If a traveller cannot find
Master or friend to go with him
Let him travel on alone
Rather than with a fool for company.
Siddhartha sat alone and still as a statue under a fig tree. Heart-shaped leaves sheltered him from a lifeless heat of the surrounding floodplain. A tattered scrap of cloth wrapped his thin hips. Nearby, the worn-out surface of an alms bowl gathered specks of dust. Not a soul around for company but ants, flies and mosquitoes. Lavish royal banquets had been long ago swapped for unthinkable hardships.
Weariness came, and he repeated to himself: Awake. Be the witness of your thoughts. By your own efforts waken yourself, watch yourself. Seek happiness in the senses, and you will be uprooted.²
Siddhartha had been traversing the bottomless depths of the id, ego and superego with an intense fever for six stormy years. On this physical and psychic trek he nearly died from starvation, misery and exhaustion — all self-induced. Now at last he was at the threshold of something unknown to mortal perceptions.
A light wind lapped at his face as a faint inner voice beckoned. Cross over to the father shore, beyond life and death. Free yourself from pleasure and pain.³
Mara was on notice. As Lord of Samsara*, realm where the net of illusion is cast, he was feeling annoyed. Nobody had yet escaped this impenetrable worldwide web. Now, the bedrock of his entire empire was under threat by a lone, emaciated yogi sitting near-naked and motionless under a secluded tree in the barren flatlands. Mara’s dominion had been unchallenged for eons; no one had come close to real freedom. No one until now. In one of the bleakest wastelands imaginable, a sunbaked savanna, a formidable challenge was arising. And if a challenge could arise from there, one of the most inhospitable places on earth, then it could arise from anywhere, particularly places friendlier to human existence.
This imminent escape from Maya** might change everything. Other wayfarers could find Siddhartha’s luminous footprints in the sands of time leading the way out of cyclic existence. They too, might brush off a final layer of dust from worldly hearts and escape the most elaborate labyrinth conceivable, Samsara.
Like the snowy Himalaya
The virtuous shine from afar.
And the wicked move unseen
Even When Near
Like arrows in the night.?
Strong action was needed at once; it was now or never for Mara. He drew up silently to the immobile yogi. Disrupting Siddhrtha’s equanimity for the flash of a moment might then allow Mara’s vast powers a chance to seep in and take hold. Intending to pierce the yogi’s peace of mind, he gathered all his forces and abruptly made his presence known with incendiary ferocity.
To his surprise, there was no effect. No response at all. Not the merest flinch from the stone-like meditator. The ground under him did not shake and fall away, the sheltering tree did not evaporate. Everything remained solidly supportive around Siddhartha as he abided serenely among it despite the external menace roaring at his face. Mara’s most explosive challenge had fallen flat.
Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered,
No one can help you as much.?
Siddhartha then lifted his eyes to acknowledge Mara’s presence and was totally easy about it, without the slightest concern.
Realizing what he was up against and what was at risk, Mara changed tactics. He ingratiatingly toasted Siddhartha for his accomplishments. Well done superstar – are you ready for rewards? He proceeded to unpack and lay out limitless prizes and pleasures that awaited Siddhartha’s efforts. He offered everything within his realm to offer, what amounted to the headiest of ego gratifications stroked by sensual bliss. Mara unwrapped and revealed the whole buffet of worldly pleasure and power and in unlimited quantities.
He even offered nuptials with his daughters, thus offering Siddhartha the keys to the ruling family, the ultimate worldly royalty. The royalty that overmasters all other royalties. Three nubile beings presented themselves in a mesmerizing mirage. They were the quintessence of everything feminine that had appealed to the onetime prince—and that multiplied by three.
The yogi in threadbare rags could not escape memories and a pang of utter famishment smiting his heart. He had not had the attention and loving caress of a female, the embrace of a human and touch of skin since leaving his palace over six long years ago. A distant flicker of memory of his former life tickled his gray matter and had the impact of an unexpected bolt of lightning from a cloudless sky – yet something echoed back from the depths of his memory. While desiring a lover, the mind is bound, as closely as a calf to its mother!?
Still, Siddhartha began contemplating whether this was the very reward that he had earned, that he himself through his own efforts had won. Was this the far shore? Rising to Mara’s level he would power-share over Samsara? Was there anything greater beyond this?
Twilight sank upon the land. The last shards of light glowed like embers behind a silhouette of the skyline. All grew dim and thick in the forsaken badlands.
Samsara’s cosy familiarity become palpable. Siddhartha could become godlike with intoxicating powers and pleasures, familiar pleasures and comforts or step away from worldly inebriation into the unknowable. The jungle darkness closed-in further, overtaking everything around them.
Is Liberation a torrent of pleasure? A reward for extreme trials? In the shadows, Mara nodded. This was no small proposition that hung like a veil of smoke from distant fires in the stale night air.
Everything is burning. Burning with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Burning, I tell you, from birth and aging to death, burning.?
The heart-shaped leaves above began rustling as a warm breeze picked up on the windswept plains. In the distance, a ravenous dog howled at a moon on the rise. It was beginning to peer over the eastern horizon. The yelping trailed off as an inky blackness gave birth to a full moon illuminating the mud-flats.
There sat the two figures face to face. Siddhartha looking sharply and directly into Mara’s magnetic eyes.
“A question” Siddhartha finally proposed.
Mara nodded casually with strained friendliness as he thought to himself, yes, give me a showdown of wit and fall like the rest -- Samsara’s heady passions too powerful for even the mightiest of mighty philosophers and kings. A half-starved, vagabond would prove no exception.
