Reply to a Reader

For whatever it’s worth, this is a true and complete record of an email exchange I had recently with a reader of this blog. This is the entirety of the dialogue:

Question: Why do so many “western Buddhists” have a view aligned to liberalism? Instead of real radicalism and progressivism? Being no-ism is what’s otherwise called liberalism…

Reply: No idea, really.

So many of these enquiries — earnest though they be — remind me of the famous speech by the Buddha, the Parable of the Poisoned-Arrow, which points at our almost insatiable thirst for evermore empty conceptual knowledge, grasping at fleeting empty shadows of mental construction even as our days drip away endlessly into the abyss:

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“Naaaah, I’ll get this. But first, I have some questions…”
"It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends and companions, kinsmen and relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name and clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short. Until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored, until I know his home village, town, or city, until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow, until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark, until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated, until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird, until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' 

The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him."

from the Cūḷamālukya Sutta (The Shorter Instructions to Mālukya), a section of the middle-length discourses (Majjhima Nikaya), one of the five sections of the Sutta Pitaka.

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