Letters from Mara: part 2
Venerable Punnadhammo

 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
 Greetings to all my hard-working minions! As you are all 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...You, my loyal squadron
 leaders, are doing a fine job. Let us continue to review your
 departments, moving on to the second...
SECOND ARMY The Host of Boredom
 "To my Second Army, the Host of Boredom, I extend greetings and
 congratulations. Your role is to act in coordination with my
 First Army, the Host of Sense Desires. You are, as it were, the
 artillery softening up the enemy's defenses for an infantry
 assault by sense desires. We must keep beings in a state of
 dissatisfaction with the present reality. To be bored is
 primarily a state of aversion. When input from the senses is not
 providing the desired kick of pleasure, a being gets irritated
 with what he calls the dullness of his environment. He becomes
 "bored" and seeks to remedy the situation with new and exciting
 stimuli, which my First Host is eager to provide. Our victim
 becomes lost in sensuality, and once again we have him where we
 want him creating the basis of fresh 'becoming'.
 "What a scam! We keep them always craving something exciting,
 something new. They keep running around in the Great Samsara
 like a wretched pet hamster in its exercise wheel. If they ever
 catch on and realize how long they've been at it or that there
 is nothing really new or fresh to be experienced...Of course, we
 can't let that happen. Our trick is to keep them from paying
 attention to the present moment, because if they are fully
 present, in the here and now, they won't be bored.
 "Fortunately, we've managed to foster a social climate that
 positively discourages calmness and clarity. Their entire modern
 culture is fast and frenzied. Fashions in everything from music
 to clothing change so quickly, and they are all eager to keep up
 with it. The mass of moderns prefers excitement to subtlety. The
 last half-century or so has seen many advances in our efforts to
 fracture the human attention span. Television itself was a great
 help,but the invention of the remote control may have been the
 single greatest advance in the triumph of boredom. There are
 millions whose attention span is so pathetic that they can't sit
 through a half-hour long television program, let alone sit
 quietly by themselves!
 "We've succeeded so well in this department that being bored is
 considered one of the great evils of life. Of course, this was
 never a problem when the poor humans required all their physical
 energy simply to survive. But now we have a generation of
 enervated dilettantes who cannot bear their own company
 (although one can scarcely blame them for that). They create
 virtual hell realms of boredom for themselves. You can see them
 everywhere in the great modern cities -- riding the subways,
 waiting in lines, sitting in offices. The dull lethargic look on
 their faces and the glassy stare in their eyes betoken a mind
 that would rather be somewhere, anywhere else. Pathetic
 creatures! If they only realized that the only place they can
 ever be is in the here and now!
 "Boredom is based on what our Great Adversary called vibhava
 tanha, the craving for non-being, in the vernacular. They find
 their current state of existence unbearable, chiefly because of
 their own mental state, and they wish to blot it out. In the
 purest form, this leads to suicide and a consequently lower
 rebirth. In a milder form, it leads to the petty annihilations
 of drink, drugs, sleep, or mindless entertainment.
 "As long as we keep them trapped by our two strategies of
 sensuality and lethargy, they will remain in our power. Should
 they stray close to the true escape, which, of course, lies in
 the Middle, then we must redouble our efforts. Whisper in their
 ears. Don't let them be still. Tell them again and again the
 good old lies: 'This is boring. Get out and enjoy life!'
 "I'm thirsty, Mara. Can we take a Soma break?" his secretary
 pouts. "All Beings are sustained by nutriment," he mutters.
 "What's that, Mara, honey?" she giggles as she pours herself a
 shining cup of sublime nectar from a crystal decanter. "Nothing.
 Just something I read in a book a long time ago. " "You're so
 intellectual..." she coos, climbing back into his lap and
 turning the page in her memo pad.
THIRD ARMY The Host of Hunger and Thirst
 "My mighty and terrible Third, greetings! Your methods may be
 crude compared to the refinements of my beloved First Army, but
 they are powerful nonetheless. The cravings you engender are
 even more primeval than those of sex. Sex, after all, they only
 imagine they cannot live without. Food and drink they really do
 need to sustain their physical organism.
 "Surveying the state of the world today, it seems you are
 succeeding splendidly. Half the world is starving and the other
 half obese. In both cases they are obsessed with food. Keep them
 that way, and they will not turn their thoughts to things beyond
 our realm.
 "I will always remember that it was you, the minions of Hunger,
 that first lured the race now called human into my clutches. Ah!
