When Prince Gautama _ before he became Lord Buddha _ was seeking Enlightenment, a mara (demon) appeared in human form and attempted to dissuade him from continuing his dharma practice. Withstanding the enticements of the mara, as the Buddha successfully managed to do, has become synonymous with triumphing over obstructions in one's life. It is seen as a form of penance as one struggles to overcome the seductions of worldly pleasure. This discipline also suggests the idea of a crossing in which one travels from the superficial plane to deeper spiritual territory, a place only the person involved is able to understand and traverse.
In The Mara Crossing, Ruth Padel describes this crossing symbolically. The title of this experimental book, a cross between poetry and prose, was suggested to the author after she observed the annual wildebeest migration in East Africa, watching as hordes of these herbivores struggled across the River Mara in Kenya. Some of the wildebeest died along the way, many survived but would have to retrace their steps a few months later and repeat the same journey the following year. The will to go, to stay or return, but mostly to survive is at the heart of this book on migration.
A great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin, Padel seems perfectly at home with the themes of evolution. Her book is arranged into sections, each prefaced with a passage of prose, on subjects as diverse but interconnected as how the cells of living organisms mutate in order to survive and reproduce, how plants migrate by hitching a ride on journeys taken by people and how both animals and human beings are driven to migrate by conflicts, colonisation and the search for better opportunities. "Migration makes the world" is the overarching concept that binds the various segments together.
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