If your inner Mara already subdues you, you are subdued by the outer Mara too.
— Stonepeace | Get Books
As summarised from the Brahma-Nimantanika Sutta, the Buddha spoke of an occasion, when a wrong view arose in the mind of Baka Brahma (婆句梵天), a god residing in Maha Brahma Heaven. He had assumed that his existence and world was constant, permanent, eternal and total (‘salvation’), not subject to ageing, death and rebirth. The Buddha thus swiftly manifested in his world to instruct him. Welcomed by Baka Brahma, who repeated his thoughts to him, the Buddha exclaimed that he was actually being ignorant by mistaking so. Just then, Mara, the most evil god (a heavenly ‘demon’ from the Paranimmita-Vasavatti Heaven) possessed an attendant of Baka Brahma and told the Buddha not to rebuke him, for he is ‘the Maha (Great) Brahma, the Conqueror, Unconquered, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Creator, Most High Providence, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.’
Mara next warned that before the Buddha’s time, there were those who found fault with the elements (of the realms of rebirth), beings, and even gods like Brahma, who were subsequently reborn in lower realms with suffering. He claimed that those who praised the above instead are reborn in refined realms with happiness. As such, the Buddha ought to be agreeable with Baka Brahma, as defiance could lead to loss of good fortune and even lead to hell. The Buddha replied that he recognises Mara, and that Baka Brahma and his assembly are now under Mara’s control, that despite Mara’s thinking that he, the Buddha too was subdued, he was not.
Baka Brahma then reasserted his earlier claims, adding that as there is no greater liberation than his realised by anyone in the past, that since the Buddha will not find it either, he ought to save himself from trouble by staying in his world to do his biding. The Buddha replied that with his direct superior knowledge of all things as they are, he could discern the limits of Baka Brahma’s power and influence, that there are other brahmas (such as Brahma Sahampati), whom Baka Brahma is unaware of, in higher heavens, such as Abhassara Heaven (a second jhanic heaven), from where Baka Brahma fell from in his previous life (to the present first jhanic heaven), that he has forgotten. (Having fallen from higher heavens more than once, Baka Brahma had spiritually devolved, although he pridefully assumed he was already perfect.)
Unconvinced, Baka Brahma wished the Buddha well in what he thinks he knows, to which the Buddha added that his enlightened consciousness is luminous and boundless, beyond the limits of all sensual phenomena. Still unconvinced, Baka Brahma announced that with his supernormal powers, he will make himself disappear from the Buddha’s sight, which he welcomed. However, as his powers were subdued by the Buddha, he could not do so. The Buddha in turn announced that he would disappear from Baka Brahma’s sight instead, which he too welcomed. Staying invisible, the Buddha used his powers to demonstrate their boundlessness, speaking to everyone present of the danger in clinging to the extremes of delighting in becoming and searching for non-becoming. All present were amazed at the Buddha’s powers and wisdom.
Mara next possessed another attendant, telling the Buddha that if had he awakened to what he claimed, he should not teach anyone the Dharma (path to enlightenment), for there were some in the past, who claimed to be awakened, who taught so, and had lower rebirths. And there were those who did not teach, who had higher rebirths. As such, he suggested the Buddha to only abide in his own well-being. Again, the Buddha recognises Mara, replying that his request is uncompassionate to the welfare of others, that Mara dreads defiance of him by those whom he teaches, that those who claimed to be awakened, as mentioned by Mara, were not truly so, while he, the Buddha, is truly awakened. Concluding that defilements which lead to suffering and rebirth have been eradicated by the Buddha from their roots, Mara was silenced in defeat.
It is worth noting that Mara was insidious in secretly and repeatedly trying to keep Baka Brahma and his assembly deluded. He even tries to delude the Buddha, to dissuade him from teaching. Speaking through others without showing his form, this reminds us that anyone who speaks and acts with delusion is also under Mara’s control, be it the actual Mara or one’s inner demon of delusion. Mara can be ‘no body’ in particular!
The sutta also points out that unenlightened gods are still deluded, of how the demand for blind obedience to a so-called omnipotent creator god arose from Mara. In this sense, some gods, despite their might from having much good karma, can unwittingly become ‘servants’ of Mara, so long as they stay deluded.
