Generally regarded as the personification of Death, the Evil One, the Tempter
(the Buddhist counterpart of the Devil or Principle of Destruction). The legends
concerning Māra are, in the books, very involved and defy any attempts at
unravelling them. In the latest accounts, mention is made of five Māras
- Khandha Māra,
- Kilesa Māra,
- Abhisankhāra Māra,
- Maccu Māra and
- Devaputta Māra
as shown in the following quotations: pañcannam pi Mārānam vijayato jino
(ThagA.iii.16); sabbāmittehi khandha-kilesā-bhisankhāramaccudeva-puttasankhāte,
sabbapaccatthike (ThagA.iii.46); sankhepato vā
pañcakilesa-khandhābhi-sankhāra-devaputta-maccumāre abhañji, tasmā . . . bhagavā
ti vuccati (Vsm.211).
Elsewhere, however, Māra is spoken of as one, three, or four. Where Māra is
one, the reference is generally either to the
kilesas or to Death. Thus:
- Mārenāti kilesamārena (ItvA.197);
- Mārassa visaye ti kilesamārassa visaye (ThagA.iii.70);
- jetvāna maccuno senam vimokkhena anāvaran ti lokattayābhibyāpanato
diyaddhasahassādi vibhāgato ca vipulattā aññehi avāritum patisedhetum
asakkuneyyattā ca maccuno, Mārassa, senam vimokkhena ariyamaggena jetvā
- Mārāsenā ti ettha satte anatthe niyojento māretīti Māro (UdA.325);
- nihato Māro bodhimūle ti vihato samucchinno kilesamāro bodhirukkhamūle (Netti
- vasam Mārassa gacchatīti kilesamārassa ca sattamārassa (?) ca vasam gacchi
(Netti, p. 86);
- tato sukhmnataram Mārabandhanan ti kilesabandhanam pan' etam tato
- Māro māro ti maranam pucchati, māradhammo ti maranadhammo (SA.ii.246).
It is evidently with this same significance that the term Māra, in the older
books, is applied to the whole of the worldly existence, the five khandhas, or
the realm of rebirth, as opposed to Nibbāna.
Thus Māra is defined:
- at CNid. (No. 506) as kammābhisankhāravasena patisandhiko kandhamāro
- And again: Māro Māro ti bhante vuccati katamo nu kho bhante Māro ti? Rūpam
kho, Rādha, Māro, vedanāmāro, saññāmāro, sankhāramāro viññānam Māro
- yo kho Rādha Māro tatra chando pahātabbo. Ko ca Rādha Māro? Rūpam kho
Rādha Māro . . . pe . . . vedanāmāro. Tatra kho Rādha chando pahātabbo
- sa upādiyamāno kho bhikku baddho Mārassa, anupadiyamāno mutto pāpimāto
- evam sukhumam kho bhikkhave, Vepacittibandhanam; tato sukhumataram
mārabandhanam; maññamāno kho bhikkhave baddho Mārassa, amaññamāno mutto
- labhati Māro otāram, labhati Māro Ārammanam (S.iv.85);
- santi bhikkhave cakkhuviññeyyarūpā ... pe . . . tañ ce bhikkhu abhinandati
. . . pe . . . ayam vuccati bhikkhave bhikkhu Āvāsagato Mārassa, Mārassa vasam,
- dhunātha maccuno senam nalāgāram va kuñjaro ti paññindriyassa padathānam (Netti,
- rūpe kho Rādha sati Māro vā assa māretā vā yo vā pana mīyati. Tasmā he
tvam Rādha rūpam māro ti passa māretā ti passa mīyatīti passa ... ye nam evam
passanti te sammā passanti (S.iii.189);
- Mārasamyogan ti tebhūmakavattam (SnA..ii.506).
The Commentaries also speak of three Māras:
- bodhipallanke tinnam Mārānam matthakam bhinditvā (DA.ii.659);
- aparājitasanghan ti ajj' eva tayo Māre madditvā vijitasangānam matthakam
madditvā anuttaram sammāsambodhim abhisambuddho (CNidA. p. 47).
