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Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
  • Going Forth
  • Emerging Facilitators
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Dialoguing with Mara to Strengthen Our Resolve

from chapter 10 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Time: 45-60 minutes


In Buddhism, there is a hand gesture called the bhumisparsa mudra, which means gesture of touching the Earth. It is featured in the story of when Gautama, soon to become the Buddha, sat down under the bodhi tree. We can imagine him saying, in effect, “I am not going to get up until I have broken through to the secret of the suffering we cause ourselves and others. Until I wake up to that, I am not going to move.” 

This infuriated Mara, a mythic figure embodying sin and death. Mara sent demons to frighten Gautama and dancing girls to distract him, but the Buddha-to-be didn’t waver. Finally, Mara challenged him outright. “By what right and authority do you think you can solve the mystery of suffering? Just who do you think you are?”

In response to this challenge, Gautama offered no personal credentials, no curriculum vitae. He didn’t say I’m the son of a king. I graduated summa cum laude from the Yoga Institute or went to Harvard Business School. He said nothing at all about himself. He simply reached down and touched the Earth, saying in effect, “This is my right to be here; this is my right to seek freedom from endless suffering and inflicting of suffering.” It was by the authority of Earth that he sought liberation from suffering, and when he did that, the scriptures say, the Earth roared.

So we can make that gesture too. We can touch the Earth. That act, even if only mental, reminds us of who we are and what we are about, as we confront the global corporate economy. We are here for the sake of life. By the authority of our belonging to Earth from the beginning of time, we are here.

Often as activists, we repress the voices of fear and doubt as well as the voices seducing us into pleasurable distractions. This practice gives us the chance to voice all the seductions, doubts, and fears that pull us off course, which are represented by Mara. It gives us practice in standing up to Mara and finding our ground, our authority.

It is good in this practice for the facilitator(s), instead of taking part, to scan the group and be available to help.



Form groups of three. Each person takes a turn as the ‘focus’ person for 15 minutes, while the other two people are listening allies in this dialogue with Mara. The focus person uses two cushions on which to sit:

Cushion 1 is the place of intention/resolve/determination.

Cushion 2 is Mara.

The focus person starts in the place of resolve, telling the two witnesses of something she intends to put into action on returning home. This could be either a very small plan or a larger project, something close to the heart that the focus person feels a little fearful of doing. It’s good to start with a few moments of centering. Ground yourself in your body and in Earth. Feel the support of Earth and the whole Earth community. Trust in your life experience. Don’t hide your dreams — some of the greatest things people have done have grown from seeds of ideas that might have seemed crazy at the time.

After stating her intention, the focus person moves onto cushion 2, and becomes Mara, voicing fears, doubts and criticisms (e.g. who are YOU to think you can stand up and do this; you haven’t got time; you don’t know enough, etc).

Then the focus person moves back to cushion 1 and responds to Mara.

You may need to re-centre yourself on the cushion; you don’t need to respond to Mara immediately. Find your ground quietly, and then speak.

The dialogue continues for about 10 minutes, during which time the allies witnessing this process can help in two ways:

  1. At certain points, the focus person may wish one of the allies to act as Mara.
  2. At other times, especially if the focus person is finding it difficult to respond to Mara, an ally may move behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder, and speak to Mara on her behalf.

The time comes when Mara demands of the focus person: “By what authority are you doing this?” and the focus person replies by touching the earth and saying, with full resolve: “By the authority of Earth, I will …”

After everyone has had a chance to be focus person, the threesomes talk about their experience, before reconvening in the large group for people to share what they have learned.

Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown