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Buddhism > Buddhist Articles > Buddhist Meditation in Burma
A paper read by Dr. Elizabeth K. Nottingham at Harvard to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in November 1958.
Published by International Meditation Centre, 31A, Inya Myaing, Rangoon. January 1960.
Buddhist Meditation in Burma
worldly round of many births I ran my course unceasingly, Seeking the
maker of the house: Painful is birth again and again, House-builder I
behold thee now, Again a house thou shalt not build; A11 thy rafters are
broken now The ridge-pole also is destroyed; My mind, its elements
dissolved, The end of craving has attained”
Meditation in Burma” is a paper read by Dr. Elizabeth K. Nottingham at
Harvard to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in November
1958. The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion which is composed
of eminent Professors of Religion in the United States, has as its
President, Dr. James L. Adams, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge 38,
Massachusetts, United States of America. Dr. Nottingham, Professor of
Sociology, who was in Burma from June 1957 to February 1958 as a
Fulbright Lecturer on Sociology at the Rangoon University took a course
of meditation for ten days at the International Meditation Centre, Inya
Myaing, during the month of August 1957. The paper is an exposition of
her own experiences during the course of meditation at the Centre. Dr.
Nottingham recently received a grant from the American Philosophical
Society to help in the preparation of a manuscript on “Trends of Change
in Burmese Buddhism.” The International Meditation Centre which was
founded in 1952 is growing from strength to strength and its success may
be judged from the appreciation of the foreigners of various walks of
life. The list of some men of standing, both local and foreign, who have
undergone courses at the Centre may be seen on page (II). The Centre is
open to all foreigners who speak English and any one interested in the
work of the Centre may contact Thray Sithu U Ba Khin, the President, at
the Centre on Sundays between the hours of 8 to 11 in the mornings and 2
to 6 in the evenings.
Ba Pho Secretary,
International Meditation Centre,
31A, Inya Myaing, Rangoon.
Rangoon, January 1960.
a little knoll, in the heart of Rangoon’s Golden Valley district, the
one-time residential center of British colonial officialdom, stands a
small modern pagoda. Its golden spire and umbrella – hti sparkling in
the sunlight, while at night its electric lights twinkle against the
darkened sky. Unlike most Burmese pagodas, this is not a solid
structure; its central chamber is a shrine room, while eight smaller
pie-shaped rooms, each topped with its own little hti, surround this
central shrine. These small separate rooms or “caves” are for the
practice of Buddhist meditation. Over the archway which gives entrance
to the property a sign reads: “International Meditation Center, founded
1952”, while inside there stands a notice board with the further
information that this Center is the property of the Vipassana
Association whose headquarters are in the Office of the Accountant
General. To an American the idea of a center for religious meditation
being the property of a voluntary association with its central focus in a
government department may perhaps seem surprising. Even to Burma, the
fact that the Teacher, or saya, of this Center is a prominent government
official rather than a monk, is regarded as somewhat unusual.
Ba Khin, the saya or, if one prefers the Indian term, the guru of the
international Meditation Center is indeed an unusual person. In addition
to his purely voluntary and quite time-consuming activities as teacher
of meditation at the Center, he is also a highly responsible government
official. As Chairman of Burma’s State Agricultural Marketing Board,
which handles the rice crop, the export and sale of which is crucial to
the country’s economic existence, U Ba Khin’s responsibility to the
government is outstanding and his competence and absolute integrity a
matter of public concern. In his former capacity as Accountant General,
as well as in his present office as Chairman of the S.A.M.B., he has
good reason to know how vital are the honesty and efficiency of Burma’s
civil servants if she is to consolidate and maintain her existence as an
independent state.
Center sponsors each month meditation courses of ten days duration
under the personal direction of the saya. The courses are geared to the
needs and the capacities of the individual, whether he be from the east
or from the west. They are engaged in by a wide variety of people,
ranging from an ex-president of the Burmese Republic to an attendant at a
gas station. Senior and junior officials of the government services,
mainly from the offices of the Accountant General and the S.A.M.B.,
furnish the majority of the candidates with a sprinkling of university
professors, foreign visitors including one member of the American
Foreign Service and other Burmese householders and housewives.
the beginning of every course, each trainee takes a vow of loyalty to
the Buddha and his teaching—a vow which is modified in the case of
non-Buddhists—and promises not to leave the Center during the training
period and in other ways to be obedient to the direction of the Teacher.
He also promises to obey eight of the ten Buddhist Precepts, three more
than the usual five precepts that are considered to be binding on all
devout Buddhist laity. The Five Precepts require that the individual
refrain from taking the life of a sentient being, from taking what is
not given, from fornication, from speaking falsely and from intoxicating
liquor. Those who abide by eight precepts are also required, as are all
monks, to refrain from eating after twelve
