Letters from Mara: part 3
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 powers, You, my loyal squadron
 leaders, are doing a fine job. Let us continue to review your
 departments, moving on to the fifth.
FIFTH ARMY The Host of Sloth and Accidy

 The secretary consults her notes; "The next army is 'Sloth and
 Accidy'. Mara, what's 'accidy'?" "You could look it up." She
 sighs, "Why bother?" "Let's continue: To the dull, gray, heavy
 hordes of sloth and accidy! (That's 'a-c-c-i-d-y,' an old
 spelling of 'acedia', a pathological mental or spiritual
 torpor). Keep up the good work! It may seem like your power is
 slipping -- people have been working longer and longer hours
 ever since the industrial revolution -- but we know that
 spiritual laziness is more prevalent than ever before. The quick
 fix, the instant salvation -- that's all they're interested in.
 "That Teacher of theirs, the one who sadly escaped my grasp,
 often praised effort and diligence. Fortunately for us, this
 emphasis has done much over the centuries to undercut the
 popularity of his teachings. I seem to recall one of his very
 own monks who broke with the order and declared that the
 teachings were no good because they worked only if you followed
 them. We would do well to endorse the reasonableness of this
 view. "Nature makes our job simpler; the fundamental cosmic law
 of entropy is our greatest ally. The spark of consciousness is
 always engaged in a struggle to keep from sinking back into the
 darkness of unknowing. With our simple and inviting temptations,
 if they merely relax their efforts, the level of mind will
 inevitably decline. Everyone in our organization is aware of the
 great complexity of the maze we've built for our 'clients'.
 Layer upon layer of delusion has carefully and methodically been
 constructed. It's not an easy task for the worldling to cut
 through this timeless tangle -- not easy by any means, but
 regretfully still just possible. So, redouble your efforts and
 take the wind out of theirs! They will not cut through our
 tangled web with a dull blade.
 "Let us review the techniques that have worked well in the past.
 Remember, the qualities we want to foster are dullness,
 heaviness, lethargy, idleness, and mindlessness. The oldest and
 still very profitable method is sleep -- lots of it, in big,
 soft, comfy beds. Not hard to persuade them to roll over in the
 morning! Let them lie in bed more than six hours, and they're
 "Another wonderful tool is the magical pharmacopoeia of dulling
 and befuddling agents that so may of them pop into their mouths,
 lungs, and veins. You can't beat the perennial standard, ethyl
 alcohol, for reducing them to a sub-human level. But these days
 we have a much wider range of intelligence-reducing agents
 readily available -- both natural and synthetic. Better living
 through chemistry! Many of them are so eager to drown their wits
 that they will even inhale toxic byproducts of the industrial
 revolution. (Now that was a great idea with all sorts of
 unexpected benefits!)
 "Speaking of technology, I cannot praise the efficacy of
 television highly enough. It requires no thought or effort of
 any kind yet completely stultifies the brain with a panorama of
 sensually enticing images. Some of you were skeptical when I
 began Project Vidiot, even citing potentially counterproductive
 educational and cultural side-effects. But now that we have
 whole generations weaned on 'the tube', we can all see that the
 results have more than vindicated my enthusiasm."
 "That's why you make the big bucks, Mara!" giggles the
 secretary. "Don't interrupt when I'm bragging. Now where was I?
 Ah, yes. Let's not forget the simpler dodges either.
 Procrastination is a wonderful vice. Our victims can diddle away
 several lifetimes if properly guided. Over-eating is another
 effective measure; the full belly makes for a dull mind. Bad
 posture, soft furniture, and lack of exercise are all to be
 "But perhaps most fundamental of all is the fostering of an
 attitude of hopelessness. Let them think that the spiritual life
 is too hard for the ordinary person -- the goal too distant, the
 effort too daunting. A sense of dull, gray ennui is a miasma
 that chokes the spirit of contemporary humanity and keeps them
 in our sway. When economic times are good, they are befuddled
 with empty luxuries; when times are bad, they descend into the
 pit of despair and turn on each other with petty nastiness.
 Underlying all the cycles is the spirit of hollowness and
 futility that is our greatest contribution to the modern age."
 There is a timid knock on the polished mahogany door. Silently
 it swings open on the oiled hinges. With his head bowed and his
 hands shaking, a young demon scurries into the room clutching a
 sheaf of papers. He holds them out to Mara and stands quaking
 before the desk. With a brusque gesture, Mara snatches the
 papers and ruffles through them. A glint of awful fire appears
 in his eyes.
