|Are ghosts real? A look at spiritual entities in Buddhism|
|Written by Viên Minh|
|Saturday, 15 January 2011 04:42|
Tác giả Hoang Phong
The meaning of demons in Buddhist literature
[translator’s note: in English there are distinctions between ghosts – those invisible apparitions of departed souls (of human nature) who “came” back from the “other side” – and demons – who are fallen spirits/angels/heaven-beings and who have more wretched power. For what Buddhism teaches, the term demon is more appropriate as a transliteration for the Sanskrit term mâra than ghost. For the purpose of this article, we will mostly used “demon” to translate the Vietnamese term “ma”]
The term Demon or Spirit in English is known as Mâra in Sanskrit, dDud in Tibetan, Ma or Hajun in Japanese, Mo or Mó in Chinese and Ma in Vietnamese. In Buddhism it is Mâra, and since the Chinese do not have the “r” sound in their spoken language, they pronounced it Ma-la. We’ve been going around with lengthy explanations because we want to prove the point that all societies know about ghosts and spirits, demons and evils, and not just us Vietnamese people who are often scared of, but love “ghost story”.
In Buddhist texts, Mâra refers to as “temptation demon” or “mischievous spirit” which represents those tricks of the mind when the mind is insecure, confused and not at peace. And it is this alluring state of mind that distracts cultivators from their spiritual practice and concentration.
The Latitavistara Sutra is the Buddhist text that recounted the life of Sakyamuni Buddha. It mentioned that demons had tried to use all possible tricks and temptations to distract and interrupt the process of enlightenment of the soon-to-become Buddha. In the night of enlightenment, the demons personified as three beautiful banshees to seduce Buddha; they also appeared as an army of spirits who threw stones and pebbles all over the Buddha. The head of the gang demanded that Buddha relinquished the throne to him, saying that there was no such thing to prove that Buddha had enlightened and was saved. The Buddha only needed to point his right hand downward and touch the ground by his sitting post under the bodhi tree; the earth then shook violently and trembled loudly as proof of His true salvation. Only then, the throng of demons vanished into the opened ground.
The Four Spirits of Sutrayana tradition:
1. The Skandha-mara: these skandha metaphors are the sources of our sufferings and cause us to have deaths and rebirths in the forever cycle of samsara (rebirth). The Chinese translation referred to them as “lust and sins demons”. (Notes: Skandhas are mental and physical aggregates, The five skandhas are:Form, Sensation, Perception, Mental formations, and Consciousness.)
The Four Spirits of the Vajrayana Tradition (which are explanations used exclusively in Tibetan Buddhism):
1. The Shackle Demon (thogs-bcas-kyi bdud in Tibetan): this is a wicked and aggressive spirit which can cause lots of afflictions, sickness, and external hindrances. This is the “attachment demon” causing us to cling on to material things around us. It finds way to bind us to those things by tempting, and luring us. It is the equivalent of “affliction demon” in the Chinese text.
Another text – the Flower Adornment Sutra (s. Avatamsaka sutra) divided up the maras into 10 different subcategories, some of which were already mentioned above. Below is the list of the ten:
Below are related terms often found in texts and sutras regarding spirits and demons:
So what are Demons?
Demon or mara is the same representation in Buddhism and Hinduism to indicate a top-notch deity with supernatural power above all others. It is the Mara-Brahma Lord-demon mentioned previously, the Evil One, the Personification of Evil, and God of Lust and Sins. It is also personified as Lord of the Death. It is the top-most King of all desires, cravings, lusts, hungers, and aspirations for all physical pleasure and fulfillment. It is the powerful Boss of all materialistic and phenomenal world. The work of this specific Boss is to supervise and watch over all happenings in the entire universe in which we belong.
The importance thing to remember is that mara-demons don’t care or have no thought whatsoever for the effects resulting from what they create. They are very generous, they give abundantly; no matter how greedy you are, they’d give more; no matter how much you want to love, they’d encourage you to love more; no matter how attached you are to things, they’d gladly help. But then we are the ones who will suffer from the resulting illusions that mara gifted us and for the bad actions that we committed: from stealing, cheating, robbing, swindling… to being rejected by love, committing suicide, killing, you name it… Those sufferings are oblivious to maras. They tempt us with pleasure; once we taste these pleasures, we’re hooked and desire more; once our five senses exposed to pleasure, experience them, we become more clinging to them, and want much more: it’s a non-stop cycle. Thus mara-demons are Creators as well as Destroyers.
When we can look at evils, demons or maras under this viewpoint, we can see that they actually just exist in our head. They habituate our mind, occupy our body, and essentially work along all of our doings borh body and mind. They aren’t external like we tend to think; without our existence, there are no maras. The evil gang of demons are our own desires and lusts, disappointment, sadness, hunger and thirst, attachment, greed, possessive nature, as well as laziness, stupidity, fright, anxiety, doubt, hatred, haughtiness, arrogance, conceit, over-powered and selfish love, etc… and the biggest demon of all is one’s ego. All of these demons are completedly included in the 8 or 10 types of maras mentioned in the Buddhist texts. We have covered all the types above in our discussion. Their existence is everywhere in us and in other people all around us in this samsaric world if you really set a mind to observe and watch them.
The above are excerpts taken from the sutras for the definition of demons (aka spirits, ghosts, evils). We can classify them into 3 final categories:
A particularly strange thing is that among thousands and thousands of teachings, none mentioned any kind of “ghost” appearance that causes one to have sweating chill and goosebumps all over, or startled scream, or scared off running because of sudden frightening shock. Nor are there any “ghosts” that enter during dreamy nights to press weight on one’s body, causing nightmares and break-out in sweat and hyperventilation. Let’s take a look at this particular kind of “ghost”.
