When we are hit by an arrow
“How did we get to this place?”. A review of the recent news will give an overall paint of the world formed by a complex mix of conflicts in Israel and Palestine, weekly war treats and provocations between super powers, a virus that has developed an unparalleled capacity to move the world into a somewhat football stadium rivalry between what is fact and what is fake, humans exploring distant planets, military coups, refugees situations, and technology being developed in order to solve issues that technology have caused (or the plastic/electronic planet we live in).
Listening to the birds on a rainy monsoon day at the Villa, a question comes, “Has it always been like this?”. Easy to say that the exploration of Mars was not on the priority list of our ancestors, but still, was life this complicated?
This thought brings up a nice story told by the Buddha: A man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take it out immediately. Suppose he does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? ‘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.
It is clear from the old texts that the Buddha was supportive of inquiry, analises, and exploration. So the message here is not to not investigate, but mainly not to waste time. From the perspective of Buddhism, the cause of our frustrations in life are not due only to the external circumstances, but to the way we relate to them. The world has always been full of pain, grief, and dissatisfaction; what some people have done is to change their point of reference. While still acting in the world.
The easiest way to translate the main message of most ancient spiritual knowledge is that selfishness brings the downfall of humans. It is not an accident that in most moderate spiritual practices the qualities of donation and giving have been praised and even sanctified. The fact that só much of spirituality has descent into an earthly version of “hell”, with power, money, and sex as the culprits, don’t necessarily say that selflessness is impossible, but it does point that we have to be careful and attentive.
Being in such a constricted occasion in our society, with the pandemic and economical issues, formed by suppression of needs, the cutting of dreams, and the unstable sensation of the unknown future, one might not find many ways out. Because the ways of modernity are mostly outwards, for the pleasing of the senses. But this ‘way out’ now has been either blocked or detoured. When you can’t go to the right, left, front, or back, where do you go?
“One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws his limbs within the shell, is to be understood as truly situated in knowledge” (Bhagavad Gita, 2.58).
To move inward is to know the source of knowledge, as well as the origin of frustrations. The withdrawal of the tortoise is from that which we are feeding and taking our attention in unwanted or unwholesome ways.The capacity to withdraw in order to refine our relationship with ourselves, and to maybe encounter a dimension of existence which is less demanding of selfish desire, has always been available. “Empty inside. Empty outside. Empty like a jar in space. Full inside. Full outside. Full as a jar in the ocean”, says the 15th century text Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. Such is the state of the Yogin in meditation.