January 29, 2005

The parable of the poisoned arrow

There was not much to conclude from our talk this week. However, we did all enjoy this story…

If we are concerned about 'what created the world?' and 'why are we here?' then consider the parable of the poison arrow.

A man went to the Buddha insisting on answers to these questions, but the Buddha instead put a question to him: "If you were shot by a poison arrow, and a doctor was summoned to extract it, what would you do? Would you ask such questions as who shot the arrow, from which tribe did he come, who made the arrow, who made the poison, etc., or would you have the doctor immediately pull out the arrow?"

"Of course," replied the man, "I would have the arrow pulled out as quickly as possible." The Buddha concluded, "That is wise, for the task before us is the solving of life's problems; until the problems are solved, these questions are of secondary importance."

Life does not depend on the knowing how we got here or what will happen after we are gone. Whether we hold these views about these things or not, there is still suffering, sorrow, old age, sickness, and death.


- 5 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. felix

    Our initial response to pain is to have its stimulus removed, however this momentary suffering serves only to mask the actual damage.We do ask questions like 'where did you get shot?' before removing arrows;

    The arrow may be the immediate problem, but chances are its the poison that kills you, and it cant be simply extracted, you have to understand which posion it is- during the process of treatment of the poison and recovery, the posion is usually identified through a series of chemical questions.

    So, does the arrow equate to 'lifes problems', and the poison all the miscellanious suffering in life? If this is true, surely, asking questions can only aid the process of understanding and eventual cure. Does achieving enlightenment mean that you leave the poison behind, being pulled out of 'life' like the arrow dipped into a poisonous body?

    Alternatively, if 'suffering' is the arrow, are we poisoned with life? I suppose, then, removing suffering just leaves you with a steady decay into death; the end point of life. So i think this is cyclic. But surely then it doesnt matter about the problems, all suffering should be put up with, and the buddha is wrong in saying the problem should be solved.

    I cant help but feel i've missed the point of the parable

    Any ideas?

    11 Feb 2005, 16:52

  2. Sorry for not explaining this very well, I will try to clarify what I said (and hopefully that will answer your questions at the same time).

    The main point of the parable is to show that the act of asking questions about the causes does not get you anywhere. If you are shot by an arrow, then asking 'where did it come from?' does not relieve the suffering, but removing the arrow hopefully does.

    The story comes from the Buddhists texts where the Buddha is asked questions: 'Is there a God?', 'Where did the world begin?', 'Is there life after death?'. The Buddha often answered in silence, and when people quizzed him about this he would say that he purposely did not answer the questions, because 'they profit not, nor have anything to do with the fundamentals of religious life, and nor do they lead to supreme wisdom'. He would go on to say, even if the answers were given, the problems of old age, sickness and death still remain.

    I think I might have distorted the story and implied that all questions are irrelevant, but this is quite obviously wrong. I agree with you that asking questions can be useful. I guess it is only by asking questions of ourselves — by introspection — that we can really make progress. It is because we ask questions that we decide to change, and therefore we learn.

    Hope this makes things a little clearer. :)

    11 Feb 2005, 18:09

  3. yeah sorry for the misunderstanding. but I dont see why pursuit of knowledge is futile, even if you dont find it.

    The americans, in a bid for a deathray to force democracy on everyone, developed a lot of stuff probably. I dont think theyve ever come up with a real death ray, but they have lasers and stuff like that.

    i guess, what he means is, you have to ask better questions

    11 Feb 2005, 20:20

  4. felix

    man i must be missing something but the more i think about it the more it seems screwy in my head.

    if you dont ask where it came from, why it was fired; you never know why you've been shot or who did it. So you get shot again and again, if you only concentrate on that single problem, and you never learn anything. Also, wouldnt you expect it of the shooter to ask him/herself why they wanted to shoot at you?
    I guess its just a balance of thought

    13 Feb 2005, 17:37

  5. phil

    At least for me, I think that Buddha was trying to show us this…... Being shot is the representation that, every second we are alive we are closer to death. For the man shot, it is the same. The arrow is not an arrow, but the mortallity of man. Why should we worry about life after death or is there a God? Will any of those answers help make our lives better? There are harder questions that need answersing for ourselves. And by the time you find all of them, you are already dead, just like the man shot by the arrow. So in worrying about these questions that don't have answers until you are dead, you are wasting time.

    15 Feb 2006, 02:14


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