Unconscious Habit – The Second Arrow | 7 . 9 . 2019

BuddhaLotus

 

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Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow

-The Buddha from the Pali Canon

“An regular person feels feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, feelings of neither-pleasure-nor-pain. A spiritual practitioner also feels feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, feelings of neither-pleasure-nor-pain. So what difference, what distinction, what distinguishing factor is there between the two?”

The Buddha said, “When touched with a feeling of pain, the regular person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental. Just as if they were to shoot someone with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pains of two arrows; in the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the regular person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical & mental.

“As he is touched by that painful feeling, he is resistant. Any resistance-obsession with regard to that painful feeling obsesses him. Touched by that painful feeling, he obsesses in sensual pleasure. Why is that? Because the regular person does not discern any escape from painful feeling aside from sensual pleasure. As he is obsessed in sensual pleasure, any passion-obsession with regard to that feeling of pleasure obsesses him to distraction. He does not discern, as it actually is present, the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, or escape from that feeling. He does not discern the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, or escape from that feeling. Any ignorance-obsession reaction to that feeling obsesses him.

“Sensing a feeling of pleasure, he senses it as though joined with it. Sensing a feeling of pain, he senses it as though joined with it. Sensing a feeling of neither-pleasure-nor-pain, he senses it as though joined with it. This is called a regular person joined with birth, aging, & death; with sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses, & despairs. He is joined, I tell you, with suffering & stress.

“Now, a spiritual practitioner, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat one’s breast or become distraught. So one feels one pain: physical, but does not add mental. Just as if they were to shoot a person with an arrow and, afterward another arrow was not shot, one would feel the pain of only one arrow. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the spiritual practitioner does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat one’s breast or become distraught. One feels one pain: physical, but not add mental.

“As one is touched by that painful feeling, one is not resistant. No resistance-obsession with regard to that painful feeling obsesses one. Touched by that painful feeling, one does not obsess in sensual pleasure and distraction. Why is that? Because the spiritual practitioner discerns an escape from painful feeling aside from sensual pleasure. As one is not obsessing in sensual pleasure and distraction, no passion-obsession with regard to that feeling of pleasure obsesses him. He discerns, as it actually is present, the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, and escape from that feeling. As one discerns the origination, passing away, allure, drawback, and escape from that feeling, no ignorance-obsession with regard to that feeling obsesses him.

“This is the difference, this the distinction, this the distinguishing factor between the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones and the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person.”

 

 

This is the difference in skillfulness

between the sage & the regular person.

For a learned person

who has fathomed the dhamma,

clearly seeing this world & the next,

desirable things don’t charm the mind,

undesirable ones bring no resistance.

One’s acceptance

& rejection are scattered,

gone to their end,

do not exist.

Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state,

one discerns rightly,

has gone beyond becoming,

gone to the further shore.

________

Commentary on Arrow Sutta

When hit with discomfort, the conventional reaction is to whine and regret, kick oneself, take it hard. So we feel two afflictions:

1) the inevitable, physical feelings [a first arrow the world blasts us with]

2) the additional, mental reactions [the second arrow we shoot into ourself]. We may fail to note any relief or escape from uncomfortable feelings [the first arrow] other than to distract ourselves with sensual pleasure. So we cling to diversions, rather than observing what is actually present, the arising and passing of feelings.

This teaching is often summarized as “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” We have in life two forms of distress in life. The first arises from the unavoidable events that occur in life: the pains, insults, rejections, losses, separations, aging, sickness and on. Such events quickly give rise to inevitable, uncomfortable physical expressions, such as feelings that the wind knocked out of us, a hollowness in the chest, a tight stomach, dizziness, tears, etc. The second form of distress lies in our thought based reactions to the event: “Why me? This is unfair. How do I change this? What will happen now?” We add more anguish to the mix by taking universal experiences personally, trying to escape the unavoidable.

These optional, second arrows of torment can -play out in different ways:

1) We can blame and denounce others for shooting us with those first arrows [their rejections, insults, dismissals, wrongs of all varieties] and feel picked on by the universe.

2) We can castigate and condemn ourselves for being human and not avoiding life’s inescapable disappointments, reaching the conclusion we are particularly damaged or fated to misery.

3) We can chase short term distractions and pleasures: stuffing our feelings with food, retail therapy, deluging ourselves in work, seeking refuge in television or sex, drugs and alcohol…

All of these approaches distract us, until they eventually let us down. No matter how much we blame ourselves or others, or keep ourselves busy, the discomforts we’ve been avoiding and abandoning resurface; from high-flying financiers to destitute heroin addicts, whatever diversionary tactics we choose will wear thin and return us to emotional conditions of vulnerability, loss, emptiness. No matter how much we’ve been sweeping under the rug, we will have to face the challenging feelings from which we’ve been hiding.

The spiritual solution is to put aside the distractions and to attend to the uncomfortable feelings directly after being hit with those first arrows. How does it feel to be fired? dumped? rejected? abandoned? Not good, but if we hold the sensations in our awareness, it turns out they’re not as overwhelming as we thought; with compassion and care the body softens, the mind becomes less agitated, the impressions arise and pass. It turns out we can survive being hit by an arrow, so long as we don’t shoot to many more into ourselves in as a reaction.

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