddha Shakyamuni taught is the ultimate perfect method. Therefore, for beginners, it is very important to recite Mahayana sutras, especially for those who have vowed to continue the propagation of the Buddha’s teaching in educating others. Not only do we need to recite the sutras but also to achieve the level to contemplate intuitively the meanings within the sutra texts. We reform our viewpoints in accordance with the teachings in the sutras and achieve the spiritual states from within. 

Buddha Shakyamuni has explained to us the teaching, the principles, the ways of practice and attainment. We need to firmly believe in the teachings, to understand the principles, to put them into practice and to achieve attainment. We achieve the state to receive benefits from true cultivation and also follow the teachings within the sutras to reform our viewpoints and achieve the spiritual states from within. However, the most important aspect is our ability to constantly maintain this state when we interact with others. Once we have this ability, we will no longer be afraid of any kind of Maras and will even be able to help them on the path to Enlightenment. And this is the ultimate perfect solution.