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This article tells a legend from the life of the historical Buddha illustrated by a Tibetan thangka. The story is about the evil demon Mara who tried to keep Buddha away from finding the ultimate enlightenment.
Buddha Siddhartha - 6 Years of Ascetism
At the age of 29 Prince Siddhartha had left the palace of his father, a king in Northern India, to find an ultimate answer how suffering in this world could be overcome. He became a student of different gurus practicing asceticism and meditation. After six years he and his companions were only skin and bones. But Buddha realized that this path had not brought him any further towards a solution.
Seven Weeks of Meditation
Buddha finally decided to eat again. Then he retreated under a large tree vowing not to leave the place until he would have found the ultimate enlightenment. His companions had left him at this point, and Buddha was sitting all alone under this tree thinking about the causes of suffering in this world and how to end it.
Mara - the Demon of Evil
Now the legend steps in with the character of Mara, an evil demon, some kind of devil. When he realized that Buddha was on the way to come to an ultimate understanding of this world, he sent his forces in to attack the Buddha.
First a wild bunch of evil monsters came and fired with bows and arrows and other weapons at the Buddha. But the arrows turned into flowers before they could reach Buddha's body. On the thangka image one can see Buddha surrounded by the fearsome looking monsters. An impressive imagery.
When Mara realized that his monsters could not hurt the Buddha, he tried it with more sensual methods. He sent his beautiful and sexy daughters into the battle. The girls did their best to seduce the Buddha, but he remained steadfast. The thangka image shows two young women with large breasts and their vulva exposed. In front walks an old woman. This symbolizes that the beautiful girls turned into old women, just as the arrows turned into flowers, and thus remained ineffective as a 'weapon' to seduce the Buddha.
Give Me a Witness!
Mara told the Buddha that nobody would believe that he could resist him. Then came the famous 'Buddha witness gesture'. Buddha held his right hand downward and called the earth goddess to be his witness. This hand gesture became a trademark for all future Buddha images.
Mara finally realized that he had lost and pulled back.
About This Thangka
I bought this thangka in the late 1970s in a small shop in Patan. The design and the light colors were rather unusual. I have never again seen this design later. It is well done. The shading of the details is intricate, which you can recognize from the image of the enlarged demon in yellow.
If you are interested in Tibetan thangkas, take a look at our shop of Tibetan thangkas.
Dieter Wanczura, May 2010