Letters from Mara: part one
Your first squadron is Sense-Desires,
Your second is called Boredom,
Then Hunger and Thirst compose the third,
And Craving is the fourth in rank,
The fifth is Sloth and Accidy,
While Cowardice lines up as sixth,
Uncertainty is seventh,
The eighth is Malice paired with Obstinacy;
Gain, Honor and Renown, besides,
And ill-won Notoriety,
These are your squadrons, Namuci;
These are the Black One's fighting squadrons;
None but the brave will conquer them
To gain bliss by the victory.
(Sutta Nipata III, 2)
From: His Supreme Excellency the Mara Namuci
To: All Squadron Leaders
Re: Status of Current Projects
Dated: 26th Century of Current Buddha-period
Operational Area: Human Realm, Planet Earth
In a faraway realm there is the most intoxicatingly beautiful
pleasure park in all the vast swarm of universes. Lovely maidens
and carefree youths stroll through groves of ever-flowering
trees. Golden leaves swayed by gentle breezes tinkle with soft
and lazy melodies. Gorgeous birds and enormous butterflies
flutter through the shady groves. The ground slopes up gently
and in the distance a fairy castle is visible atop a craggy peak
-- a marvelous structure of twisting towers and intricate
parapets. Its very geometry dazzles the senses, no need to speak
of the jewel-encrusted walls, the golden roofs or the gargoyles
of alabaster and jade.
In the highest tower of this dazzling construction there is a
large and tastefully appointed room, an office if you will.
Behind a massive desk of rarest wood and cunning joinery lounges
an elegant figure in a comfortable leather chair. He is tall and
handsome, impeccably dressed and groomed. His style is timeless
yet fashionable, his demeanor polished and suave. A goddess of
unearthly beauty sits beside him on a low stool, polishing his
nails. Another sits across from him with a dictation pad on her
The being behind the desk glances out the huge picture window
with a smile of contentment. He watches the happy godlings at
play with a paternal satisfaction. After a while he turns to the
lovely goddess across from him, the heavenly secretary, and
"I'll want to dictate a letter in a moment, my dear. In the
meantime, would you be a sweetheart and prepare a cup of coffee
while I survey the state of my empire?" The manicurist gathers
up her implements and exits with a smile and a wink.
As his secretary glides gracefully towards the celestial coffee
maker, the Prince of the Sense-Realms allows himself the
pleasure of a lascivious glance before getting down to business.
His now perfectly manicured hand rests upon a computer mouse of
unicorn ivory with a ruby button. With a few deft maneuvers, he
reprograms the view in the window.
First, he checks in on the various heavens within his dominion
-- the worlds of pleasure where gods and goddesses sport in
gardens and groves, wandering about in heavenly chariots as they
travel from party to party, from festival to feast. Clothed in
gorgeous raiment and bedecked with garlands and jewels, they are
intoxicated by their own beauty. Heavenly musicians play
constantly, and celestial nymphs of bewitching loveliness dance
for aeons without a pause. Of course, every now and again one of
these beings disappears -- poof -- like a Christmas tree light
burning out. But the others seem barely to notice. The more
thoughtful may pause momentarily and blink once or twice but are
soon diverted from any momentary melancholy.
"Ah... my children, how they do like to play! But some don't
play as nicely as they might."
Another click of the mouse and the window displays beings in the
animal realm. Running and chasing, hunting and devouring, mating
and giving birth. Caught in traps or dying through cold or heat,
briefly they pass in and out of existence.
Again the view changes. The ghost realm appears, shadowy and
dark. Misshapen, coarse and ugly beings move about moaning and
wailing. Many have bloated bellies and tiny heads, some are like
living skeletons, others scrounge pathetically through refuse
Then the hells come into view. Realms of fire and pain. Worlds
of unspeakable cruelty and horror. Beings impaled on red-hot
iron stakes. Beings thrown into pits of fire and fished out
again with hooks. Beings boiled in cauldrons or skewered with
The Prince's mouth curls into a faint frown of disgust. He
receives his cup of steaming coffee gracefully as a swarm of
writhing beings falls into a pit full of blazing coals. The
secretary sighs with a divine pout, "That's simply awful Mara,
sweetie. I don't know why you keep that place going."
