Avoiding the Second Arrow

Luang Por Pasanno • November 2013

The obvious thing for me right now is carrying this cold around: a thick head and not much energy. It’s helpful to reflect on the reality of illness or discomfort that is natural and happens all the time. What comes to mind is the Buddha’s discourse on the two arrows. Being struck by one arrow is painful, and being struck by a second one is painful as well. In terms of feeling, because each of us has a body, it is quite natural that we experience unpleasant sensations. And due to having a mind, it is also natural that we are sensitive to the sense contacts we experience. These are qualities of the first arrow. Becoming averse, worried, or anxious about unpleasant feeling or planning and proliferating about how to escape from sense contact, is the second arrow.

We can’t avoid the first arrow, but we can avoid the second arrow. Because we have physical bodies, because we exist, our bodies naturally get ill and our minds change. There are always going to be certain elements of unpleasant feelings. Even the Buddha himself experienced unpleasant feelings and had physical ailments, like a bad back. There are places in the suttas where the Buddha turns over his teaching role to either Ānanda or Sāriputta because his back is too sore to continue sitting and teaching.

We can recognize and be attentive to the first arrow and not turn that arrow into something that then creates more complication, difficulty, and pain. We can reflect on that as we go about the day, asking ourselves, What are my reactions to unpleasant feelings? What are my habits and tendencies? We can develop mindfulness and discernment to receive the first arrow skillfully and not look for ways to be struck by the second, third, or fourth arrow.