Also noteworthy is that the Buddha proves his superiority by sharing his wisdom first, and only resorts to display of supernormal powers when the unconvinced Baka Brahma wanted to flaunt his. As the Buddha taught in the Sangarava Sutta, the miracle that is the highest and most sublime is that of direct Dharma instruction, which is able to transform the foolish into the wise. This miracle he skilfully delivered in word and example, along with the miracle of supernormal disappearance of form, with simultaneous all-around appearance of his voice, which made all pay special attention to his teachings.
The Buddha expressed his supreme all-pervasive wisdom and supernormal powers, while showing the limits of Baka Brahma’s and Mara’s. Simply by readily recognising Mara (‘naming the demon’) and overpowering Baka Brahma’s powers, he shows his greater control. The power to be invisible to all yet making all (including Mara’s varied disguises) ‘visible’ illustrates how much more the Buddha is able to discern, while how little others have yet to discern of his abilities.
The name of the sutta means ‘Brahma’s Invitation’ as the Buddha was welcomed by Baka Brahma. ‘Brahma’ refers to both the highest classes of gods (devas), while also meaning ‘of great or high power’. When the Buddha declared his freedom from rebirth, which Mara was trying to bind him to with related threats, the Buddha, being the one of truly great and high power, was also inviting Mara, or anyone else, to refute him, which is impossible, because his realisation and teachings are truly supreme in greatness and power.
Interestingly, taught before the truly wide spread of major ‘almighty god’-centric beliefs, the sutta seems to outline some parallel core concepts – (1) the threat of ‘hell’ for non-believers, (2) the promise of ‘eternal’ heaven by a heavenly ‘Father’ for his faithful ‘creation’, and (3) the claim of him being ‘the Conqueror, Unconquered, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Creator, Most High Providence’. In this sutta, however, the Buddha taught Baka Brahma that none of these attributes applied to him (or any other god). The threat and promise are likewise shown to be unsubstantial. This incident is also listed as one of eight great inspiring victories of the Buddha in the Jaya Mangala Gatha (Stanzas of Victory and Blessings), which is often recollected and recited to invoke the blessings of the Buddha for the clearing of obstacles via the power of truth and rejoice.
In a related teaching called the Baka Brahma Sutta, when Baka Brahma asserted that many yearn to be like those in his heaven, the Buddha revealed that their life spans, although apparently long to them, are still limited, possible only as Baka Brahma had done much good to help others in his previous lives. Baka Brahma then remarked that the Buddha must know others’ lives too, as his radiant majesty illuminates even the heavens. As these suttas remind us, the Buddha is indeed, as traditionally called, an unsurpassable ‘Teacher of Humans and Gods’!
Though a deity of great purity, radiance and power, Baka, the Brahma god, was nevertheless in the grip of false views, like an arm tightly held by a snake’s coils. Him the Sovereign Sage (the Buddha) cured by higher wisdom. Through this mighty triumph of the Buddha, may blessings and victory be mine!
— Jaya Mangala Gatha (Excerpt)
Good karma alone is not good enough,
as it still binds one to rebirth.
Even if it leads to a good rebirth for a long time,
wisdom is still needed for liberation.
— Stonepeace | Get Books
Beyond heavens and hells,
Beyond the realms between,
Beyond gods and demons,
Beyond the beings between,
Are the Buddhas supreme,
With supreme compassion and wisdom.
— Stonepeace | Get Books
Featuring Maha Brahma: The Bird that Flew Too Far
Featuring Maha Brahma: Can a Creator God be Created?
Featuring Brahma Sahampati: Was the Buddha Reluctant to Teach?
Featuring Brahma (in General): Did the Universe Have a Creator?
Featuring Abhassara Brahmas:
Featuring Abhassara Brahmas:
Featuring Baka Brahma: Stanzas Of Victory (Jaya Mangala Gatha)
Are Buddhists Atheists?
The Cross-Manifestations of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas & Gods?
Sympathy for ‘the Devil’
When are Miracles Appropriate?
