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The Second Arrow

Robin Boudette, Ph.D. | 7:17


Whenever we experience something, we experience it in one of three ways as either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. If it's something we find pleasant, we tend to react with attachment. We want to hold on to the experience and prolong it and have more experiences like it. 

If it's something we find unpleasant, we tend to react with aversion. We want it to stop, or we try to avoid it, or try to make it go away. And if the experience is something we find neutral, we tend to react with a lack of interest. We don't notice it, or don't care about it, or tune out and look for something new and more interesting.

Now let's look at what happens when we experience something unpleasant and react with aversion. There's a Buddhist teaching about how the way we react to pain often ends up making things worse. When touched with a feeling of pain.

The untrained person sorrows, grieves and lament beats their breast and becomes distraught. And so they feel two pains, just as if they were to shoot someone with an arrow. And then right afterwards, were to shoot them with a second arrow so that they would feel the pain of two arrows. The first arrow causes us pain, and the second arrow causes us to suffer.

In this story, the first arrow represents physical pain. But this first arrow can also be emotional pain, or the pain of mental anguish caused by thoughts were having. In this first arrow is outside of our control. We can't prevent ourselves from having unpleasant experiences that causes pain.

But we do have control over how we respond to this pain, and whether or not we get shocked by that second arrow. So what is the second arrow that causes us to suffer look like? 

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