In some cases the three Māras are specified:
- yathayidam bhikkhave mārabalan ti yathā idam devaputtamāra maccumāra
kilesamārānam balam appasaham durabhisambhavam (DA.iii.858);
- maccuhāyino ti maranamaccu kilesamccu devaputtamaccu hāyino, tividham pi
tam maccum hitvā gāmino ti vuttam hoti (SnA..ii.508; cp. MA.ii.619);
- na lacchati Māro otāram, Māro ti devaputtmāro pi maccumāro pi kilesamāro
but elsewhere five are mentioned e.g.,
- ariyamaggakkhane kilesamāro abhisahkhāramāro, devaputtamāro ca carimaka
cittakkhane khandhamāro maccumāro ti pañcavidhamāro abhibhūto parājito
Very occasionally four Māras are mentioned:
- catunnam Mārānam matthakam madditvā anuttaram sammāsambodhim
abhisamabuddho (MNid. 129);
- indakhīlopamo catubbidhamāraparavādiganehi akampiyatthena (SnA..i.201);
- Mārasenam sasenam abhibhuyyāti kilesasenāya anantasenāya ca sasenam
anavasittham, catubbidham pi māram abhibhavitvā devaputtamārassā pi hi
gunamārane sahāyabhāvūpagamanato kilesā senā ti vuccanti (ItvA.136).
The last quotation seems to indicate that the four Māras are the five Māras
less Devaputta Māra.
A few particulars are available about Devaputta Māra:
- Māro ti Vasavattibhūmiyam aññataro dāmarikadevaputto. So hi tam thānam
atikkamitukāmam janam yam na sakkoti tam māreti, yam na sakkoti tassa pi
maranam icchati, tenā Māro ti vuccati (SnA..i.44);
- Māro yeva pana sattasankhātāya pajāya adhipatibhāvena idha Pajāpatīti
adhippeto. So hi kuhim vasatīti? Paranimmittavasavattidevaloke. Tatra hi
Vasavattirājā rajjam kāreti. Māro ekasmim padese attano parisāya issariyam
pavattento rajjapaccante dāmarikarājapittto viya vasatī ti vadanti (MA.i.28);
- so hi Māro opapātiko kāmāvacarissaro, kadāci brahmapārisajjānampi kāye
adhimuccitum samattho (Jinālankāra Tīkā, p.217).
In view of the many studies of Māra by various scholars, already existing, it
might be worth while here, too, to attempt a theory of Māra in Buddhism, based
chiefly on the above data. The commonest use of the word was evidently in the
sense of Death. From this it was extended to mean "the world under the sway of
death" (also called Māradheyya - e.g., A.iv.228) and the beings therein.
Thence, the kilesas also came to be called Māra in that they were instruments of
Death, the causes enabling Death to hold sway over the world. All Temptations
brought about by the kilesas were likewise regarded as the work of Death. There
was also evidently a legend of a devaputta of the Vasavatti world, called Māra,
who considered himself the head of the Kāmāvacara world and who recognized any
attempt to curb the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, as a direct challenge to
himself and to his authority. As time went on these different conceptions of the
word became confused one with the other, but this confusion is not always
difficult to unravel.
Various statements are found in the Pitakas connected with Māra, which have,
obviously, reference to Death, the kilesas, and the world over which Death and
the kilesas hold sway. Thus:
- Those who can restrain the mind and check its propensities can escape the
snares of Māra (Dhp. Yamaka, vs. 7).
- He who delights in objects cognizant to the eye, etc., has gone under
Māra's sway (S.iv.91).
- He who has attachment is entangled by Māra (S.iii.73).
- Māra will overthrow him who is unrestrained in his senses, immoderate in
his food, idle and weak (Dhp. Yamaka, vs. 8).
- By attaining the Noble Eightfold Path one can be free from Māra (Dhp. vs.
- The Samyutta (i. 135) records a conversation between Māra and Vajirā. She
has attained arahantship, and tells Māra: "There is no satta here who can come
under your control; there is no being but a mere heap of sankhāras (suddhasankhārarapuñja).