each day. Trainees at the Center, are also required to hold a strict
vegetarian diet for the period of the course. During the training period
they are provided with sleeping quarters, as well as all meals, free of
routine may seem exacting to those unacquainted with the schedule of
meditation hours that are common in the East. The hours allotted to
relaxation and sleep are more generous at the International Center than
at some other meditation centers in Burma. U Ba Khin believes that a
prerequisite for all successful practice in meditation is good health.
Trainees get up each morning a little after four, and are in meditation
from 4.30 to 6.00 A.M. Breakfast at 6.00 A.M. is followed by a second
period of meditation from 7.30 to 10.30 A.M. after which lunch, the last
meat of the day, is taken.
to 5.00 is the afternoon meditation period, and at 5.00 P.M. there is a
period for rest and relaxation, followed by an informal talk from the
Teacher from 6.00 to 7.00 P.M. The evening meditation period, from 7.00
to 9.00 P.M. ends the day and most of the trainees are ready to take to
their beds – or rather their mats – at 9.00 P.M.
training the student undergoes is thought essentially a process of
purification or refinement of the moral, mental and spiritual
perceptions. The Buddha admonished his followers, “Cease to do evil,
learn to do good, purify the mind.” The training at the Center is
directed towards the fulfillment of this injunction. In line with the
classic Buddhist tradition the requirements for such training fall into
three parts, Sila, Samadhi and Panna. These three Pali words might be
regarded as the watchwords of the Center. Sila signifies morality, the
purification of conduct; hence at least formal or temporary adherence to
the Five Precepts are a minimum essential for all who would proceed to
further mental and spiritual training. Samadhi is concentration, a
mental discipline that has much in common with yoga. Though training in
samadhi may take place in Buddhist context, it is not in itself
necessarily Buddhistic. It is merely a means though an exacting and
essential one, whereby the student learns, in the words of the Teacher,
to “put a ring through the nose of the bull of consciousness”, and so
harness that wayward will o’ the wisp, the faculty of attention. Panna,
wisdom or insight, is the product of Vipassana, or Buddhist meditation
properly so called.
Samadhi and Panna are thus stages in the achievement of spiritual
proficiency and according to Buddhists, in the process of detachment
from the craving that binds all living things to the wheel of existence
and rebirth. They constitute a grouping into three parts of the eight
requirements of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path for the realization of
the Cessation of Suffering.
the practices of Sila, little needs here to be said. It is taken for
granted as a basic requirement for all trainees. The westerner may have
to exercise conscious control in refraining from swatting mosquitoes,
but he soon learns to regulate his hunger and otherwise fairly readily
adapts himself to the routine. Samadhi, however the practice of
concentration demands patience and persistent endurance, just how much
only those who have attempted to practice it can know. There are a
number of
used by Buddhists in the practice of concentration. The beginner at the
Center is taught to concentrate on the breath as it enters and leaves
the nostrils. In doing this he must be tireless in excluding all other
thoughts and at the same time learn to relax his body and gradually to
narrow the focus of his attention until he is eventually aware only of a
tiny “spot” at the base of the nose. Little by little all conscious
awareness of breathing stops and he is mindful only of a minute point of
light and warmth. It may take four or five days of practice to achieve
this result, though some students succeed within a much shorter period.
Other systems of Buddhist concentration may adopt slightly different
means—some begin the practice by concentration on an external object,
such, for example, as a neutral coloured disc. But no matter what the
precise means employed the aim is the same, namely the attainment of
one-pointedness the power to gather up the attention into a single
powerful lens and to focus it at will upon any object, material or
ideational. Samadhi, then, is a technique that can be practiced by
members of any—or of no—religious faith. A developed power of
concentration is, needless to say, of inestimable value in the ordinary,
everyday business of life. It may well make the difference between an
efficient or an inefficient public servant or professional worker. Of
this fact the saya is well aware. Samadhi, however, is essential for the
practice of meditation, and without a strong “lens” of concentration
the student can never hope to attain panna, that is wisdom or insight.
practice of vipassana, the heart of meditation, the means by which
panna or insight is attained, is something to be experienced rather than
described. A non- Buddhist, and a non-adept, can say but little and
should perhaps be content to say nothing at all. Nevertheless, an
attempt will be made to describe its underlying principles.
is grounded in the Four Noble Truths, the outstanding contribution of
the Buddha to the world’s religious thought. The First Noble Truth, that
suffering is basic to all existence, is not regarded as requiring
merely a cool intellectual assent from the devotee. The reality of this
First Noble Truth must be faced and experienced subjectively before the
other Truths, which locate the cause and point out the method of release
from suffering, can be realized. Suffering, in the Buddhist sense, is
not simply something to be “accepted” as a preferably—temporary
condition of one’s own being or as a more permanent state for the
