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The Buddha's Teaching Of the Poisoned Arrow

Discussion in 'Religious Debates' started by Sunstone, Sep 8, 2006.

  1. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora Staff Member Premium Member

    Erotic Dance
    From James's wonderful blog:


    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?
    ChrisP likes this.
  2. MysticSang'ha

    MysticSang'ha Big Squishy Hugger Staff Member Premium Member

    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. :)

    Sunstone likes this.
  3. Quiddity

    Quiddity UndertheInfluenceofGiants

    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....:eek:

    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...:)
    MysticSang'ha likes this.
  4. Cordoba

    Cordoba Well-Known Member

    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?
    Sunstone likes this.
  5. Katzpur

    Katzpur Not your average Mormon

    LDS Christian
    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.
  6. Cordoba

    Cordoba Well-Known Member

    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.
  7. Cordoba

    Cordoba Well-Known Member

    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

    For Men of Understanding
  8. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora Staff Member Premium Member

    Erotic Dance
    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?
  9. doppelganger

    doppelganger Through the Looking Glass

    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)
  10. MysticSang'ha

    MysticSang'ha Big Squishy Hugger Staff Member Premium Member

    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.

  11. michel

    michel Administrator Emeritus Staff Member

    I think james makes a very valid point;' one of which I have not thought consciously, but iot has been in the back of my mind that trying to apply 'Character' 'Size' @emotions' .....the entire gamut to something/one that is totally beyond our conception is an absurdity.

    I would go further, and would admit that I have left the arrow in my chest; I do try to take it out and dump it......but curiosity (I suppose) doesn't want the arrow to go.
    Buddhism is a "wide" discipline (especially when parts of it are 'mixed' with local beliefs........

    From "STAGES IN THE HISTORY OF BUDDHISM " http://www.friesian.com/buddhism.htm

    Mahâyâna ("Great Vehicle") Buddhism: In India, 1st century AD to 6th century.
    • Distinctive doctrines:
      1. The Gautama Buddha is not gone, and individual practitioners are not on their own. Instead, the Buddha taught the dharma out of compassion, and his compassion would prevent him from being unavailable to practitioners now. Indeed, to emulate the compassion of the Buddha, practitioners become bodhisattvas, who vow to carry all beings with them into salvation. Bodhisattvas are also available, like the Buddhas, to help people work out their salvation. Maitreya is presently a bodhisattva, but the most important bodhisattva is probably Avalokiteshvara, who became identified with the Chinese goddess of Mercy, Guanyin (Kwan-in in Wade-Giles, Kannon in Japan).
      2. The Buddha was not unique, and individual practitioners who have become bodhisattvas can become Buddhas. There are already multiple Buddhas besides Shakyamuni. Most important are Mahâvairocana and Amitâbha. Amitâbha is famous for his Western Paradise, or Pure Land, where he has Vowed to cause anyone who calls on him for help to be born, so they will be free of the world of suffering to work out their ultimate liberation. In Japan Amitâbha is known as Amida and Mahâvairocana as Dainichi. Most of the famous Buddha statues in Japan are not Shakyamuni: the great outdoor bronze Buddha at Kamakura is Amida, and the Buddha enshrined in the Tôdaiji ("Great Eastern") Temple in Nara (the largest wooden building in the world), is another Buddha named Locana.
      3. Nirvân.a and samsâra are no longer definitely different. The "Fourfold Negation" is applied to the relationship between the two. Samsâra and nirvân.a are thus neither the same, nor different, nor both the same and different, nor neither the same nor different. This allows some room for maneuver, which may have made Buddhism more palatable in China, where Confucianism never did approve either of the world-denying metaphysics or the monasticism of Buddhism. Distinctively Chinese schools of Buddhism developed, like T'ien-t'ai (Tendai in Japan) and Ch'an (Seon [Son] in Korea, Thien in Vietnam, Zen in Japan), for whom samsâra and nirvân.a were virtually identical, so that enlightenment and nirvân.a transformed the world rather than eliminated it. The paradoxical metaphysics of Buddhism could be assimilated to the similar paradoxical doctrines of the native Chinese philosophical school of Taoism.
      Places where Mahâyâna spread: Mahâyâna Buddhism is presently practiced in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. Buddhism was propagated in China by missionaries from India, like Kumârajîva (344-413), who arrived in China in 401, and Buddhabhadra (359-429), who arrived in 408, and by Chinese pilgrims who traveled to India, like Fa-Hsien (Fa3xian3), who travelled to India between 399 and 414, and [​IMG]Hsüan-tsang (Xuánzang3, 600-664), who went to India between 629 and 645. These were difficult journeys, either by sea around Malaya, where many ships were attacked by pirates or sunk by storms, or by land through Central Asia, on the "Silk Road" caravan route, through deserts and over some of the highest mountains in the world. The highest peaks of the Pamirs and related mountain chains, called Bâm-e Donyâ in Persian, "the Roof of the World," are all over 24,000 feet [note]. One story of a Buddhist missionary crossing the Pamirs, Kumârayâna, father of Kumârajîva, is that he carried a Buddha image during the day -- and the Buddha image carried him during the night! Kumârajîva, Fa-Hsien, and Hsüan-tsang all brought Buddhist texts from India to China and translated them. The Buddhist canon as it arrived in China was in Sanskrit, and it included many special Mahâyâna Sûtras that are not in the Pâli Canon (though many are now suspected of being Chinese forgeries). The stories of Fa-Hsien and Hsüan-tsang's travels are important parts of Chinese literature, and Fa-Hsien's account of India during the reign of Chandra Gupta II (375-415) is an important document for the history of India.
    The very focus of the levantine religions is in Faith; Faith per se takes things that are not provable on trust. Curiosity may lead us to speculate, but as I explained in the above answer, speculation is purposeless (and I would go so far as to say) is a distraction of the real focus. But we are humans, and we humans are predictably fallible.
    Is it , I think, better to settle for Peace and hapiness (as long as they are based on a sound philosophy and morality (I believe), rather than squander our lives 'tuning in' the Metaphysical components.

