The Story of Buddha and Mara
Today’s guided meditation comes in the form of a story. This is an old story about Buddha and his arch nemesis, Mara. Mara is depicted as the bad guy because he represents everything that makes us suffer. This story is best told in the words of Tich Nhat Hanh, one of the best-known Zen Buddhist teachers. He’s written countless books on meditation and Buddhism, and this story comes directly from his book No Mud, No Lotus.
You can find an audio recording of this reading below, so that you can follow along without hesitation or distraction.
Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes or find a restful gaze. Gently rest your hands in your lap or on your knees. Begin to notice your breath. If you like, you can take a few deep, cleansing breaths here, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
Without further adieu, the story of the Buddha and Mara:
“The Buddha was taking a solo retreat in a cave. His attendant and student, the Venerable Ananda, would go out begging for alms, and upon returning would divide his offerings into two, one part for him and one for the Buddha. One morning as the Buddha was sitting inside the cave in meditation, the Venerable Ananda, sitting outside of the cave, saw someone approaching. Ananda had an inkling that this was someone very familiar. It was Mara!
“Ananda wanted to hide somewhere so that Mara, not seeing anyone, would not approach the cave and disturb the Buddha. But it was too late. Mara walked up to Ananda and asked, ‘Venerable Ananda, is your teacher here?’ Ananda wanted to lie and say, ‘No, the Buddha is not here. The Buddha went to…’ some kind of meeting, conference, or something! But lying is not appropriate for a monk, so he finally said, ‘Why do you ask?’
“Mara said, ‘I want to visit the Buddha.’ Ananda responded rather scornfully, ‘Go away! You’re not a friend of the Buddha. You’re his enemy. Don’t you remember how you tried to discourage the Buddha from awakening under the Bodhi tree and the Buddha defeated you terribly? The Buddha won’t see you.’
“When Mara heard that, he laughed, ‘Ha, ha, ha. Really? Your Buddha has enemies? I thought he said he doesn’t have any enemies. Why is it that he has an enemy now?’
“Ananda was dumbstruck [sp]. So he went into the cave to to ask the Buddha if he wanted to see Mara. Ananda was hoping the Buddha would refuse. But when he heard who was waiting outside, the Buddha said, ‘Mara? Let him in.’ Ananda was really disappointed, but he was obliged to go out and let Mara in.
“When Mara entered, the Buddha stood up and welcome Mara as if he were an old friend. He invited Mara to sit down in a distinguished place and asked Ananda to bring tea and water for Mara to drink. Ananda was really unhappy about it. He would be happy to get tea for the Buddha two hundred times a day. But for Mara, Ananda didn’t want to do it at all. But he went and got tea for Mara, hoping that Buddha and Mara would have a short conversation. In fact, the conversation ended up being very long.
“Buddha and Mara spoke as if they were the best of friends. Buddha said, ‘Mara, how has it been for you? How are you doing?’ Mara said, ‘Not very well.’ ‘What happened?’ the Buddha asked.
“Mara answered, ‘My disciples aren’t listening to me anymore. They used to do everything I told them to, but nowadays they want to rebel. All my generals, all my soldiers, all my disciples, they want to practice mindfulness. They want to practice walking meditation. They want to practice eating in silence. They want to protect the Earth. I don’t know who got to them. Dear Buddha, I’m just so tired of being Mara; I want to be someone else. Don’t think that being Mara is all wild parties, fun, and games.’
“The Buddha laughed. ‘You think being a Buddha is such a lark? Do you know that people say things that I have never said and then they say it is I who said that? They do things that I have never done or encouraged them to do, but they say that I encouraged them to do these things.
“‘I let go of my exalted reputation, my princely position, and an endless availability of sensual pleasures. I abandoned my throne, my beautiful wife and baby, future children, and wealth, all so that I could realize liberation. But now people come to the temple to pray and plead with me to give them all the very things I have renounced! They don’t ask for peace or joy; they just ask for lots of money, power, or for their children to have good grades on their exams.
“‘They build a big house and they say it’s my house. But it’s only a place where people come to pass by and offer food, bananas, sweet rice, and money, so that they can have more money to spend on themselves. They make statues of me and they stick all their money on my body. When they celebrate my birthday, they put my statue up on top of a car and they drive mindlessly through the city while my body rocks from side to side. I didn’t ever want to be riding on a car. So don’t think that being Buddha is lucky. Do you want to exchange places?’
“Ananda was terrified that Mara would agree, but luckily, he didn’t. Then the Buddha said, ‘Mara, you do your job. Do your job the best you can. I’ll do my job. Nothing is easy all the time. I know being Mara is very difficult. But being a Buddha has its difficulties too. Each one of us has to play our part wholeheartedly.’
“Every life has its trials and tribulations. We can navigate them more skillfully when we don’t waste time and energy shooting ourselves with a second arrow–such as dwelling on how much greener the grass in our neighbor’s yard looks, compared to ours.”
You are welcome to stay here in silence for as long as you like. You may wish to take three deep breaths, just as you did in the beginning, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. When you are done, bring your hands to heart centre and bow your head towards your heart. Namaste.
Excerpt from No Mud, No Lotus , by Tich Nhat Hanh. 2014 Parallax Press and Unified Buddhist Church. Pages 49-52.