Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Meditation as War (with Mara)

Pat Macpherson (Wisdom Quarterly)

"Wrath" (vyapada) is negative in Buddhism. Is it ever useful? (

BHAVANA, West Virginia - The editors of Wisdom Quarterly spent the last two weeks on retreat in rural forest meditation cabins. The cicadas, heat lightning, sudden storms, Mothman, and chilly nights, it seemed more like exotic Asia than the back woods of America.

  • Christian stories about Sakka (Magha of Macala) call him "St. Michael," a stream-enterer and ruler of two lower heavens, who defends humans in battle opposing the titans and serpents.

Buddhism is deep, very deep. People mainly see the discourses or sutra collection, rarely seeing the source material, just hearing about it secondhand. They rarely see the meditator's self-discipline or Vinaya collection. And almost no one ever studies the "Higher Teachings" or Abhidharma collection.

Sitting in a magnificent wooden hall with high ceilings, surrounded by a tall forest and peaceful meditators from all over the East Coast, I found myself mad like the fighting Irish.

Maybe I went wrong the very moment I thought of meditation as adversarial. But I did. I saw Mara, the dark tempter figure, as an opponent. I went up against his armies, the Cankers of sensual-desires, desiring eternal existence, clinging to wrong-views, and ignorance.

Like a wrathful Japanese deity, I thought I should fight. But all fighters are caught up in fighting until they sue for peace. Until this retreat, no one mentioned Mara had ten more armies, the Fetters binding beings to the Wheel of Samsara:

The first five are called "lower fetters" that bind or fetter us to rebirth in sensual realm planes. The latter five are called "higher fetters" that bind beings to planes of rebirth in the two higher realms, the fine-material and immaterial spheres (A.IX.67-68; A.X.13; D.33, etc.)

The Five Hindrances are hard to overcome if we cannot relax and let go. But these Taints (asavas) and Fetters (samyojanas) which defile minds and hearts are even more subtle adversaries.

The great Earth shook (see photos). Mara is no fool. He does not come on a war elephant. He sends seductive daughters. He does not confront. He subverts with pride and delusion. He does not want beings to end up in the hells. He just never wants them to escape the cycle of rebirth.

I have much to learn.