The Poisoned Arrow: Buddhist Story To Confront Oneself

The poisoned arrow: Buddhist story to confront oneself

One of Buddha’s greatest teachings was to live in the present moment which forms the basis of the psychological meditation technique known as Mindfulness. Observing some parables of today’s Buddhist doctrine, such as that of the poisoned arrow, we will realize how it is not very far from the now very ancient thought of Buddha.

One of Buddha’s most famous phrases reads: “don’t live in the past, don’t dream the future, focus your mind on the present moment”. That is why it is more interesting than ever to focus on this Buddhist teaching through the story of the poisoned arrow.

The poisoned arrow

In a collection of texts attributed to Buddha and entitled Majjhima Nikaya  and collected in the Pali Canon , we find several stories including that of the poisoned arrow. It seems that Buddha recited it to his most impatient students, eager to have answers to their questions about life after death.

Buddhist pupils and the poisoned arrow

So Buddha told them how there once was a man who was wounded by a poisoned arrow. When his family members tried to take him to a doctor to help him, he refused.

The man said that, before being helped by any doctor, he wanted to know who had hurt him, what caste he belonged to and where he came from. He also wanted to know the height, strength, color of the skin, the type of bow used to shoot the arrow and whether the string of the aforementioned bow was made of hemp, silk or bamboo.

Thus, in his constant insistence on knowing if the arrow feathers were of vulture, peacock or hawk, and if the bow was common or curved or oleander, he died even before knowing even one of the answers to his questions.

What does the story of the poison arrow want to tell us?

The attitude of the protagonist of the story is rather bizarre, don’t you think? Yet if we apply this extreme case to other situations we face on a daily basis, we will certainly be reminded of numerous occasions when we behave like the wounded warrior.

Perhaps unwittingly, sometimes we focus too much on completely irrelevant issues, for fear of addressing those that really matter. The reason for these questions remains unknown, and we get lost in them despite being totally irrelevant at the time.

With this story, therefore, Buddha tried to teach his students that the intelligence of knowing how to distinguish between what is important and what is irrelevant, at a given moment, is equivalent to the difference between overcoming a difficulty or being overcome by it.

Focus on what really matters

We are not saying that wandering has no advantage, the problem arises when these digressions occur constantly without a concrete purpose. In other words, when we find ourselves having to solve a problem, sometimes it is better to go straight to the point, leaving the rest to others. Conversely, the risk is to make the problem bigger than it is.

Step by step

We should get into the habit, once one problem is solved, of focusing on the next one right away  and not doing it at the same time. A popular saying in this regard states that “those who want too much, do nothing”.

Let the world flow

There are too many occasions when we let countless issues affect us and occupy our minds. Sometimes it is best to let it flow so that the brain does not fill up with discomfort, anger, sadness or frustration.

woman adopting the poison arrow story

Eliminate what is useless

Returning to popular wisdom, which on many occasions proves to be extremely sensible and worthy of listening, “the rich are not the ones who have more, but those who need less”. Sometimes we are convinced that to be happy you have to get what you don’t have.

Yet, when you get used to living with the essential, you discover what is really important. The love of a loved one is much more precious than any unnecessary, excessive or expensive possessions.

As Leonardo da Vinci said, “simplicity is the supreme sophistication”. The story of Buddha’s poisoned arrow is about the same concept. Two brilliant minds, what else to add?

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