The later books, especially the Nidānakathā of the Jātaka Commentary
(J.i.71ff.; cp. MA.i.384) and the Buddhavamsa Commentary (p. 239f), contain a
very lively and detailed description of the temptation of the Buddha by Māra, as
the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree immediately before his Enlightenment. These
accounts describe how Māra, the devaputta, seeing the Bodhisatta seated, with
the firm resolve, of becoming a Buddha, summoned all his forces and advanced
against him. These forces extended to a distance of twelve yojanas to the front
of the Bodhisatta, twelve to the back, and nine each to the right and to the
left. Māra himself, thousand armed, rode on his elephant, Girimekhala, one
hundred and fifty leagues in height. His followers assumed various fearsome
shapes and were armed with dreadful weapons. At Māra's approach, all the various
Devas, Nāgas and others, who were gathered round the Bodhisatta singing his
praises and paying him homage, disappeared in headlong flight. The Bodhisatta
was left alone, and he called to his assistance the ten
pārami which he had practiced to
Māra's army is described as being tenfold, and each division of the army is
described, in very late accounts (especially in Singhalese books), with great
wealth of detail. Each division was faced by the Buddha with one pāramī and was
put to flight. Māra's last weapon was the Cakkāvudha (??). But when he hurled it
at the Buddha it stood over him like a canopy of flowers. Still undaunted, Māra
challenged the Buddha to show that the seat on which he sat was his by right.
Māra's followers all shouted their evidence that the seat was Māra's. The
Buddha, having no other witness, asked the Earth to bear testimony on his
behalf, and the Earth roared in response. Māra and his followers fled in utter
rout, and the Devas and others gathered round the Buddha to celebrate his
victory. The sun set on the defeat of Māra. This, in brief, is the account of
the Buddha's conquest of Māra, greatly elaborated in later chronicler, and
illustrated in countless Buddhist shrines and temples with all the wealth of
riotous colour and fanciful imagery that gifted artists could command.
That this account of the Buddha's struggle with Māra is literally true, none
but the most ignorant of the Buddhists believe, even at the present day. The
Buddhist point of view has been well expressed by Rhys Davids (Article on Buddha
in the Ency. Brit.). We are to understand by the attack of Māra's forces, that
all the Buddha's
"old temptations came back upon him with renewed force. For years he had
looked at all earthly good through the medium of a philosophy which had taught
him that it, without exception, carried within itself the seeds of bitterness
and was altogether worthless and impermanent; but now, to his wavering faith,
the sweet delights of home and love, the charms of wealth and power, began to
show themselves in a different light and glow again with attractive colours.
He doubted and agonized in his doubt, but as the sun set, the religious side
of his nature had won the victory and seems to have come out even purified
from the struggle."
There is no need to ask, as does Thomas, with apparently great suspicion
(Thomas, op. cit., 230), whether we can assume that the elaborators of the Māra
story were recording "a subjective experience under the form of an objective
reality," and did they know or think that this was the real psychological
experience which the Buddha went through? The living traditions of the Buddhist
countries supply the adequate answer, without the aid of the rationalists. The
epic nature of the subject gave ample scope for the elaboration so dear to the
hearts of the Pāli rhapsodists.
The similar story among Jains, as recorded in their commentarial works -
e.g., in the Uttarādhyayana Sūtra (ZDMG. vol. 49 (1915), 321ff ) - bears
no close parallelism to the Buddhist account, but only a faint resemblance.
There is no doubt that the Māra legend had its origin in the
Padhāna Sutta. There Māra is represented as
visiting Gotama on the banks of the Nerañjarā,
where he is practicing austerities and tempting him to abandon his striving and
devote himself to good works. Gotama refers to Māra's army as being tenfold. The
divisions are as follows:
- the first consists of the Lusts;
- the second is Aversion;
- the third Hunger and Thirst;
- the fourth Craving;
- the fifth Sloth and Indolence;
- the sixth Cowardice;
- the seventh Doubt;
- the eighth Hypocrisy and Stupidity;
- Gains, Fame, Honour and Glory falsely obtained form the ninth; and
- the tenth is the Lauding of oneself and the Contemning of others.