My personal reflections after reading this article is:
1) If a heavenly king as meritiously powerful as the Brahma still needs the personal guidance of the Buddha, then I think most of us, especially those that are deemed lazy, stubborn or not as spiritually wise, will need the Buddha’s personal guidance even more.
2) If a heavenly king as meritiously powerful as the Brahma cannot recognise his outer or inner Mara, then how many more among us mortal beings (regardless of whether one has heard or not heard of the Dharma, is diligently practising or not practising the Dharma)will not recognise our own Maras?
Other than the usual refrain to try our best to practise the Dharma diligently, I also wish to urge fellow practitioners to take this article as another reminder to develop greater wisdom and compassion for sentient beings deceived by their inner or outer Maras.
Simply put, we are ‘infected’ with different forms of inner Maras unless we have attained at least the first stage of sainthood – sotapanna.
Being meritorious does not mean being very wise. In fact, the highest gods – in the formless heavens are among the least wise, for being attached to pointless (spiritually unproductive) absorptions for a long time, after which they will fall to the lower realms.
Being wise does not mean being very meritorious. E.g. it is possible to be a poor Arhat with little material merits. Of course to be full of both merits and wisdom is to become a Buddha.
As long as far from enlightenment, we all could do with personal guidance from a Buddha. E.g. by meeting one in Pure Land. The more ‘those that are deemed lazy, stubborn or not as spiritually wise’ are really so, the more should they buck up to make it to Pure Land with proper practice.
I also wish to urge fellow practitioners to take this article as another reminder to develop greater wisdom and compassion for one another by practising the Dharma more diligently. It is the direct action to counter our inner maras and outer ones. Find a practice group for motivation if necessary. Such encouragements are never enough as long as all are not enlightened yet.
Even sotapannas have inner Maras (inner greed, hatred and delusion) still. If not, they would already be absolutely delusion-free Buddhas with perfect wisdom.
The example of a poor Arhat with little material merits is often used to support the case that one needs to cultivate both wisdom and merits at the same time.
However, there is one little discernible contradiction (for the lack of a better word that I can think of at the moment) – when one is truly spiritually wise, merits will definitely be cultivated naturally in one way or the other. In the case of the poor Arhat, there is little or most likely, zero mental suffering on his part, as he is free from the 3 poisons and from the attachment of ego. On a slightly related topic, anyone who practises wise contentment, can also be very happy even if he is poor and has not heard of and therefore unable to practise any Buddhist teachings.
Although the Pure land practice seems to be widely advocated in this forum, I also wish to see that those who are not karmically ready or suitable for such a Dharma Door would still be received with as much compassion and be guided with as many skilful means as possible.
There is no doubt that group practice can help one to cultivate or reinforce spiritual motivation, but such advice should not be framed in ways or tones that allude to “this must be done by all or else one would never see any improvement”. We need to seriously take in the fact that there are those who would not benefit from group practice in the long-term. Short-term, maybe yes.
How does one know one is diligently practising the Dharma? Others may feel quite differently, but for me, how one approaches and encourages those who are perceived, or actually observed to be less diligent in doing good or practising the Dharma is one good indicator.
Sotapannas cannot be compared with fully enlightened Buddhas, but when compared with completely unenlightened beings like us, the difference in spiritual strength and wisdom is already great enough.
There is no point in comparing someone with A levels(or even lower) to someone who holds a doctorate or post-doctorate degree.
Sotapannas may not be perfect, but they are already unshakeable in their faith and practice of the Dharma. Hence, even if they still have inner Maras, those Maras no longer have as great a hold on such practitioners (when compared to unenlightened beings like us) to prevent them from attaining greater spiritual wisdom and eventually attain Buddhahood.
For those who claim they are not yet sotapannas but can contain their inner Maras very well with diligent Pureland practice and all that, that itself can be intrepreted in one way or another as being already as spritually strong as sotapannas. However, for any given time and any particular spiritual group, such individuals are the very rare ones, rather than being as common as some would feel or observe it to be.
An example of an Arhat who lacked merits to counter negative karma is Moggallana who died killed. His mind was already freed though.
‘There is no doubt that group practice can help one to cultivate or reinforce spiritual motivation.’ There was no alluding that “this must be done by all or else one would never see any improvement”. Why make that allusion?
