Ben wrote:Certainly there are conversations with Mara recorded in the suttas.
Is mara real or just a metaphor?
The question itself and the answer to it, isn't important to me. The Dhamma isn't going to cease working if I don't believe in invisible beings. The important thing, I believe, is to extract the message from those suttas, whether you believe in mara the being or not, and continue to work towards your liberation.
And that's why I put the question back to you, Stefan. Anyone else's answer isn't nearly so important as your own perspective.
Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Now we turn to a rather strange word, the word "Mara" (the tempter, the devil), The Mara of everyday language is conceived as a kind of monster with body, face, and eyes of repulsive and terrifying appearance. Mara in Dhamma language, however, is not a living creature but rather any kind of mental state opposed to the good and wholesome and to progress towards the cessation of dukkha. That which opposes and obstructs spiritual progress is called Mara. We may think of Mara as a living being if we wish, as long as we understand what he really stands for.
No doubt you have often heard the story of how Mara came down from the Paranimmitavasavatti realm to confront the Buddha-to-be. This was the real Mara the Tempter. He came down from the highest heaven, the Paranimmitavasavatti realm, which is a heaven of sensual enjoyments of the highest order, a paradise abounding in everything the heart could desire, where someone is always standing by to gratify one's every wish. This is Mara the Tempter, but not the one with the ugly, ferocious countenance and reddened mouth, who is supposed to go around catching creatures to suck their blood. That is Mara as ignorant people picture him. It is the Mara of the everyday language of ignorant people who don't know how to recognize Mara when they see him.
In Dhamma language, the word "Mara" means at worst the heaven known as Paranimmitavasavatti, the highest realm of sensuality.
In general it means any mental state opposed to the good and wholesome, opposed to spiritual progress. This is Mara in Dhamma language.
Stefan wrote:In the Pali Canon there are many suttas that depict meditators having conversations with Mara who tries to make them 'fall away from concentration'.
Are these conversations with Mara real or do they symbolize the inner struggle of the meditators with their defilements?
(lit. 'the killer'), is the Buddhist 'Tempter-figure. He is often called 'Māra the Evil One' (pāpimā māro) or Namuci (lit. 'the non-liberator', i.e. the opponent of liberation). He appears in the texts both as a real person (i.e. as a deity) and as personification of evil and passions, of the totality of worldly existence, and of death. Later Pāli literature often speaks of a 'fivefold Māra' (pañca-māra): 1. M. as a deity (devaputta-māra), 2. the M. of defilements (kilesa-m.), 3. the M. of the aggregates (khandha-m.), 4. the M. of the karma-formations (kamma-m.), and 5. Māra as death (maccu-m.).
As a real person, M. is regarded as the deity ruling over the highest heaven of the sensuous sphere (kāmāvacara), that of the paranimmitavasavatti-devas, the 'deities wielding power over the creations of others' (Com. to M. 1). According to tradition, when the Bodhisatta was seated under the Bodhi-tree, Māra tried in vain to obstruct his attainment of Enlightenment, first by frightening him through his hosts of demons, etc., and then by his 3 daughters' allurements. This episode is called 'Māra's war' (māra-yuddha). For 7 years M. had followed the Buddha, looking for any weakness in him; that is, 6 years before the Enlightenment and one year after it (Sn. v. 446). He also tried to induce the Buddha to pass away into Parinibbāna without proclaiming the Dhamma, and also when the time for the Buddha's Parinibbāna had come, he urged him on. But the Buddha acted on his own insight in both cases. See D. 16.
For (3) M. as the aggregates, s. S. XXIII, 1, 11, 12, 23. See Padhāna Sutta (Sn. v. 425ff.); Māra Samyutta (S. IV).