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,
 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 Eighth...
EIGHTH ARMY: The Host of Malice and Obstinac
 "To my Eighth Army--the negative image of the First, the Host of
 Sense Desires--it is your duty to see to it that beings fall
 into the mental habits of aversion, ill will, anger, hatred, and
 spite. The theory behind your work is elementary, but let us
 review it briefly.
 "Whenever a being makes contact with a sense object--that is, at
 each and every conscious moment--an associated feeling arises.
 This feeling may be one of either pleasure or displeasure, or
 sometimes so subtle as to be, for all practical purposes,
 neutral. These feelings register on an extremely rudimentary
 level of consciousness and are for the most part completely
 natural and automatic. Even the simplest of beings could not
 maintain existence without a liking for good-tasting food and a
 disliking for harmful conditions.
 "These basic feelings are not of our doing, but we can use them
 to lure our victims on to the next step. In the case of pleasant
 feelings, this job is well left to the able ministrations of the
 First Army. It is your job to develop our advantage from the
 unhappy feelings. When beings are not mindfully aware of their
 own mental processes (and few of them are even marginally aware)
 we can turn a simple unpleasant feeling into a complex
 proliferation of aversion and resentment. The raw feeling may be
 only momentary--of little significance in and of itself--but oh,
 what fun we can have with it! It is true, of course, that by
 developing these negative mental proliferations, the silly
 humans are adding completely unnecessary suffering to whatever
 unavoidable physical unpleasantness they may be enduring. But
 this is their problem, not ours. We have a job to do.
 "Fortunately for us, beings engrossed in unhappiness or anger
 are unable to see things clearly. Thus, they cannot begin to
 work out their escape and fall into delusion. There are many
 tricks we can use to encourage them in this. One of the most
 amusing is 'righteous' anger: feed the negative mental
 proliferation by justifying it. 'He hurt me, he robbed me, he
 threw me down and beat me!' This trick has the added twist of
 building up the ego image! We have made excellent progress in
 this area lately; their popular psychology now praises the
 'empowering' aspect of such anger. Let it remain our little
 secret as to who is really empowered.
 "A related syndrome we can encourage is the feeling of
 victimization. 'Poor me' is a marvelous way to entrench the
 concept of 'me'. All types of ill will work by causing beings to
 understand the universe in reference to their own arbitrary ego
 positions. They cannot begin to see clearly so long as they
 operate from such an assumption.
 "We have a wide spectrum of emotions to work with. There is the
 very mild and temporary flicker of aversion towards the driver
 just ahead taking too long to make a left turn. There's the
 smoldering resentment towards the inconsiderate boss at work.
 Then comes the bitter, lifelong ethnic hatreds that enflame
 whole nations. Our pathetic victims can even be made to feel ill
 will towards inanimate objects, particularly their own
 creations. Nothing is more amusing than to see a human work
 himself into a frenzy of anger directed at some malfunctioning
 machinery. The senselessness of it hardly deters them at all.
 "Obstinacy is the pig-headed refusal to change, a tendency many
 humans have. They continue to throw good money after bad, in a
 manner of speaking: having once invested some emotional energy
 in a grudge, it seems a defeat to let it go, somewhat like
 admitting they've been foolish all along. That would never do!
 All of these are grist for our mill, all manifestations of the
 same thing.
 "Our position in this department is quite sound. As they
 multiply themselves upon the face of the earth, they crowd into
 each other more and more, getting on each others' nerves.
 Nevertheless, we must be vigilant against the one credible
 antidote to ill will--that is, the emotion of universal loving
 kindness. You may shudder at the name, my minions, but name it I
 must. In the old Pali it is metta; to the Greeks it was called
 agape. This is the one force against which we cannot stand. So
 stop it before it is cultivated! Discredit it as weakness. This
 is becoming easy, as compassion is losing its stand amongst
 them. It has become quite unfashionable to pity the poor, for
 example. Little do they know that it requires real courage of
 spirit to practice universal goodwill. Luckily for us, few of
 them possess the requisite mettle.
 "Should any of them begin to practice mental culture, as for
 example by meditating, then it is time to redouble our efforts,
 because here is one that might get away. I have touched upon
 this issue in my notes to some of the other armies, but in your
 specialty you have many opportunities to attack the meditator.
 Attack through the body. It is inevitable that the effort to
 remain motionless will cause the squirmy little beggars some
 discomfort. It takes only a little prodding from us to turn this
 into aggravation or self-pity. The nuances are endless; it can
 take them a very long time to realize that whereas the bodily
 aspect of pain is inevitable, this mental self-torment is
 entirely superfluous. We can also encourage resentments against
 the teacher, the practice, the food, the weather, and numerous
 other external factors. They can wallow in these petty miseries
 for hours and hours. Let's not let any of them get away!"
 During a pause in his dictation, Mara's secretary fiddles with
 the remote control, and the view through the picture window
 fades into that of a darkly handsome singer wailing into a
 microphone as he does a loose-hipped dance. The near-hysterical
 roar of the crowd is plainly audible behind the plaintive song,
 "Ooooh! I just love Elvis!"
