The best way to expose evil is through its actions. The proclivities of Satan and Māra are well documented.
The activities of Satan or the Devil are many, but for the most part fall into the following categories: temptation, deception, obstruction and torment, possession and instigation, and destruction. (Boyd)
- Satan the Tempter
The best known instance is the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Alone, living in the wilds with little food or shelter for 40 days, Jesus as human was susceptible to many wiles of the Evil One. Satan tempts him with the three desires: desire for food, for self-protection, and for the glory of power. He commands him to turn the very stones into bread to satisfy his hunger; he commands him to call down from the heavens legions of angels who can protect him in this God-forsaken environment. Satan also tempts him to forget about his Father’s Kingdom by offering him all the riches and kingdoms of his own saha-realm. He is trying to seduce Jesus into forsaking his Messiah Consciousness in favor of his immediate skandhic condition. Jesus classically reprimands him: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of the Most High, but of men.” Jesus would never forsake the Will of his Unborn Father in favor of the Prince of Samsaric Darkness.
- Satan as the Great Deceiver
The scriptures are filled with references to Satan as the herald of Un-Truth:
Rev. 12:9 …that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.
Jn. 8:44 Jesus says that “he was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Acts 5:3 “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?”
Satan as the deceiver of the whole world is also closely associated with the Anti-Christ of end-time. The New Testament says that before the day of the second coming of Christ, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, (II Thess. 1:7), a rebellion will occur and the “the man of lawlessness” will be revealed (II Thes. 2:3. His coming is “by the activity of Satan” (vs.9) and will be:
…with all power and with pretended (pseudos) signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion to make them believe what is false (pseudei)…(vvs.9-11)
…for the Greek Fathers especially, Satan the Father of lies and the deceiver of the whole world has been active since the beginning of creation and will dominate the end-days of time. Among the earlier writings as well as the Greek Fathers Satan is the spirit of error and falsehood who leads men away from the truth and sows in its place disunity, heresy and counterfeit truths of pagan fables. The embodiment of these characteristics, the near-incarnation of Satan as deceiver and liar, will appear as the future anti-Christ, just as it appeared as the serpent who deceived Eve. (Boyd)
- Satan as Tormentor
This refers to the torment of the flesh, mind and spirit. Perhaps the greatest of these were inflicted upon Jesus during his agonizing mental anguish at the Mount of Olives (where he sweat blood), his subsequent arrest and torture, and his final agonizing moments on the Cross. Yet, Satan as tormentor is still very prevalent in our own age—through the work of Satanists and Sadists, rapists and pillagers, and the work of subtle-demons who incessantly eat-away at the mind in spirit, even through the guise of altruistic intentions.
- Satan the Instigator of Possession
While only rarely is someone possessed by the Father of Darkness, they are indeed possessed by his demonic legions. Case in point, the demonic amidst the Gerasene tombstones. When Jesus asked his name, he replied, “My name is legion—for we are many.” (Mk. 5-9; Luke. 8:30 –for many demons had entered into him.) There are in fact many documented cases of demon possession throughout the millennium. The original “Exorcist” story is an authentic case. The 1980 text, The Demonologist, is a good reference text to possession and exorcisms. There are, though, instances in scripture when Satan alone is singled-out as the main culprit: Luke 23:3, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot”; John 13:27, “Satan entered into him [Judas]; John 13:2, refers to the Devil (diabolou) “who had put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot…to betray him.”
- Satan as Destroyer
The greatest stronghold Satan has is his power of destruction and death. Hebrews 2:14 speaks of Christ’s destruction over “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” In I Cor. 5:5 Paul says, “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Paul is not mincing words, for the demons always lust and tear after the flesh—they can never get their fill of it; but the spirit is not such an easy quest; for it is protected by the Immortal Unborn Spirit. Only by one’s-own willing it, can their spirit be destroyed; that is why the greatest sin is denying the Immortal Unborn Spirit—if this is finalized, then abandon all hope.