Mara's 3 daughters:
Tanhā, Arati and Ragā,
Miss Craving, Miss Dislike and Miss Lust!
"Seeing this army on all sides," says the Buddha, "I go forth to meet Māra
with his equipage (savāhanam). He shall not make me yield ground. That army of
thine, which the world of devas and men conquers not, even that, with my wisdom,
will I smite, as an unbaked earthen bowl with a stone." Here we have practically
all the elements found in the later elaborated versions.
The second part of the Padhāna Sutta (Sn. vs. 446f.; cf. S. i.122) is
obviously concerned with later events in the life of Gotama, and this the
Commentary (SnA..ii.391) definitely tells us. After Māra had retired discomfited,
he followed the Buddha for seven years, watching for any transgression on his
part. But the quest was in vain, and, "like a crow attacking a rock," he left
Gotama in disgust. "The lute of Māra, who was so overcome with grief, slipped
from his arm. Then, in dejection, the Yakkha disappeared thence." This lute,
according to the Commentary (SnA..ii.394), was picked up by
Sakka and given to
Pañcasikha. Of this part of the Sutta, more anon.
The Samyutta Nikāya (S.i.124f.; given also at Lal. 490 (378); cp. A.v.46; see
also DhA.iii.195f ) also contains a sutta ("Dhītaro" Sutta) in which three
daughters of Māra are represented as tempting the Buddha after his
Enlightenment. Their names are Tanhā,
Arati and Ragā, and
they are evidently personifications of three of the ten forces in Māra's army,
as given in the Padhāna Sutta. They assume numerous forms of varying age and
charm, full of blandishment, but their attempt is vain, and they are obliged to
Once Māra came to be regarded as the Spirit of Evil all temptations of lust,
fear, greed, etc., were regarded as his activities, and Māra was represented as
assuming various disguises in order to carry out his nefarious plans. Thus the
books mention various occasions on which Māra appeared before the Buddha himself
and his disciples, men and women, to lure them away from their chosen path.
Soon after the Buddha's first vassa, Māra approached him and asked him not to
teach the monks regarding the highest emancipation, he himself being yet bound
by Māra's fetters. But the Buddha replied that he was free of all fetters, human
and divine (Vin.i.22).
On another occasion Māra entered into the body of
Vetambarī and made him utter heretical
doctrines. (S.i.67; cp. DhA.iv.141, where Māra asks the Buddha about the further
In the Brahmanimantanika Sutta
(M.i.326) Māra is spoken of as entering the hearts even of the inhabitants, of
the Brahma world).
The Māra Samyutta (S.i.103ff ) contains several instances of Māra's
temptations of the Buddha by assailing him with doubts as to his emancipation,
feelings of fear and dread, appearing before him in the shape of an elephant, a
cobra, in various guises beautiful and ugly, making the rocks of Gijjhakūta fall
with a crash; by making him wonder whether he should ever sleep; by suggesting
that, as human life was long, there was no need for haste in living the good
life; by dulling the intelligence of his hearers (E.g., at Ekasalā; cf. Nigrodha
and his fellow Paribbājakas, D.iii.58).
Once, when the Buddha was preaching to the monks, Māra came in the guise of a
bullock and broke their bowls, which were standing in the air to dry; on another
occasion he made a great din so that the minds of the listening monks were
distracted. Again, when the Buddha went for alms to Pañcasālā, he entered into
the brahmin householders and the Buddha had to return with empty bowl. Māra
approached the Buddha on his return and tried to persuade him to try once more;
this was, says the Commentary, a ruse, that he might inspire insult and injury
in addition to neglect. But the Buddha refused, saying that he would live that
day on pīti, like the Abhassara gods. The
incident is related at length in SA.i.140f. and DhA.iii.257f.; the Commentaries
(e.g., Sp.i.178f.) state that the difficulty experienced by the Buddha and his
monks in obtaining food at Verañja was also due
to the machinations of Māra.
