In a time of uncertainty when we become starkly aware of the frailty of life and the ever present prospect of losing all that we treasure and hold dear to us we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is true and what is real?”
The Buddha said that in the search for truth there are some questions that are unimportant. For example, what is the universe made of? Are there limits or not to the universe? How is this world and those who live in it created or put together? What is the ideal form of government or organization for human society?
If we were to postpone our search for Enlightenment until all these questions were answered our life would have run its course and we would die.
The Buddha used the following analogy. A man is in the thick forest hunting for deer. He carries with him a bow and arrows dipped in poison. As he ventures into the forest he sees a deer and draws his bow and shoots. He runs to claim his quarry and to his dismay discovers that what he shot was not a deer but a man.
The hunter frantically tries to help the wounded man, telling him that he will extract the arrow and suck out the poison. The wounded man objects and says, “Wait, before you pull out the arrow I want to know your name, I want to know what village you came from, I want to know about your wife and children, I want to know what type of bow you used and what is this arrow made of? And lastly I need to know what type of string you used to make your bow and what type of feathers these are on the arrow?”
Before all these questions can be answered surely the wounded man will have perished from the poison seeping within his body. Any logical person would know that the first thing to do is to remove the arrow and prevent the poison from spreading.
We find ourselves in a world on fire both literally and figuratively. The fires of passion and anger endanger the world just as much as the wildfires. And the questions of the universe matter little. The Buddhist teachings contains answers to the most pressing issues of how to alleviate the suffering and agony of humankind.
The poisons which the Buddha referred to in his analogy are the poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. Greed and anger are easily understood and both emanate from our self-centered desires and self-centered views. Ignorance does not mean that we are not intelligent, but means that we ignore the world as it truly is. We ignore the truth that all things are interdependent and all things are impermanent. These are indisputable truths and ignoring them causes pain and suffering.
It is these three poisons that cause the “death” of the true and real self and prevent us from seeing the truths of life. Like the wounded man we should attend the most pressing issues of our poisons of greed anger and ignorance.
What the Buddha called True and Real is the person who sees all aspects of life and is receptive to all that it offers and throws at us. It means to not resist life, not to resist the changes that life brings. The teachings of the Buddha are a foundation upon which we can live our lives true and real.