Recently I have been thinking about the story of Siddhartha and the Four Maras.
For those unfamiliar with the story of how Siddhartha became the Buddha here’s a quick – and I DO MEAN QUICK – recap. Siddhartha was born the son of a wealthy King/Ruler. At some point, Siddhartha becomes restless with the life that he is living and so leaves his home and family to go and live with the Rishi’s (the wise men in the forest). After spending a few years with these sages, Siddhartha too finds himself restless with this way of living and leaves them too. One day he declares – to the universe or himself – that he will sit under one tree and not move until he understands life (i.e. until he’s attained a state of enlightenment). During this long meditation, Siddhartha is visited by various forms of Mara – one of desire, one of ego, one of emotion, and another of death. Its said that when each form comes to Siddhartha, he is able to not become entangled with them and so is able to see the nature of reality. At this point, he awakens as the Buddha. (Buddha meaning one who has awakened).
This story came to mind, because as I understand Buddhism, every experience we have has the potential, if we allow it, to begin to show us more about ourselves as well as the nature of reality. The operative word here is if we allow it – i.e. if we can remember to not become entangled in the any of the narratives presented by the four Maras.
This week, that experience of potential enlightenment came while I was streaming a class for Kindness Yoga and, for the second week in a row, the live stream cut out in the middle of the class.
Now it would be so cool if I were able to tell you that I saw this opportunity at the time. That I said to myself, “Yes, Mara I see the game you’re playing. And instead of engaging, I am going to relax. I know this is just a test.” AND well… that didn’t happen.
Instead, I saw myself immediately become crestfallen. As there were only five minutes left in the class, part of me just wanted to throw a temper tantrum right there and say “F! this and storm off.” The only reason I didn’t was because my friend, neighbor, and fellow teacher was lying in savasana – having donated the last hour of her time to serving as the demo body of the class. And I didn’t want to take that necessary rest and peace from her all because my world was falling apart. Instead, I rest the screen and continued the class as though nothing happened.
Afterwards, instead of returning to my apartment to continue on my day as I would have, I went to the park and walked around the park. I had entered the first stage of Mara. Things were uncomfortable for me to sit with and so I attempted to escape! This feeling of needing to escape the uncomfortable feelings of disappointment, anger, sadness, frustration, rage, etc. – continued after I returned home. And again, instead of sitting with these feelings and naming them and looking at them – I made myself a snack and watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I checked out by attempting to seek pleasure.
Mara:1 Possibly Enlightened Me: 0
The next two stages of Mara came about as I attempted to process what was going on. Maybe process isn’t exactly what I was doing, and well that is how I was justifying to myself it at the time. For me, stages two and three of Mara looked like: me first trying to reclaim any sense of lost ground through identifying myself with things from the past. Specifically, as I was on the phone with my mom and my partner I was working to reaffirm that “I was a good teacher.” “I had done everything I could do to have made this streaming thing work.” “It wasn’t my fault!”
When this didn’t work, I quickly spun out into the next stage of Mara – whereby which I fell into the abyss of my emotions. Having fallen into the abyss of my emotions, everything became exaggerated. I was now the star of my very own living soap opera. This flair for the dramatic may explain why I like Grey’s anatomy so much. There was little to no awareness of reality at this point. The thought patterns in my head were very much along the victim mentality sort in which I was indulging in how much “I was wronged” and how “this isn’t fair” and well… you fill in the blanks.
Mara: 3 Possibly Enlightened Me: 0
All of which eventually led me back to the fourth stage/level of Mara – i.e. Yama Mara. Please note: Yama is often depicted as the Lord of Death. As such, this figure brings things to a close. Another way of thinking of death, especially for those of us who are uncomfortable with that notion, is to think of Yama as being representative of change. After all, for any change to occur, something that was has to cease to be (i.e. it has to end or die if you will).
So back to the score board between Mara and Possibly Enlightened Me. Possibly Enlightened Me wasn’t doing so great. I was suffering. And if I am honest, I was suffering MOSTLY because I had already been over taken by Yama Mara and I just didn’t know it yet.
What I mean by this is that I had been unwilling – from the very beginning – to accept one principal axiom of life – i.e. that all things change and must be able to change in order for life to continue. In the case of teaching this streaming class, I had failed to acknowledge that there was a HUGE part of me that was attempting to force this online experience to be exactly like the in person experiences I often provide. And well… that wasn’t, and currently isn’t, the reality of the moment.
However, because I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept that fact of life and adjust to the new realities of the moment, I was causing myself to suffer.
So the question I have for you, the one I am working to answer for myself this week is this: In what ways might the Universe be attempting to help you awaken? Could you consider the possibility that the “obstacles” and “set-backs” you may be experiencing may not be enemies or foes and instead might be friends and teachers here to help you learn a very specific lesson about yourself or perhaps life in general?
Perhaps these questions apply to a relationship, where either close proximity or distance has changed things. Maybe they apply to your professional life where there has been a shift in how or if you work. Or perhaps these questions might relate to your physical health and well being where suddenly you find yourself thinking about and doing things you never considered before.
Whatever these questions apply, can you take a moment to pause and consider that nothing is happening to you and instead that everything is happening for you?