world’s unfortunates. Rather it is to be viewed as an integral part of
matter and mind (Rupa and Nama) the very stuff of existence itself. The
Pali words Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta, which may be translated as
Impermanence, Suffering and the Non-Self or perhaps as the illusion of
the separate self—are the key themes in this meditation. These themes
are to be experienced introspectively, in accordance with his
capacity—by the meditator as on-going processes of his own organism. He
must endeavour to become aware of his mental and bodily components in
the process of change, to experience impermanence as suffering, and to
perceive with his inward eye the illusory nature of the separate self.
when suffering is thus faced and realised can the way to release be
opened. In meditation the student should develop a sharpened
consciousness of the imperious
of his desires and of his attachment to them. This is what the Buddha
meant by tanha, or craving, which he saw as the cause of all suffering,
and so enunciated in his Second Noble Truth. If the trainee longs with
an intense desire for release from this condition of craving and for the
calm of Nirvana, or the Great Peace, he may then gain some insight into
the Third of the Noble Truths, namely, that to free oneself from
craving is the way to be released from suffering. In so far as his
desire to detach himself from craving is sincere and deep he will act
upon the Fourth Noble Truth and follow more closely in the Eightfold
Noble Path. By so doing he should experience, even in his present life,
some measure of the great Peace.
is a challenging experience for a westerner to undergo a course in
meditation at the International Meditation Center. He not only may
explore new realms of consciousness, but he can scarcely avoid the
attempt to re-phrase his experiences, where possible, in terms of his
traditional religious beliefs. Furthermore, certain incidents, certain
expressions in both the Old and the New Testaments spring to life, so to
say, and take on new and vivid meaning. For instance, the Biblical
verse “If thine eye be single thy whole body will be full of light” may
be experienced subjectively as almost literal truth by one who in
practicing Samadhi is able to approach one-pointedness in his
concentration. Indeed, many biblical phrases that to a westerner may
have seemed vague or merely allegorical take on specific meaning, thus
recalling the fact that Judeo-Christianity is a faith of eastern rather
than western origin.
a westerner who does not accept the major premises of the Buddhist
faith will, if he follows instructions given at the Center faithfully,
experience a deep and invigorating calm, a calm possibly deeper than
anything he has previously known. He may or may not enter into the more
rarified forms of consciousness Jhanic states, in Buddhist terms for
individuals vary very much both in their capacity and in their
willingness to do this. Nevertheless he will almost certainly learn to
tighten his control of his mental processes to experience a feeling of
cleansing, strengthening and relaxed peace. He may also learn something
of the technique for inducing such peaceful states at will, an
accomplishment not to be despised in these days of hurry and of strain.
To do so, as it seems to the writer, what is required is not a
willingness to renounce one’s traditional religious faith or even one’s
agnosticism but an open minded determination to experience something
new. There is no compulsion exercised at the Center to make Buddhists
out of Christians or Jews. The saya invites his students freely to take
and use what appears to them to be good and, should they so wish, to
leave the rest. The atmosphere of tolerance and of active
loving-kindness that surrounds the western visitor to the Center does
much to strengthen the appeal of the mental and spiritual discipline.
from any possible meaning that the meditation Center might have for
Westerners is the question of its actual present meaning for those
Burmans who make up the bulk of its membership. Most of those who come
to receive training, or who, having received it, frequent the Center
are, broadly speaking, middle class people in active middle and young
adult life. Almost without exception they are old enough to remember the
war years and the Japanese occupation, the tragic murder
General Aung San and the stormy years of the birth or the new republic.
They remember, too, the period of post- independence insurrection, when
at the height of the Karen rebellion the government was in effective
control only of Rangoon. If it is true that stress and suffering are
generating forces in religious revival there is no doubt that Burma’s
responsible middle classes have had their fill of both. Few Americans
appreciate the suffering and destruction that the war and postwar
periods have witnessed in Burma, or the amount of dislocation of
communications and of economic life that still prevail. The heading
members of the International Meditation Center, therefore, have been led
by many vicissitudes of fortune to learn how to live in good times and
in bad, in safety and in peril. In the quest for that calm of spirit
that would enable them not merely to exist with the unawareness of mere
animals, but to turn their experiences to positive account, some have
been discovering anew the ancient truths of their Buddhist faith.
most of those who attend the Center are occupied in business and in the
professions, and the program at the Center is geared to their needs. It
is a fellowship of laity, under lay leadership, and Buddhist meditation
is presented to them not as something that may be practiced only in the
seclusion of the monastery but rather as an activity for Buddhist
“householders” those who are immersed in family cares and public
responsibilities. For these people the Center affords a Fellowship of
