Today I would like to discuss the pragmatism or the practicality of Buddhism. Instead of taking an interest in metaphysics and academic theories, the Buddha deals with problems per se and approached them in a concrete way.
This attitude of pragmatism is clearly expressed in the Culamalunkya Sutra where the Buddha made use of the example of the wounded man. The man wounded by an arrow wishes to know who shoots the arrow, from which direction it comes, whether the arrow head is made of bone or iron, whether the shaft is of this kind of wood or another before he will have the arrow removed. This man is likened to those who would like to know about the origin of the Universe, whether the world is eternal or not, finite or not before they will undertake to practice a religion. Just as the man in the parable will die before he has all the answers he wants regarding the origin and nature of the arrow, such people will die before they will ever have the answers to all their irrelevant questions. This exemplifies what we call the Buddha’s practical attitude. It has a lot to say about the whole question of priorities and problem solving.
We would not make much progress developing wisdom if we ask the wrong question. It is essentially a question of priority. The first priority for all of us is the problem of suffering. The Buddha recognized this and said it is of no use for us to speculate whether the world is eternal or not because we all have got an arrow in our chest, the arrow of suffering. We have to ask questions that will lead to the removal of this arrow. One can express this in a very simple way. We can see that in our daily life, we constantly make choices based on priority. If, for instance, we happen to be cooking something on the stove and we decide that while the beans are boiling we will dust the house, and as we dust the house we smell something burning. We have to make the choice, whether to carry on with our dusting or whether to go to turn down the flame on the stove to save the beans. In the same way, if we want to make progress towards wisdom we have to recognize our priorities.
The teaching suggests that if you are a true seeker, your focus should be on the death of the ego-becoming free of grasping or clinging to the rewards of daily life and cutting through the illusion that anything in this temporal world will bring you lasting happiness. It is a grand vision of steadfast courage that does not yield to temptation or distraction and celebrates the magnificence of what is possible for a seeker of liberation. It brings vitality to your efforts for finding freedom and penetrating the mystery of life.
Peace and Love, Jim