Your first squadron is Sense-Desires,
Your second is called Boredom, then
Hunger and Thirst compose the third,
And Craving is the fourth in rank,
The fifth is Sloth and Accidy,
While Cowardice lines up as sixth,
Uncertainty is seventh, the eighth
Is Malice paired with Obstinacy;
Gain, Honour and Renown, besides,
And ill-won Notoriety,
Self-Praise and Denigrating Others -
These are your squadrons, Namuci;
These are the Black One's fighting squadrons;
None but the brave will conquer them
To gain bliss by the victory.
Sutta Nipata III, 2
Nyanamoli translation "Life of the Buddha" p.20
(Author's Note - apologies are extended to the late C.S.Lewis, author of "The Screwtape Letters," for my shameless rip-off of his clever idea)
In a faraway realm there is the most intoxicatingly beautiful pleasure park in all the vast swarm of universes. Lovely maidens and carefree youths stroll through groves of ever-flowering trees. Golden leaves swayed by gentle breezes tinkle with soft and lazy melodies. Gorgeous birds and enormous butterflies flutter through the shady groves. The ground slopes up gently and in the distance a fairy castle is visible atop a craggy peak; a marvelous structure of twisting towers and intricate parapets. Its very geometry dazzles the senses, no need to speak of the jewel encrusted walls, the golden roofs or the gargoyles of alabaster and jade.
In the highest tower of this dazzling construction there is a large and tastefully appointed room; an office if you will. Behind a massive desk of rarest wood and cunning joinery there lounges an elegant figure in a comfortable leather chair. He is tall and handsome, impeccably dressed and groomed. His style is timeless yet fashionable, his demeanor polished and suave. A goddess of unearthly beauty sits beside him on a low stool, doing his nails. Another one sits across from him with a dictation pad on her lap. The being behind the desk glances out the huge picture window with a smile of contentment. He watches the happy godlings at play with a paternal satisfaction. After a while he turns to the lovely goddess across from him, the heavenly secretary, and speaks;
"I'll want to dictate a letter in a moment my dear -- in the meantime would you be a sweetheart and prepare a cup of coffee while I survey the state of my empire..." The manicurist gathers up her implements and exits with a smile and a wink.
As his secretary glides gracefully towards the celestial coffee-maker the Prince of the Sense-Realms allows himself the pleasure of a lascivious glance before getting down to business. His now perfectly manicured hand rests upon a computer mouse (unicorn ivory with a ruby button); with a few deft maneuvres he reprograms the view in the window.
First he checks out the various heavens within his dominion; the worlds of pleasure where gods and goddesses sport in gardens and groves; wandering about in heavenly chariots they travel from party to party, from festival to feast. Clothed in gorgeous raiment and bedecked with garlands and jewels they are intoxicated with their own beauty. Heavenly musicians play constantly and celestial nymphs of bewitching loveliness dance for aeons without a pause. Of course every now and again one of these beings disappears - poof - like a Christmas tree light burning out. The others seem barely to notice; the more thoughtful may pause momentarily and blink once or twice but are soon diverted from any momentary melancholy.
"Ah...my children, how they do like to play! But some don't play as nicely as they might..."
Another flick of the mouse and the window displays beings in the animal realm. Running and chasing, hunting and devouring, mating and giving birth. Caught in traps or dying through cold or heat, briefly they pass in and out of existence.
Again the view changes. The ghost realm appears, shadowy and dark. Beings move about moaning and wailing, misshapen beings coarse and ugly. Many have bloated bellies and tiny heads, some are like living skeletons, others creep pathetically around refuse piles.
Then the hells come into view. Realms of fire and pain. Worlds of unspeakable cruelty and horror. Beings impaled on red-hot iron stakes, beings thrown into pits of fire and fished out again with hooks. Beings boiled in cauldrons or skewered with knives.
The Prince's mouth curls into a faint frown of disgust. He receives his cup of steaming coffee gracefully as a swarm of writhing beings falls into a pit full of blazing coals. The secretary says with a divine pout "That's simply awful Mara sweetie, I don't know why you keep that place going."
A black eyebrow is raised; "My goodness! As if it were my fault! Hell isn't exactly my favourite subsidiary either. I'd much rather all these wretched beings had the good sense to live properly but they will carry on in that evil way of theirs, so what can I do about it? Heaven or hell, it's all their own doing you know; I just let us say facilitate matters by helping them to see the inestimable value of a sense realm existence...hmm excellent coffee as usual my dear."
"You're wicked...do change the channel."
With a frown Mara flicks the mouse.
The goddess laughs; "Oooh...the human world! So amusing, the silly little people."
Mara frowns a little deeper and studies the flickering images. Crowds hurrying along a subway platform. A family mindlessly watching television. A young girl selling herself in the street. Soldiers burning a village.
He sips the coffee thoughtfully. "Very good. Most of this realm too is well and truly mine..."
On the window now a dusty village street, some chickens run about and here and there a mangy dog. A boy walks by leading a buffalo by a rope through its nose. Some men lounge in the shade of a mango tree, smoking.
"But there is a small annoying ... leakage."
And now around a bend there approaches a line of robed figures walking silently with eyes cast down. A few old women appear and reverently place lumps of sticky rice into the monks' bowls.
"Most annoying...fortunately the leak is a small one. But it does keep us busy trying to stop it. Can't have too many beings escape now can we? Where would we be if the Great Sangsara exhausted itself? Well, time to work. Come here and sit in my lap while I dictate a circular memo to the department heads..."
FROM His Supreme Excellency the Mara Namuci
TO All Squadron Leaders,
OPERATIONAL AREA The Planet Earth, Solar System, Human Realm
REGARDING Present Situation and Status of Current Projects
DATED 26th Century of Current Buddha-Period
Greetings to all my hard-working minions! As you are all well aware, our overall strategy seems to be working as smoothly as usual. The vast multitude of beings who wander in our little playground, the Great Sangsara, are by and large oblivious of the true nature of their predicament. We must continue our unceasing efforts to maintain them in our power. It is quite true that one, shall we say, very clever fish escaped our net two and half millennia ago. I fully accept responsibility for that catastrophe. As you have all studied the history in basic training I need not go over it in great detail; remember I tried my very best. Even my daughters dancing for him didn't move him. Even my terrible aspect, which sometimes frightens even myself, had no effect.
Worse, after he had penetrated the true nature of our little game I couldn't persuade him to keep it to himself; although I thought I almost had him convinced. Alas, what's done is done and there is a small hole in our net through which beings continue to escape. Happily all indications are the hole grows smaller with time. It is very hard for our little fishies to imagine their true welfare lies outside the net; all we need to do is to divert them from thoughts of the canning plant!
You, my loyal squadron leaders, are doing a fine job. Let's take this opportunity to review your departments one by one.
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