the like minded. For Buddhists are not organized in congregations as are
most western religious groups—indeed, the need for such organized
gatherings is hardly felt in the country districts where a whole village
may, in effect, compose the community of faithful laity which supports
and frequents a particular monastery. In a big city, however, where
territorial bonds are less strong, there would seem to be a growing need
for voluntary religious associations with some congregational features.
Each Sunday, for instance, the Center is open from seven in the morning
until late in the afternoon to all who wish to take advantage of a
quiet time for meditation, of informal instruction and advice from the
Teacher, of a communal lunch and the companionship of friends. The
degree of devotion which the Center in turn, inspires in some of its
supporters may be judged from the number of volunteer workers always on
hand to supervise the kitchen and the housekeeping, to initiate new
students and take care of foreign visitors and to keep watch over the
premises during the night. The increasing numbers of those who came for
instruction, and the spontaneous manner in which funds are supplied for
new building, seem to show that the Center fulfils a growing need.
what extent are such meditation Centers typical developments in the
Buddhist practice of Burma today? Granted that the individualistic
tendencies within Buddhism are very strong, so that in important
respects the International Meditation Center must be considered as
unique, nevertheless, there seems to be a definite tendency in the
contemporary emphasis on Buddhism in Burma to place especial stress on
the practice of meditation. Meditation occupies a central place in
orthodox Buddhist practice, and, though in popular Buddhist observance
it has at times played a minor role, it has always been a main activity
of those monks who do not specialize in scholarly pursuits. Today,
however, the government, acting through the intermediary
the Buddha Sasana Council a body drawn from monks and laymen which is
responsible for the well-being of Buddhism in Burma and its extension
both within the Union and also in foreign lands—claims, in a report
issued on the Situation of Buddhism in Burma since 1955, that there
exist at present some 216 meditation centers within the Union as of
November 1956. Of these centers, some under monastic and others under
lay leadership, a total of 142 were recognized by the Sasana Council and
received government subsidies. Other Centers, like the International
depend entirely on voluntary support. The Council also sponsors a
central meditation center in Rangoon, where those who wish to undergo
training as teachers of meditation, and who are approved by the Council
will receive a small monthly stipend to defray their maintenance
expenses while receiving such training in Rangoon. In addition, a
certain number of students from overseas, who have expressed a wish to
receive training in meditation in Burma, have also been subsidized by
the Council. During the period covered by the report eleven foreigners
from nine different countries received such subsidies.
the numbers of those actually practicing meditation systematically in
Burma today may well be small indeed in proportion to its total
population of Buddhists, nevertheless meditation enjoys the prestige of
government support and more particularly the interested support of Prime
Minister U Nu himself—so that to a degree it has become almost
fashionable. Shrines for meditation are sometimes to be found in
government offices, and official leave may be granted for the practice
of Vipassana.
a number of Westerners would probably admit that the extension of
relaxation and mental control perhaps even of meditation itself might
furnish a needed corrective to the frenetic activity and hypertension
attendant on living in their own countries, what shall be said as to the
social value of today’s emphasis on the practice of meditation in a
country such as Burma? Does this overt attempt to foster it by
governmental and other agencies, merely accentuate an existing
overstrong tendency to withdraw from social responsibilities either for
religious reasons or out of downright idleness? Or, on the other hand,
may it not possibly help to create a reservoir of calm and balanced
energy to be used for the building of a “welfare state” and as a bulwark
against corruption in public life? Such questions are far easier to ask
than to answer. Both possible alternatives would appear to exist, and
any accurate assessment must necessarily depend on the situation—or even
the individual under consideration. Undoubtedly U Nu and U Ba Khin
combine the practice of meditation with the exercise of exacting public
responsibilities. If it is actually true that meditation “keeps them
going,” then the promotion of the means whereby other such individuals
may be produced could be important for Burma’s national existence.
meditation, then, be viewed not only as a means of self-development—a
development that must be regarded by Buddhists not in terms of one short
lifetime but against the almost timeless background of thousands of
rebirths but also as this worldly social task? Do there exist elements
in the broad tradition of Buddhism itself, which, if now emphasized,
might furnish the moral motive power that Burma needs? Perhaps there is
this much that may be said; if one of the effects of meditation on its
practitioners is to strengthen and deepen their adherence to the Five
Precepts here and now, both public and private life would be benefited.
And there is also the positive example of the Buddha Himself. Who for
forty-five years after His Enlightenment, instead of withdrawing from
the world to enjoy in peace and solitude the liberation He had won,
laboured on as a Teacher of a struggling humanity.
