Although Māra, the Buddhist symbol of evil, has been the subject of a number of books and essays, little has been written about the numerous Pali and Sanskrit textual references to a plurality of Māras. In Buddhist literature there are passages, more characteristic of the Pali canonical texts, which can be interpreted as references to a general, often unspecified plurality of Māras, while other passages, more frequently found in the Sanskrit treatises, specify four Māras and designate a name for each. The purpose of this study is to show how the four Māras function as a summary formula for the diverse ways in which the term “Māra” came to be used, and following that, to consider the meaning this plurality of Māra symbols has for the Buddhist understanding of evil (pāpa).

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