In the trail of the Mara | Daily News

In the trail of the Mara

In order to teach or exemplify a particular religious concept, great teachers have attempted to express them in terms of creative communicative forms. The great religious teachers like the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohamed have resorted to this creativity long before the subject now known as creativity or creative process had come to be. The explanations on such concepts as birth, decay, death and suffering have been taught in terms of parables, tales and fables.

In turn, these stories that came to be heard by the other teachers both clergy and laity had the chance of remembering them in order to pass them down the generations as an aide memoir or epitaphs that could be remembered from mind to mind. When they come to be written they were well known as folklore or folk literature.

Age-old folk narrative form

The creative tale as written by Ajahn Punnadhamma titled Letter from Mara (Wheel Publications, 2006) is an attempt of this genre resembling the age-old folk narrative form on the subject of Death or the shape of the inevitable moment that all creatures on the planet earth had to undergo at a particular moment in the existence. The personification of death is well known in oriental folklore is named Mara.

In most Pali text like Mara Samyutta, the term Mara means the state of death. As time passed, the term was also used as a king named Mara, the King of the world that entices the humans, with his power extended to struggle for a living. Those who can defeat the Mara are deemed wise and those who are negatively pushed towards him are deemed weaklings.

Ajahn Punnadhamma recreates ten Mara senas or the ten armies of Mara to whom he addresses to persuade each army to gauge the strength as well as weaknesses of humans or varying type. The modus operandi in addressing the ten armies is recreated as fetters written packed with a given topic of interpretation.

The reader comes to know quite a lot of religions interspersed therein. The topic of the subject given to the first army is denoted as the host of sense desires. Herein, the five sense desires are underlined. They are the division of the sense of sight. Then come the sense of hearing, sense of smell, the sense of taste. And the sense of touch. The advice underlined by Mara is to enchant the victims in the best possible manner.

State of death

The victims, needless to say, are the weaklings who strive to exist not knowing what wisdom means to them in order to either evade the state of death or to face the same without fear. The second army is known as the force that should know the concept of boredom.

This is symbolised as an extension of the first army. These humans who are leading a life of boredom too are also a group of weaklings that could be easily enticed to end the state of living and descend into the world of the Mara.

In the order of regimentation, the rest of the armies are given the title that denotes the topics as hunger and thirst, craving, sloth and accede, cowardice, uncertainty, malice and obstinacy, honour, renown and notoriety and the tenth being self-praise and denigration of others. The reader feels that each army is carrying the said banners as they march into the progeny of sorrow-filled weaklings. The reader too gets the chance of identifying himself or herself as a victim, in one of the banners, carried by the respective armies.

Ajahn Punnadhammo leaves no room to find any extra types existing in the realm of humans other than those mention in each banner. The intention, I felt in writing a book of this sort is to not only impart doctrinal knowledge, but also to think more of one’s own self, and thereby to gauge where one stands int eh social structure, he or she belongs to.

Doctrinal matters

In this narrative, a letter from the Mara, the reader too gets a chance to see the number of layers on which a single topic can stand. This paves the way for the need to teach doctrinal matters via creativity. If this book is translated into various other languages, the question of teaching Buddhist teachings may not appear a strange phenomenon. At times, the writer used a vein of satire, allegory to know the power of Mara (or Death personified) as a king who rules weaklings.

The reader, as the pages move gets the feeling that the armies underlined as belonging to Mara, personify the various types of defilements that humans as grasping into the bonds of Samsara or the cycle of life. Death or Mara too is also remained as a proud person; and reminds me of the metaphysical poetry of John Donne that goes as Death, be not proud though some have called you mighty.” The work as a creative piece looks more a ballad with a sensitive poetic vision relevant to those who venture forth to know more about the living conditions in a happy and resourceful manner leading to spiritualism.

The great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore states in his celebrated poetic work Gitanjali, the following lines addressing death.

“Death, thy servant, is at my door. He has crossed the unknown sea and brought thy call to my home.

The night is dark and my heart is fearful---yet I will take up the lamp, open my gates and bow to him my welcome. It is thy messenger who stands at my door.

I will worship him placing at his feet the treasure of my heart.

He will go back with his errand done, leaving a dark shadow on my morning; and in my desolate home only my forlorn self will remain as my last offering to thee.”