It was the Buddha who said spiritual friendship is the WHOLE of the path. The rare ones who practise by themselves can be silent Buddhas. But even they might have encountered Buddhas in past lives. Even arhats en masse in the Buddha’s time befriended the Buddha before they became enlightened. Indeed, ‘There is no doubt that group practice can help one to cultivate or reinforce spiritual motivation.’
How does one know one is diligently practising the Dharma? Others may feel quite differently, but for me, how one approaches and encourages those who perceive themselves to not need group practice, or mistakenly assume they are diligent in doing good or practising the Dharma is one good indicator. Do they just believe this is the case, or do they compassionately and CONTINUALLY advise, as what the Buddha said in his last words, to
‘STRIVE ON WITH DILIGENCE’?
The Buddha’s last words are worth echoing until we become enlightened. It is indeed true, that ‘Even sotapannas have inner Maras (inner greed, hatred and delusion) still.’ Every one needs to practise diligently – even Sotapannas – what more us. There is no point in comparing someone with A levels (or even lower) to someone who holds higher qualifications. So, since we are not Sotapannas, so let’s work hard and not compare.
The constant harping on diligent practice and group practice without due consideration given to other factors gives one the impression that some fellow practitioners are alluding to “this must be done by all or else one would never see any improvement”. For anyone who don’t feel they are alluding to anything when saying such words, need not counter-ask. It serves as a parting thought or reminder or whatever one wants it to be.
What the Buddha said should not be taken too literally without considering other factors. The same goes for ‘spiritual friendship is the WHOLE of the path’. When one has conveniently disregarded important qualifying statements mentioned when quoting the original comments of others, it suggests somehow, there was little effort made to understand in proper context the whole intention of the speaker’s original message.
The point is, for people who are striving on with diligence or consider themselves to be already doing so, they will definitely be able to compassionately and continually advise with skilfully means for those who they perceive or observe to be less diligent. That is the main point that I wish to make.
The Buddha’s last words are worth echoing only when we also take great care to consider and echo in proper context, other important influencing factors at the same time. Such factors are mentioned in many different sutras. Or else it becomes merely a convenient or mindless retort to those who we see as being less diligent.
The Sotapannas example was brought up to highlight the point that while we should practise diligently, we should also acknowledge and humbly accept our spiritual cultivation limits – at least for some of us. Sotapannas are completely stable in their spritual practice and understanding of the Dharma, unlike unenlightened beings like us.
By continously saying things like ’emulating Buddha’s example, do this or that like the Buddha, it would seem that we are in a way, comparing ourselves unrealistically to the Buddha when we are not even Sotapannas. Well-intentioned advice like these, when repeated too often without proper elaboration for the intended audience, would appear to be like unconscious, subtle and unrealistic comparisons made to guilt-trip fellow practitioners who we perceive or observe to be ‘not diligently practising the Dharma’.
Least the message gets taken out of context, the main message is, let’s take one step at the time. If we wish to emulate, let’s emulate realistically stage by stage. We just need to wholeheartedly acknowledge that Buddhahood is the final stage to be reached in any kind of proper spiritual practice. That is more than enough as we continue to practise at our own pace, as diligently as we can.
‘Subject to change are conditioned things. Strive on with diligence.’
– Mahaparinibanna Sutta (The Buddha)
The strife is surely along the line of study, practice, realisation and sharing of the Dharma – with as much diligence as possible, because life is short. This cannot be denied. Nothing is taken out of context.
By continuously saying things like emulating Buddha’s example, it would continually inspire us by seeing realistically, how far we can go – with practice, as encouraged by the Buddha.
The final goal kept in mind is important. There is no emphasis on reaching it in one lifetime, but the Buddha surely hopes us to strive best we can in each lifetime.
The reminder of diligent strife is usually a guilt trip only to the lazy, and to them, the Buddha’s last words are supposed to be a wake-up call. But there are those who are so amazing at rationalising, beating about the bush, that they remain asleep. Hope this applies to no one.
The Buddha often emphasised on Bodhicitta, which is setting the highest goal for Buddhahood. This is the removing of limits in goal-setting. We don’t say the Buddha is unrealistic but is in fact very realistic because all indeed can attain Buddhahood with diligent strife. If one doesn’t wish for Buddhahood, so be it. Self-liberation is ok too, for the time being. To each his own.
