The Arrow Parable From The Buddha – Myth and Legend

385633_4031133142955_1420432403_33581438_937160583_n

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”  – Gautama Buddha

BUDDHA’S PARABLE OF THE ARROW

“Imagine a man that has been pierced by an arrow well soaked in poison, and his relatives and friends go at once to fetch a physician or a surgeon. Imagine now that this man says:

“I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know the name of the man who shot it, and the name of his family, and whether he is tall or short or of medium height; until I know whether he is black or dark or yellow; until I know his village or town. I will not have the arrow pulled out until I know about the bow that shot it, whether it was a long bow or a cross bow.

I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know about the bow-string, and the arrow, and the feathers of the arrow, whether they are feathers of a vulture, or kite or peacock.

I will not have the arrow pulled out until I know whether the tendon which binds it is of ox, or deer, or monkey.

I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know whether it is an arrow, or the edge of a knife, or a splinter, or the tooth of a calf, or the head of a javelin.”

Well, that man would die, but he would die without having found out all these things.

In the same way, any one who would say: ‘I will not follow the holy life of Buddha until he tells me whether the world is eternal or not; whether the life and the body are two things, or one thing; whether the one who has reached the Goal is beyond death or not; whether he is both beyond death and not beyond death; whether he is neither beyond death nor is not beyond death.”

Well, that man would die, but he would die without Buddha having told these things.

Because I am one who says: Whether the world is eternal or not, there is birth, and death, and suffering, and woe, and lamentation, and despair. And what I do teach is the means that lead to the destruction of these things.

Remember therefore that what I have said, I have said; and that what I have not said, I have not said. And why have I not given an answer to these questions? Because these questions are not profitable, they are not a principle of the holy life, they lead not to peace, to supreme wisdom, to Nirvana.”

– Majjhima Nikaya

The Soul As An Image Of Nirvana – Myth And Legend

1149051_580738438642880_558886652_n

….

I found this to be an interesting tale and well deserving for a post here on the blog. The story goes that once a great king of India asked some fundamental questions about the basic teachings of the Buddha. The text is preserved as a dialogue between King Milinda and Nagasena, a representative of Buddhism. I might add  that according to Buddhist tradition, King Milinda (c.155 b.c.) was a local ruler of a province in India that had been part of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Archaeological evidence indicates that Buddhism had reached some degree of official status under King Milinda. Popular Buddhist legend recounts that in his constant search for new truths, King Milinda asked a number of questions about how man should live a good life and meet a good death.. Here is the story:   

King Milinda said: “I will grant you, Nagasena, that Nirvana is absolute ease, and that nevertheless one cannot point to its form or shape, its duration of size, either by simile or explanation, by reason or by argument. But is there perhaps some quality of Nirvana which is shares with other things, and which lends itself to a metaphorical explanation?”

“Its form, O king, cannot be elucidated by similes but its qualities can.”

“How good to hear that, Nagasena! Speak then, quickly, so that I may have an explanation of even one of the aspects of Nirvana! Appease the fever of my heart! Allay it with the cool sweet breezes of your words!”

“Nirvana share one quality with the lotus, two with water, three with medicine, ten with space, three with the wishing jewel, and five with a mountain peak. As the lotus is unstained by water, so is Nirvanan unstained by all the defilements. As cool water allays feverish heat, so also Nirvana is cool and allays the fever of the passions. More over, as water removes the thirst of men and beasts who are exhausted, parched, thirsty and overpowered by heat, so also Nirvana removes the craving for sensuous enjoyments, the craving for further becoming (the craving for reincarnation), the craving for the cessation of becoming (the craving for the end of reincarnation). As medicine protects from poison, so Nirvana protects from the torments of the poisonous passions. Moreover, as medicine puts an end to sickness, so Nirvana to all sufferings. Finally, Nirvana and medicine both give security. And these are the ten qualities which Nirvana shares with space.

Neither is born, grows old, passes away, or is reborn; both are unconquerable, cannot be stolen, are unsupported, are roads respectively for birds and Arhats (Someone who is or is becoming a Buddha) to journey on, are unobstructed and infinite. Like the wishing jewel, Nirvana grants all one can desire, brings joy, and sheds light. As a mountain peak is lofty and exalted, so is Nirvana., As a mountain peak is inaccessible, so is Nirvana inaccessible to all the passions. As no seeds can grow on a mountain peak, so the seeds of all the passions cannot grow in Nirvana. And finally, as a mountain peak is free from all desire to please or displease, so is Nirvana.”

“Well said, Nagasena! So it is, and as such I accept it.!

from Buddhist Texts, Throughout the Ages. (New York: Harper & Row 1964), pp.97-100