The Poison Arrow

A person approached the Buddha asking, “What will happen after I die? What was my form before my birth? What is the source of all we see? Answer these questions and I will become your disciple.” The Buddha replied in this manner:

A man is shot with a poison arrow. Wounded, he refuses any aid, demanding answers to his questions. “Who shot the arrow? What is the poison? Of what wood is the shaft? From which bird came the feathers for the flight?” Surely he will die with these questions still unanswered.

A few years ago, on a freezing January night, I spoke to a group at a Lutheran church. Someone asked what I meant when I said that from a Buddhist point of view the question of if God existed was not important. I replied, “When you leave tonight, whether there is or is not a God it will be cold outside. Your actions and attitude will determine the level of suffering this will cause.” Another time, when asked if Buddhism says there is no God, I replied by asking, “Do you believe in God?” The person responded, “Yes, I do.” “Then God exists for you. Your belief shapes your actions.”

The First Noble Truth is all life has suffering. Gautama Buddha’s awakening is that the cause of suffering is our ignorance. The Buddhist teachings focus on the actions we can take to overcome our suffering. This idea of Karma, cause and effect, stresses being fully aware of the present moment. What has gone before which has led to this moment? What action now will lead to overcoming suffering? Gautama Buddha considered questions such as whether deities existed, or the source of the creation of the universe, to be unknowable. The story of the poison arrow deals with this point. Too often, we spend our time demanding answers to questions that are a matter of faith. To delay until we have the answers to these questions will only prolong our suffering. Regardless of the answers, the fact is we exist now and have suffering.

Buddhism speaks of 84,000 paths to enlightenment. The causes and conditions that have shaped our lives will determine our path. Many Buddhist practices, such as meditation, appear to be passive. However, meditation, like all other practice requires effort and determination. Buddhism is dynamic. Once you have found your path you must pursue it vigorously.

The Buddha taught that to spend our lives worrying about what will happen after we die is to waste the only life of which we can be certain. The past cannot be changed. The future has not yet occurred. The only moment that exists is the present moment. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the only person who can take the actions needed to overcome your suffering is you. The only time to start is now. The time for questions has passed. Pull out the poison arrow.

For more information about Buddhism, or meditation in Kenosha, contact me at