Darstantika simile of the arrow

The handouts for lesson 5 provide the following simile:
"Arising requires causes and conditions; but ceasing does not. Just as, in shooting an arrow, a propelling force is required; not when the arrow falls."

While the simile works with regard to all conditioned phenomena as anicca, in a literal sense it is potentially incongruous.

As we now know, there is a force (gravity) that causes the arrow to fall (not that even quantum physics has worked out exactly how gravity functions).
That said, I wondered what would happen if the arrow was fired in "empty" space - not subject to gravity.
It would seem that the propelling force would at some point be exhausted and the arrow would cease to move forward rather than fall.

But if an arrow is fired in "empty" space, what would it be moving toward or away from? There would be no objective perspective to say that the arrow was moving or not moving. This would seem to suggest that even movement is relative, dependent and conceptual (thus empty?).

After a brief google search, I learned, however, that the arrow (or in the case of the article I found) would only stop in a static universe and would actually keep going as long as the universe is expanding.

"Once shot, the bullet will keep going, quite literally, forever. "The bullet will never stop, because the universe is expanding faster than the bullet can catch up with any serious amount of mass" to slow it down, said Matija Cuk, an astronomer with joint appointments at Harvard University and the SETI Institute. (If the universe weren't expanding, then the one or two atoms per cubic centimeter encountered by the bullet in the near-vacuum of space would bring it to a standstill after 10 million light-years.)"

In the ultimate sense, though, the arrow will certainly cease any form of conditioned or discernable existence once the entire universe collapses upon itself and the whole cycle of this world-system starts over.

Justin Williams's picture

In your example, the arrow

In your example, the arrow ceases due to the universe collapsing. That is a cause.

Gregory Hamilton Schmidt's picture


Yes - unless you take anicca to mean that things by the very nature of arising cease.
Thus there is not a cause for cessation other than the fact of arising, which implies cessation, i.e. the universe ceases only because it arose in the first place.

If cessation required a cause, then would that imply there could be arising without cessation?
That would be eternalism, no?

If arising will always be followed by cessation, does that not imply that cessation is merely a function of arising.

In a talk from 2002, His Holiness discusses this point (in a different context), stating that conditioned factors have at the moment of their arising the seed of their cessation. It is there very nature to cease.
(Next time I come across that section, I'll try to grab the quotation).

My understanding is that this is the perspective of early Buddhism, though clearly not the Abhidharmikas. (Looking for confirmation on accesstoinsight.org and elsewhere to see if there is an explanation one way or the other on this point).

Whatever the case, it's interesting to me that His Holiness's perspective is so close to this original position, as he typically speaks of Tibetan Buddhism having its source in the teachings of the Nalanda Masters, leaning heavily on Nagarjuna.

Perhaps this is the Middle Way perspective as well.

Justin Williams's picture

You said "If cessation

You said "If cessation required a cause, then would that imply there could be arising without cessation?
That would be eternalism, no?"

I think it is important to base our answers on objective logic, and disregard any fear of what label we might thereby acquire. In this case, the example you have given suggests that unless the universe collapses, then the arrow will indeed go on forever. If we take your hypothetical example to be true, then how are we let with any choice but to designate the end of the universe as being the cause for the cessation of the arrow? It can't be the creation of the arrow that is the cause of its destruction, because that is not sufficient - it can go on forever if the universe does not collapse.

Similarly I would not say that a criminal is caused to be a criminal by his birth. Yes he had to be born, but he could have been a number of other things, but due to things that happened AFTER his birth (social circumstances etc), he became a criminal. And in that case he causes are multiple - no one cause.