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  #1  
Old 09-08-2006, 02:15 AM
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Default The Buddha's Teaching Of the Poisoned Arrow

From James's wonderful blog:

http://thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com/...ned-arrow.html

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.

Read the rest of James's commentary at the above link.

What, if anything, is the value of metaphysical speculation?

Does Buddhism have a metaphysics? If so, what is it?

Why have the Levantine religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) all produced so much metaphysical speculation?

Does metaphysical speculation ever bring us closer to peace and happiness? Is it even important to have peace and happiness, or is it more important to have a correct metaphysics?

Is it alright to approach metaphysics as an interesting game, like chess, but of no value except in itself?

Does metaphysical speculation, like playing chess, sharpen our minds? Is there any value to that?
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Old 09-08-2006, 11:34 AM
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I hold this teaching in high regard because I can so easily get immersed in metaphysics.



I would say that different schools of Buddhism have varying degrees of metaphysics in their teachings. I found the most in Tibetan, and some of it is considered rather important such as the teachings of the Bardos. There are also bodhisattvas and realms and deities that are taught in the Tibetan tradition that are taught mainly as different facets of reality, and not as absolute seperate corpereal beings but as reflections of ourselves. The Vajrayana tradition does introduce these teachings as part of the methodology of attaining liberation, but I have never been taught that our way is the way, but a way. There are specific mantras, rites, and rituals that are taught in our tradition, but not as a way to prove or show that they are somehow more correct than other traditions. Vajrayana has a certain continuity to it that only makes it distinctive from other traditions with it's cosmology and world view.



It is much more important to have peace and happiness than debating toward proving a "correct metaphysics." Metaphysical descriptions and terminology are far and away secondary to the importance of attaining liberation.




As far as comparing metaphysics to a game of chess, I would say that is IMO a fair comparison, but without the sense of competition. One is not looking to defeat an opponent (although some debates in our tradition can really look like it ), but to sharpen the mind. Therefore, it isn't about winning, but about development.




It has been said that enlightenment is not some sort of possession, or a trophy, to keep in your pocket to show off or to boast. It is a decision toward an obligation to help our fellow sentient beings. To seek some kind of satisfaction in proving that my path is more complete or knowledgeable than yours is yet another form of egoistic grasping. This must be overcome, so metaphysics is merely seen as a sort of "FYI", and certainly not a pre-requisite or a practice to master.




I hope I didn't digress too much.




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Old 09-08-2006, 12:06 PM
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I was taught early on by a man who was rather infamous in our community that our happiness comes to us only when we do not seek for it. He would often convey this to me, he looked as if he didn't have a care in the world. Which drove my mom bonkers.

He didn't worry about finding answers or even solutions to complex matters. He just took it day by day in a very calm manner. He so not in melody with southern california life. Fast moving, stressed, drama, etc.

Now I tried following this but it is an embarrassingly common lesson to take so long to learn, but most of us are incredibly slow learners here. We constantly try other ways, thinking that perhaps the happiness that did not come to us the last time through selfishness will do so next time. It never does. The truth is blindingly clear, but we are clearly blind.

The way to happiness is self-forgetful Love. I'm still trying to practice this on a daily basis....

So in essense, metaphysics is fine so long as it moves toward happiness and not frustration. If there is no answer, don't be afraid to say it with a smile...
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Old 09-08-2006, 10:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunstone
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.
That's a very interesting example, Sunstone.

By all means, first remove the arrow and save the man's life, then find out who did it.

Here is another example to illustrate the importance of thought that brings people closer to the truth.

Assume a group of people are in a bus driving in the middle of a very remote desert on a hot summer's day. The driver misses a curve, and the bus falls from a cliff and all passengers die except for one young man.

He has very little water left and no food. When water ends, he goes to search for help, but faints under a tree from the severe heat.

A few hours later, as it gets cooler around sunset, he regains conscience and to his great surprise he finds in front of him a table with plenty of food and water to drink.

He's saved. But who did it? He looks around and there is nobody there. What should he do?

