ISSUES OF FAITH: Turning arrows into flowers

ACCORDING TO BUDDHIST teachings, the night before the Buddha’s enlightenment, he was attacked by Mara, the Evil One.

Mara and his army of demons shot thousands of arrows at the Buddha. But a funny thing happened: as the arrows neared the Buddha, they turned into flowers and fell harmlessly at his feet.

It’s a captivating image, isn’t it? The Buddha is just sitting there — open and present — and there is something within him that evil can neither reach nor harm.

Wouldn’t we all like to be able to do that — especially now, when evil’s arrows seem to be flying everywhere around us: mass shootings, murders, hateful rhetoric, rampant lying and greed?

We are currently living in difficult and unpredictable times whom many might characterize as evil. Consequently, we’ve grown afraid of each other, and our sense of happiness and security is quickly evaporating. Perhaps this Buddhist offers us some helpful insight. For example:

We are wiser than we may think: There is an inherent wisdom and calm within each of us. Because it is ineffable, it goes by many names. Some refer to it as God or Buddha Nature, or as Gaia, Sophia, Yahweh or Allah. Ralph Waldo called it “the soul of the whole; the wise silence.”

Your inner wisdom is always there, even when you doubt it. Just as you don’t always notice your breath or beating heart, it’s easy to forget about that deep well of wisdom residing within and beyond you. Finding it requires an opening of our hearts and some spiritual discipline, for life is too big and challenging for our logic alone.

Equanimity offers powerful protection from toxicity and harm. Although we cannot control all the upsetting dynamics and events in our lives, we can control how we react to them. When we experience arrows flying our way, this Buddhist story teaches us to not cower, get enraged or retaliate. Doing so can inadvertently escalate the attacks or perpetuate evil.

So, what can we do when the arrows start flying? We begin by staying calm long enough to connect to our innermost wisdom. Instead of clamping down and preparing for the worst possible outcome, we open ourselves up to new possibilities.

Pacific Northwesterner David Whyte points to this in his poem, “The Opening of Eyes:”

That day I saw beneath dark clouds,

the passing light over the water

and I heard the voice of the world speak out,

I knew then, as I had before,

life is no passing memory of what has been

nor the remaining pages in a great book

waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.

It is the vision of far-off things

seen for the silence they hold.

It is the heart after years

of secret conversing,

speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert

fallen to his knees before the lit bush.

It is the man throwing away his shoes

as if to enter heaven

and finding himself astonished,

opened at last,

fallen in love with solid ground.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a Jefferson County Hospital Oncology Chaplain in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]

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