Again, as the Buddha was preaching to the monks on Nibbāna, Māra came in the
form of a peasant and interrupted the sermon to ask if anyone had seen his oxen.
His desire was to make the cares of the present life break in on the calm and
supramundane atmosphere of the discourse on Nibbāna. On another occasion he
tempted the Buddha with the fascination of exercising power that he might rescue
those suffering from the cruelty of rulers. Once, at the Sākyan village of
Sīlavatī, he approached the monks who were bent on study, in the shape of a very
old and holy brahmin, and asked them not to abandon the things of this life, in
order to run after matters involving time. In the same village, he tried to
frighten Samiddhi away from his meditations. Samiddhi sought the Buddha's help
and went back and won arahantship. (Cp. the story of Nandiya Thera. Buddhaghosa
says (DA.iii.864) that when Sūrambattha, after listening to a sermon of the
Buddha, had returned home, Māra visited him there in the guise of the Buddha and
told him that what he (the Buddha) had preached to him earlier was false.
Sūrambattha, though surprised, could not be shaken in his faith, being a
sotāpanna). Māra influenced Godhika to commit suicide and tried to frighten
Rāhula in the guise of a huge elephant. (DhA.iv.69f ). In the account of
Godhika's suicide (S.i.122) there is a curious statement that, after Godhika
died, Māra went about looking for his (Godhika's) consciousness (patisandhicitta),
and the Buddha pointed him out to the monks, "going about like a cloud of
smoke." Later, Māra came to the Buddha, like a little child (khuddadārakavannī),
(SA.i.145) holding a vilva lyre of golden color, and he questioned the Buddha
about Godhika. (This probably refers to some dispute which arose among the monks
regarding Godhika's destiny.)
The books mention many occasions on which Māra assumed various forms under
which to tempt bhikkhunīs, often in lonely spots - e.g., Ālavikā,
Kisāgotamī, Somā, Vijayā, Uppalavantnā, Cālā, Upacālā, Sisūpacālā, Selā, Vajirā
and Khemā. To the same category of temptations belongs a story found in late
commentaries (J.i.63): when Gotama was leaving his palace on his journey of
Renunciation, Māra, here called Vasavattī, appeared before him and promised him
the kingdom and the whole world within seven days if he would but turn back.
Māra's temptations were not confined to monks and nuns; he tempted also lay men
and women and tried to lure them from the path of goodness - e.g., in the story
of Dhaniya and his wife. (SnA..i.44; see also J. i.231f).
Mention is made, especially in the Mahā Parinibbāna Sutta, of several
occasions on which Māra approached the Buddha, requesting him to die; the first
of these occasions was under the Ajapala Banyan tree at Uruvelā, soon after the
Enlightenment, but the Buddha refused to die until the sāsana was firmly
established. Can it be that here we have the word Māra used in the sense of
physical death (Maccumāra), and that the occasions referred to were those on
which the Buddha felt the desire to die, to pass away utterly, to "lay down the
burden"? Perhaps they were moments of physical fatigue, when he lay at death's
door, for we know (see Gotama) that the six years he spent in austerities made
inroads on his health and that he suffered constantly from muscular cramp,
digestive disorders and headache. (It is true that in the Mahāsaccaka Sutta
(M.i.240ff.), which contains an account of the events leading up to the
Enlightenment, there is no mention whatsoever of any temptation by Mara, nor is
there any mention of the Bodhi tree. But to argue from this, that such events
did not form part of the original story, might be to draw unwarranted inferences
from an argumentum e silentio.) At Beluvagāma, shortly before he finally decided
to die, we are told (D.ii.99; cp. Dvy. 203) that "there fell upon him a dire
sickness, and sharp pains came upon him even unto death." But the Buddha
conquered the disease by a strong effort of his will because he felt it would
not be right for him to die without addressing his followers and taking leave of
the Order. Compare with this Māra's temptation of the Buddha at Maddakucchi
(q.v.), when he laid suffering from severe pain after the wounding of his foot
by a splinter. It may have been the physical weariness, above referred to, which
at first made the Buddha reluctant to take upon himself the great exertions
which the propagation of his Dhamma would involve (e.g., Vin.i.4f). We know of
other arahants who actually committed suicide in order to escape being worried
by physical ills - e.g., Godhika, Vakkali, Channa. When their suicide was
reported to the Buddha, he declared them free from all blame.