Drink and eat and then simply move on?

Or drink and eat and then try to find the source of these supplies to thank him?
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Old 09-08-2006, 11:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cordoba
That's a very interesting example, Sunstone.

By all means, first remove the arrow and save the man's life, then find out who did it.

Here is another example to illustrate the importance of thought that brings people closer to the truth.

Assume a group of people are in a bus driving in the middle of a very remote desert on a hot summer's day. The driver misses a curve, and the bus falls from a cliff and all passengers die except for one young man.

He has very little water left and no food. When water ends, he goes to search for help, but faints under a tree from the severe heat.

A few hours later, as it gets cooler around sunset, he regains conscience and to his great surprise he finds in front of him a table with plenty of food and water to drink.

He's saved. But who did it? He looks around and there is nobody there. What should he do?

Drink and eat and then simply move on?

Or drink and eat and then try to find the source of these supplies to thank him?
Obviously, he should try to find the source of the food and water -- as they obviously did not materialize out of nowhere. Sadly, few people would bother, though.
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Old 09-08-2006, 11:40 PM
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It makes sense to ask where the table came from.

And it also makes sense to think about the origin of the universe.

Currently reading "A Briefer History of Time" by Prof. Steven Hawking. A very interesting book.
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Old 09-08-2006, 11:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunstone
Why have the Levantine religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) all produced so much metaphysical speculation?

Does metaphysical speculation ever bring us closer to peace and happiness? Is it even important to have peace and happiness, or is it more important to have a correct metaphysics?
You can have peace and happiness (imo) and at the same time search and find the Truth. There is no conflict.

If God exists, it makes sense that He created us for a purpose, and that purpose He must have communicated to us.

The Creation of the Universe

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Old 09-09-2006, 07:29 AM
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Which is more important to a starving person: To eat and drink first, or to ask where the table came from first? Which is more important to a person suffering from a poisoned arrow: To remove the arrow first, or to ask who shot it and why?

Suffering creates an immediacy, a call to action. While metaphysical speculation might not necessarily lead to suffering, can it not be a distraction from dealing with suffering first?
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Old 09-09-2006, 07:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunstone
Which is more important to a starving person: To eat and drink first, or to ask where the table came from first? Which is more important to a person suffering from a poisoned arrow: To remove the arrow first, or to ask who shot it and why?

Suffering creates an immediacy, a call to action. While metaphysical speculation might not necessarily lead to suffering, can it not be a distraction from dealing with suffering first?
He who provides the actual bread gets to be first in line to offer the metaphysical kind as well (with a price tag attached to the latter).

- "The Grand Inquisitor" (paraphrased)
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Old 09-09-2006, 08:30 AM
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I can understand the point that Cordoba and Katzpur are trying to make. There isn't just suffering in this world, there are gifts and pleasures and joy and bliss. To them, finding the source for these isn't just seeking to find the source of suffering, but the source for happiness and love.



This is honorable and wondrous. I can raise my hand to high-five it.




The reason why I see just a little differently is because happiness and pleasure in the form of earthly gifts is fleeting and elusive. Everything on this Earth is impermanent, including the table of food in Cordoba's example. There is nothing wrong with seeking a human benefactor for the food and drink in order to thank him or her, and then to find a way to repay them for their kindness.




But it is a fundamental teaching of Buddha that pleasure and pain both do not remain with us permanently. The good things in life - I am not speaking of altruism or virtue - dissolve eventually. The bad things in life eventually dissolve, too. Ignoring these truths in order to attempt to define a "bigger" truth can find one in a state of confusion.



The point of the story is that as much as we can heal ourselves from the poisoned arrow, we will eventually be hit with yet another poisoned arrow sooner or later. This is a powerful metaphor showing that we do not experience one defining moment in our lives that point us toward a truth, but innumerable moments. Therefore, it is fine to continue a quest toward Truth after taking out our arrows, but it is wrong to ignore the arrows that continue to hit us afterward while on our quest for Truth.





Peace,
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