To be more specific, we will take you through some examples about those ordinary “ghosts” who often startle and scare the common people like you and me, both children and adults… in the darkness. Let’s say we enter a dark room, and see a “ghost” in the corner, with long flowy hair, gnarled teeth, huge popped out eyeballs, a sickly green complexion, and a loud and scary laugh… what to do now? If we are calm, collected, not paniked, and unhurriedly walk toward it, suddenly there is no ghost in the corner; did it vanish into thin air? disappear out of sight? No, what you experience is only your own false illusionary fantasy that takes place inside your head or plays by the shadow of darkness on your rather too vivid imagination. Or if you’d rather not make the direct approach above because you’re still scared, you could just switch on the light, that “ghost” of yours would disappear as well. But on the other hand, if you get so scared and start screaming like there is no tomorrow, and run away scattered-brained, you would surely be chased behind by that ghost. Do you think you can outrun it? Of course not, because it is you who carry it on your back while running away. The “ghost” is inside your head; it is your wild imagination, right inside the goose-bumped skin of your own body.
More over, you would go and recount the frightening experience to others while still perspiring and panting profusedly – thus incidentally introduce the “ghost” you saw to another person. Your ghost story starts to spread like wild fire, because human is extremely curious about ghosts and each time the story is told, more is added to it. Now the ghost is much more vicious, his eyes bulging out larger, his teeth and fangs much longer, and his laugh more dreadfully high-pitched. And finally when the story gets back to you, you’d probably be ten times more scared than the original ghost that you see in the corner of your house.
This is the story Buddha recounted to give as example. When taking a step across the threshold into a room when the lights are low and shadowy dark, a man saw a snake, and was startled, frightened, he jumped a step backward. But once more composed and taking a better look, it wasn’t but a dark and long cord. The snake was only in his head. That “ghost” is also in your head.
Another example often happens as a nightmare: you dream of “seeing” a scariest ghost in your sleep. You woke up from the nightmare with a piercing scream, and a profuse cold sweat. But there is no ghost in the room. When you sleep, your eyes are tightly shut, how could you “see” the ghost? Therefore this “seeing” is more likely just a perception of the mind. It comes from the deepest part of your own mind – the so-called alaya-vijnana, and it is the result of a hidden and disturbing mind, from previous bad karmic hindrances, or from our haunting obsession, sickness, lust, and from our illusory attachments, hatred and anger… Those who practice the teachings, and the meditative method taught by Buddhism, rarely dream, sometimes never dream at night ever. If the brief dreams come in their sleep, they mostly would be just reflect of the compassionate actions, selfless love, and unconditioned care for all sufferings that occur around them. But they never “see ghost” in their dream.
Again, I stress the facts that “ghosts” only exist in our own mind-spirit. Why? Because maras are the Boss of all thoughts and actions. That Boss represents all happenings and turnings of karma, and the foundation for them are the five aggregates (s. skandhas). These five skandhas (which are causes = nhân) interact with external objects of desire (which are conditions = duyên), that result in karmas (which are effect = quả), as seen in the law of conditioned causality – the fundamental teaching of Buddhism. And this Boss - the mara king – is indeed ourselves, our ego, our own sense of personal self, which occupies our body and controls our mind. That “ghost” in us is in fact our own ignorance, our innate nature full of desire, lust, wanting, delusion, attachment, greed and hatred… It elicits evil thinking (bad thought) and unrighteous doing (bad action) just to satisfy our own desires. The end-results are sufferings. Lots of sufferings indeed! Because the mara in us constantly encourages us, prods us to think and do things to protect our own self, our interest, our wanton need, our egotistic personality. Our maras are very clever and manipulative. Depending on each individual and each situation, sometimes a form of threatening and bullying is used, sometimes tons of endearment and sweet promises are applied, sometimes screaming and punishing is extorted… whichever ways in order to constantly remind us the presence of our own ego that needs to be satisfied.
Mara is really just our ego which controls us, and causes us to be selfish, greedy, and self-gratified. It turns us into stupid people, liars and cheaters. And because of Maras that we have samsara – the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. They control samsara as well. And since they also exist inside our mind, there is no way we can chase the demons out of our system; in a way it is like to deny that there is no samsara. Mara is Samsara. Mara is the sense of fright, unhappiness, and sufferings. Mara is ignorance. Mara, inside our mind, is what causes karma, which in turn ties us to the forever cycle of samsara.
Tibetan Buddhism Teaches to Eliminate Demons
Like we mentioned above, Tibetan Buddhism also believes that demons exist in our very own head. Practice meditation helps to get rid of these maras from our mind. But how one can eradicate them? What possible ammunition to use? We are now looking at a story retold by Kalou Rinpoche in his published book about how Milarepa fought and abolished maras. Kalou Rinpoche (1904-1989) was a well-regarded Tibetan monk who brought the Buddhist teachings to the Western world and taught for more than 20 years before he passed away. And Milarepa (1052-1135) was also a saintly Tibetan monk who was a disciple of Marpa.
It was from this great compassion – sacrificing his own physical body, and the knowledge and realization of “emptiness” or “voidness”, Milarepa was able to cut out the rage of all maras. The gang leader told him: “We really thought you are scared of us; but you did not let the dark side and sinister thinking enter your head. Let just all leave.” Pouff! The whole group vanished.
People tend to associate ghosts with darkness, concealed behind doors or hid in obscure places. In reality, they are hidden from view as well, but it is hidden behind the ambiguous wall of ignorance in the mind of each one of us. When we can fertilize our mind to make it a garden full of beautiful flowers, full of compassion, love and generosity, full of dharmic brightness… it is only then that no “ghost” can manifest, no demon can surface.
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|Last Updated on Saturday, 15 January 2011 05:35|