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Meg and Metaphysics

18 April, 2006

Maybe Meg has understood better than me one of the teachings of the Buddha….

Once, one of the Buddha's followers, a monk named Malunkyaputta, came to him and asked four questions that had been troubling him:

1. Is the world eternal or not eternal?

2. Is the world infinite of finite?

3. Is the soul the same as the body or are they different?

4. Does the Buddha exist after death or does he not exist?

The Buddha asked Malunkyaputta to imagine a man who had been wounded by a poisoned arrow. His friends and relatives send for a surgeon but when the surgeon arrives, the wounded man says: 'I will not let the surgeon pull out this arrow until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble or a brahmin (priest), or a merchant or a worker… tall, short, or middle height… brown or golden-skinned… whether he lives in such a village or town or city… whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a cross bow…' and so on. The Buddha then explains that before all the wounded man's questions would have been answered he would have died.

The Buddha's point is that whilst we speculate on questions such as those above we are missing the main point of his teachings; such speculative questions are ultimately unprofitable; to speculate on such questions is a distraction from what is essential to lead a holy life – it does not lead 'to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana'.


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