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Monday, August 28, 2006

The Teaching of the Poisoned Arrow

The Buddha always told his disciples not to waste their time and energy in metaphysical speculation. Whenever he was asked a metaphysical question, he remained silent. Instead, he directed his disciples toward practical efforts. Questioned one day about the problem of the infinity of the world, the Buddha said, "Whether the world is finite or infinite, limited or unlimited, the problem of your liberation remains the same." Another time he said, "Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If he were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first." Life is so short. It must not be spent in endless metaphysical speculation that does not bring us any closer to the truth.

- Thich Nhat Hanh, in Zen Keys

James: This is a brilliant teaching that opened the door toward liberation for me. I use to have soooo many questions regarding the meaning of life and all that bullocks. I use to think that each question would bring me closer to true "happiness" and "peace." However, each question only brought more questions and thus great frustration and suffering. The teachings of the Buddha though have changed all of that. They have shown me the path to true peace. Now I work toward being mindful in each moment unfolding into the next moment instead of worrying about that which can not be answered. When I dwell in the past and worry about the future my peace goes right out the window and from that point the worrying becomes an addiction.

The worrying gives me an emotional pay-off of being the "victim" in soothing my ego by receiving attention from people. It also soothes the ego by thinking somehow I am so smart and therefore better then others for raising such questions. However, the down side of the "victim" role and soothing the ego is that it does not end the pain and suffering as we all know. In fact it makes it worse. It is like a drug where I need more attention and more ego injections as the "victimhood"and ego concerns grow stronger and stronger. Playing the "victim" raises an insatiable desire to control the uncontrolable and delusionally thinking that I can (somehow) control the future! Ah, the poison arrow of delusional games and attachments.

This analogy of the poison arrow is very enlightening. Questions of the Universe seem tempting but they can be poison if we attach to them and savor the philosophy of it all like a bone. That's my feeling anyway.

~Peace to all beings~

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dragonflyfilly said...

yep, yep yep, too true, and very timely for me...


pedro said...

obrigado por este Post..Nunca tinha ouvido..

rama said...

Hullo! This is one of the teachings embedded in my mind too! That talking - for talking sake - is an utter waste of time. Thanks for this valuable post. Best, rama

theycallmemac said...

Thanks for the great teaching, James. Thay is a wonderful teacher.

alison koh said...


"James" said...


Very timely for me too.


I wish I spoke all the languages of the world. :)


You're very welcome. Talking can indeed become a burden. Words fall short many times.


You're welcome friend. Thay is beautiful.



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Muzza said...

i'd guess that technically you're not a Buddhist. You're most likely a "new age" Christain - having picked bits and pieces from various religions as they appeal to you.

There's two ways a person could be a true "Buddhist" - either by being born into a Buddhist culture or by practicing what Buddha taught - which was to follow the eight fold path - which means in essence to meditate - a lot.

Everything else is just metaphysics and, consequntially, exactly the point Buddha was trying to make with the lesson of the arrow. To read a bunch of stuff on this or that "cool" religion or philosophy is, frankly, just a bit of a wank


Rachel Summers said...

Actually, to make one an "official" Buddhist, one must take refuge in the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. So as long as one seeks refuge in the Buddha, his teachings and one's fellow Buddhists, it is appropriate to call oneself Buddhist.

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