A black eyebrow is raised: "My goodness! As if it were my fault!
Hell isn't exactly my favorite subsidiary either. I'd much
rather all these wretched beings had the good sense to live
properly, but they will carry on in that evil way of theirs, so
what can I do about it? Heaven or hell, it's all their own doing
you know. I just, let us say, facilitate matters by helping them
to see the inestimable value of a sense-realm existence. Hmm,
excellent coffee as usual, my dear."
"You're wicked... do change the channel."
With a frown, Mara clicks the mouse.
The goddess laughs, "Oooh, the human world! So amusing, the
silly little people."
Mara frowns a little deeper and studies the flickering images.
Crowds hurrying along a subway platform. A family mindlessly
watching television. A young girl selling herself in the street.
Soldiers burning a village. He sips the coffee thoughtfully.
"Very good. Most of this realm too is well and truly mine."
In the window there's a dusty village street. Some chickens run
about, and here and there a mangy dog. A boy walks by leading a
buffalo by a rope through its nose. Some men lounge in the shade
of a mango tree, smoking.
"But there is a small, annoying 'leakage'."
From around a bend approaches a line of robed figures walking
silently with eyes cast down. A few old women appear and
reverently place lumps of sticky rice into the monks' bowls.
"Most annoying. Fortunately the leak is a small one, but it does
keep us busy trying to stop it. Can't have too many beings
escape now, can we? Where would we be if the Great Samsara
exhausted itself? Well, time to work. Come here and sit on my
lap while I dictate a circular memo to the department heads..."
From: His Supreme Excellency the Mara Namuci
To: All Squadron Leaders
Re: Present Situation and Status of Current Projects
Dated: 26th Century of Current Buddha-period
Operational Area: Human Realm, Planet Earth, Solar System.
"Greetings to all my hard-working minions! As you are well
aware, our overall strategy seems to be working smoothly, as
usual. The vast multitude of beings who wander in our little
playground, the Great Samsara, are by and large oblivious to the
true nature of their predicament. We must continue our unceasing
efforts to maintain them in our power.
"It is quite true that one very clever "fish" escaped our net
two and half millennia ago. I fully accept responsibility for
that catastrophe. As you have all studied the history in basic
training, I need not go over it in great detail. Remember, I
tried my very best. Even my daughters dancing for him didn't
move him. Even my terrible aspect, which sometimes frightens
myself, had no effect. Worse, after he penetrated the true
nature of our little game, I couldn't persuade him to keep it to
himself; although, I thought I almost had him convinced.
"Alas, what's done is done, and there is a small hole in our net
through which beings continue to escape. Happily, all
indications are that the hole grows smaller with time. It is
very hard for our little fishies to imagine that their true
welfare lies outside the net; all we need to do is to divert
them from thoughts of the canning plant!
"You, my loyal squadron leaders, are doing a fine job. Let's
take this opportunity to review your departments one by one.
The Host of Sense-Desires
"You well deserve the honor of being my beloved First Host. In
most cases your work alone is enough to keep all beings in line.
Your Five Divisions assault our prey with the enchantments of
sensory pleasure. They spend their entire lives coming to you.
Your sacrificial victims rush to the altar willingly, even
"But this is no reason to slacken in your efforts. There is
always the danger that they will begin to see -- let us be
perfectly frank amongst ourselves -- the shoddy nature of our
goods. We know that sense pleasures are entirely unsatisfactory
and illusory. Despite all our inventiveness, we have never come
up with a pleasure that is completely satisfying, lasting or
substantial. Fortunately, the vast majority of humans don't
realize this. The foolish little beggars seem to believe that
only the pleasures they've had so far are like this, that
somewhere, somehow they will find the magic trinket that will
let them live happily ever after.
"I know this sounds preposterous, but most humans don't think
these things through very carefully. They like what feels good
and never mind the consequences. The only trick for us is to
keep them diverted and entertained. We must keep coming up with
new enticements as the old ones become tired. Even with our
tried and true standards -- sex and food -- we need to develop
new variations and twists.
