Weapons

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Weapons (ayudha) are instruments used for protection and for killing. Some of the many weapons mentioned in the Tipitaka include the spear (setti), battle axe (vasi), club (mugara) and trident (suula). The most characteristic weapons of the time were the sword (khagga) and the bow (dhana) and arrow (sara). The standard sword was 33 fingers long (Ja.I,273). Arrows could have heads with a variety of shapes (M.I,429) and the heads were sometimes smeared with poison (J.V,231).

To practice the first Precept, the Buddha said, required one to ‘refrain from taking life, to lay aside the stick and the sword and live with care, kindness and compassion for all living creatures’ (D.I,4). Sometimes he used the word ‘weapon’ to mean threats, coercion and violence and killing. Probably using an idiom of the time, he said of people engaged in violent argument that they were ‘wounding each other with the weapon of the tongue’ (M.I,320). On another occasion he said that a person with a heart full of love cannot be harmed by, fire, poison or weapons (A.V,342).

People often expressed surprise at how well the Buddha's disciples were trained without pressure or threats. King Pasenedi once said, ‘I am a noble anointed king with the power to execute, fine or exile whoever deserves it. And yet when I am in council people will often interrupt me. Even if I tell them to wait until I have finished speaking, still they interrupt me. But here I notice that when the Buddha is teaching to several hundred people there is not even the sound of someone coughing or clearing their throat. Once, when the Buddha was teaching the Dhamma to several hundred people someone did clear their throat. And one of his companions in the holy life nudged him with his knee as said, “Quiet, sir, make no noise. The Lord is teaching us Dhamma.” Then I thought, “It is wonderful, truly marvelous, how an assembly could be so well disciplined without stick or sword.” In fact, I know of no other assembly so well disciplined’ (M.II,122).

The Buddha has never been depicted holding a weapon, a few Mahayana bodhisattvas are, many Tantric deities are, although these are only symbolic.

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