Saturday, 3 May 2014

Ajahn Brahm : Shooting the arrows of desire

            There is another story about our strong tendency to search, to look for the treasure out there, a story told by Ajahn Brahm, loosely rendered here.

Once upon a time, there was an old monk who would travel from place to place. A few days before the rain retreat, he stopped  at random by a house, in the middle of nowhere. There was a poor family living there, consisting of the husband, his wife, and their children.

The husband offered to put up the monk for the rain retreat, and feed him. In return, the monk would teach them Buddhism and give advice as needed.

The monk agreed and so he stayed throughout the rain retreat. Things went along smoothly, but eventually the rain retreat drew to an end and the old monk was about to take his leave.
The family had grown fond of him and begged him to stay indefinitely.
However the monk declined the offer, he had things to do, but to cheer them up, told them he had had a dream in which he saw that there was a big treasure buried in the vicinity, and gave them instructions on how to find it :  tomorrow morning, the husband must stand with the bow and the arrow at the doorway, facing in the direction of the rising sun. He should then release the arrow, and where it dropped they would unearth the treasure, no mistake about it.
But the husband was to follow the instructions correctly. Then, the monk left.

So, the next morning, the husband did what he was told. He fired the arrow and the arrow flew into a rich man's land. They found it, and they started digging on the spot. A huge hole was dug up but there was no treasure to be found.  Along came the land's owner, a rich man. On seeing the massive hole in his ground he grew rather upset, and demanded an explanation. The poor family told him they were just following an old monk’s instructions. . Being a Buddhist himself, the land owner felt that the old monk wouldn't tell lies. "No, old monks tell the truth, you must have done something wrong," said the rich man. “Being poor and not well fed, my guess is you did not shoot the arrow with enough strength !  Let me have a go at it tomorrow morning”

So, the next morning the rich man stood with his shoulder to the main door, and at sunrise he  fired the arrow, after pulling the sting to breaking point.  This time round, the arrow flew well over his fields, and landed into his neighbour’s orchard, an important  Army General.

Off they went to find the arrow. Again they dug up a big hole, even deeper than before, but to no avail.
Woken up by the commotion, the General was seething with anger when he saw the damage caused to his cherished orchard, and was about to send the whole family to their final journey, but they were so convincing in maintaining that they were acting on instructions by a Venerable old monk, that he did not have the heart to chop their head off.
As it happened,  the general was a Buddhist himself, and wouldn’t question the good intentions of the old monk. So he put it down to lack of expertise, how pathetic these civilians could be ! "This is not the way to shoot the arrow! I am a fine General. I will show you the correct way tomorrow morning" , he said through his teeth.

So, the next morning, the General stood at the place where the rich man and the husband had once stood and fired the arrow himself, with dignity, precision and strength. The arrow flew against the rising sun for what appeared to be a never ending interval, as if magically suspended in the air. Eventually it hit the ground in the Royal Gardens, surrounding the  King's palace.

It took them a while to get there, but fortunately the guards on watch were still fast asleep, so they had time to dig an enormous hole in the garden, but alas, no treasure was found there either. So frustrated they were by now, that their moaning and complaining woke up the guards on whatch, and in no time the King himself was informed of the misdeed.
The poor family, the rich man and the General were all imprisoned and beaten up, but the King was so incensed that one of his own most trusted Generals should behave in such a manner, that he wanted a personal explanations. And so like everyone else he learned about the old monk’s dream, and as we all know old monks do not lie. Besides he needed some funds for his next military campaign, and so decided there and then to give it a shot himself.
But he wanted to hear the instructions directly from the Venerable’s mouth, because the uneducated plebs were more than likely to have misunderstood them…
Off the soldiers went to seek out the old monk.  He had not gone too far, well suspecting that he would be called upon once again. And so he let himself be led to the Court and gave precise instructions again, with the added condition that the treasure should not be kept for oneself only, but divided equally among all involved.
The King agreed to that, and the next morning stood at the doorway with the old monk by his side. He asked," Is this the correct position?" The monk answered Yes.
He faced the rising sun and asked, "Are we aiming in the right direction?" The monk nodded.
The King raised the bow and asked, "Is this correct?" The monk confirmed that it was.
After firing the arrow ,  the King asked," Is this correct?" The monk answered “NOOOO!  The instruction was let go of the arrow,  drop it. It was not to shoot the arrow !"
The King finally understood, with a smile, and let the arrow drop, and it hit the ground between his feet, and true enough an invaluable treasure was unearthed at the very spot where the arrow had dropped.

We are forever shooting our arrows against some target. And that will land us always in trouble. It is only when we actually accept to be where we are, and stop searching, that we will find the peace in our heart.
When the rising sun finally dispels the fog of our delusions, the treasure is magically found under our own feet, as ‘LOOK at the place where your own feet stand !’ kindly reminds us.
Interestingly, it takes a royal effort in order to reeeeally let go, half measures will not do…

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