Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Arrows in Everyday Life

In his lifetime, the Buddha met many different kinds of people.  Some were kings and ministers of court, others were people who lived in abject poverty, yet others were prominent and influential people of society.  In fact, the Buddha interacted with people from all walks of life. Depending on the people he encountered, he would offer the teaching most suited to their condition in life.  But no matter who he spoke to, his purpose in giving teachings was always the same — to help people awaken from delusion so they may aspire to learn the Dharma, realize the true nature of life, and begin walking the path of enlightenment. 

Once, when the Buddha and his disciples were moving on from their place of summer retreat, they encountered a group of 500 wealthy men of a neighboring country.  The group, knowing that the Buddha would be traveling on that road, had gathered in hopes of inviting him to come teach in their country.  Just seeing the grace, dignity, and noble air with which the Buddha and his disciples carried themselves filled these people with a sense of reverence and a wish to learn the Dharma.  They asked the Buddha if he would come into their country to teach them the Dharma.

These wealthy people were very influential in their country.  If they could learn and practice the Dharma, they could truly motivate many people to learn it.  This would greatly benefit the country and all of its people.  It was the Buddha's earnest hope that everyone could benefit from the Dharma, so he happily agreed to speak the Dharma to them.

The Buddha told them that in everyday life, though we are often not aware of it, there are poisoned arrows constantly coming at us — they are arrows of love (very strong liking), delusion, craving, greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, opinion, arising and disappearing.   At any moment, we could get hit by one of these poisoned arrows and become seriously injured.

For example, as our eyes make contact with the sensory world with all its forms and sights, in the space of an instant, the arrow of love or very strong liking hits us.  With this liking, we pursue the thing that we like.  In our everyday life, thoughts of this nature are constantly arising, and we start to chase after all sorts of things, be it profit, fame, power, material possessions, or satisfaction of lust and sensual desire.  Our minds know no peace.

Just as strong liking is a poisoned arrow, the Buddha says, so is delusion. Craving, greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, opinion, arising and disappearing are all arrows that can speedily cause us harm.  At the moment we give rise to any such thought, we are hit by a poisoned arrow.  We lose our wellbeing and peace of mind.  We become physically and spiritually off-balance — discontent, distressed, wretched, miserable.  This creates a lot of suffering in us.

Hearing this teaching, many people in the group began to see the truth of what the Buddha said.  They started to feel a sense of regret and remorse at having been so lost in the pleasures of their comfortable life that they were unaware of how they were injuring themselves physically and spiritually. 

With this seed of awareness, they thought of the Buddha who had once been a prince who also enjoyed life's luxuries. Why had the Buddha been willing to give up such a comfortable life to undergo innumerable hardships and difficulties for his spiritual practice?  Why was he able to remain so firm in his commitment to spiritual practice?

The Buddha could see the question in their eyes.  He said to them, "Yes, I once had a very good life like you.  But in the midst of it, I came to realize that as I indulge in pleasure, I am actually wearing myself out physically and spiritually. Such a life does a lot of harm.  I could go through my entire life like this, and in doing so, my life would become a waste and I would accumulate a lot of negative karma through my behavior.  Realizing this, I wanted to immediately put a stop to it.  I wanted to dodge the arrows, and for the ones I'd already been hit by, to quickly pull them out." 

"To do that, I chose to renounce the lay life and become a spiritual cultivator.  I wanted to dedicate my energies to learning the truths of life and ultimately become fully enlightened.  But, only by taking up a life of spiritual practice can I truly concentrate on this and have hope of achieving it. Just as I did this, so too can you."

The Buddha was keenly aware that in everyday life, we easily lose ourselves — with the arising of an unwholesome thought of desire, craving, etc., we are as if shot by a poisoned arrow.  It creates a lot of suffering for us. Therefore, though these prominent people seemed to lead a wonderful life — they had wealth, status, and all the comfort and luxury they could enjoy — yet their lives actually contained a lot of afflictions, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and suffering.  The Buddha wanted them to realize the true nature of life, turn away from harmful, unwholesome states of mind, and seek the Dharma so they could lead a more meaningful, awakened life. 

This was the teaching the Buddha gave to these five hundred influential people, so they could wake up and make the vow to free themselves of suffering.
From Dharma Master Cheng Yen's Talks
Compiled into English by the Jing Si Abode English Editorial Team
Source : tw.tzuchi.org/en