    I think metaphysics, per se (for me), needs to dot i's and cross t's of the religious faith one is involved in; as an interesting game, there is no purpose (although I have admitted that it can only lead to what may be absurd speculation, and I am just as purposeless as the next door neighbour in that respect).

    To use metaphysics for the sheer fun and games is perhaps even more honest than to substatiate Religion (but it isn't 'my thing')

    To sharpen the mind, stick to chess, or bridge (the card game); chess is a game more suited to a computer......which is why I am absurdly useless at playing it.

    To play chess successfully, one needs to be able to envisage every permutation and possibility of maybe up to ten moves ahead.......I haven't a hope. I am lucky if I can think one move ahead.:D Bridge requires an excellent short term memory........something else I lack; the deduction, the methodology of play are easy, but worthless without the memory of every card that has appeared.

    Wow! Is this truly over with? *wipes sweat off brow*
    MysticSang'ha likes this.
  12. Cordoba

    Cordoba Well-Known Member

    There are 2 alternatives as suggested above:

    1- Eat, drink then just carry on OR

    2- Eat, drink then search for the person who provided the meal and saved his life to thank him.

    In both cases, he has to eat and drink first or else he won't survive, so we agree on that.
  13. Engyo

    Engyo Prince of Dorkness!

    Cordoba -

    If I apply your 2nd choice above to Buddhism, thenwhat happens is that once a person has "eaten and drank" or attained awakening or enlightenment, banishing suffering, then he or she will have thereby gained the understanding of where the table and the food and drink came from. The search will not be necessary at that point; the answer will be obvious, and probably not worthy of comment.

    This is from the Buddhist standpoint, of course; I realize that this doesn't fit other philosophies.
    MysticSang'ha likes this.
  14. Seyorni

    Seyorni Well-Known Member

    Vedanta (reform)
    Curiosity about things not immediatly connected with food, shelter and reproduction is a distinctive human trait. Understanding how the world works enriches one's life and makes life more interesting and pleasurable.