Nottingham was quite modest when she wrote in the Guest Book that she
had learnt from the Centre how to find a deep pool of quiet in the midst
of the activities of a busy life, although she might not have been able
to learn very deeply about the Dhamma. It was an agreeable surprise
when I read her paper on “Buddhist Meditation in Burma” to find that she
understands Buddhism very deeply indeed.
expressions (1) of one-pointedness of Mind with a minute point of light
and warmth at the base of the nose (Citta Visuddhi) (2) of the
awareness of mental and bodily components in the process of change
(Anicca) (3) of the experiencing of impermanence as suffering (Dukkha)
and (4) of perceiving with inward eye the illusory nature of the
separate self (Anatta) are really very commendable.
I congratulate Dr. Nottingham very warmly for the paper which deserves world­wide attention and interest.
BA KHIN, President
International Meditation Centre, Inya-Myaing, Rangoon.
irrespective of their religious beliefs, who have come to the centre
for a course of training have found no difficulty in developing the
following three stages.
Stage 1:
To abstain from killing any living being
To abstain from stealing
To abstain from fornication
Telling lies
Taking intoxicating drinks.
Stage 2:
develop the power of concentration to one-pointedness. This is
developed by focusing one’s attention to a spot on the upper lip just
beneath the nose synchronizing the inward and outward motion of
respiration with (a) the silent sound of “Amen” in the case of
Christians, (b) “Aum” in the case of Hindus, (c) “Alm” in the case of
Mohamedans and (d) “Sat-Nam” in the case of Sikhs. This is done till the
wavelength of respiration becomes finer and finer and the Mind gets
settled down to a point and the candidate secures what may be called the
one-pointedness of the Mind.
Stage 3
the power of mind so developed, the candidate is trained to become
sensitive to the atomic reactions which are ever taking place in
himself. It is a practical demonstration of the theory of atomic
reactions in Man which are vividly described by Dr. Isaac Asimov,
Associate Professor of Biochemistry at the Boston University School of
Medicine, in his book “Inside the Atom”. (See extracts from the Book
This study of nature in Man, as it really is, will pave the way for greater experiences ahead.
results which follow this course are definite and the candidate
realizes on his own that a change for the better is taking place in him
slowly but surely.
Extract from ‘Inside the Atom’ by Isaac Asimov
What all things are made of
are so many things in the world that are so completely different from
one another that the variety is bewildering. We can’t look about us
anywhere without realizing that.
instance, here I sit at a desk made out of wood. I am using a
typewriter made out of steel and other metals. The typewriter ribbon is
of silk and is coated with carbon. I am typing on a sheet of paper made
of wood pulp and am wearing clothes made of cotton, wool, leather, and
other materials. I myself am made up of skin, muscle, blood, bone, and
other living tissues, each different from the others.
a glass window I can see sidewalks made of crushed stone and roads made
of a tarry substance called asphalt. It is raining, so there are
puddles of water in sight. The wind is blowing, so I know there is an
invisible something called air all about us.
all these substances, different as they seem, have one thing in common.
All of them wood, metal, silk, glass, flesh and blood, all of them are
made up of small, separate particles. The earth itself, the moon, the
sun, and all the stars are made up of small particles.
be sure, you can’t see these particles. In fact, if you look at a piece
of paper or at some wooden or metallic object, it doesn’t seem to be
made of particles at all. It seems to be one solid piece.
suppose you were to look at an empty beach from an airplane. The beach
would seem like a solid, yellowish stretch of ground. It would seem to
be all one piece. It is only when you get down on your hands and knees
on that beach and look closely that you see it is really made up of
small separate grains of sand.
the particles that make up everything about us are much smaller than
grains of sand. They are so small, in fact, that the strongest
microscope ever invented could not make them large enough to see, or
anywhere near large enough. The particles are so small that there are
more of them in a grain of sand than there are grains of sand on a large
beach. There are more of them in a glass of water than there are
glasses of water in all the oceans of the world. A hundred million of
them laid down side by side would make a line only half an inch long.
These tiny particles that all things are made of are called atoms.
Extract from Page 159 of ‘Inside the Atom’ by Isaac Asimov
one thing. chemists now have a new tool with which to explore the
chemistry of living tissue. (This branch of the science is called
biochemistry.) In any living creature, such as a human being, thousands
upon thousands of chemical reactions are all going on at the same time
in all parts of the body. Naturally, chemists would like to know what
these reactions are. If they knew and understood them all, a great many
of the problems of health and disease, of life, aging, and death, might
be on the way to solution. But how are all those reactions to be
unraveled? Not only are they all going on at the same time, but there
are different reactions in different parts of the body and different
reactions at different times in the same part of the body.
is like trying to watch a million television sets all at once, each one
tuned to a different channel, and all the programs changing
The initial course will be for a period of 10 days which may be extended according to individual needs.