Given this meaning, the work of Satan as destroyer is being realized throughout all of his other activities. As tempter, Satan brings men to ruin by enticing them from their faith. As deceiver and liar Satan spreads the spirit of error which effects the loss of the Word, i.e, the spirit of truth that gives meaning to the life of a Christian. As obstructer and tormentor Satan is operative in tormenting afflictions of martyrdom, disease, and demon possession. Likewise, the instigations of Satan are intended to accomplish the depravation of sentient and intelligent souls. A vivid expression of the destructive power of Satan is illustrated in the example of the Gerasene demonic. As the result of demon possession, the normal personality of the man who called himself “Legion” was ruined. Human relationships were broken-off as he dwelt among the tombs, and the whole episode conveys a sense of personal desolation to the extent of being sub-human. This is destruction, the loss of all that gives worth to existence. Very often the use of the of the word “death” (thanatos) in reference to Satan’s works or power carries this dominant meaning or ruin…(Boyd)
Māra’s power is not seen as exclusively demonic or sadistic, but more the flavor of the great seducer. By and large he is the despotic promoter of samsara, linked with a karmic-longing for this sphere of wanton pleasures accompanied by its suffering consequences. The evil propensities of Mārakarma is offered in abundance within the Buddhist Canon and “can be characterized, for the most part, as follows: Māra reviles, inclines toward sense desires, attacks; blinds and perplexes; obstructs and interrupts; possesses and holds in bondage; and kills and destroys.” (Boyd)
In the Majjhima Nikāya there is a story concerning Dūsī Māra (meaning corrupting, disgracing) (Boyd). He possesses a group of Brahmins who begin to ridicule Monks of good-merit by stating, “…these little shoveling recluses are menials, black, the offscourings of our kinsman’s feet.” (MN, I, 334) The dark spirit of Māra not only held contempt for monks, but even more sinisterly, towards the Buddha himself. In the Saṃyutta Nikāya Māra actually rebukes the Buddha who decided to abandon traditional-penitential practices:
Those penitential tasks abandoning,
Where by the sons of men are purified,
The impure fancies that he is pure,
When he has strayed from the path of purity. (SN, I, 103)
Māra also forewarns the Buddha to keep his supernal-powers and Dharma-gnosis to himself, lest he be reborn in woe. (MN, I, 330) Māra also took great delight in disturbing the Blessed-One’s moments of reverie—trying his best to sabotage his recollective-resolve by calling it mere laziness and sleep-laden:
What!? Why are you sleeping!? How could you even entertain sleep?
What!? You resemble a lazy-louse and a worthless hireling!
Deeming the house as empty, why do you sleep?
Look! The sun is rising and you still abound in sleepiness! (SN, I, 107)
Try as he might, Māra never once deterred the Blessed One with his vexatious antics.
Like Satan, Māra in his discourses with the Blessed One and his disciples, attempted to deter them (through excessive sensuous longings) from their path of awakening. On numerous occasions these attempts by Māra to entice one away from the True Dharma are portrayed through the vehicle of his daughters (māra-dhītaro): Taṇhā (craving), Arati (discontent) and Ragā (passion):
…who are usually involved in the two principal assaults Māra makes on the Buddha. Immediately before illumination to prevent his attaining Enlightenment, and four weeks after Enlightenment to persuade him to enter Nirvana before having preached his doctrine. They come to display their bodies and use all sorts of feminine wiles in order to entice the bodhisattva from the path. (Boyd)
In these encounters, Māra also pursues the Buddha to reconsider the “radicalness” of his own path by telling him to abandon this vain quest of liberation. He tells him that the mad mission of the mendicant is quite ill-suited for one who has descended from a royal family. Better to be a King of “this world” by taking honor in family and the homestead, thus producing a long, royal-line of sons to continue his lineage of peace. Of course, the Buddha counterthrusts by stating that staying on the gradual way to Liberation will best assure a lasting happiness and peace.
In Attack-Mode, Māra attempts to strike fear and dread into the heart of the Blessed One and his disciples. He would transform himself into frightening visages of wild elephants and venomous ‘King Snakes’ (SN, I, 106); he would cause the earth to tremble, thus inducing severe earthquakes (SN, I, 133, 119). At the time of the Buddha’s Supreme Awakening beneath the Bodhi-Tree, Māra went into All-Out-Attack Mode, as the Mahāvastu states:
Then Māra, in his chariot drawn through the air by oxen and horses, conjured up his host, including horses and elephants, and advanced to the Bodhisattva’s noble seat. Mounting his chariot drawn by thousands of horses and carrying a dazzling bow, he uttered a fearful cry, “Slay him, slay him, and quickly seize him.”
