What is the Poison Arrow Sutta?

buddhaFor a number of years now, I have regularly sat with Buddhists at Vipassana retreats. But I have never considered myself a Buddhist for two reasons:

First, the psychological teachings seem to be all about Mindfulness so the spiritual notion of a Soul, which I believe in very strongly, doesn’t seem to appear anywhere. Second, and this is of far less significance, lots of mention of kindness, compassion and forgiveness but not much about love/intimacy itself.

So I finally asked a very kind man, Eric Bedard, who drives me to the Sunday sits since I don’t have a car, about the soul:  He has studied Buddhism for many, many, years, and when he is not regularly meditating, practices Magic: www.coolmagicdude.com .  A fascinating combination: One foot in the internal world, the other in the external world of illusion.

This is what he then sent me which, while it does answer my question, still leaves me with the feeling that, in one way, the Buddha missed the boat. i.e. there is much more to this world than just suffering.

The Buddha was sitting in the park when his disciple Malunkyapatta approached him. Malunkyapatta had recently retired from the world and he was concerned that so many things remained unexplained by the Buddha. Was the world eternal or not? Was the soul different from the body? Did the enlightened exist after death or not? He thought, “If the Buddha does not explain these things to me, I will give up the training and return to worldly life.” 

Thus he approached the Buddha with this question, who replied: 

“Suppose, Malunkyapatta, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison and his friends and companions brought a surgeon to heal him. The man would say: “I will not let the surgeon pull out the arrow until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me; whether the bow that wounded me was long bow or crossbow; whether the arrow was hoof-tipped or curved or barbed.

All this would still not be known to that man and meanwhile he would die. So, too, Malunkyapatta, if anyone should say: “I will not lead the noble life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me whether or not the world is eternal or not, finite or infinite; whether the soul is the same as or different from the body; whether an awakened one ceases to exist after death or not”, that would still remain undeclared by the Buddha and meanwhile that person would die. 

Whether the view is held that the world is eternal or not, Malunkyapatta, there is still birth, old age, suffering, sorrow and despair – and these can be destroyed in this life! I have not explained these other things because they are not useful, they are not conducive to tranquility and Nirvana. [That is certainly not my experience which is the opposite]. What I have explained is suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering. This is useful, leading to non-attachment, the absence of passion, perfect knowledge.” 

Thus spoke the Buddha, and with joy Malunkyapatta applauded his words. 

I am sitting on my hands.