Individual development depends on one’s own Paramita and his
capability to fulfil the five Elements of Effort (Padhaniyanga), viz,
Faith, Health, Sincerity, Energy and Wisdom.

In practical work, every candidate will be required to follow
strictly and diligently the three indisputable steps of Sila, Samadhi
and Panna of the Eightfold Noble Path or the seven stages of Purity
(Satta Visuddhi).

It is the responsibility of the candidate to restrain himself
properly to ensure that the eight Precepts (Uposatha Sila) are duly
observed. With a view to promoting Sila, he should further restrain the
sense-centres (Indria Samvara) by keeping himself alone, as far as
practicable, in a cave or a secluded spot.

The Guru will arrange for the development of his power of
concentration to one-pointedness (Citta Ekaggata). For this purpose, the
training to be given will be in accordance with the principles
enunciated in the Anapana Sati Sutta or the Visuddhi Magga Athakatha as
may be found suitable to the candidate.
this respect, the Guru is merely a Guide. The success in the
development of the power of concentration to perfection (Samma Samadhi)
depends entirely on the right exertion (Samma Vayama) and the right
mindfulness (Samma sati) of the candidate concerned. The achievement of
Appana Samadhi (Attainment-Concentration) or Upacara Samadhi
(Neighbourhood-Concentration) is a reward which goes only to highly
developed candidates).