    Metaphysical speculation is not likely to improve one's nutrition, security or life-expectancy. It could, however, improve one's quality of life even if it does not assist spiritual progression.
  15. doppelganger

    doppelganger Through the Looking Glass

    And it could substantially diminish one's "quality of life" too, couldn't it?
  16. Doc

    Doc Space Chief

    When I first heard the teaching, I did not really understand it. At the time, I was very obsessive about finding the answers to everything about the universe. Mostly the metaphysical. Then I realized that my chasing of such answers were really not solving any immediate problems. It was kind of interesting and neat, but had no real benefits. When I realized that most of my questions were unanswerable and irrelevant, I became an Agnostic and there is a greater relief now.

    I deal first with the practical in my life now. Theories and speculation come second. I am much happier because of it.
  17. YmirGF

    YmirGF Bodhisattva

    Beyond the Light
    I may indeed be missing the point Cordoba, but wouldn't it be reasonable to thank Allah for the gifts, take your fill, but not too much... and then move on? In theory everything comes from Allah, so why would one assume that they had been saved by anyone else? Especially if no one was in plain sight... and you alone had just had your life sparred. Am I misunderstanding? Please forgive me, if I am.

    As for the Op, I am puzzled by it too.
    Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it.
    This must have some cultural significance of which I am unaware, because I cannot fathom why someone would want to leave an arrow in, in the first place, unless it was to stanch the wound. *scratches head*

    However, the alleged words of Buddha do make a valid point in my estimation. When I see statements like However, each question only brought more questions and thus great frustration and suffering. I am more inclined to think that perhaps the individual was not asking very good questions. I suppose it is great that eventually he learned to "be here now" and is managing to get somewhere.

    As far as metaphyiscal discussions are concerned, I do find them interesting, but ultimately futile discussions. Ultimately no one really wins such arguments although they can be stimulating on certain levels. I am not sure why someone as aware as Buddha would not note this simple fact. I would have expected a more "middle path" approach rather than catagoric dismissal.

    Ah well, maybe I am missing something.
  18. Cordoba

    Cordoba Well-Known Member

    Yes, of course if he's a believer he should thank Allah.

    We're assuming that there were no miracles, and that someone had actually put this meal in front of him.

    The analogy is meant to highlight the need for reflection and the importance of searching for the truth, and not just taking life at face value.
  19. bigvindaloo

    bigvindaloo New Member

    I believe the Buddha was correct in his wisdom of not questioning before to remove the arrow. However, metaphysical "speculation" is valuable in as much that it lays an intellectual foundation for experiental learning via wisdom, which I take the Buddha as having meant is a different sort of knowledge, one acquired through practicising correctly in meditation. Buddhist metaphysics if there is one would be concerned with communication of Buddhism to the outside. Establishing a dialogue with others about the benefits of Buddhism wisdom is a driver in communicating a Buddhist metaphysics. However, the difficulty of faithfully communicating the core of Buddist insight to others is demonstrated by the child-like or simplistic flavour of Buddhist popular writing. (It seems childlike to others). I have seen Buddhist comic books that would make no sense in that they lack a punch line. In this there is something conveying the intransmissability of Buddhist wisdom into everyday terms. Have you ever wondered why the Dali Llama accentuates happiness? Surely this being is as Enlightened as any other. He may understand Buddhist truths, but his appeal stems from his ability to embrace Happiness in the present.

    The religions you speak of "attract metaphysical speculation" because their philosophical tradition is verbal and intellectual. The Buddhist tradition is experiential and so a Buddhist metaphysics is more a ghostly analogy than intellectual inquiry/

    Anyone insisting on a "correct metaphysics" as a precursor to peace and happiness is surely one step removed from those already enjoying peace and happiness in everyday life. Who is better off?

    It is OK to approach metaphysics as an interesting game. This would bring one into contact with important questions about self and reality. However, to remain permanently engrossed in metaphysical speculation as entertainment seems to exhibit an ignorance towards the source of metaphysical inquiry being a person capable of questioning self-awareness.

    Sharpening of the mind is always valuable. If metaphysics dissolves surface contradictions well and good. This is an achievement.
  20. Ulver

    Ulver New Member

    Here's a question: Is suffering a bad thing? Always, Sometimes or Never?
    Is peace over-rated?
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