Demon Mara: Buddhist Demon of Birth and Rebirth

There are many supernatural creatures in Buddhist literature, but Demon Mara is unique. He was one of the first non-humans to appear in Buddhist scriptures. He is a demon, sometimes called the king of death.

Often called the tempter, “Lord of death” and Prince of Darkness, Demon Mara is a Buddhist demonic god who represents the passion that snares and deludes us.

Also called as the “Lord of Senses”, he is a personification of Temptation itself and has been often compared to Satan or Devil of monotheistic religions. He is one of the most unique supernatural creatures from Buddhist Literature because he was one of the first non-human beings to appear in the Buddhist scriptures.

Who is Demon Mara?

Who is Demon Mara?
Who is Demon Mara?

Mara is a demon god, running rampantly in Kāmadhātu, the “kingdom of desire” in Buddhist cosmology. He tried to corrupt other residents of Kāmadhātu, including animals, humans, and demigods, by inducing them to lust and instill fear in them.

Origins of Demon Mara

Origins of Demon Mara
Origins of Demon Mara

The word “Mara” comes from the Sanskrit form of the verbal root mṛ.  It is related to other words for death from the same root, such as maraṇa and mṛtyu. The latter is a name for death personified and is sometimes identified with Yama.

Many texts & myths before Buddhism have stated the notion of a mythological being responsible for evil and death and 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 myths. Also, historic Buddhist texts state that the Evil One has been a player in Buddhist lore from the beginning. He appears in some of the earliest scriptures, written about a century after Buddha’s death, and Buddha himself talks to his disciples about Mara. 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.

What are the Physical characteristics of Demon Mara?

What are the Physical characteristics of Demon Mara
What are the Physical characteristics of Demon Mara

In his metaphorical existence, Mara is the epitome of passion and the catalyst for lust, hesitation, and fear that obstructs meditation among Buddhists.

 He is the sense of ceaseless round of birth and death, representing the entirety of conditioned existence and the manifestation of one’s mind.

In his physical existence, he is shown as a fat-bodied creature with either blue-green or angry red skin. Like most wrathful gods in Indian culture, he usually has three eyes and may have six arms.

 A crown of human skulls encircles his head, and he is often seen riding an elephant or in the company of serpents. He is sometimes portrayed as an enormous elephant, cobra, or a bull.

 He can disguise himself by taking the form of other people. He can appear as someone you hate, someone you love, someone you fear, or someone you trust and twist your mind with false messages delivered by friend or foe.

Mara’s greatest power is his influence over the other inhabitants of the Desire Realm. Not only can he summon other demons to him whenever he pleases, but he can also turn good men and women into tools as well. (Demon Mara)

With clever lies and cunning truths, he succeeds in filling hearts with greed, lust, anger, jealousy, confusion, fear, and depression.

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How is Demon Mara associated with Buddhism?

How is Demon Mara associated with Buddhism
How is Demon Mara associated with Buddhism

The most famous story of Mara in the Buddhist scriptures is when he launched an attack on Buddha when he was on the brink of reaching enlightenment.

Siddhartha Gautama was sitting under the Bodh Gaya tree, absorbed completely in meditation.

Sensing that Siddhartha would soon break the fetters of the Desire Realm and obtain a pure and boundless knowledge, which could be used to help others reach enlightenment, Mara set out to disturb Siddhartha’s meditation.

He found the soon-to-be-Buddha sitting under the Bhodi Tree, nearly starved but filled with a glorious inner peace. Of course, this wouldn’t do. The Tempter immediately began filling Siddhartha’s ears with whispers of the grand kingdom he could establish, to glorify and better mankind.

Siddhartha recognized that these whispers were empty and ignored them. Next, Mara rebuked Buddha for abandoning the duties of his religion, social class, and even his position as a father and husband. Buddha shrugged these remarks off too.

Seeing that his wiles were no match for Siddhartha’s inner focus, Mara decided to call upon his allies. He summoned an army of terrible demons to him, and they fired a volley of arrows at the resting Siddharta.

The man never flinched as the arrows sped towards him, and just before they struck, the arrows were transformed into flowers that showered around him. Buddha then reached out to the earth for help, and a flood washed the demonic hoard away.

Now, the Evil One was at the end of his tether. He summoned his daughters, Tanha, Arati, and Raga, to help him loosen Siddhartha’s grip on enlightenment. The daughters danced before Siddhartha and coaxed him with all their sensual charms to come back into the Desire Realm. Siddhartha, however, was unaffected.

Mara dismissed his daughters and took one last stab at Siddhartha, this time resorting back to his genius for corruption and temptation. He began mocking Siddhartha, telling him that his attempts to reach enlightenment were all vain since no one was there to witness the achievement.

In response, Siddhartha rested one hand on the earth, proclaiming that the earth itself would be his witness. The earth trembled in response, and the Prince of Darkness flew off in a rage, knowing he had been bested.

Over the years, Buddhists have interpreted the story to understand Mara as a psychological phenomenon. Mara is a conglomerate of all the distractions that Buddhists must overcome to build good karma and reach enlightenment. Indeed, when you try to delve deep into a meditative state, it might feel like you are battling a swarm of demons—or one demonic god—along the way.

Mara has also been interpreted as a metaphor for samsara, the cycle of death and re-birth which Buddhists are trying to escape. Mara is considered a god of desire and sensuality as well as a god of death.

He creates and destroys life over and over again, thus creating samsara. When the Buddha defeated Mara and when he urges his followers to oppose Mara, he may be calling them to escape samsara.

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What are the four metamorphic forms of Demon Mara?

What are the four metamorphic forms of Demon Mara
What are the four metamorphic forms of Demon Mara

In traditional Buddhism, four metaphorical forms of “Demon Mara” are given:

  1. Klesa-mara – Mara as the embodiment of all unskilful emotions, such as greed, hate, and delusion.
  2. Mṛtyu-mara – Mara as death.
  3. Skandha-mara – Mara as a metaphor for the entirety of conditioned existence.
  4. Devaputra-mara as the deva of the sensuous realm, who tried to prevent Gautama Buddha from attaining liberation from the cycle of rebirth on the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

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What are the various myths associated with Demon Mara?

What are the various myths associated with Demon Mara
What are the various myths associated with Demon Mara

Perhaps there has never been an angry six-armed demon riding an elephant through the peaceful Indian countryside and leaving bad karma, but this does not mean that Mara does not exist.

Many modern Buddhists have understood Mara as a psychological phenomenon. Mara is a complex of all disturbances that Buddhists must overcome to establish good karma and obtain enlightenment.

Indeed, when you try to go deep into meditation, you may feel like you are fighting a large group of demons or a demon god. Demon Mara is also interpreted as a metaphor for reincarnation.

The Buddhists try to escape the cycle of death and rebirth. Mara is considered the god of desire and lust, and the god of death. He created and destroyed life over and over again, thus creating reincarnation.

When the Buddha defeated Mara and urged his followers to oppose Mara, he may be calling them to escape reincarnation.

Deep-rooted cultural customs may prompt early Buddhists to humanize Mara because they are easier to rationalize Mara’s power into the power of rampant gods rather than psychological phenomena. The structure of God is more familiar than the structure of the human mind.


The story of the demon god Mara has been reiterated in many Buddhist scriptures to reinforce the idea of what Mara represents in our practice and experience of life.

‘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 ways of defining our coexistence with the ever-persistent devil.

What we need to learn from the story of Mara, is the importance of self-focus and how determination, self-awareness, and mindfulness can guide us and help us prevail in the face of adversity.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is Mara a demon?

Mara in today’s world is seen as a metaphorical representation of our greed, urges, and inner demon and is a reflection of the mythological devil. We can learn and adapt the teachings from Buddhism to defeat our inner Mara.

What do the three daughters of Mara symbolize?

Daughters of Mara represent the three desires of a person’s body.
(Tanha=Desire, Aarath=Aversion, and Raga=Passion).

Is Mara identical to the Devil of the western religions?

Contrary to popular beliefs, Mara is not identified as a Devil who tries to guide us away from God’s will (as in other monotheistic religions). Instead, Mara is simply a personification of temptation, craving, and issues with self-identification.

What did Mara do Buddha?

In the course of his meditations, the Buddha was tempted by the demon Mara. Mara sent his armies, various temptations, and finally (as depicted here) a challenge that the Buddha must defend his claim of enlightenment. The Buddha touched the earth and called the earth to witness his achievement.

What does Lord Mara represent?

In Buddhist cosmology, Mara is associated with death, rebirth, and desire. Nyanaponika Thera has described Mara as “the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment.”