 How long ago now was it? A couple or three billion of their
 quick years? I remember it as if it were yesterday. The great
 Earth was formless and void, and the beings that dwelt therein
 were glorious, self-luminous, and fed only on jhanic bliss. Bah!
 Not much we could do with them in that tedious state of affairs.
 So we caused the seas to develop a nutritious foam. Patiently
 and slyly we whispered in their godlike ears for many a
 millennium, "Mmm. Tasty." One by one, they dipped a fingertip
 and delicately licked. They began absorbing the coarse physical
 stuff, and gradually, imperceptibly, they took on coarser and
 coarser forms themselves. Now we have the fools lining up for
 greasy burgers!*
 "Of course, the purely physiological response of an empty belly
 is not our real weapon. It's the imaginary hunger -- the greed
 for tastes, the lust for savors -- that has them quite obsessed
 with food. Their obsessions take on so many amusing forms. The
 gourmet who spends a small fortune on exotic dishes, the health
 nut who makes a fetish of diet, the glutton who overloads his
 system with calories, and the anorexic who starves herself with
 a pathological vanity. They are all in a state of delusion that
 exaggerates the importance of what is merely fuel for the
 organism, when all is said and done.
 "Our Great Adversary understood the dangers of the Third Army.
 As always, in his maddeningly direct way, he taught a Middle
 Path through our swamp. He tried extreme fasting, which often
 serves our ends quite as well as gluttony, and rejected it. His
 rule for his monks stipulates moderation in eating and a limited
 form of fasting, abstaining from food for half of each day. Even
 so, you, the Army of Hunger, are one of my chief weapons against
 these monks in their efforts to escape our grasp. We can bedevil
 their minds and dreams with images of delicious food. As
 celibates, food is their chief outlet for sensuality. With the
 monks of other orders who do not keep this rule, we have often
 had great success in this area, creating many a jolly Friar
 "The main thing we must remember is to prevent them from eating
 mindfully. If a human keeps her wits about her and eats with
 awareness, contemplating the sensations and feelings aroused,
 then she can learn a lot. This is very dangerous for us.
 Fortunately, it is a difficult exercise, and we all know how
 little the humans like difficult exercises."
 Mara swivels around in his chair, musing. He looks around at his
 well-appointed office, his beautiful secretary, his own
 well-groomed finger nails. How glad he is to be Mara!
FOURTH ARMY The Host of Craving
 "Greetings and congratulations to my busy legions of the Fourth
 Army and to each of your three divisions -- the Division of
 Sensual Desire, the Division of Craving-To-Be, and the Division
 of Craving-Not-To-Be. Since your first division duplicates the
 work of the Great First Army, I'm enclosing a copy of the notes
 I sent to them...
 " The secretary interjects, "Shouldn't we do something about
 that redundancy?"
 "Why?" snaps Mara. "This organization is the last in the
 universe that will have to consider downsizing! Don't interrupt
 me again! Now, where was I? Oh yes...
 "The second division, promoters of the Craving-To-Be, has a
 vital role to play. Beings exist because of your work. The
 technical details of this process have been explained by our
 Adversary in his teaching on Dependent Origination, and
 grudgingly we admit the accuracy and clarity of his exposition.
 We needn't go into the details here. Those of you who are so
 inclined can consult the relevant literature. Let us merely
 consider the central idea from the practical angle -- that
 beings in our power exist because they crave existence.
 "You have done your work well and insidiously. Beings don't as a
 rule begin to understand what existence means, and they are
 mostly not even fully conscious of this craving. Their craving
 for being usually manifests most clearly in a cruder form, a
 second derivative, as it were. It's not the will simply to be,
 but the craving to be this or that thing in particular -- to be
 loved, to be rich, to be healthy, to be President of the United
 "Your attack must also be two-pronged. As long as it is possible
 to do so, keep feeding the secondary manifestation, the craving
 to be this or that. We have been doing quite well in this regard
 in recent times. Our possibilities were limited when society was
 hierarchical and stable. But for the last few centuries the old
 certainties have become less and less effective. Society is now
 so open as to be almost totally chaotic. Not that this so-called
 "freedom" does them any real good. Most of them never will be
 rock stars or presidents or any of those other ridiculous things
 they seem to crave so much. No matter. For our purposes, it's
 good enough that they want it. Keep the dream alive! And if
 things start looking too hopeless, remind them to buy a lottery
 "Sometimes, of course, they may truly surprise us and actually
 become something. Then, we need just up the ante. If one of them
 gets to be president, make sure he wants to be a great
 "In spite of our best efforts, these humans occasionally come
 close to being satisfied, even with quite humble and ordinary
 circumstances. This is very dangerous. In such cases, consider
 Plan B and bring them closer to the root craving for sheer
 existence. Here, our principle weapon has always been the
 Eternity View.** Tell them, 'You are, or can be, immortal. Your
 essence can continue forever.' Don't let them think about death.
