No Enlightened Retirement
“If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.”
-Julian of Norwich
“You cannot stay on the summit forever. You have to come down again…
One climbs and one sees: one descends and one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself…
by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one no longer sees, one can at least still know.”
On the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment, after vowing to awaken, he was attacked by the armies of Mara, the god of illusion and evil. Seated under the Bodhi Tree, he was able to meditate unmoved by Mara’s strongest temptations of greed and pleasure. Then with a heart of compassion he overcame the anger and aggression unleashed by Mara, and Mara left, defeated. After this the Enlightened One rose to teach throughout India for forty-five years.
In the stories of the Buddha’s later life, however, we learn that Mara’s disappearance was only temporary. Many times afterward Mara returned to fight or tempt or undermine the Buddha. It is said the Buddha recognized Mara each time he appeared and so was not caught by temptation, fear, or doubt. “Is that you again, Mara?” the Buddha would ask, and being recognized, Mara would slip away, only to try again another time.
In other texts the Buddha and Mara actually become friendly. In one version the Blessed One is seated in a cave when Mara reappears. The disciples outside become frightened and try to get rid of Mara, calling him an enemy of their teacher. “Did the Buddha say he had enemies?” counters Mara. Seeing the unruth and of their words, they reluctantly summon the Buddha, who responds immediately with interest.
“Oh, my old friend has come,” says the Buddha, as he warmly greets Mara, inviting him in for tea. “How have you been?” As they sit together, Mara complains about how difficult it is to be an evil one all the time. The Buddha listens to Mara’s stories sympathetically and then asks, “Do you think it is easy to be a Buddha? Do you know what they do to my teachings, what they do in the name of the Buddha at some of my temples? There are difficulties being in either role, a Buddha, or a Mara. No one is exempt.” In one scripture the story ends when Mara becomes awakened as a Buddha himself.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”