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Mra: The Depiction of the Monstrous in Buddhist Literature

C. D. Sebastian Key Words: Buddhism, Defilement, Devil, Evil, Mra, Namuci, Sin and Temptation. Prologue The large collection of Buddhist literature depicts the monstrous plentifully, and it is called as Mra or Namuci. The word Mra is derived from the Sanskrit root m which means to die. It may be taken to mean misery, misfortune or evil. Mra is also called Namuci in Buddhist literature. Namuci means the non-releaser in Pli, because as the personification of death Namuci (Mra) allows none to escape from his clutches. Namuci is mentioned as an Asura (demon) in the gveda.1 Mra has been identified with the ancient symbols of Death, Yama, Mtyu, etc., as the name evidently means the slayer. There can be little doubt that the figure of Mra comes from the Brhmaic legend of Death the wicked (Mtyu-ppm), and there is the legend of fights of gods with monsters, like Indra with Namuci or Mra.2 The figure of Mra was adopted from the Brhmaic mythology, but his character was changed. In the Buddhist literature he is not merely the god of death, but lord of the realm of sense. Mra is the personification of Sin, Evil, Desire and Temptation in the Buddhist literature. Mra in Buddhist Mythology Mra is an important figure in the mythology of the Buddhists. He is the Buddhist devil. Technically a god (deva), Mra is the enemy of the Buddha and constantly tries to disrupt his teaching in order to prevent the beings reaching nirva where they would be beyond his clasp. He makes two main appearances in Buddhas life: one just before Buddha

attained enlightenment and the other shortly before his death. On the first instance of his appearance in Buddhas life, accompanied by his daughters he tries to tempt and frighten the Buddha, but he could not succeed. On the second instance he tries to persuade Buddha to pass away into parinirva, but Buddha delays his passing for a time. Mra, as stated above, is an important figure in the Buddhist mythology. He appears as a living, active and mischievous imp or celestial being in the Pli texts. For instance, we see in the Mahparinibbna Sutta Buddha telling his dear disciple Ananda that Mra has frequent assembly.3 We see also in the same Sutta that Mra tempting Buddha to pass way from the world.4 Further we see in the Mra Samyutta, Mra and Buddha debate on whether the possessions are sources of joy and grief,5 Mra taunting Buddha as the latter is resting after an attempt on his life,6 Mra proclaiming his dominion over the sensory world, but Buddha explaining that he (Buddha) dwells in the one place that Mra can never go,7 and Mra, seeing that Buddha has developed the four bases of power (iddhipada),8 tries to persuade him to give up the monk's life and become a righteous and powerful world ruler.9 We see also in Bhikkhuni Samyutta that Mra tempts the nuns by asking questions to confuse them in the disguise of a man.10 These instances show that Mra is depicted as a living and active imp in the Pli texts. This is his personal aspect, a mythological being with a distinct individuality. Mra as a Symbol of Evil There is also an impersonal aspect of Mra, which in many passages, is merely regarded as a symbol of Evil, Sin, Desire and Temptation. He then belongs more to the realm of Allegory than of Myth. In Buddhist Sanskrit literature too Mra has personal and impersonal aspects. However, the personal aspect of Mra is not so important in the later Buddhist literature, as his figure gets resolved into the abstract idea of Evil.11 Mras three daughters are allegorical through

and through and not mythical creatures at all, for they are named Tah or T (Craving), Arat (Aversion, Discontent, Unrest) and Rag or Rat (Sensual Delight, Lust, Attachment). More abstractly, Mra whose name means literally death symbolizes all that is connected with the realm of birth and rebirth (samsra) and opposed to nirva. There are said to be four forms 12 of Mra: 1) Mra of the aggregates (skandha-mra) or Mra as a symbol of human mortality; 2) Mra as the Lord of Death (mtyu-mra); 3) Mra as the vices and moral defilements (klea-mra); and 4) the gods in the entourage of Mra (deva-putra-mra). Among these four forms of Mra, the first three are identified with the principles of Individuality (Skandha-Mra), Transiency (Mtyu-Mra) and Sin or Passion (Klea-Mra). In such references, the impersonal and allegorical aspect of Mra is emphasized, and the personal and mythical aspect gets entirely ignored. In the Buddhist Sanskrit literature, one might find Mra getting more allegorical prominence. Mra represents all that is detrimental to progress towards enlightenment. He is depicted as the god of Lust (kma-deva or manmatha)13 and also most frequently associated with klea (sin, evil, moral corruption and defilement). 14 As stated above, the personal aspect of Mra is not very important in the later Buddhist literature. Mra stands for an abstract idea of Evil. The concept of klea (sin or defilement) or klea-mra is mentioned abundantly in the later Buddhist literature. All the kleas (defilements) could be summarized into the three main vices of rga, dvea, and moha. Sometimes these three are also explained in terms of the five deprivations of attachment/passion (rga), aggression/hatred (dvea), ignorance or infatuation (moha), pride and jealousy. However, jealousy is rooted in dvea and pride in moha. Thus all the defilements and deprivations could be summarized into these

