Turning Arrows into Flowers

Turning Arrows into Flowers – from Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodron

On the night the Buddha was to attain enlightenment, he sat under a tree.  While he was sitting there, the forces of Mara shot arrows at him to distract him from becoming enlightened, but with awareness he turned their weapons into flowers.

Traditional teachings on the forces of Mara describe the nature of obstacles and how human beings habitually become confused and lose confidence in their basic wisdom mind.  The teachings on the four maras provide descriptions of some very familiar ways in which we try to avoid what is happening.  Like the Buddha, it is possible for us to turn these arrows into flowers.  Rather than trying to get rid of an obstacle or buying into a sense of being attacked, we can use it to see what we do when we’re squeezed.  Do we close down or open up?  Do we feel resentful or do we soften?  Do we become wiser or more stupid?

  1. Devaputra mara involves seeking pleasure.  Any obstacle we encounter has the power to pop the bubble of reality that we have come to regard as secure and certain.  When we’re threatened that way, we can’t stand to feel the edginess, the anxiety, the heat of anger rising, the bitter taste of resentment.  Therefore, we reach for whatever we think will blot it out.  We try to grasp something pleasant.  The way to turn this arrow into a flower is to open our hearts and look at how we try to escape.  We can use pleasure-seeking as an opportunity to observe what we do in the face of pain.
  1. Skandha mara has to do with how we try to re-create ourselves when things fall apart.  We return to the solid ground of our self-concept as quickly as possible.  Trungpa Rinpoche used to call this “nostalgia for samsara”.  When things fall apart, instead of struggling to regain our concept of who we are, we can use it as an opportunity to be open and inquisitive about what has just happened and what will happen next.  That is how to turn this arrow into a flower.
  1. Klesha mara is characterized by strong emotions.  Instead of letting feelings be, we weave them into a story line, which gives rise to even bigger emotions.  We all use emotions to regain our ground when things fall apart.  We can turn this arrow into a flower by using heavy emotion as a way to develop true compassion for ourselves and everyone else.
  1. Yama mara is rooted in the fear of death.  We are killing the moment by controlling our experience.  We want to hold on to what we have.  We want every experience to confirm us and congratulate us and make us feel completely together.  We say the yama mara is fear of death, but it’s actually fear of life.  We can turn this arrow into a flower by using the desire to control as a reminder to experience each moment completely new and fresh.  We can always return to basic wisdom mind.

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“We are distracted by distraction from distraction.”   —T.S Eliot
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From Alcoholics Anonymous

This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to tale personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along.  We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past.  We have entered the world of the Spirit.  Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.  This is not an overnight matter.  It should continue for a lifetime.  Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear.  When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them.  We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone.  Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.  Love and tolerance of others is our code.

And we have ceased fighting anyone or anything – even alcohol.  For by this time sanity will have returned.  We will seldom be interested in liquor.  If tempted we will recoil as if from a hot flame.  We react sanely and normally, and we find that this has happened automatically.  We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any though or effort on our part.  It just comes!  That is the miracle of it.  We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation.  We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality—safe and protected.  We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed..  It does not exist for us.  We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience.  That is how we react so long as we are in fit spiritual condition.