The Arrow — Buddhist attitudes to pleasure and pain

The sutta called “The Arrow” further explores the Buddhist teachings on the best way to relate to our feelings. When we encounter something that leads to pain (or even just dissatisfaction) we tend to then start up a whole bunch of mental processes that lead to more suffering — often adding more pain than there was originally. We experience aversion to the dissatisfaction, and then indulge in blaming, and criticism, and generally whine. So it’s as if our response to being shot by an arrow is to shoot ourselves with another arrow.

And often when we experience something pleasurable, we tend to cling to the supposed source of pleasure. Of course, since all sources of pleasure are impermanent, we again end up causing ourselves more pain.

A wiser course of action is to avoid that second arrow by simply experiencing discomfort without reacting to it. We do this by being mindful — cultivating a patient, non-reactive, curious, and welcoming attitude towards anything in our experience that seems unpleasant.

We can also adopt this attitude towards anything that’s pleasurable. We call this attitude equanimity. Equanimity isn’t a state of non-feeling, it’s a state of freedom from habitual patterns of thought and emotion that lead to further pain. When we experience this freedom we become happier.

2 Comments. Leave new

Combining Tools | Your Life Is A Garden
March 20, 2014 10:55 am

[…] of my favorite Buddhist teaching stories is the one about the two arrows. For example, when we stub our foot, the first arrow is the actual pain of doing that. Ouch, this […]

Post #2020: Finishing all the things | Red Cedar
June 22, 2015 1:59 pm

[…] so that when the time comes (far in the future, I hope) I have truly expunged myself of the “second arrow” – the feelings arising out of this situation – so that I can unselfishly […]


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