The Second Arrow

June 20, 2017 | By More

by Philippe Leduc


My name is Philippe Leduc, and I am from Canada. I have been living in a forest monastery outside Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, since early April. I first encountered Tibetan Buddhism in India in the nineties, and in recent years, I have spent a few months in Theravada monasteries in Canada, Myanmar, and now Thailand.

Every morning across Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Lao, Buddhist monks leave their monasteries on foot and go on alms round in the nearest villages to receive food from the villagers. Monks can’t touch money or cook for themselves. They depend on laypeople for their material well-being, and laypeople depend on the monks for their spiritual well-being. It has been this way since the time of the Buddha. As a layperson, I accompany Ajahn (teacher, in Thai) on Vindabat (alms round, in Thai) every morning. Ajahn is the only monk in my monastery, so he is also the abbot. He speaks excellent English and is quite open-minded, which makes for very good conversations. As we walk through the streets of the village, he receives food donations from various people who wait for him every morning, and I transfer the donations from his begging bowl to a large basket. The round lasts about an hour, and we usually talk about various things. This article came out of one of our conversations, and it is part of my blog, at

May 10 – One of Ajahn’s supporters is in a fairly advanced stage of kidney cancer. I’ve seen her come out of the house to offer food to the monk during Vindabat (alms round), but lately she has not been coming out. Instead, her daughter fills Ajahn on the latest news. Yesterday and today, Ajahn was invited (and me, as his attendant) inside the house to offer a blessing. Her husband and I knelt on the floor while Ajahn sat on a chair opposite her bed, from where she told him of her condition. Her face had a look of pain on it. Ajahn listened patiently and spoke a few words softly before intoning a prayer for her. We were in the house for no more than five minutes.

When we resumed Vindabat, Ajahn seemed concerned, and explained that she was in a great deal of pain. But his concern wasn’t so much about the cancer as about the fact that she is not accepting her condition. He said she was angry at her cancer, and was fighting it. He said she was causing a lot of avoidable suffering for herself, on top of the unavoidable pain of the disease itself. He said he has been trying to nudge her kindly in a direction of acceptance and peace, but it has not worked yet.

In one of his teachings – the Sallatha Sutta –, the Buddha talks about the pain of the self-inflicted second arrow. The first arrow is what life throws at us, while the second is our reaction to the first. We have been shot, and we tell ourselves a story about the arrow, a story that basically says “This arrow should not have been shot.” This story is a second arrow, which can cause greater suffering than the first. It is anger, resistance, self-blame, etc., and it is a terminal obstacle to peace. From the Sutta:

Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, did not shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pain of only one arrow. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. He feels one pain: physical, but not mental.” – Sallatha Sutta

Ajahn said he hoped she would find some peace before she passed, but that this would only happen with acceptance. How strange, I thought, how much suffering we cause ourselves, despite being supposedly so intelligent. In fact, it seems to be the price of intelligence. I often see animals who are obviously in pain, but they don’t have a story about it. A three-legged dog will have as much fun as the other dogs, because he doesn’t lament the loss of his leg. A dog’s mind cannot produce second arrows, but human minds seem to specialize in fabricating them. In fact, I wonder if most of our suffering isn’t caused by the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, rather than by our lives themselves.

June 4 – The lady passed away five days ago, and I attended her funeral today. The last time I saw her alive was a few days before she died. This morning, I asked Ajahn whether he thought she found some peace before passing, and he said for sure in the moment just before dying. He explained that when death comes, we have no choice but to let go. But the sooner we stop resisting, the sooner we can live in peace, he said.

Category: Articles, Spirituality & Meditation

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