How is the word “nightmare” related to Buddhism??

HOW IS THE WORD NIGHTMARE RELATED TO BUDDHISM?

Nightmares were evil spirits that would torture the dreams of people, and often thought to be the cause of guilt or anxiety.

Nightmares were evil spirits that would torture the dreams of people, and often thought to be the cause of guilt or anxiety.

The word nightmare doesn’t come from the idea of horse, but folklore term “mare” in Middle English meaning a evil spirit (like a succubus or hag). It’s origins go back to the Proto-Indo-European word “mer” meaning to “rub away” or “to harm.” It is found in various languages: “Maron” in Old Norse, Mara in Swedish, “Moros” in Greek, and “-mar” in French. In European tradition, these spirits could torture your dreams and so they would be Nachtmahr, Cauchemar, or Nightmares.

 

 

 

 

BUDDHISM’S CONNECTION

During the 49 days that the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi Tree, Mara tempted him with unwholesome thoughts and bribes.

During the 49 days that the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi Tree, Mara tempted him with unwholesome thoughts and bribes.

But what does it possibly have to do with Buddhism? Siddhartha Gotoma sat under the Bodhi tree for 49 days meditating before achieving enlightenment. He story states that MARA, the demon of temptation, attempted to seduce him by offering his daughters. He is the spirit of unwholesome impulses and distraction from the spiritual life. The origins of his name also come from the Proto-Indo-European same root word. And so the Old English and Nordic spirits can be found also in India under the same name and using the same tactics.

We often think of ourselves as being different. We often think of our languages and cultures separating us from each other. While we can see differences between every continent, nation, cutlure, faith and individual– we are (in the correct context) all really the same. What is so interesting about language is that it can be used to see how we are connected or separated. It is tempting to distinguish ourselves from others to feed our ego– but in the end, we can reframe our view and see that we are all really one.

 

 

MARAPASA SUTTA

“There are forms, monks, cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. If a monk relishes them, welcomes them, & remains fastened to them, he is said to be a monk fettered to forms cognizable by the eye. He has gone over to Mara’s camp; he has come under Mara’s power. The Evil One can do with him as he wills.

“There are sounds cognizable via the ear…

“There are aromas cognizable via the nose…

“There are flavors cognizable via the tongue…

“There are tactile sensations cognizable via the body…

“There are ideas cognizable via the intellect — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. If a monk relishes them, welcomes them, & remains fastened to them, he is said to be a monk fettered to ideas cognizable by the intellect. He has gone over to Mara’s camp; he has come under Mara’s power. The Evil One can do with him as he wills.

“Now, there are forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. If a monk does not relish them, welcome them, or remain fastened to them, he is said to be a monk freed from forms cognizable by the eye. He has not gone over to Mara’s camp; he has not come under Mara’s power. The Evil One cannot do with him as he wills.

“There are sounds cognizable via the ear…

“There are aromas cognizable via the nose…

“There are flavors cognizable via the tongue…

“There are tactile sensations cognizable via the body…

“There are ideas cognizable via the intellect — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. If a monk does not relish them, welcome them, or remain fastened to them, he is said to be a monk freed from ideas cognizable by the intellect. He has not gone over to Mara’s camp; he has not come under Mara’s power. The Evil One cannot do with him as he wills.”

 

CONNECTION

The Midevil concepts of nightmare may have been spiritually and superstitiously exaplained, but the idea that these taunting dream states are a result of stress and anxiety. That is also the current explaination of nightmares. When we sleep, the brain decompresses and processes the thoughts and emotions of the day. This can often lead to dream states that create imaginary situations to safely deal and cope with those stresses and anxieties.

In the same way, our waking lives must deal with stresses and anxieties too. We may call them “our demons” to externalize and compartmentalize our identy of ego from our unwholesome desires and thirsts (tahna), but we can just as easily reframe that dialogue that our immediate desires and appetites are biologically and psychologically based for short term gains with long-term negative after-effects.

And that is what the spirit of Mara is, our base-self acting unmindfully and thus eventually creating stress and anxiety as our operant mind sees how our immediate desires work against our long-term happiness and benefit. Developing mindfulness and walking the Eightfold Path is a life system that helps create that mindful living to create a life that is fully engaged to the best benefit and experience of ourselves and the world around us. And when that happens– there is no stress or anxiety, but only minfully living in the present. Mara has no hold of our daily lives and nightmares have no place in our dreams.

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Categories: Buddhism, Christianity, Philosophy, Psychology

Author:Sumitta

Born Joshua Hudson, Reverend Sumitta (his ordained name) finished a twenty-year career as a military photo-journalist, and became a Licensed Social Worker with continuing studies in Mental Health, Healthcare Advocate, and Buddhist Minister. Currently, he works as the Director of Psychological Health and Primary Prevention of Violence for the U.S. Air Force. Previously, he served as the healthcare patient advocate for the Veterans Healthcare Administration, and is a License Clinical Social Worker, with a Master’s in Clinical Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, working as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, public speaker, trainer and personal/family advisor. His dharma name "Sumitta," which translates to "Good Friend" in Pali.

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