 This is easy because most of them don't want to anyway.
 "Any version of this Eternity View will do for our purposes. It
 doesn't have to make too much sense. Very few of our dupes are
 willing to think these things through to their logical
 conclusions. There are a few good religions around that serve up
 this soothing broth, and these religion projects should be
 "A surprising number of humans buy into other versions of
 Eternalism as well. Most of the simpler ones will be happy to
 keep artificially prolonging 'youth' with facelifts and hair
 transplants. A few require headier medicine. The myth of all
 powerful science, although quite silly really, is very seductive
 to these types. Many now believe that science will eventually
 prolong human life indefinitely. Some even get their carcasses
 frozen in liquid nitrogen. Remember the ancient Egyptians? I am
 having the boys in R & D do a feasibility study on starting up
 that game again.
 "But sooner or later, despite our best efforts, many of them
 will begin to lose the zest for existence. Life in the human
 realm is very often nasty, brutish, and short. Wishful thinking
 goes only so far. This is quite all right if we handle it
 properly; which is precisely why the Third Division, the forces
 of Craving-Not-To-Be, is needed.
 "On a superficial level, this craving-not-to-be manifests as
 simple aversion -- the craving-not-to-be in debt, the
 craving-not-to-be married to this person, or the
 craving-not-to-be whoever I am. Even more trivial forms are
 still useful--the craving-not-to-be in the back of a long line
 or not-to-be cold, on and on, ad infinitum. All these produce
 feelings of unsatisfactoriness, and this keeps our victims
 within our power.
 "Remember your awful final weapon! When diversion fails to
 beguile, then despair will enthrall them. They have invested all
 their hopes in some pathetic illusion. When it is at last
 punctured, it takes only a short push from us to move them
 across the dangerous middle ground into hopelessness. Remember
 Hamlet? 'To be or not to be...' sums up our program nicely.
 Whatever you do, don't let them even suspect a third
 "Obviously, it's not to our advantage to have any of our
 subjects actually cease to be, but we need not worry. Even
 suicides do not escape us. We can, however, promote the delusion
 that such escape is possible. This Annihilation View, while a
 minority philosophical position, is useful for snaring some
 "We've had great success in the last three or four hundred years
 in popularizing this idea. Some of you were skeptical when I
 launched 'Project Descartes', but I think the results have
 proven my foresight. The scientists who work with issues related
 to mind and consciousness -- neurologists, cognitive
 psychologists, and the like -- are absolutely blinkered by the
 concept that Mind is an emergent property of the brain. They
 have no proof of this (how could they?) but accept it absolutely
 as axiomatic, so much so that they seem mostly unaware they are
 assuming anything at all. This attitude is starting to percolate
 down to the masses.
 "The Annihilation View underpins many modern trends --
 materialism, consumerism, secularism, science, anti-clericalism,
 etc. We have gotten many millions believing that their bodies
 and minds are nothing more than meat machines. This facilitates
 a breakdown in morality. Given the materialist world-view, there
 is nothing to stop them from abortion, euthanasia, suicide, or
 even genocide. If they do take the final step and 'destroy'
 themselves, well, it's unfortunate I suppose, but it does
 provide jobs for the crew downstairs."
 "That's ghastly, Mara, dear. Just ghastly," the secretary
 "Ghastly, but true. Now, on with the dictation. I have six more
 armies to write to..."
FOOTNOTES* * Mara's discussion here is based on the cosmological myth found in the Aggañña Sutta (Digha Nikaya 27). This discourse describes how human beings devolved from god-like entities. The beginning of this descent occurred when the entities tasted a primeval nutritive essence floating on the surface of the sea, causing them to develop coarse, physical bodies. ** The Eternity View is one of the two principal false views. This view holds that a living being has a permanent self-entity ("atman" or "soul") that, being immortal, survives the death of the body. Its opposite is the Annihilation View. This is the idea that a living being is merely a product of matter in motion, and consciousness is annihilated at death.


End of Part... 2

 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