"So far, my army, you've been doing the job marvelously! Sex has
been our weapon of choice for about a billion years now. For
such a simple biological function, you've created so many unique
possibilities. What a wonderful swindle it all is! The
innumerable weird and wonderful variations humans get themselves
so frenzied about all reduce to some tricky wiring and a simple
bit of friction. And it often isn't even sex itself that keeps
us in business but all the peripheral aspects that go with it --
the expectations and preliminaries, the accessories and
emotional baggage. Fortunately, there's enough of this to keep
most humans going for a lifetime, and one lifetime at a time is
all we need to concern ourselves with.
"Lately, I must say, we have been succeeding wonderfully using
technology as our ally. As soon as they got the daguerreotype
working, they were pointing it at naked women.And now we have
color photography, cinema and video. Tantalizing images are
easier and easier to come by. Recently they've even been
spreading this stuff through the Internet. They don't even have
to leave home to find it. Maybe I ought to get a web page. No,
it would only be redundant.
"Technology itself is largely a product of sensual desire. The
crazy humans create devices to make the acquisition of sensual
pleasures easier or to avoid the occurrence of sensory
discomfort. This drives their whole economy and keeps them busy
all their brief lives. They want, indeed they imagine they need,
a car, a stereo, a computer and then a newer car, a newer
stereo, etc. We must keep them in a state of desire for all
these devices -- the more they work, the less time they will
have to figure out what's really going on.
"The teachings of our Great Adversary have been the only serious
obstacle to our project. He has pointed out to them again and
again the dangers inherent in sensual desire. However, we have
succeeded so well over the centuries in muddling up this truth
with various bogus teachings that it is becoming harder and
harder for them to find the real Truth. There are plenty of
so-called "teachers" among them who are willing to speak our
line in his name -- not merely soft-pedaling the idea of
renunciation, but proudly announcing that 'the passions
themselves are enlightenment.' Of course, there are plenty of
fish who like the taste of that bait!
"But we cannot rest, for there are a few beings getting
dangerously close to finding a way out of our power. They are
starting to reflect or even to practice renunciation and
meditation. Once they discover that their true happiness is not
based on our trickery, they may escape. We must use all the
resources at our disposal to confuse them. Although they may be
sitting quietly, their minds are still easily distracted.
Fantasy is a great thing, especially since a mind with a bit of
concentration can powerfully visualize and hold even our
"The thing we must not let them do is to contemplate the real
nature of the body. You would think that anyone of even moderate
intelligence could see the inherently foul and unstable nature
of those meat-machines they drag around. After all, they have to
be constantly washing and perfuming the stinking things just to
bear being in each other's company! But they don't see that and
don't want to see it. We merely have to keep them looking at
their bodies in a highly selective way, emphasizing the largely
visual characteristics identified as "beautiful". It's an easy
"And don't forget to whisper all the current buzz that keeps
them from doing body-meditations. You know what I mean --
meditation on the unlovely is 'life-denying, uptight,
repressive.' It's easy enough to convince them because it's what
they want to hear. Keep them imagining they can have their cake
and eat it too, and then we can stop worrying. Let them meditate
all they want. As long as they think they don't have to let
anything go, we're still in control."
Mara folds his arms behind his head and sighs, pausing before
composing the next letter. The secretary, sensing a break in the
work, slides off his lap and strolls over to the window, the
cordless mouse in her hand.
"Gee, Mara, you'd sure think that First Army would be enough."
Clicking the mouse, she spies on all the gods and goddesses. She
settles for a while on a scene of beautiful beings cavorting in
a lotus pool as swans drift about, little barrels of
intoxicating, divine nectar about their delicate necks.
Sometimes when a godling reaches for a draught, the birds dart
away playfully amid general splashing and hilarity. "You sure
know how to throw a party!"
Mara narrows his dark eyes. "Thank you, my sweet. But even the
mighty First Army needs some backup." He watches with a smile as
she grows weary of the heavenly skinny dippers and begins
clicking through the realms, faster and faster. "Come on, honey,
back to work..."
End of Part... 1
Venerable Punnadhammo is the abbot of Arrow River Meditation
Center in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Following ten years at
the center as a lay student of Khema Ananda, he was ordained a
bhikkhu at Wat Pah Nanachat in 1991. For more information about
the center---> Arrow River Meditation Center