Buddhist Parable to Reduce Suffering

It will help you recognize how to stop adding to stress

Bridget Webber
Oct 12 · 4 min read

The Buddhist parable about the second arrow explains the cause of much unnecessary suffering.

The story goes that if an arrow strikes you as you wander in your garden, naturally, it hurts. But this initial injury might not signal the end of your distress. Even if the person who attacked you flees without casting another blow, you might still experience yet another bout of pain which Buddhists call the second arrow.

How you deal with a problem causes the second arrow to flow or disappear

We all suffer from the impact of that second arrow at times. Maybe we say something inappropriate at a business meeting, or to a friend, and pierce ourselves with torment by reciting the event in our minds rather than sort out the problem.

Or, perhaps an adverse incident occurs, we lose our job for instance, and we tell ourselves we are no good. The second arrow, self-defeat, continues injuring us and we lose courage.

The arrow may strike when we attempt to be productive too. My friend often berates herself when she neglects to use positive thinking. Her second arrow is self-imposed punishment for contemplating what she sees as an improper thought.

So, you see, we may injure ourselves with that second arrow for a variety of reasons, and even when we embark upon self-mastery arrows can flow.

How to stop casting the arrow

Self-awareness is the first step. You must recognize when you pull back the imaginary bow before you let the arrow fly. It’s difficult to change, since piercing our psyches with suffering is habitual, but it is possible to alter our behavior.

One step at a time

Initially, when you take steps toward change, you’ll find the arrow has been cast. You will notice it installed in your mind. But you’ll stem the pain by extricating it with determination and resilience.

You will realize you couldn’t govern the first arrow, but now’s your chance to make a difference to how it affects your well-being.

After much practice, you’ll stop the arrow flying before it strikes you. In a moment of wisdom, because your brain is changing to accommodate this new behavior, you’ll take a different route.

Accepting the first arrow is the key

The second arrow never flies unless you resist the first. By resisting, you don’t help the situation. Your rage or worry about what’s befallen you changes nothing for the better. It is a weapon you turn inward.

When you take positive action, whether it’s to self-sooth, find help, or manage the problem another way, you stop focusing on casting the second arrow and the difficulty lifts.

Mostly, second arrows take place in the dark. They roughhouse in people’s heads, thumping against the sides until a headache ensues. But, they exist, just the same as when people rant and rave about a situation they can’t change.

Angry outbursts, worries, and self-defeating talk are second arrows. Once you recognize them, you will see how much they harm you and stop creating them in favor of greater peace of mind.


Recycled is focused on sharing old stories made anew.

Bridget Webber

Written by

I write about wellbeing and emotional intelligence, laced with personal insights, humor, poetry, and anecdotes.



Recycled is focused on sharing old stories made anew.

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