 "You miserable worm! You call this a status report!" He flings
 the papers at the junior officer who, paralyzed with fear, fails
 to catch them, letting them scatter around the floor. "PICK THEM
 UP AND GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!!!!" Mara's terrible voice booms
 like a thunderstorm. The demon whimpers as he frantically
 gathers the papers and bolts from the room. The secretary is
 shocked. "Mara, you're horrible." He calmly sips his coffee.
 "When I want to be, my dear, when I want to be."
SIXTH ARMY The Host of Cowardice
 "My Sixth Army, you have a special role in our efforts to keep
 beings in a state of bondage. You weaken and render them
 vulnerable to my terrible aspect. I prefer to charm and delight,
 but those few who fail to be seduced must be terrorized into
 "Physical cowardice is useful in its place, but the spiritual
 and moral varieties are most suitable for our purposes. Beings
 must be cajoled into clutching at a sense of security; this is
 the trick we must play. Of course, you and I know that there is
 no security in my realm. All beings are subject to the awful
 realities of birth, sickness, old-age, and death. Their goods
 and chattels, their relations, friends, and mates are all as
 ephemeral as chaff in the wind. No matter. The dream of security
 may be a hopeless one, but it is our powerful ally. Through your
 efforts, beings everywhere are afraid to risk what they have and
 are reduced to spiritual impotence by that fear.
 "Their folk wisdom has it that a coward dies many times, a brave
 man but once. Few indeed realize the deeper truth hidden in that
 trite proverb. This is, after all, the golden age of cowardice.
 No one wants to take a chance. This manifests in a host of
 symptoms. As their numbers increase and the pressure on the
 earth's resources mounts, those who have a generous portion grow
 mean and afraid of those who have nothing. Their culture is one
 based on delightful lies of our devising, and the ugly realities
 are hidden away. The sick and the old are hidden from view and
 the dead are never seen. Insurance companies grow fat on
 people's futile attempts to deny the inevitable.
 "Encourage them often not to take risks. Teach them to cling to
 the flimsy raft of their seemingly secure life until it is
 washed over the cataract. Keep them afraid to leave the pathetic
 ruts of their little lives -- to think, to love, to give, to
 dare the unknown. Make a virtue of their cowardice. Call it
 prudence. Call it responsibility. 'Be sensible. Why ask for
 trouble? Leave well enough alone.' They will get up every
 morning, put on their hats, take the subway to their dull grind
 of a job, and carefully plan for their retirement. By that time,
 they will be so beaten down that they will slide easily and
 thoughtlessly the rest of the way to the grave, continuing in
 this state of fear and cowardice for countless cycles of
 "Their cowardice will keep them from seeing the reality of
 existence, afraid even to think about it. It's the beginning of
 the end for us if they find the courage to question. They may
 grow, and if they grow, they may awaken. We have to watch the
 ones who still have a little gumption left. They may start
 thinking of going on a pilgrimage or worse, to a meditation
 retreat or a monastery. Whisper about the dangers. 'Why throw
 away your job in these tough economic times? Be sensible, hang
 in there, only twenty more years to your pension!' Remind them
 that examining reality in a methodical way is just too much to
 bear. If they manage to get past the petty anxieties of their
 day-to-day dramas, they will only encounter the real primal
 fears. It takes great courage to plunge into the Voidness. Few
 will have the courage to finally break through the veil, and
 those we must undermine."
 Mara pauses in his work and strolls thoughtfully towards the
 picture window, his hands clasped behind his back. He watches an
 image of a huge city. The walls of the buildings form gigantic,
 twisty caverns. At street level they are covered in lurid
 posters and glaring neon slogans. Noise and smoky fumes fill the
 air. Gaunt figures scurry aimlessly hither and thither through
 the maze like witless ants. "Mara, is that on Earth or in one of
 your dreary hells?" "Six of one, half dozen of the other."
SEVENTH ARMY The Host of Uncertainty
 "The role of my Seventh is to paralyze with doubt. You are to
 work closely with my Forces of Fear; with your attacks
 consolidated, we can keep beings in the wretched state of a deer
 mesmerized by oncoming headlights. This is a generation of
 doubters. Whereas at one time your resources were limited, and
 we made more use of the opposite vice of credulity, now we have
 whole masses of people with no sure beliefs at all. The old
 certainties in religion, society, politics and even that
 johnny-come-lately science have all been kicked away. Our poor
 victims rejoice in what they call "freedom" and are unable to
 advance in any direction. If we maintain them in this state of
 confusion, they will never escape our grip.