Lest the message gets taken out of context, the main message is, let’s take one step at the time. If we wish to emulate, let’s emulate the Buddha realistically stage by stage – with diligent PRACTICE at EVERY point, as advised by the Buddha in his last words:
‘Subject to change are conditioned things. Strive on with diligence.’
– Mahaparinibanna Sutta (The Buddha)
What is taken out of context is not just merely the verse at times, but also how one uses the verses to teach others. Quoting verses without due consideration for the individual’s ability to understand the intended message, is at best throwing the sutra at their faces – which might help some but not all.
When one truly recognises and realises that Buddhahood is the final goal, we will be naturally inspired to go as far as we realistically can, even without having to continuously parrot that of emulating the Buddha.
The Buddha does not hope – he just clearly knows. If there are those who understand his message and decide to strive to their ability, that is of course the most desirable outcome. If there are those who don’t, for whatever reason, the Buddha’s compassion towards them – reflected in the countless skilful means to inspire them, will not cease. If one practises the Pureland method, one can get to hear the constant message of getting liberated in one lifetime, but yet we also know from observation and reading up on sutras, that things are not that favourable for all. So the main point is, for those who are ready, they will be become Buddhas in one lifetime, with or without any kind of emphasis on any kind of Dharma message or any form of encouragement.
If guilt-tripping the lazy in such ways are so effective, there wouldn’t be any need for us to mention ‘skilful means’. Clearly guilt-tripping the lazy is meant to carefully employed to specific groups of who we consider to be lazy, if if it is agreeable at all.
We are all asleep in one way or another; rationalising ourselves in one way or another; as long as we are not enlightened. When we can’t or don’t bother to understand the message of others from their point of views, we say others are beating around the bush, rationalising and so on. So it sounds like we are awake in seeing that others are asleep, but we also remain asleep to our own ways of unskilful ways of communicating with those we deem to be on a lower standard of spiritual practice.
The Buddha cannot be unrealistic because he clearly understands the unique spiritual capabilities of every sentient being at any point of time. The Buddha is seen to be emphasising on Bodhicitta, but that was meant for a specific group of his disciples (monastic and layman). The Buddha did not start his teachings emphasising Bodhicitta – which would have scared some off, even though it is intrepreted by those that are ready as ‘removing of limits in goal-setting’.
Buddhahood is not something we wish or wish not to be. It is like life and death, in my humble opinion. When the whole of favourable conditions are ripe, we came into being and we also have to accept leaving our mortal body behind – willingly or unwillingly at any point in time.
The same goes for Sotapannas and Arahants. We cannot say such saints do not have Bodhicitta. We cannot only say it is not as refined or in-depth.
There is no disagreement or doubt on the importance of diligence at every point. The only point that needs to be taken note of is – to be done at our own pace, with due consideration for our own limits at any point in time.
Urging others to practice diligently is as important as urging ourselves. Since this is faceless and non live-interaction, the least we could do is to share with others our experiences (be it skilful or unskilful conduct) through the words we write and let them come to their own conclusions as to whether those experiences can be a form of inspiration to practise diligently.
We can see the Buddha in Sotapannas and so on. So there is pratically no conflict in saying that we emulate Sotapannas and so on, and progress till we are ready for Buddhahood.
That verse from the Mahaparinibanna Sutta should be properly read and explained using other sutras that also mention how to strive with diligence in a wise manner. Explain it in ways that would help to plant seeds of goodwill and right understanding towards Dharma in those who deem to be un-Buddhist in their Dharma practice. Practise diligently, yes, but only because we truly understand the need to do so on our own, and not to please or gain any form of acceptance or approval from even fellow practitioners.
How are the Buddha’s last words taken out of context here? The context is ‘they are his LAST words’ – which means it is universal advice for ALL, for ALL time after his departure. Being diligent obviously refers to all aspects – of Dharma study, practice, realisation and sharing. It is perfect advice applicable for all. Yes of course, EVERYTHING should be shared properly. The Buddha did finish teaching all that was needed properly already. Surely, you can’t expect all the scriptures to be summarised here to show the full context of his last words. From your comments, I’m sure you know what the Dharma is roughly about already, if so, surely striving on with diligence applies to you. There is no advocating of ‘ throwing the sutra at their faces’. No one did that here. Let’s just strive on with diligence – ok? Am sure you know what it means. So what’s left is to just do it.