Terrible horses of Rākṣasas, with the features of elephants, asses, horses and bulls, armed with clubs surged menacingly against the foe-slaying Bodhisattva.
Some big-bellied snakes rose from the ground and cried, “Slay him, seize him”—a horrible cry of desperation. Others breathed snakes from their mouths, others fire, and others venom. Hordes of Piśācas (demon-goblin) carrying elephants rushed on foot to the assault.
Some carries mountain-tops as they attacked the Sage. Other hordes of Piśācas rained down from the sky showers of hot embers. Others hovering in the air brandished wheels with blades on their rims. In the sky was the clash of weapons making a frightful-thunderous din. (Mv, II, 411-412)
One of Māra’s favorite proclivities is to create confusion in the hearts of the Buddha’s disciples, yea even attempting to ‘blur the vision’ (vicakṣukarma) of the Blessed-One himself. [Vicakkhu—making blind or perplexed, darkening one’s intelligence] He often called into doubt the Buddhadharma itself, asserting that he alone taught the True Dharma:
Give up what you have heard up to now, abandon what you have gained so far! What you have heard just now, that is not the word of the Buddha. It is poetry, the work of poets. But what I here teach to you, that is the teaching of the Buddha, that is the Word of the Buddha. (Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā (Aṣṭa), XVII 328)
Māra also loves to create confusion between a Dharma-master and student, or teaching a misinterpretation of the Buddhadharma:
The Aṣṭa, for example, states that Māra disrupts the relations between teachers and pupils, leading the student to misunderstand the teacher’s actions or become disheartened over what he says (AP, XXX,483) The Aṣṭa also relates how Māra appears in the guise of a monk and says:
‘The same as space is this all-knowledge. It is a dharma which is not, it is non-existent. Who can anoint himself for it, who fully know it? There is no one who could go forth to it, there’s no one who could fully know it, nothing that should be fully known, there is no one who would understand, there is nothing that should be understood.’ (AP, XVII, 331) [Boyd]
For sure, Māra, in the guise of a pseudo-buddha, will perplex and confuse students of the Buddhadharma; he either attempts to undermine their confidence, or induces them to become over-confident in their own pseudo enlightenment.
Māra loves to create obstructions that “divides” the Mind-adepts ability to be attuned with proper-study and disciplined-dhyana. The Buddha Carita references Māra as the “great disturber of the minds of living beings.” (BA, XIII, 108) He creates diversions that can sway the otherwise Undivided-Mind from listening intently to the Buddhadharma and entering into Deep-Samadhis:
Likewise, Māra is frequently known to interrupt the meditative thoughts of the bhikkhus. For example, Māra, “being desirous of making…(bhikkhuni Somā) desist from concentrated thought” (samādhimhā cāvetukāmo), approaches and speaks to her and thus causes an interruption. (SN, I, 129-130) [Boyd]
Māra has the power to also possess and hold-one in insurmountable bondage. Boyd stresses one prominent episode in Pali literature, the one concerning Ānanda’s own possession by Māra:
Ānanda failed to urge the Buddha to stay on in this life another aeon. Several times the Buddha gave Ānanda the opportunity to request the Buddha to continue in this life, but “So far was his (Ānanda’s) heart possessed by the Evil One” (yathā taṃ Mārena pariyuṭṭhitacitto) that he failed to reply properly. Hence the Buddha announced that he would die within three months. (DN, II, 104) [Boyd]
Māra’s possession can lead one to commit murder (using a stone to split-open the head—MN, I, 336). One who opposes the Perfection of Wisdom is also “beset by the Māra, the Evil One.” (AP, VII, 184)
Death and destruction are by no means absent from Māra’s menu; indeed it is by his attempts to severe the good roots of the Buddhadharma that he is the vicious killer of Truth:
Māra as death thus destroys the good works and qualities of the Path of the Dharma, he removes the Āyuṣmat, those who are long lived, in order to perpetuate continued existence with its repeated deaths (perpetual re-genesis, inclusion mine). [Boyd]