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The Snare of Māra
 
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The Snare of Māra
- by S. N. Goenka

(The following is an extract, edited and condensed, from one of the discourses for a long course. In it Goenkaji refers to Māra, meaning the forces opposed to liberation a kind of personification of one’s own negativities.)

It is easy to develop the faculty to feel bodily sensations but more difficult to maintain perfect equanimity towards them, understanding that they are all impermanent, anicca.

This is the most important aspect of the practice. Unless you develop the understanding of anicca at the level of bodily sensations, liberation is far away. The Buddha kept saying that if there is a sensation and, along with it, craving or aversion, nibbāna is far away from you. Vedanā and taṇhā; vedanā and taṇhā: so long as these come together, there is only dukkha-samudaya-gāminī paṭipadā a path that multiplies your misery, that generates misery for you. The fire and the fuel; the fire and the fuel; you can’t come out of burning. You have to understand at the experiential level, "Look: this is fire. Look: this is fuel. And look: if more fuel is given to the fire, I am not coming out of burning." With this understanding, one will try not to feed the fire. If you do not give more fuel, whatever fuel already there will sooner or later be consumed. When no new saṅkhāra of craving or aversion is given, the old saṅkhāras will automatically be consumed.

You can do nothing about the old saṅkhāras but you can certainly stop creating new ones. Once you do, the old ones will automatically be burnt out little by little. A time will come when there will be no more saṅkhāras of the past because you have stopped creating new ones. The law of nature is such that when you stop creating new saṅkhāras you are on the path of liberation, nirodha-gāminī paṭipadā. The Buddha called it dukkha-nirodha-gāminī paṭipadā, the path to eradicate all miseries; and he has also called it vedanā-nirodha-gāminī paṭipadā, the path to eradicate all vedanā. In other words, by walking on the path one reaches the stage where there is no more vedanā because one experiences something beyond mind and matter. Within the field of mind and matter there is constant contact, because of which there is vedanā, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. To come out of vedanā is to come out of misery. And the only way to come out of vedanā is to stop giving new fuel to the fire. Let it burn out. It is so simple and yet so difficult.

In spite of understanding everything at the intellectual level, at the actual level deep inside there is a tendency to cling to pleasant sensations. And that is the real danger. It is relatively easy to come out of aversion towards unpleasant sensations but it is very difficult to come out of craving and clinging towards pleasant ones.

You must explore the truth of the entire field of vedanā. As you work, you encounter unpleasant gross sensations, and initially you react with aversion because of the old habit pattern. Then you realize, "Look: there is a reaction towards unpleasant sensations." You keep training your mind: "This is impermanent, this is impermanent. I have experienced so many unpleasant sensations in the past and none of them remained forever. They all arose and sooner or later they passed away. How can the one that has come now remain forever?" In this way you train your mind not to react, understanding with experience the characteristic of anicca. To some extent you are successful.

Then the experience changes and you reach the stage of total dissolution, with no solidity anywhere; you observe a free flow of very subtle vibrations, an experience that is extremely pleasant. Without your realizing how or when, you start clinging to this; thinking, "Oh wonderful! This is pleasant, this is good." Then you recall the words of your teacher or the Buddha: "Oh no, this also is impermanent, impermanent." But a part of your mind still clings to it.

To judge whether you are clinging or not, you have to examine yourself when the free flow passes away. What happens then? Do you feel dejected, disappointed, defeated, depressed, as if you have regressed? If any trace of such feeling is present, it shows that there was clinging. Even after you first experience dissolution, from time to time unpleasant sensations keep coming. At that time you must examine yourself: "Now that these gross sensations have come again, is a part of my mind still craving for the dissolution I experienced some time back?" If the thought arises, " I must get it again, I must get it again!" then certainly there is aversion towards the unpleasant sensations and craving for pleasant ones; you are not coming out of the old habit pattern. Strive to come out of it. When a pleasant sensation arises and even a part of your mind starts relishing it, no matter how slightly, at that time wisdom should arise: "Oh dangerous! This is a truly frightening situation. This is Māra’s snare. This is what has been happening for millions of lives."

At a very superficial level one appears to take pleasure in a vision, sound, smell, taste, touch or thought. One thinks, "Indulging in such pleasures is a bondage. One must come out of them. One should not become entangled in pleasures." But with the practice of Vipassana, it becomes clear that whatever one called pleasure was nothing but a pleasant sensation on the body. Whatever the outside object whether a vision, a sound, something tangible, a smell, a taste or a thought along with it there occurred a very pleasant sensation on the body. One understands, "This is what I used to call pleasure. And its opposite as well was only apparently an outside object; actually there was unpleasant sensation on the body. Reacting to sensations was a game I had been playing all my life and for countless lives in the past."

