Where did Mara come from?

I’ve recently been pondering this character Mara, which seems to be a personification of delusion and the unwholesome.

In my limited experience it appears that the Buddha is usually very direct and down to earth in teachings. Similies etc are usually about real things. As such, Mara seems to be a bit out of place. Mara seems to be an externalised and anthropomorphised repersentation of unskillful aspects, delusion and ignorance regarding eliminating suffering from ones life. It is useful to be able to lump these things together as a character of “Mara” - it gives focus, to an ‘enemy’ > I see you Mara. or Mara made me do it! :sweat_smile:

Implicit in this, is my assumption that Mara is not real, as opposed to the Buddha, who was a real person. There is no being called Mara, to take on a role like satan, but it is just a helpful construct??

However, the Buddha talks about Mara right from the beginning - so it can’t be a later addition into the texts ??

So I’m wondering about where Mara came from and why it is such a prominent part of the word of the Buddha.

:anjal: :dharmawheel:


There was a similar discussion here, but it didn’t discuss the ‘purpose’ or use of a Mara character in the suttas.


As far as I am aware Mara is more like a title or role that a being can take than an specific eternal individual. It is like the case of Brahmas. I however cannot support this understanding with an specific EBT! :sweat_smile:


Ajahn Sona interviews Ajahn Punnadhammo about Mara, from the book, Buddhist Cosmology.


Pulling some quotes from Venerable Anālayo’s Encyclopedia of Indian Religions

His function in Buddhist texts is to act as an antagonist to the Buddha and his disciples, advocating enjoyment of sensual pleasures instead of renunciation and striving for liberation. Hence, the task of defeating Māra and going beyond his reach of power is a recurrent theme in early Buddhist discourse.

Later tradition presents a more dramatic version of this encounter. At the head of a frightening army, Māra attacks the bodhisattva, who calls to witness the goddess earth for his right to remain on the seat where he is to win awakening. This scene has become a favorite theme in iconographic representations.

In the early Buddhist discourses, Māra has not yet assumed such a belligerent attitude. He is, however, thought to be able to exert power over ordinary people. Thus, he influences the inhabitants of a village to abuse Buddhist monks or those of another village not to give alms to the Buddha…etc.

At times he does so in disguise, taking on a frightful appearance, such as a great elephant or a huge snake, or else he creates a loud noise nearby by shattering some rocks… This appears to be an invariable pattern, where Māra has to disappear as soon as he is recognized by those he attempts to disturb.

Such episodes make it clear that Māra does not always function as the personification of inner defilements in the sense of acting out internal struggles. Rather, these tales interpret challenges the Buddha and the nuns had to face in contemporary society as the work of Māra… In this way, any external threat or challenge can be interpreted as a challenge by Māra, and the proper attitude is to remain balanced by recognizing it as such.

In later Theravāda tradition, references to Māra are analyzed into five different aspects, in the sense that the term Māra can stand representative for:

• Defilements, kilesa
• The five aggregates
• Karmic formations, abhisaṅkhāra
• The god Māra
• Death


Here’s one: :wink:

From MN 50:

Once upon a time, Wicked One, I was a Māra named Dūsī, and I had a sister named Kāḷī. You were her son, which made you my nephew. At that time Kakusandha, the Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha arose in the world. …


So would this simply be a device the Buddha decided to use to make it easier to teach, to ‘defeat’ unwholesome proclivities and delusion. ie One has to defeat Mara, rather than overcome ones own delusions and defilements. There is no question that this is a useful device, which makes the early stages of awareness much easier, by being able to temporarily put aside the implications for sense of Self… However, in other instances the Buddha would use other means such as viewing unwholesome things as fire or poison, as illness or madness - real things, that exist in the world. Mara seems like a much more theatrical construction - mildly malevolent deceiver of humans. While Brahmins did exist in the Buddhas time, I’m assuming Maras didn’t, unless they are a class of being that are considered real ? And the Buddha certainly talks about Gods, Maras and Brahmas.

I suppose the thing that doesn’t flow smoothly for me is that basically the Buddhas teachings are about natural processes; thoughts, speech, behaviour, causes and conditions etc. It all fits beautifully :slight_smile: But the’ Mara in the middle’ doesn’t have that same natural process quality. - it feels like a convenient fabrication, like many of the characters appearing in later traditions, ie the many deities that represent aspects of dhamma.

Ultimately I don’t think it affects following the Noble 8-fold path, but …


It’s a bit like coining of the term ‘desctructive emotions’, in the West. I think it gives an easy handle on something difficult to discuss. We don’t like to acknowledge our own defilements, and this is a convenient way to discuss them, and at the time Mara was part of the world view, and his inclusion would be deemed necessary in a religious context, and the Buddha redefined old terms a lot. Also it may have helped to deflect blame, and the monks to remain calm and patient, until the villagers calmed down themselves, so it was a helpful strategy. Sometimes when a person grows up believing a certain view of the world, it is hard to propose a theory, without that being in it.


There are four or five kind of Mara.
Devaputra Mara is the real one. (see 31 planes of existence below)
(11) Devas Wielding Power over the Creation of Others (paranimmita-vasavatti deva)

Generally people who encourage you to perform wholsome actions instead of attaining Nibbana are considered Mara. For instance Ven. Gnanananda in Sri Lanka encourage pople to aim for Deva world instead of attaining Nibbana as it is too diffult in this age.