 "Doubt has been compared to wandering in the desert without a
 map or guide. A very apt comparison, although I am loath to
 admit it, considering the source. When beings have no faith,
 there is no basis for morality, and they fall into all manner of
 delicious and loathsome vices. We can see this in the present
 day, just as it was in late Roman antiquity, a period I greatly
 enjoyed -- the old religion was openly scoffed at, virtue
 considered a weakness, and the only object in life the selfish
 pursuit of personal gratification. Indeed, a marvelous party.
 True, the destruction of beings was frightful, but it was a
 sacrifice I was willing to make.
 "Today we've got them believing that a thoughtless skepticism is
 clever and chic, resulting in the same inevitable destruction of
 morality. They have no restraint upon their appetites (which
 your fellow departments are so admirably stirring up!) It's
 especially easy for us to undermine any teaching that puts a
 restraint upon their greed or lust. They don't understand that
 actions have results; they forget the Law of Karma. The really
 useful detail, from our point-of-view, is that their foolish
 disbelief has no effect at all upon the operative effectiveness
 of that law. Let's keep it our secret, and they'll proceed
 happily along with their debaucheries and violence. And after
 death, they'll continue in our service, albeit in a somewhat
 less salutary capacity.
 "Even if some begin to question the facts of their existence, as
 regrettably many of them do, they won't be able to find an
 effective way out or to stick with it if they do. This is
 another fortunate result of the widespread skepticism we are
 spreading. As in all the skeptical ages, we see a proliferation
 of their sects and cults. The poor wretches seeking to find
 their way out of the maze stumble from priest to guru to psychic
 and back again, without ever exploring any path long enough to
 gain real insight into their predicaments. Many abandon the
 whole enterprise as a hopeless fraud and lose themselves in
 sense pleasures, which at least offer a momentary diversion from
 the grim facts.
 "Encourage in them this cynical and dissolute frame of mind.
 Teach them to scoff at ancient wisdom and to place their
 reliance on the new and fashionable whimsies of the day. If we
 manage them properly, they can manifest the most amusing
 contradictions -- scoffing at religion but believing implicitly
 in the daily horoscope; pretending that the Law of Karma is
 superstition even as they avoid stepping on cracks in the
 pavement; justifying an abortion by claiming the unborn human
 organism is simply a mass of cells and electric impulses but
 consulting a channeler and trafficking with the hungry ghosts
 when they want a winning lottery number.
 "Although they are proud of their modern 'rationality,' most of
 them are quite ridiculous in their superstitions. The
 scientifically trained ones are often the worst of the lot --
 quite dogmatically attached to the materialist delusion even in
 the face of evidence to the contrary. (Although I must admit we
 have been having some difficulties with the physicists lately.
 I'm beginning to suspect a leak...) The doubt that keeps them
 lost they may call rationality, but don't make the same mistake
 they do. Real rationality is very dangerous for our interests. A
 truly critical examination of the phenomena of existence is
 precisely the method by which a bothersome few have penetrated
 our web of deceit. Make sure their 'critical thought' is guided
 by desire; don't let them ask the real questions.
 "To sum up, keep them guessing! Confuse them with a multitude of
 options, and let them wander about life aimlessly. Call morality
 'regimentation' and restraint 'repression'. Praise a shallow,
 scoffing attitude as penetrating intelligence. Belittle the
 timeless verities and praise only the fashionable. Let them be
 too clever by half. By the time they begin to clear the muddle,
 it will be too late, and we'll have them for another ride on the
 As Mara pauses to review some data on his desktop monitor, there
 is a soft knock on the office door. Another young, ravishing
 goddess enters with a platter full of sweetmeats. "Snack time!"
 As Mara eyes her appreciatively, his secretary's eyes narrow.
 She snaps her fingers as the younger goddess leaves, causing her
 to grow a pair of donkey's ears. Mara raises an elegant eyebrow.
 "My dear! I'm shocked and appalled." "I hate the bitch," she
 hisses. "Mmmm. Have one of these dainties, they're literally
End of part... 3

 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