I find that a good number of believing Christians and Muslims think that Satan literally exists and is a very real actor in the real world.

Is "Mara the Evil One, the Tempter" a rhetoric device in Buddhist tales -- a personification to enable the construction of a certain kind of parable?

Or is "Mara" understood by contemporary Buddhists as an evil being who actually exists in the physical plane that we inhabit?


4 Answers 4


There are 5 kinds of Maras. The fifth is Devaputta Mara who is an actual being(god) who controls a portion of the paranimmita-vasavatti heaven. But he is not similar to the Satan concept in Christianity. Mara is not an eternal being. Unlike Satan, Mara is not against doing good deeds. He at times encourages beings to do good deeds and prolong their Samsara. Mara is only against attaining Nibbana. It is a position taken up by different beings from time to time. During the time of Buddha Kakusandha who was the first Buddha in this eon, venerable Moggallana himself was the Mara(Dusi). The Mara during the time of Gautama Buddha is his nephew who took up the position when Dusi perished trying to attack the chief disciple of the Buddha Kakusandha.

There's a whole section in the Samyutta Nikaya, listing the Mara's encounters with the Buddha who was already enlightened. If Mara is merely a personification of defilements, there can be no encounters with enlightened beings as they have already removed all defilements. Refusing to accept Mara as an actual being seems to be nothing more than the discomfort of accepting the existence of heavenly and hell beings.

  • It would be good to add that Maras releam is the most plessurable in all hevens. You go there by doing the best of the good deeds. Mara truly bileave that Nirwana is a waste when you can like him do good karma and come to his world. He is not evil, he means well but is dellutioned just like most of us and thats why he has beef with buddha and his followers.
    – RRR
    Jul 4, 2018 at 2:44
  • @RRR Delusion is evil. Mara did many other evil things to trouble the Buddha and the Sangha. One time he threw a stone at the Buddha's chief disciples and made him bleed from the head. Jul 4, 2018 at 2:46
  • Mara operate on the same model of harming few for the good of many. IMO His intentions are no different than some one wanting you to get a good education and good job, may be start a business so that you can enjoy material benefits. Buddha as opposite views and that's why hostility.
    – RRR
    Jul 6, 2018 at 3:48
  • @RRR Be very careful with your line of thought. It sounds like you are becoming a fan of Mara. There is no way you can make such a vague and arbitrary comparison of a being who is trying to induce greed/lust, hatred, delusion in all sensual beings to a man who wants to study and make a living. Jul 6, 2018 at 4:14
  • I am no fan of anyone. But I like to see what make people behave a specific way. Remember that even mara has no inherant existance or nature. Everything is cause and effect.
    – RRR
    Jul 6, 2018 at 7:20

Of course, I can't speak for all modern-day Buddhists, but for myself, those that I have learned from, and those that I have known, we believe that Mara is the metaphorical personification of the forces that oppose enlightenment. I've not met any Buddhist who believes that Mara is a literal personal being.

  • Thanks for this straightforward answer. I'm trying to find the best way to translate "mara" in the Dhammapada into something that makes sense without further explanation or metaphysical leaps, it seems like "temptation" or "defilements" are the closest ideas for "He who lives without looking for pleasures, his senses well controlled, moderate in his food, faithful and strong, him Mara will certainly not overthrow, any more than the wind throws down a rocky mountain."
    – jerclarke
    Jan 2, 2018 at 1:41
  • But at the same time, I'm playing with the meaning of the text if I translate it to "temptation" right? The Dhammapada is specifically referring to a deity, not to any concept embodied in the deity? I want to write it as "If you stay focused on impurities and the foul, are well controlled in your senses, moderate in diet, full of faith and energy, you will certainly not be overwhelmed by Mara (temptation), just as the wind cannot shake a mountain of rock."
    – jerclarke
    Jan 2, 2018 at 1:42
  • Okay, for clarity while still honoring the original intent of the text, I will translate it as "you will certainly not be overwhelmed by Mara the corrupter" as implied by this answer: buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/2706/12803 So mara remains a personification, but I hint at the implied meaning.
    – jerclarke
    Jan 2, 2018 at 1:52

Mara is simply the gatekeeper of Samsara, it wants to keep all life in an endless cycle of death and rebirth without beginning or ending. This cycle is full of unresolved karma and is full of suffering. Mara wants to keep you trapped in this cycle. It wants you to listen to evil thoughts and behave badly in life so you die. It absolutely hates people trying to escape from death and those who are enlightened. Think of Mara like this: Everything we see is the result of our thoughts. Now sit still, meditate, try not to think anything, seperate your thoughts in good and evil. You will find Mara soon enough... It will tell you "why am I sitting here doing nothing?". Where do you think that thought comes from?


I would go so far as to say that neither Christians nor Muslims agree that Satan is a real being in the material world. After all, during the Holocaust, some Christians hid Jews in their homes. If Satan was actually an invisible person with eyes and ears and feet and a mouth, surely it would have been impossible to hide Jews from the Nazis.

The Buddha spoke against the caste system; he spoke against astrology, horoscopes, palm reading, fortune telling, faith healing or prayers made for the sick. He spoke against holy lands, consecrated objects or lucky amulets. He never claimed to perform miracles. Whenever he spoke of gods or spirits, it was to teach people how to benefit from their example; you, too, can enjoy the good fortune of the gods.

Belief in an intervening devil is a fearful belief. The Buddha never taught people to fear a benevolent creator god, much less a devil.

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