Life Lessons: Suffering is Inevitable. Reaction is Choice.


Said the Buddha, "In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. With this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.

All of us will suffer.

That is the unfortunate truth of our existence. Yet, there is a certain significance that can be attributed to suffering. There is incalculable utility in our reaction to it.  

The Buddha endeavored, wisely, to emphasize that fact. He told many parables about pain and many tales about choice. Here is one of those stories.

The Second Arrow


You find yourself on a path through a lush forest copse. Verdant greens shimmer bright in the warmth of a mid-morning sun, and the sweet scent of lavender flowers greets you in decadent waves. It is tranquil. You are at peace.

Suddenly, that peace is broken as an arrow tears deep into your shoulder. Bolts of pain shoot down your arm. You recoil, stunned by the unexpected turn of events. Then, you see him. Concealed in the brush at the edge of the copse is an archer. He's knocking a second arrow. He raises his bow up to fire again. 

Here you are given two choices:

  • Flounder in shock at the pain of the first arrow, to be struck by the shot of the second .
  • Accept what has come to pass, and though hereby afflicted, move onwards unburdened by fear and consternation. 

Suffering Need Not Surprise Us 


Nor should it lead to more suffering. 

The first arrow - suffering - is often unpredictable. Our pain is largely out of our control. Indeed, we cannot change the existence of suffering, for existence itself is fraught with foreordination and replete with painful inevitabilities.

Time spares no one; the loss of those we love is certain, and our own deaths, inescapable.

However, there can be a great liberation in acknowledging this. There is a sense of relief that comes when we conjure forth the shadows of our consciousness, rather than ignoring their presence. We as people are apt at suppressing that things that scare us. In doing so, we let fear erode us and keep us from living as we would if we were not afraid. 

Suffering is inevitable. Pain will come, and we can learn from this pain.

The Buddha's Second Arrow story is one of his simpler parables, though its nuance is powerful. Yes, while we cannot always control the first arrow, with the second arrow comes the possibility of choice.

We can choose to move forth with the lessons we gain and again find ourselves upon those paths of lavender decadence.