In an instruction on the teaching and practice styles of his Kadamapa and Kagyupa teachers, Gampopa makes a few interesting remarks on “māra obstacles.” He says:
There are two kinds of māra that cause “māra obstacles” to the practitioner: Human and non-human māras and the māra of thought. There are three methods to dispel them. (1) They are dispelled through the practice of love and compassion. By practicing love and compassion, no harming of the child by the mother exists. (2) They are dispelled by practicing [māras] as illusionary dreams and emptiness. The harmed and the harm doer both do not exist, it is said. (3) By understanding them to be confusion, [māras] are pacified. By understanding them all to be projections of the mind, no harm is done. Even if done, it does not upset.
Accordingly, there are either sentient beings (human and non-human) who cause māra obstacles or obstacles caused by thoughts. But no matter whether sentient or not, all causes of obstacles are treated through means of the mind. The first method is love and compassion. In Tibetan Mahāyāna Buddhism, one imagines all sentient beings to be one’s mother who has raised one lovingly many times. Thereby one cultivates gratitude, love, and compassion for those beings who once have been one’s mother and now are in a state of despair. Such a mother, towards which one cultivates love, will not harm the child. This is a method of conventional bodhicitta.
Secondly, one practices emptiness and understands all māras as being like a dream. In truth, someone who causes harm and someone who experiences harm do not exist. That is a method of absolute bodhicitta.
Thirdly, one can understand all appearances as confusion since they are nothing but projections of the mind. This is a method that is based on the realization that all phenomena are only the mind. Then Gampopa continues:
This large retinue and the material wealth that presently appears is, on the one hand, in mantra taught to be an ordinary siddhi, and on the other hand, also said to be an obstacle of māra.
Here, Gampopa seems to speak about his own situation: Having settled in a monastery, there is a retinue of followers and material wealth. One can see that either as a siddhi or as an obstacle. Remarks like that can be found in many biographies of Tibetan masters. “Success” as a teacher can be quite a problem. He continues:
Māra, however, does not really cause obstacles. Earlier, obstacles are caused by the retinue. Then, great material wealth causes obstacles to virtuous practice. Then, the practitioner will be hindered by desire and hatred. Look at your own mind if that is an obstacle of the māra or not! If it harms you, it is an obstacle of the māra. If it doesn’t harm you, it is a siddhi, it is said.
Māra, however, does not really cause obstacles. Already on the conventional level, they are a cause for cultivating love and compassion, and on the absolute level, they do not exist and, therefore, cannot cause harm. All the trouble that arises for the successful master depends on his or her own mind. If afflictions like desire and hatred arise, that is the obstacle. If not, that is the siddhi.