Doctrine and Action in Buddhism

An story that is very important for the understanding of Buddhists in the modern world is the story of a man named Malunkyaputta. Malunkyaputta was a possible convert. He comes to the Buddha and says something like this:”You know, I really kind of like some of the things you are saying, but you haven’t answered all the questions I want answered.” And he lists a series of ten questions: Is the world eternal or not? Does it have an origin or not? Is the Buddha going to survive after death or not?, etc.

The Buddha says: “Malunkyaputta, when you ask these questions, you remind me of a guy who has just been shot with a poisoned arrow. He is lying on the ground, somebody walks up and offers to pull the arrow out, and he refuses. He says he wants to know who shot that arrow, to what cast that person belongs to, what kind of bow did he use, who made the arrow. He won’t let the man pull out the arrow until he has those questions answered.”

This is a way of saying not to be concerned with a lot of doctrinal issues that have to do particularly with the origin of things. What we are concerned about in the Buddhist tradition is the pragmatic removal of suffering. We want to get that arrow out and not to speculate much about where the arrow came from.

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