In traditional Buddhism, four metaphorical forms of “māra” are given:[6]


It generally doesn’t appear as if the Buddha was the first to introduce Mara. The suttas mention Mara or Maras as if the audience knows them. So the simplest guess would be (like with most of the other supernatural beings) that they were part of the culture and that the Buddha and the master disciples were elevated by attributing to them the power to recognize Mara directly.

Apart from the exceptional status of Mara, it falls into the category of Yakkhas: demon-like shapeshifters that can possess people, and want to distract spiritual practitioners from their paths. (There are interesting similarities to Loki, the ‘creator of knots’, insulter, deceiver). As with the Vedic gods I suspect a much richer Mara mythology from north-east India that was not transmitted in the suttas.

See also the mysterious SN 23.1 that defines Mara as “the murderer, or the murdered”.


Just an addition to the ‘definition’ of Mara, if it hasn’t been mentioned. SN 23.1 and SN 35.65 somehow understand that Mara is symbolic. Both ask specifically

“Sir, they speak of this thing called ‘Māra’.
How do we define Māra or what is known as Māra?”


Such episodes make it clear that Māra does not always function as the personification of inner defilements in the sense of acting out internal struggles.

From what we know, it would seem that Māra is used both to convery mental obstacles and also an actual impermanent god named Māra.

Buddhist cosmology Māra is categorized as

devas delighting in Creation; devas wielding power over others’ Creations. The former can create any shape they like, the latter delight in things created by others, to get them in their power. These two are the highest in the World of Sense Desires.

Brahmins were the formulating higher class of Indians who would devote themselves to spiritual learning and development. Brahmā, was a god (also impermanent) regarded as real but one who also reflected the qualities of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity - thus the brahmavihāras, the practices leading to the brahmā realm. Māra would then be the opposite manifestation of unwholesome qualities.

Evil qualities and conditions are also a part of the process. Perhaps not so outlandish that a deity would come to represent those unwholesome aspects of dhamma. In the same way that some humans grow to be the epitome of evil in this world. I would also be inclined to agree, however Māra, while convenient, doesn’t seem to be a later developement. At least I have seen no one take this stance thus far.

Exactly. Whether Māra reveals itself in physical form or just as a mental defilement, we should deal with it all the same. Mindful and clearly comprehending.


The Way to conquer mara, is to first recognise him, whenever he (she?) appears!


Thank you very much @Chevita for this reference :slight_smile: The section on Mara is great.


Have you read Mara Samutta SN4.1 to SN4.25?
Very interesting read or listen.
In Sutta Central voice type SN4.1-25 to listen to all of them.
In this sutta do you see Mara as a person or a mental state?

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Don’t forget Mara’s three naughty daughters! :yum:

I believe Mara is also the Hindu goddess of death.


This article by Choong Mun-keat may be useful:
“A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Mara Samyutta, a collection of early Buddhist discourses on Mara, the Evil One”, The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies, Vol.10, 2009, pp. 35-53.


According to the article by Choong Mun-keat, “A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Mara Samyutta, a collection of early Buddhist discourses on Mara, the Evil One”, The Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies, Vol.10, 2009, pp. 40-41:

“… Before discussing disagreements on some teachings presented in the three versions of the Māra Saṃyukta/Saṃyutta, some shared images of Māra in the literature will be discussed here.
(1) The term Māra-pāpimant/Māro Pāpimā, ‘Māra the Evil One’, in the Pāli Māra Saṃyutta corresponds to Mo/Mowang (魔/魔王) Boxun (波旬) (Skt. Māra-pāpman) in the SA and ASA versions. Māra-pāpimant or Māra (as an individual name) is derived from the term Pāpmā Mṛtyu, ‘Death who is Evil’, of the Brāhmaṇas. Māra is also regarded as a deity in the early Indian cosmological or mythical tradition (O’Flaherty, 1988:213). Thus, Māra is already regarded as both the idea of evil (pāpmā) death (mṛtyu) and a mythical deity in Brahmanism at the time of the Buddha.
(2) Māra in this early Buddhist literature, the three versions of the Māra Saṃyukta, is evidently presented as threefold: (a) he is a real being, an evil deity of temptation (the tempter and lord of sensuality); (b) he can be defeated only in a psychological sense, not by physical force; and (c ) he appears in the texts more as an actual deity than as a result (personification) of psychological projection. Two examples from the texts will now be mentioned and discussed. …
Consequently, for a proper understanding of Māra in the three versions of Māra Saṃyukta, the personal and mythical aspect of Māra should not be entirely ignored, and the impersonal and symbolic aspect of Māra should not be over-emphasized.”


Bhikkhuni Samyutta SN 5.1-10 also interesting listening.
I am sure many Bhikkhuni’s in this forum can related to this.


SN 5. Bhikkhuni Samyutta is more about the notion of Mara rather than Bhikkhuni. It is the early Buddhist adaptation of general Indian religious beliefs about divine beings (devas), and one of them is Mara. The adaptation style is presented in verse in the early Buddhist texts.