When the candidates have developed sufficiently well in the power of
concentration, they will be acquainted with the fundamental principles
of Buddha- Dhamma closely connected with the practical lessons in
Vipassana which are to follow.

The course of training will then be changed to Vipassana or Insight.
This involves an examination of the inherent tendencies of all that
exist within one’s own self. The candidate learns in course of time by
personal experience, the nature of Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta as taught
by the Buddha. Maybe, following a realisation of the Four Noble Truths,
he breaks through to a state beyond Suffering (Dukkha- Nirodha), enters
the first stream of Sotapanna, and enjoys the fruit (Phala) of his
endeavours in the ‘Nibbanic Peace Within.”

He, who can enjoy this Nibbanic Peace Within, is an Ariya. He may
enjoy it as and when he may like to do so. When in that state of Peace
Within called “Phala,” but for the supermundane consciousness in
relation to the Peace of Nibbana, no feeling can be aroused through any
of the sense-centres. At the same time, his body posture becomes
tightened. In other words, he is in a state of perfect physical and
mental calm, as in the case referred to by the Buddha in His dialogue
with Pukkusa of Malla while halting at a place on His way to Kusinara
for the Maha-Parinibbana.
Thray Sithu U Ba Khin

Buddhist Meditation in Burma - Saraniya Dhamma Meditation Centre


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The Buddha Triumphs Over the Demon Mara
Asian Art Museum
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Bhante Seelawimala of the American Buddhist Seminary, tells the story
of how the Buddha attained enlightenment with the use of artworks from
the Asian Art Museum’s collection.

The Demon Mara

Mara and his temptations, detail from a mural in Wat Dusidaram, a temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

Tom Cockrem / Getty Images


Updated July 14, 2018

Many supernatural creatures populate Buddhist literature, but among
these Mara is unique. He is one of the earliest non-human beings to
appear in Buddhist scriptures. He is a demon, sometimes called the Lord of Death, who plays a role in many stories of the Buddha and his monks.

Mara is best known for his part in the historical Buddha’s enlightenment.
This story came to be mythologized as a great battle with Mara, whose
name means “destruction” and who represents the passions that snare and
delude us.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment

There are several versions of this story; some fairly
straightforward, some elaborate, some phantasmagorical. Here is a plain

As the about-to-be Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama,
sat in meditation, Mara brought his most beautiful daughters to seduce
Siddhartha. Siddhartha, however, remained in meditation. Then Mara sent
vast armies of monsters to attack him. Yet Siddhartha sat still and

Mara claimed that the seat of enlightenment rightfully belonged to
him and not to the mortal Siddhartha. Mara’s monstrous soldiers cried
out together, “I am his witness!” Mara challenged Siddhartha, who will speak for you?

Then Siddhartha reached out his right hand to touch the earth, and
the earth itself spoke: “I bear you witness!” Mara disappeared. And as
the morning star rose in the sky, Siddhartha Gautama realized enlightenment and became a Buddha.

The Origins of Mara

Mara may have had more than one precedent in pre-Buddhist mythology.
For example, it’s possible he was based in part on some now-forgotten
character from popular folklore.

Zen teacher Lynn Jnana Sipe points out in “Reflections on Mara
that the notion of a mythological being responsible for evil and death
is found in Vedic Brahmanic mythological traditions and also in
non-Brahmanic traditions, such as that of the Jains. In other words,
every religion in India seems to have had a character like Mara in its

Mara also appears to have been based on a drought demon of Vedic mythology named Namuci. The Rev. Jnana Sipe writes,

“While Namuci initially appears in the Pali Canon
as himself, he came to be transformed in early Buddhist texts to be the
same as Mara, the god of death. In Buddhist demonology the figure of
Namuci, with its associations of death-dealing hostility, as a result of
drought, was taken up and used in order to build up the symbol of Mara;
this is what the Evil One is like–he is Namuci, threatening the
welfare of mankind. Mara threatens not by withholding the seasonal rains
but by withholding or obscuring the knowledge of truth.”