three main vices.15 These vices, namely, rga, dvea and moha are the foundation of the deeds of the body, speech and mind.16 In the Buddhist Sanskrit literature, as said earlier, the impersonal Mra (allegorically) gets a clear treatment. ntideva in his iksamuccaya enumerates clearly several of the Mra-deeds, which are also termed as the hooks of Mra (mra-ankua).17 They are lack interest and earnestness in study and discipline, dissensions and strife, anxiety for the wellbeing of ones dear ones/relatives, conflict between teachers and students, indifference to spiritual discipline and practice among the monks and nuns, and unbecoming behaviour, all are the works of Mra (mrakarmi).18 These could be overcome by the practice of selfcontrol. The well known army of Mra stands allegorically for different vices, evils and errors humans have in their psyche or life like lust, aversion, craving, pride, anger, hatred, fear, doubt, hypocrisy, vain glory, self-praise, craving for fame and name, envy and malice.19 They are the personified fetters of that every disciple of Buddha must break in his/her fight with Mra, the lord of the senses. That is why the Dhammapada says: Fight Mra with the weapon of wisdom.20 These are forms of enduring evil. These are the monsters and the monstrous in human beings which perpetuate evil in the society. The metaphorical interpretations make it clear that the real battle is not with outward mythological monsters but with the emotions and passions one finds within oneself; for, Buddhism is a religion of here and now. Mra is often interpreted to symbolize the mental afflictions that cause suffering, especially the principle afflictions of greed, anger, and stupidity. All the mental defilements (klea) are so called because they pollute the mind (cittopakleant cittakleakrat). The term klea means something like

affliction, in the sense of disturbances of the mind. The outburst of dormant passions is called Paryavasthna in the Abhidharmakoa. There are ten Paryavasthnas, namely, hrkya (lack of moral shame), anapatrpya (lack of moral dread), ry (envy), mtsarya (avarice), auddhatya (dissipation), kauktya (regret), styna (torpor), middha (languor), krodha (anger), and mka (hypocrisy).21 They are mental defilements or vices. They are negative psychological tendencies. They could be got rid of only by wisdom and mediation.22 Thus, Buddhism, as a discipline, permeates into philosophy, religion and even psychology. The struggle between the Bodhisattva23 and Mra which we find the Buddhist literature is an allegory, like other similar stories of sin and temptation. But the Bodhisattva does not succumb to any sin and temptation thanks to his freedom from passion and lust, and Mra, the monstrous, the enduring evil, gets defeated. Epilogue: Overcoming the Monstrous We live in a world where there is much unhappiness, discontent, misery and pain. The same fact had been taught by Buddha, the Enlightened One in his first Noble Truth that sarvam dukham dukham. Seventy million human beings have been uprooted, enslaved, or killed in the twentieth century alone. Albert Camus made this estimate when he published The Rebel in 1951. What figure should have been that by the close of twentieth century, we do not know. Further, we encounter undeserved suffering of the innocents, grinding poverty, and irrational acts of violence. Like a Buddhist in his outlook, Jonathan Glover, an Oxford philosopher, argues that we must not only reflect on what has happened in the last century, but also need to look hard and clearly at some monsters inside us and to consider ways and means of caging and taming them.24 This is possible through the cultivation of social emotions, which has a significant place in Buddhism, particularly in Mahyna Buddhism.

Buddhism always emphasized an active life emanating from contemplation. After his enlightenment, Buddha continued his religious life doing good to all beings. He urged his monks to do the same.25 Buddha had exhorted his disciples to go around the world and preach the truth for the welfare and liberation of the people, as he loved his fellow creatures and had compassion for them. Ones actions should come from the meditative life of self-evaluation. In Buddhist literature, we find that we are asked to reflect and examine our thoughts, words, and deeds (manas, vc, karma). One cultivates good qualities to get rid of the enduring evil in oneself by a constant meditation on the sublime states of life. In the Buddhist literatures we find a set of four virtues of life which is called mysteriously Brahma-vihras or the Stations of Brahma,26 namely, Love or Friendliness (Maitr), Compassion (Karu), Sympathetic Joy (Mudit), and Equanimity or Impartiality (Upek or Upekkh).27 This set of four virtues is meant to eradicate the enduring evil in us. These four states are for ones personal, psychological and spiritual growth as well. Buddhism, as said earlier, gives importance to ones life here and now. This worldly life is very important (samvti). It does not believe that our relations to others can safely be entrusted to either chance (fate) or god. If they are left to fate or chance, the weeds of the malice natural to the human race would soon choke the frail wheat of a hard-won benevolence. If they are governed by god, then complete aloofness would proceed. One has to take responsibility for ones and actions and life here and now and live it fully both for oneself and for others. In practicing Mett/Maitr (friendliness/loving-kindness), we meditate May all be happy. In cultivating Karu (compassion), we meditate: May all be free from miseries. For exercising mudit, we rejoice on the prosperity of beings and meditate: May their gain be with them for a long time. In practicing upekkh or upek, we maintain a balanced mind