Now you find that in the name of Vipassana you are playing the same game. What is the difference? Now too, when you experience a free flow of very subtle sensations, you think, "Oh, very pleasant!" And when it disappears you feel depressed, as if you had lost ground. When it returns you feel you are progressing: "Now I have got it again!"

You have heard this before and understood it at the intellectual level. But examine yourself. If you are still playing the same game the understanding is very superficial; you have not grasped Dhamma properly. Liberation is far, far away. As the Buddha very emphatically said, if there is a sensation and, along with it, craving or aversion, nibbāna is far, far away.

Understand his words of warning, especially when you are passing through a situation of very pleasant, subtle sensations. This is a very dangerous, even frightening situation.

If you really start understanding this, you will want to come out of the experience. It becomes impossible for you to relish it. It is so dangerous, so frightening; what is there to relish? Instead one feels disgusted: "What is there in this pleasant sensation?" Only then does one start coming out of it to experience the nibbānic stage.

So long as the relishing persists, so long as one is not disgusted with the relishing, so long as one does not see any danger in the relishing, one is far, far away from nibbāna. That is why it is so important to work with the bodily sensations properly. You have started feeling sensation; good. But how are you feeling it? Is saññā [perception] still working in the same mad way, or is it changing into anicca-saññā? Do you understand what Māra’s snare is? Are you deepening that understanding?

A story: A parrot came to stay in the hermitage where a bhikkhu meditated a very peaceful place with many fruit trees. The bhikkhu tried to teach the parrot, saying to it, "Oh parrot, there is a danger here. A hunter will come and scatter some grains; you will be attracted to them. He will throw his net; you will be caught in it. A great danger; you must be very careful. The grains that he scatters are very dangerous, because through them you will be caught in the net. A great danger. Oh parrot, the hunter will come. He will throw some grains. You will be attracted towards the grains. He will throw his net and you will be caught. Be careful. Oh parrot, be careful!"

The parrot learned to repeat these words. It would keep on reciting, "Oh parrot, be careful! Oh parrot, be careful! The hunter will come and scatter grains. Don’t be attracted to them. He will throw his net and you will be caught. Be careful! Be careful!"

And exactly as the bhikkhu had warned, one day the hunter came and scattered some grains. The parrot was attracted to them and the hunter threw his net, ensnaring the parrot. The hunter caught hold of the parrot, which still kept on reciting the same words: "Oh parrot, be careful! The hunter will come. He will scatter grains. He will throw his net. Be careful, be careful!"

A Vipassana meditator who relishes the grains of the hunter becomes entangled in Māra’s net. And these pleasant sensations on the body are the grains. This is Māra’s snare. When you start relishing them, you are caught. Yet you imagine that, because you are practicing Vipassana, you are becoming liberated, you are approaching the experience of nibbāna. Instead you are running in the opposite direction.

This is how the wheel of misery keeps rotating. It always starts with pleasant sensations and with craving towards them. Aversion simply follows. One is not entangled in Māra’s snare by the unpleasant sensations. So long as you have craving and clinging for pleasant sensations, you will have aversion towards the unpleasant. The root is your craving for the pleasant.

And when free flow occurs you face a dangerous situation. This is the stage at which a subtle craving will start. At the surface of the mind, at the conscious, intellectual level, you will keep saying, "This is anicca, anicca." But deep inside you will start clinging to the experience. You will behave exactly like the parrot that keeps repeating, "Oh parrot, be careful; oh parrot, be careful!" even after he has been caught because of his craving for the grains scattered by the hunter. You have craving, and as long as the craving exists you cannot come to the end of vedanā.

This craving must go away. You must learn to stop relishing the pleasant sensations. You must discern the danger in them; you must recognize that this is a frightening situation. And you must understand that you have to come out of it. A feeling of disgust arises towards the pleasant sensations themselves: "What is really pleasant here? I have been caught in this snare in countless lives in the past, and I continue to be caught in it in this life as well."

A pleasant sensation appears to be pleasant but it is really suffering because it enmeshes one in the old habit of relishing it, of clinging to it. It is dukkha, it is bondage. As the Buddha said, "Yaṃ kiñci vedayitaṃ, taṃ pi dukkhasmiṃ Whatever sensation one is experiencing, it is actually dukkha, dukkha, dukkha."

As long as there is vedanā, there will be dukkha, because the process of multiplication of misery is operating. The fire is burning, and you are giving it fuel. Let the fire be extinguished. Then you will come to the end of vedanā, the end of suffering.


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