Can it be, further, that with the accounts of Māra, as the personification of
Evil, came to be mixed legends of an actual devaputta, named Māra, also called
Vasavatti, because he was an inhabitant of the Paranimmita Vasavatti deva world?
Already in the Anguttara Nikāya, Māra is described (aggo Ādhipateyyānam iddhiyā
yasasā jalam) as the head of those enjoying bliss in the Kāmāvacara worlds and
as a dāmarika devaputta (as mentioned earlier). A.ii.17. Even after the Buddha's
death Māra was regarded as wishing to obstruct good works. Thus, at the
enshrinement of the Buddha's relics in the Mahā Thūpa, Indagutta Thera (by
supernatural power) made a parasol of copper to cover the universe, in order
that it might ward off the attentions of Māra (Mhv.Xxxi.85).
Can it be that ancient legends represented him as looking on with disfavour
at the activities of the Buddha? Buddhaghosa says (MA.i.533) that Māradevaputta,
having dogged the Buddha's footsteps for seven years, and having found no fault
in him, came to him and worshipped him. Is it, then, possible that some of the
conversations, which the Buddha is reported to have had with Māra - e.g.,
in the second part of the Padhāna Sutta (see above) were originally
ascribed to a real personage, designated as Māradevaputta, and later confused
with the allegorical Māra? This suggestion gains strength from a remark found in
the Māratajjaniya Sutta (M.i.333; cp. D.iii.79) uttered by Moggallāna, that he
too had once been a Māra, Dūsī by name; Kālā was his sister's name, and the Māra
of the present age was his nephew. In the sutta, Dūsī is spoken of as having
been responsible for many acts of mischief, similar to those ascribed to the
Māra of Gotama's day. According to the sutta, Māradevaputta was evidently
regarded as a being of great power, with a strong bent for mischief, especially
directed against holy men. This suggestion is, at all events, worthy of further
investigation. See also Mārakāyikā deva.
Māra bears many names in Pāli Literature, chief of them being Kanha, Adhipati,
Antaka, Namuci and Pamattabandhu. (MNid.ii.489; for their explanation see
MNidA.328; another name of Māra was Pajāpati, MA.i.28). His usual standing
epithet is pāpimā, but other words are also used, such as anatthakāma, ahitakāma,
and ayogakkhemakāma (E.g., M.i.118).
Māra is called Namuci because none can escape him Namucī ti Māro;
so hi attano visayā nikkhamitukāme devamanusse na muñcati antarāyam tesam karoti
tasma Namucī ti vuccati (SnA..ii.386). In the Mahāsamaya Sutta, Namuci is
mentioned among the Asuras as being present in the assembly. D.ii.259; elsewhere
in the same sutta (p. 261f.) it is said that when all the devas and others had
assembled to hear the Buddha preach, Mara came with his "swarthy host" and
attempted to blind the assembly with thoughts of lust, etc. But the Buddha,
seeing him, warned his followers against him and Māra had to depart
unsuccessful. At the end of the sutta, four lines are traditionally ascribed to
Māra. They express admiration of the Buddha and his followers. In this sutta
Māra is described as mahāsena (having a large army).
The Commentary explains (DA.ii.689) that Namuci refers to Māradevaputta and
accounts for his presence among the Asuras by the fact that he was
temperamentally their companion (te pi acchandikā abhabbā, ayam pi tādiso yeva,
tasmā dhātuso samsandamāno Āgato). Buddhaghosa says (SA.i.133; cp. MNidA. 328)
that Māra is so called because he destroys all those who seek to evade him
attano visayam atikkamitum patipanne satte māreti ti Māro; he is called
Vasavatti (SA.i.158) because he rules all Māro nāma vasavattī
sabesam upari vasam vattati.
Kālī (Kālā) is the mother of Māra of the present age. See Kālī (4).