Siddhartha paused a few breaths, noticing the fullness of each inhale and exhale, aware of the pauses in between and the stillness within himself and around them and beyond before breaking the silence.
“Tell me, what is the benefit from this proposal? Is there a true benefit for anyone involved -- for me, for your daughters, for you? Any true benefit of rejoining this fantastic worldly life that you offer? Tell me, if there would be any true benefits, who would truly benefit?”
This question was sincere as if a reasonable answer might warm Siddhartha over to Mara’s proposal. The Master of Illusion needed only to persuade him of earthly benefits and Siddhartha would be back to reprise his eternal role in the unending passage of time.
Which benefits should I illuminate? Mara thought to himself. Shall I entice him with the immediate benefits of pleasure and power for himself and my daughters and beyond to those of the earthbound cohort treading Samsara’s wilderness--so many perks to name—ecstasy, fame, fortune, boundless experiences, boundless fascinations to thrill and beguile. Unending experiences.
As if reading his mind, Siddhartha continued, “I have lived a royal life of fortune and ecstasy and have taken in the greatest of pleasures of our time as well as experienced the world’s deepest pains of aging, ill-health and death of loved ones and eventually myself. My dear mother perished the week of my birth. I have also had available to me the best of the best of sensual pleasures.
These pleasures and pains are unending. There is no end to them while we live. Of what true benefit would it be to repeat them, to repeat any similar experiences—to repeat any part of that lifestyle and the pleasures and pains therein, to repeat any one moment of it at all? Tell me of any true benefits to anyone.”
Mara finally gasped. He couldn’t mean. He said ‘true’…true benefits, abiding benefits. True benefits of Samsara and not simply ephemeral sensual-pleasures -- ego reinforcing activities that madding humanity believes are real benefits rather than the snares of the psyche that they are.
Simple, so simple these deceptions that have kept all egos gratified and entrapped in a boundless maze. Building up karma only to have it crash down again, or devastating karma only to build it back up again and so on and so forth in never-ending variations – diving into the roiling waters where everything (everything!) is changing moment to moment as the tide of time rolls onward carrying all beings with it. All beings riding on the same wave of time onward into oblivion. Rolling on in unison unto eternity.
The implications struck Mara to the core. Siddhartha was asking for real benefits. Was Mara outmaneuvered for the first time? The yogi was questioning the foundation upon which Mara’s kingdom was constructed, and if there was any true benefit of participation. The end was and always has been liberation from it, not embedding oneself deeper and more strongly into bondage of emotion, desire, thought and action.
It was a question which Mara dare not answer without revealing the illusory bricks that made up the illusory foundation of the infernal illusion itself. Even the illusion itself is an illusion.
Siddhartha's enquiry probed that which all other beings seemed to overlook or if noticed, thought of as irrelevant: the whole cyclic odyssey of Samsara has no abiding benefit to any beings. It amounts to nothing and yet this nothing is pursued with utmost gusto, with raving passion and vigor to the degree that participants are blinded and fooled by their very own minds, their own ways and means and unaware of fruitless trappings. The mad theatre of it all. Entrapped for interminable eons, overmastered by their very own thoughts and actions.
To people given to desire, intent upon desire, delighting in desire, the law of causality and the chain of causation will be difficult to understand.?
Siddhartha understood this subtle yet total entrapment. He challenged Mara to convince him otherwise. He had experienced the full array of Samsara’s offerings, and it was of no benefit for him or anyone to simply repeat the sensory pleasures again and again…and again. If one’s stomach is completely full and distended with food and one’s appetite totally satisfied then what benefit can there be to consuming more and more? Eating more becomes unpalatable no matter how fresh and delicious the selection of eatables.
Mara began a shaky attempt to speak but knew the game was up and simply licked his lips and swallowed dryly without attempting a reply. For the first time in his eternal dynasty, he was at a loss for wordplay.
No single benefit to speak about of the endless string of sensations of his empire, vast as infinity itself, yet wholly empty of import. He ruled over a mass of unwitting slaves, slaves to lust -- lust for life’s infernal desires and machinations. He could not suggest a single reason for entertaining even one of these desires; to do so simply made oneself captive to the burlesque extravaganza that spread out to all quarters boundlessly. Mara had met his match and simply remained speechless rather than make a fool of himself.
A mind unruffled by the vagaries of fortune, from sorrow freed, from defilements cleansed, from fear liberated — this is the greatest blessing.10
The yogi realized the calm shores, the shores beyond worldly intrigues and changeable sensory activities driven by the id, ego and superego. He knew too well of the insatiable mind and body growing older unto eventual sickliness and death of self and loved ones. The ebb and tide of sense-gratification drifts away as quickly as it arises – unfulfilling, migratory moments in a vast whirlpool of deepest illusion. A sea of innumerable memories had left him weary. The carnal dance no longer interested him, was no longer appealing. He had feasted and was full. He had tasted what there is to taste of life and had no lingering afterthought to taste again and again forever tasting and desiring to taste this and that variation on the theme. He could feast no longer. He was full of it, full of himself, full of endless repetition despite a dazzling appearance of variety.
He kindly acknowledged the offer, thanked Mara and all of Samsara for the banquet and their role in his final liberation from it and the confrontation was over. Buddha bowed out once and for all as the veil dropped on the illusory worldly circus.
Those meditative ones who tread the path are released from the bonds of Mara.11
1-7, 9 The Dhammapada
8. Adittapariyaya Sutta (The Fire Sermon)
10. Mangala Sutta
11. Maggavagga Sutta
*Samsara — the repetitive cycle of birth, life and death (as compared and contrasted with Nirvana)