Mara in the Early Texts

Ananda W.P. Guruge writes in “The Buddha’s Encounters with Mara the Tempter” that trying to put together a coherent narrative of Mara is close to impossible.

“In his Dictionary of Paali Proper Names Professor G.P. Malalasekera
introduces Maara as ‘the personification of Death, the Evil One, the
Tempter (the Buddhist counterpart of the Devil or Principle of
Destruction).’ He continues: ‘The legends concerning Maara are, in the
books, very involved and defy any attempts at unraveling them.’”

Guruge writes that Mara plays several different roles in the early
texts and sometimes seems to be several different characters. Sometimes
he is the embodiment of death; sometimes he represents unskillful
emotions or conditioned existence or temptation. Sometimes he is the son
of a god.

Is Mara the Buddhist Satan?

Although there are some obvious parallels between Mara and the Devil
or Satan of monotheistic religions, there are also many significant

Although both characters are associated with evil, it’s important to understand that Buddhists understand “evil” differently from how it is understood in most other religions.

Also, Mara is a relatively minor figure in Buddhist mythology
compared to Satan. Satan is the lord of Hell. Mara is the lord only of
the highest Deva heaven of the Desire world of the Triloka, which is an allegorical representation of reality adapted from Hinduism.

On the other hand, Jnana Sipe writes,

“First, what is Mara’s domain? Where does he operate? At one
point the Buddha indicated that each of the five skandhas, or the five
aggregates, as well as the mind, mental states and mental consciousness
are all declared to be Mara. Mara symbolizes the entire existence of
unenlightened humanity. In other words, Mara’s realm is the whole of samsaric existence.
Mara saturates every nook and cranny of life. Only in Nirvana is his
influence unknown. Second, how does Mara operate? Herein lays the key to
Mara’s influence over all unenlightened beings. The Pali Canon gives
initial answers, not as alternatives, but as varying terms. First, Mara
behaves like one of the demons of [then] popular thought. He uses
deceptions, disguises, and threats, he possesses people, and he uses all
kinds of horrible phenomena to terrify or cause confusion. Mara’s most
effective weapon is sustaining a climate of fear, whether the fear be of
drought or famine or cancer or terrorism. Identifying with a desire or
fear tightens the knot that binds one to it, and, thereby, the sway it
can have over one.”

The Power of Myth

Joseph Campbell’s retelling of the Buddha’s enlightenment story is
different from any I’ve heard elsewhere, but I like it anyway. In
Campbell’s version, Mara appeared as three different characters. The
first was Kama, or Lust, and he brought with him his three daughters,
named Desire, Fulfillment, and Regret.

When Kama and his daughters failed to distract Siddhartha, Kama
became Mara, Lord of Death, and he brought an army of demons. And when
the army of demons failed to harm Siddhartha (they turned into flowers
in his presence) Mara became Dharma, meaning (in Campbell’s context)

Young man, Dharma said, the events of the world require your
attention. And at this point, Siddhartha touched the earth, and the
earth said, “This is my beloved son who has, through innumerable
lifetimes, so given of himself, there is no body here.” An interesting
retelling, I think.

Who Is Mara to You?

As in most Buddhist teachings, the point of Mara is not to “believe
in” Mara but to understand what Mara represents in your own practice and
experience of life. Jnana Sipe said,

“Mara’s army is just as real to us today as it was to the
Buddha. Mara stands for those patterns of behavior that long for the
security of clinging to something real and permanent rather than facing
the question posed by being a transient and contingent creature. ‘It
makes no difference what you grasp’, said Buddha, ‘when someone grasps,
Mara stands beside him.’ The tempestuous longings and fears that assail
us, as well as the views and opinions that confine us, are sufficient
evidence of this. Whether we talk of succumbing to irresistible urges
and addictions or being paralyzed by neurotic obsessions, both are
psychological ways of articulating our current cohabitation with the

39.Law of Kamma

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