The Buddha’s words are quoted here out of compassion. It’s a shame you call it ‘to continuously parrot that of emulating the Buddha’. Many Buddhists repeat a Buddha’s name to align to their Buddha-nature and that of the Buddha. This is called mindfulness of Buddha. We don’t call that parroting. And remembering the Dharma by sharing the Buddha’s words is mindfulness of the Dharma. That is not parroting either. If you see no need to remember the Buddha’s key teachings, such as his precious last words, good for you and hopefully, you really don’t need to remember to ‘strive on with diligence.’
If one practises the Pureland method, one will especially be reminded that with diligence, all the 3 provisions for birth in Pureland can be accomplished. Yes, the key is diligence. No need to fret and worry about not getting there. Just stock up with diligent practice and stop beating about the bush if one really wants to reach Pureland. We have been beating about the bush for countless lifetimes already.
There was no mention that guilt-tripping the lazy is 100% effective. Apparently, it is not. Some are just stubborn and defensive, and digress endlessly, missing the point of diligent practice. May those with greater skilful means help them when the ones already striving too seem to fail.
Some of us rationalise less and get into diligent practice and some rationalise more, resisting practice. May we rationalise less and less and get down to diligent practice. May those who feel misunderstood seek understanding of more qualified teachers directly in person, instead of via avenues like online comments with fools like me, because it can stir up confusion for readers. Personally, I know my comments are lousy. But frankly, with no hard feelings, it seems that you are full of excuses in not wanting to be more diligent. My sincere apologies if you are actually already very diligent. I hope you can accept that that is just my foolish perception of your words, though others might perceive likewise too. I sincerely hope the moderator can end this thread as your long comments could confuse readers into thinking the last words of the Buddha are not directly applicable to all without exception.
Yes, the Buddha is the perfect teacher, and the only sure way to benefit directly is to reach Pureland to meet a Buddha… via diligent practice. There was no mention that Bodhicitta is a teaching for all beginners. But it its the actual aspiration that the Buddha hopes all will give rise to in good time. Buddhahood is a state to aspire towards conscientiously. This is why the Buddha actively urges people to give rise to Bodhicitta and to nurture it repeatedly in the sutras. Check out the Avatmasaka Sutra’s great praise of Bodhicitta to inspire us to give rise to it. He doesn’t say there is no diligence needed, that we just sit back and relax, that Bodhicitta will arise by itself. We have been lax for countless past lives already. There are also great teachings like the Exhortation to Give Rise to Bodhicitta by Pureland Patriarch Great Master Xing An.
There was no mention that Sotapannas and Arahants do not have (or can’t have) Bodhicitta. Glad that there is no disagreement or doubt on the importance of diligence at every point. That’s the original point, right? Till you went around in circles before ‘agreeing’. On the idea of being diligent at one’s own pace, with considerations of one’s limits at any point of time…. er… yah… that’s common sense. No one said to overstretch till one breaks. BUT… the very definition of diligence is to stretch to an extent further than comfortable. No pain no gain. Not extreme asceticism but stretching one’s spiritual muscles of diligence in moderation – always.
We can’t see the Buddha in Sotapannas, just as we can’t see an old man in a foetus. There is a lot of difference. If not, we might as well be mindful of Sotapannas to become Buddhas, instead of being mindful of Buddhas, as the Buddha taught.
That verse from the Mahaparinibanna Sutta has been, in my opinion, properly read and explained above already, in many ways. If in lack, what we can do is to strive on with diligence in studying other scriptures more on what they imply. I’m no expert, so do learn from more qualified teachers. Do strive on with diligence, ok? These are my last words, echoing the Buddha’s.
This thread is now closed to prevent confusion.
‘Subject to change are all conditioned things.
Strive on with diligence.’
~ The Buddha’s final advice for all Buddhists
To learn more about what diligence entails,
these courses are recommended: