Parable of the Poisoned Arrow

May 1, 2024 By arne hendriks Off

The parable of the poisoned arrow is a Buddhist teaching that illustrates the attitude of those who cannot distinguish between what is useful and what is not. “Suppose someone was hit by a poisoned arrow and his friends and relatives found a doctor able to remove the arrow. If this man would say, ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I know whether the person who had shot it was a priest, a prince or a merchant, his name and his family. I will not have it taken out until I know what kind of bow was used and whether the arrowhead was an ordinary one or an iron one. That person would die before all these things are ever known to him.” The questions are not relevant to the problem. What is relevant is to stop the suffering.

In the same way people continue to question the necessity to stop continuous growth and the accumulation of greater wealth while our living planet, and many people on it, suffer. At the center of the parable is an arrow and the pain it inflicts on its victim. Our relationship with arrows is complicated. Its invention created a safe distance between us and our environment. It offered an (often false) sense of security and control. Arrows promise us something. The Simple Growth Obsession Test registers the emotional response to graphs with an arrow going up and a graph with an arrow pointing down. The results show a clear preference for upward arrows representing an increase in something, even if we have no clue what that something is. This may point towards a prejudice and perhaps even an obsession concerning growth. Much like the victim of the poisoned arrow wants to have irrelevant questions answered before allowing his life to be saved, our current society wants numerous reassurances and irrelevant questions answered before it’s willing to let go of the idea of continuous growth. But the answers don’t really matter. The planet is suffering and we must pull out that poisonous upward arrow before it is too late.