and meditate: All beings are as they are conditioned by their kamm. Anyone who is pervading the whole world with loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity/impartiality is said to be living in the sublime abode or Brahm abode. So the four states are also known as Brahma-vihra, which would imply sublime modes of living. NOTES
Yuvam surmam avin namucv-sure sac. Rgveda X. 131. 4. Sutta Nipta: 439. 3 Now there are eight kinds of assemblies, nanda, that is to say, assemblies of nobles, brahmans, householders, ascetics, of the Four Great Kings, of the Thirty-three gods, of Mras, and of Brahmas. Mahparinibbna Sutta III. 22. 4 Mahparinibbna Sutta III. 7 8 (And when the Venerable nanda had gone away, Mra, the Evil One, approached the Blessed One. And standing at one side he spoke to the Blessed One, saying: "Now, O Lord, let the Blessed One come to his final passing away; let the Happy One utterly pass away! The time has come for the Parinibbna of the Lord.). 5 Nandana Sutta (Samyutta Nikya IV. 8) 6 Sakalika Sutta (Samyutta Nikya IV. 13) 7 Kassaka Sutta (Samyutta Nikya IV. 19) 8 There are four forms of iddhi power mentioned in the Buddhist literature: materialization, invisibility, thought transference and anesthesia, raising the bodily temperature, etc. 9 Rajja Sutta (Samyutta Nikya IV. 20) 10 Bhikkhuni Sutta (Samyutta Nikya V. 1 10) 11 Har Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1932), 308. 12 Damien Keown, A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 173. 13 Buddha Carita XIII. 2 (Avaghoas Buddha Carita, E. B. Cowell (Ed) (Oxford: 1893). 14 Daa-bhmika-stra 53. 18. 15 C. D. Sebastian, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Mahayana Buddhism (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 2005), 203-204. 16 Ratnagotra-vibhgo Mahynottaratantra stram I. 12. 17 iksamuccaya 49-51. 18 For details see Har Dayal, 310.
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Sutta Nipta: 436. Dhammapada: 40. 21 Sukomal Chaudhari, Analytical Study of the Abhidharmakoa (Calcutta: Calcutta Sanskrit College Research Series Publications, 1976), 168. 22 Abhidharma Koa V. 52-53. 23 The word Bodhisattva means one whose being (sattva) is knowledge or wisdom (bodhi = enlightenment). Knowledge here is the ultimate knowledge, the highest and has ontological significance like the Logos. The concept of the Bodhisattva has to do with the finest title and noblest role to which any Buddhist can aspire. A Bodhisattva is one who will certainly become a Buddha (literally means An Enlightened One), as the state of being enlightened is essential to the concept. Whereas for the Theravda tradition, the term bodhisatta applies to the previous lives of Siddhartha Gautama as recorded in the Jtakas, for the Mahyana tradition the term Bodhisattva refers to those who are constantly active in the service of all beings. Out of the great compassion for the sentient beings, a Bodhisattva makes the vow to help and liberate all and descends to the level of sentient beings. Every human being monks and lay men can place before him the goal to become a Bodhisattva, which means an enlightened being who receives the supreme illumination and brings liberation to all mankind. The Bodhisattva ideal is a unique concept, which we see only in Buddhism. For details see C. D. Sebastian, The Bodhisattva Ideal in Mahyna Buddhism, Jnanatirtha: International Journal of scared Scriptures, 4 (2004), 134-146. 24 Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 7. 25 Caratha bhikkhave crikam bahu-jana-hitya bahu-jana-sukhya loknukampya atthya hitya sukhya deva-manussnam. The Vinaya I. 21. 26 Visuddhimagga chapter 9, 105 106 (Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghoa, C.A.F. Rhys Davids (Ed), 2 Vols., London: Pali Text Society, 1920 -21). 27 For a detailed account on the four Brahma-vihras see C. D. Sebastian, The Four Brahmavihras of Buddhism: The Cardinal virtues, Jnanatirtha: International Journal of Scared Scriptures, 6 (2006): 25-35.