The New York Buddhist Church

April 21, 2020

This week I find myself going back to the parable taught by the Buddha about The Poisoned Arrow.  It is a great parable, one of my favorites, and goes like this: 

Suppose a man were pierced by a poisoned arrow, and his relatives and friends got together to call a surgeon to have the arrow removed and the wound treated.  If the wounded man objects saying, Wait a minute.  Before you pull it out, I want to know who shot the arrow.  Was it a man or a woman?  Was it someone of noble birth or was it a peasant?  What was the bow made of?  Was it a big bow or a small bow that shot the arrow?  Was it made of wood or bamboo?  What was the bow string made of?  Was it made of fiber or of gut?  Was the arrow made of rattan or of reed?  What feathers were used?  Before you extract the arrow, I want to know all about these things.  Then what will happen?  Before all this information can be secured, no doubt, the poison will have time to circulate through his body and the man may die.  The first duty is to remove the arrow and prevent its poison from spreading.

 In this parable, as in all his parables, Shakyamuni Buddha took a very practical approach to solving problems, asking us to pay attention to what is most useful, and not get distracted from useless and unimportant things.  To survive, all the man pierced by the poisoned arrow had to do was to take it out, but he over-thought his perilous situation, asking way too many questions, and wasting precious and valuable time.  

 For me, the parable of The Poisoned Arrow is very relevant to what we are going through in these difficult times by reminding us not to over-think the causes and the problems of the global pandemic, but rather to focus on our own roles and responsibilities in the solutions.  The teachings of the Buddha are very personal ones, and the concept of being practical and taking responsibility is very important to me right now.  Are we being driven by fear and lack of understanding in our thoughts, or are we taking those actions that are most beneficial to others as well as to ourselves?  The reality is that probably one of the most useful and important things we can do right now is to follow the rules and guidelines of our public health and government officials whose goals are to protect us and keep us safe.  

We will eventually get through this crisis.  We are all in it together, and it has united people all over the world as one family.  How grateful I am for the many, many ways people are helping each other however they can to endure the demands it has brought on us, not only here in New York City, but everywhere.  It gives us the opportunity to refocus more clearly on the most important things we need to do each day, and it brings hope for a better tomorrow.