Woke up today in a foul mood. The mind was full of darkness and negative thoughts about myself and others, seething with resentment, it was horrible. For a good few hours I was tormented by this unwholesome state of mind. Not a clue where it came from, it was like it sprung up to ambush me as soon I woke up. I felt overwhelmed by feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing, and the craving for non-existence.
It went on for some time, then I remembered there are stories in the Buddhist Suttas of disciples experiencing the exact same doubts and negativity I was experiencing this morning. Including the Buddha himself on the night of his enlightenment, where in the first part of the night, his mind was pummelled by dark thoughts and energies in an attempt to put him off his quest for awakening. Described in the sutta as the armies of Mara.
Mara could be a metaphor for the defilements in the mind that we all have to face when walking the spiritual path to freedom. But Mara could also well be a real force out there. Something I won't discount, as sometimes I feel like he takes over the minds of other beings to get at me.
He doesn't like people leaving Samsara, and will do whatever he can to keep one's consciousness bound up in it. Whether he keeps you bound up with hatred or greed he does not care, either way he has you snared.
'I see you Mara' or 'I know you Mara' is the stock phrase in all the suttas that a noble disciple uses to put an end to his tricks. Apparently that's how you deal with him. With awareness. His power is in our ignorance of him. He works in the dark places of the mind, the parts that are not visible to us, there he hides and manipulates our thoughts and energies.
'I see you Mara.' I say out loud. And it seems to work. The dark thoughts stop.
Then I notice in their place there are thoughts of wanting to get high, and a strong craving for intoxicants, the wish to indulge in sense-pleasures. 'I see you Mara.' I say again. And the craving fades.
Then he did his classic but now all-too-familiar unpleasant twisting knotting trick in the pit of my stomach. 'I see you Mara.' I say again, ' come out of my belly, and leave this body alone,' and the twisting stopped.
Then I start feeling pleased with myself for getting rid of Mara, for sweeping him out of my mind with the broom of my awareness. 'My mindfulness is getting pretty sharp' I thought to myself. And I felt a swell of pride. Then an 'Aha!' moment when I realised, once again I am being caught out by his clever tricks. This is the craving for becoming, bound up with the conceit I am.
'I see you Mara.'
Feeling less oppressed I went for a walk, and as I walked along, thoughts of what others think about me plagued the mind. 'Nobody likes you. They all think you're a twat. You have nothing to offer this world. You will never become a Buddha, you don't have what it takes. You'll never amount to anything. You will die all sad and alone with no friends. Give up. You're useless, a failure. Everyone thinks so, everyone hates you. You're pathetic and will always be lonely. You will never change anything in this world or do anything worthwhile. Why don't you just top yourself.'
'I see you Mara.'
He's a crafty bugger, he can be tireless in his attacks on the mind, one has to keep on their toes, he's a master of slipping past the guard at the gate.
I reasoned back, that even the Buddha himself with all his supernormal powers couldn't save the world. Wars still happened, people still did wicked things to one another, natural disasters still happened, ageing, sickness, death, and loss still happened. I can't stop that. Nobody can. I can't save the world, I can't save anybody. We each have to save ourselves, that's the only way it happens. Nobody saves anyone. There are guides and teachers who can show us the way, tell us how they did it. But ultimately, we are the ones who have to put in the work to free our minds. We each have to be our own refuge. Learn how to be our own teacher.
So what if others judge me. I am not perfect. We all make mistakes. Nobody can honestly put their hand up and say they have never done anything wrong.
At least I am trying to change, to learn from my mistakes, and grow. Sometimes it happens slowly, sometimes quickly. Sometimes I have to endure and be patient. Old habits can take time to fade, and new habits take time to grow. But I am making progress, because I am failing a bit better each time. And I am noticing more and more that the negativity has less power over me than it once did. And one day I won't fail anymore, and then I will be free.
Who cares what others think about me? It doesn't matter. That's just the worldly winds of praise and blame. Honey and bee-stings.
I won't wish anyone ill. I will practise goodwill, and choose to dwell in a mind of love, in spite of how others may feel about me. It is my choice, so I choose love. I am my own refuge. My own teacher. And I got my own way. My own style.
I am an old soul and I am tired now. I can see the exit and I am heading towards it. I don't need anyone's approval or permission to reach the end of sorrow.
For too long have I let sorrow exist in this mind. And it does no good. It does not bring liberation from suffering, or make anything better. It doesn't benefit me or other beings. It is a destructive and dangerous energy. And I am determined to uproot it from my mind for good. However long it takes.