(Continued from the previous post "The Prince and the Pipal".)
Most of the information we have about Gautama’s enlightenment comes from a combination of word of mouth and his own teachings, but these are not always infallible. We will look at this in a future post about Shakyamuni as a “Teacher of the Law”, and how when he came to teach others about the way to achieve enlightenment he had to break the reality of his enlightenment into stages, so that people would be able to understand the profound truth he had awoken to. In the same way, some of these early teachings also serve as an approximation of the Buddha’s enlightenment, but as these were also adapted to the people’s understanding at various stages of his teaching, and are a combination of fact, verse, and allegory, as Nichiren Buddhists we need to view them in terms of the knowledge we have from the Lotus Sutra. These early teachings, as we shall see later, are not essential to our practice, but they do give us an insight into how Shakyamuni attempted to lead his followers and disciples during the early years of his teaching to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.
One of the most famous sutra that outlines Gautama’s enlightenment is the Padhana Sutra in which he talks about “Mara”, “Namuci” (another name for Mara meaning “He who does not let go of his hold over other beings easily”) and “O Evil One”.
So, returning to Gautama’s spiritual journey, in this sutra, we join him cleansed, refreshed and nourished sitting beneath the Pipal tree meditating. Shakyamuni then mentions the arrival of Namuci, who “encourages” him to give up his fast and meditation and instead choose to live, explaining that if he chooses life he can achieve great things:
"When, near the river Nerañjara, I exerted myself in meditation for attaining to security from bondage, there came Namuci speaking words of compassion:
"'You are emaciated and ill-looking, you are near to death! A thousand parts of you belong to death and only a fraction of you is alive. Live, good Sir! It is better to live. Living you may perform meritorious deeds. ... It is difficult to enter the path of exertion, it is difficult to do, difficult to maintain.'"
Gautama asks the Devil why he has come to him, a person with faith, energy, wisdom and purity:
"You who are the friend of the negligent, O Evil One, for what reason have you come here? Those who still have use for merit Mara may consider worthwhile addressing. I have faith and energy and wisdom. Being thus bent on striving why do you ask me to live? ... In me, who abides enduring such an extreme experience, the mind does not long for sensual pleasures. See the purity of a being!”
And then Gautama reveals that he is not easily deceived by the Devil and exposes the many faces that Mara uses to try and trick people:
"Sensual desire is your first army, the second is called discontent, the third is hunger and thirst, the fourth craving, the fifth sluggishness and laziness, the sixth fear, the seventh indecision, and the eighth disparagement of others and stubbornness: gain, fame, honor, prestige wrongly acquired and whoever praises himself and despises others -- these, Namuci, are your armies ... A lazy, cowardly person cannot overcome them, but by conquering them one gains bliss.”
Finally Gautama proclaims that he will defeat this Devil, and then teach others how to do the same:
"It is better for me to die in battle than to live defeated ... I am going out to fight so that [Mara] may not shift me from my position. This army of yours, which the world together with the devas is unable to subdue, I will destroy with wisdom, like an unbaked clay-bowl with a stone. Having mastered the mind and firmly established mindfulness I shall wander from country to country guiding many disciples."
Mara then admits defeat and disappears disappointed:
"For seven years I followed the [Buddha] step by step but did not find an opportunity to defeat that mindful Awakened One. Overcome by sorrow ... thereupon the unhappy spirit disappeared from that place.”
We can see from this sutra that Mara had been constantly by Gautama’s side for the last seven years, and there are other reports of other temptations by Mara (the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven), including an attempted seduction by three female devils (manifestations of Mara) and other challenges to renounce his spiritual journey in favour of returning to the political realm of being a leader of his people, rather than allowing them to suffer under the control of a less humanistic ruler.
In these teachings, Mara and his army of spiritual demons represent a personification of evil, but within Buddhism, especially Nichiren Buddhism, these devils and demons are the functions in life and the fundamental darkness that resides in the hearts of people. They are the negative thoughts that creep into our minds, especially when we are tired or feeling low, making us doubt ourselves, lose confidence or procrastinate. They can attach themselves to some of our basic desires such as hunger, thirst, and the instant gratification of sensual desires to try and interrupt our practice of Buddhism. And they are also the destructive emotions that reside in the hearts and minds of other people (or indeed ourselves!) such as anger, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, lust, pride, vanity and egotistical tendencies that lead to belittling others to boost one's own standing, ridicule, persecution, torture and murder. (To be continued ... )