NINTH ARMY: The Host of Honor, Renown, and Notoriety

 Mara takes the remote and gives it the merest flick. The famous
 performer is seen some years later, bloated and pasty faced as
 he fumbles shakily through a bed-side drawer, searching
 desperately amongst the rubbish for his barbiturates.
 "It is hard to understand from a rational point of view why
 humans crave fame. It seems to destroy so many of the most
 gifted among them. The pathological inflation of the
 ego-illusion becomes too much for their merely mortal shell. And
 yet crave it they do. The prudent may say that 'the wise seek no
 notoriety,' but this counsel is drowned by the crowd singing
 'the thrill that'll hitcha when you getcha picture on the cover
 of the Rolling Stone. 
"My loyal minions, we should be clear as to the psychological
 basis for this syndrome. The ego illusion is very dear to our
 victims. Nevertheless, since it is in reality a mere phantasm,
 it is quite hard for them to maintain, generally requiring a
 tremendous investment of energy--energy that, needless to say,
 becomes unavailable for anything else useful. If this
 insubstantial ego can be pumped up with external sources of
 energy, such as the adulation of a crowd, they might experience
 the sense of a 'net-gain'. Of course, it is all illusory and
 very dangerous to the individual, but very intoxicating
 "Our resources in this department have been very limited until
 quite recently. In years gone by, fame generally meant being
 well known among the relatively few inhabitants of one's own
 city-state (although we occasionally did a bit better with the
 emperor or local big shot).
 'Now, however, the stakes are much higher. With the invention of
 technology to transmit images from place to place, it has become
 possible for an individual's features to become globally
 recognizable. Together with this technological possibility, a
 powerful cult of celebrity has arisen. The masses seek to
 improve their dreary existence by living vicariously through
 idols. This is a marvelous system of mutual self-destruction.
 Common TV addicts are able to escape having a real life of their
 own, instead remaining enthralled by an ersatz astral-plane
 existence. How futile and pathetic! But well-suited to our
 purposes. And in the end, they typically turn on and devour the
 former objects of their worship. We win both ways.
 "Of course, this level of fame is necessarily restricted to the
 few. But we still have the older, antique type of fame to
 ensnare many more.
 "This is the desire--often inflated to a positive obsession--to
 become well-known and well-regarded in one's own petty sphere.
 This is such a simple way of stoking the fires of ego. As long
 as they are concerned about their reputations among friends and
 associates, they remain trapped in the idea of themselves as
 'real' entities. When Joe hears that everyone says, 'Joe is the
 best diesel mechanic in the plant,' then he is reassured of the
 reality of the concept of 'Joe the diesel mechanic'. This works
 just as well if everyone says, 'Joe is the sloppiest excuse for
 a mechanic we've ever seen.'
 "Generally, beings define themselves according to the ways
 others see them. This is the 'persona,' the public mask.
 Becoming obsessed with putting on a good front, they eventually
 fool themselves and lose track of who they really are. And as
 long as they are looking outward, they are not seeing
 within--and the outward direction is our territory.
 "'Praise and Blame' are yet another potent pair to bring
 pleasure and pain. They are the carrot and stick by which we
 drive our donkeys down the garden path. It hardly seems to
 matter that the objects here are usually such ephemeral ones.
 The drive for recognition is a powerful source of craving and
 stimulates the 'process of becoming' just as well as more
 substantial rewards. 'Praise and Blame' are called the worldly
 winds and are among our most useful tricks. The fact that they
 are utterly void of substance is amusing to us, but unapparent
 to the poor humans. Keep these winds gusting; they can blow
 beings around and around Samsara for a long, long time!"
TENTH ARMY: The Host of Self-Praise and Denigration of Others

 Mara leans back in his chair with his hands behind his head.
 "Sometimes I amaze myself. I mean, where would this organization
 be without me? If I wasn't so modest, I'd be damned near
 "I've always thought so, Mara. And those armies of yours sure
 are deadly!"
 "What!? Those incompetent bums! If I didn't play the nurse maid
 over them constantly, they'd be fouling things up all over the
 universe! It's so hard to get decent help these days! But never
 "To my bold and powerful Tenth, greetings! Your task is crucial,
 and fortunately for us, easy. Generally, humans have the most
 unreasonable attitude of taking themselves quite seriously. They
 seem unable to disengage mentally from the ego perspective. One
 way we can reinforce this primary cognitive illusion is to
 foster an attitude of self-praise. Let them think of themselves
 as truly wonderful and righteous; fill them up with pride. This
 is the task of the first division of the Tenth Army.
 "Self-praise fuels all the defilements; it is a masterwork of
 delusion. Our victims look into the mirror with rose-colored
 glasses. They become unable to see their own faults and bristle
 with indignation whenever these are pointed out to them.
 Self-praise also fuels attachment and sensuality; after all,
 doesn't someone as wonderful as 'me' deserve a little fun? It
 also fires up anger, the fierce variety of the self-righteous
 who know that their views and opinions are correct and that
 everyone else is an idiot. It is so amusing to watch two human
 egos clash.
 "The forces of the Tenth have a special role to play in those
 difficult cases where an individual shows signs of spiritual
 progress. If they begin to free themselves from the coarser
 snares of my other armies, we can often use their own victories
 against them by encouraging a spiritual pride and arrogance.
 Whisper in their ear about what wonderful spiritual beings they
 are: 'look at me, the great holy man!' This trap has caught many
 fish. And don't be overly concerned about the accuracy of their
 grandiose opinions; they are capable of the most ludicrous
 self-delusion concerning their own merits. Very few of them,
 after all, ever develop a knack for introspection, and even
 fewer are truly capable of self-criticism. You should be aware
 that a large number of them have a very negative self-image. If
 handled properly, this should cause no concern. Negative or
 positive, a self-image is a self-image. It is this fundamental
 perceptual hallucination of a self that keeps them in
 bondage--positive and negative versions suit our purposes
 equally well. If you can't convince them they're wonderful, then
 encourage them to kick themselves for being such losers.
 Remember, there are three kinds of conceit: 'I am better than
 you, I am worse than you, and I am equal to you.' Any one of
 these is a conceit and reinforces duality.
 "In fact, there are signs that in the modern culture the
 negative form has become predominant. A great many humans don't
 like themselves very much, not that I can really blame them.
 This complicated phenomenon is ultimately rooted in the rise of
 materialism. When a human being denies the fundamental spiritual
 nature of being, life becomes hollow. Don't let them guess that
 this is the problem; encourage them instead in this view that
 they are inadequate. The post-modern environment is very helpful
 for this tendency. Since the industrial revolution, they have
 been seeking to create a materialist paradise with their
 machines, and now their own inventions are rendering them
 redundant by the millions.
 "The second division of the Tenth Army has the job of promoting
 the denigration of others, the complement to self-praise. Many
 are the beings who seek to puff themselves up by putting others
 down. It is far easier to criticize someone else's defilements
 than to work on one's own. Of course, the defects people are
 most ready to criticize are also precisely the ones they are
 themselves infected with, but they almost never see this when
 they are caught up in it. It's really quite amusing to watch.
 And they don't care that denigrating others is an illogical
 practice and always makes matters worse--they still do it.
 "You are our primary vehicle for stirring up ill will and
 conflict, and you have many weapons and tactics. Gossip is very
 popular. Everyone loves a scandal; never mind whether it's true
 so long as it's juicy! How righteous they feel as they cluck
 over someone else's peccadilloes! You can stir up this petty
 vice anywhere humans gather: school, work, clubs, families, etc.
 We have found by long experience that this is even a great
 corrupter of monasteries and spiritual communities.
 "Don't forget the nastier forms of criticism as well. Their
 vicious personal attacks ruin each others' lives. Even more
 destructive is the form called prejudice, in which their
 hostility is based on non-personal criteria such as language or
 skin color. As absurd as it may sound to a rational being,
 humans get so worked up over these irrelevancies that whole
 nations are plunged into the chaos of war--an activity to be
 encouraged, of course, as it is a great devourer of all
 spiritual values. All these forms of denigration of others are
 based on the delusion of self-righteousness. Subtler and
 profounder than all the other damage it does, though, is the
 fundamental fact that so long as one is looking for faults
 outside, then one is not looking within. This is the one thing
 we must never, ever let them do.
 "Sign my letter, 'Mara, the Lord of Birth and Death, the
 Devourer of Beings and the Spinner of the Wheel', etc. etc. and
 so forth. Send one copy to each of my Army Chiefs and one to my
 The secretary leaves now with a giggle and a wink. Mara closes
 the day's business by quickly surveying his far-flung empire. He
 watches the screen and scans the cosmos, observing beings as
 they pass in and out of existence. He sees the moral die and
 reappear in heaven and the immoral drop into hell. From both
 hell and heaven, beings finish their time and reappear on earth.
 Around and around in fruitless circles they go, blasted by the
 winds of desire--winds fanned by Mara's efforts throughout the
 ages. But there on the screen, in a small bamboo hut, an old
 woman lies down to die. She is wearing robes and her head is
 shaved. With quiet dignity she stretches her frail body out on
 the thin woven mat, lying on her right side. Mara watches with
 distaste; he knows and fears what is coming but cannot look
 away. It's as painful and as compulsive to him as probing a
 rotten tooth with one's tongue. The nun quietly and peacefully
 expires, and the screen flickers. The automatic software
 searches quickly through all realms of existence and comes back
 with the dreaded error message: "Being Not Found."
 "Bah! Fortunately we don't lose many that way." Mara doesn't
 allow himself to speculate too long on the whereabouts of the
 old nun; the idea is vaguely disturbing. He continues to review
 the many, many more manageable cases that remain within his
 jurisdiction. Around and around they go; Mara has been busily at
 work for millennia but he too is caught in his own web. As he
 relaxes now with the day's tasks done, he pulls a comb from his
 vest pocket. The elegant demon-god combs his shiny black hair
 reflectively, vanity, of course, being one of his vices. After a
 few strokes, he glances at the platinum and tiger-bone comb; his
 eyes narrow, his breath stops, and he gets a sick feeling in the
 pit of his stomach. Among the black is one gray hair.
The End

 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