The Sallatha Sutta – The Two Arrows

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Introduction

In the Sallatha Sutta, the Buddha uses the visual of being struck twice by arrows – once by common circumstance and again by desire. It is by personalizing the worldly common circumstance of stress and disappointment – Dukka –  by reaction rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths that the second arrow of desire brings additional pain and obsession.

This sutta clearly explains what for many is a confusing aspect of the Dhamma – the nature and cause of Dukkha. This common confusion arises from ignorance of Four Noble Truths and has resulted in many adaptations, accommodations, and embellishments to the Buddha’s Dhamma. The Buddha’s profound understanding of the origination of all manner of confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory life experiences is taught in the Patticcasamupada Sutta – the primary sutta on Dependent Origination. [1]

In this commonly misunderstood and misapplied sutta the Buddha clearly teaches that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that is the requisite condition that results in all manner suffering.

In the teachings on what it means to understand Dukkha and awaken to Four Noble Truths, the Buddha states that awakening is “understanding stress and unhappiness, abandoning the cause of stress and unhappiness, experiencing the cessation of stress and unhappiness, and developing the Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of stress and unhappiness.” [2]

Understanding the First Noble Truth means understanding that as a consequence of living in the phenomenal world there will be stress and unhappiness, there will be suffering. Understanding Dukkha ends any fabricated view that would cling to suffering through personalizing Dukkha.

Attempting to negate stress is aversion to what is simply present is a common result of clinging to, and personalizing stress. Creating beliefs of a better life after physical death as compensation for the suffering present in life creates more confusion and delusion and is also a personalization of stress and continued self-identification to stress and fabricated views. Engaging in ritualistic practices or appealing to deities is another manifestation of aversion. [3]

As is clearly shown here, insight into Three Marks Of Existence is the specific insight that the Buddha taught developing awakening as the Buddha describes awakening and profound Right View. [4]

This Sutta is also another clear teaching of the Buddha on what constitutes an authentic Dhamma practice and how to recognize a practice that will only continue distraction and ignorance. [5]

For a complete understanding of the Buddha’s teaching of this sutta, please read the linked suttas. ([x])

My comments below are in italics.

 

Sallatha Sutta – The Two Arrows

Samyutta Nikaya 36.6 

In the Sallatha Sutta, a question is put to the Buddha as to what is the distinguishing factor between a well-instructed and well-informed dhamma practitioner and those that have no understanding of the Four Noble Truths.

The Buddha responds: “Friends, listen and pay close attention. An ordinary uninformed person feels feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, and neutral (ambiguous) feelings. One well-informed of the Four Noble Truths also feels feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, and neutral feelings.

“When, through the six-sense base, an uninformed person experiences a feeling of pain they are sorrowful, they grieve, they become distraught and irate. The uninformed feels two pains: the physical pain of the experience and the mental pain caused by the reaction arising from clinging (to views ignorant of Four Noble Truths). This would be like being hit with an arrow and then, by request, being hit again by another arrow.

The six-sense base is the five physical senses perceived through consciousness. Consciousness here refers to ordinary ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths resulting in perceptions that can only continue ignorance. It is at the six-sense-base that a Dhamma practitioner develops restraint an avoids the second arrow. [6]

This lack of restraint should also be seen as mindlessness rooted in distraction as the reaction has caused the mind to become objectified – focused now on the reaction – and disjoined from the physical feeling through self-referential desire – wanting the experience to be different than what is occurring described below as differing but similar types of obsession.

As the person is experiencing pain, pain-resistance occurs leading to resistance-obsession. As the person experiences pain, delight (obsession) in sensual pleasure occurs. Reaction brings obsession as the uninformed does not understand what is actually present: the origination, the allure, the drawback, and the passing away of the “feeling.” As the uninformed does not understand the origination, the allure, the drawback, and the passing away of the feeling, then any ignorance-obsession with regard to this feeling of pain, pleasure, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain (ambiguity) overcomes and obsesses them.

Here the Buddha is teaching how the self-referential reaction to impersonal and ordinary events reinforces views ignorant of Four Noble Truths that supports continued ignorance. This is described in the Nagara Sutta as being mentally stuck in a feedback loop of self-referential views continually reinforced by thinking rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. [7]

Feeling in this sense is any disturbance in the mind arising from lack of restraint. Any desire that an experience be different than as occurred and wanting more, or less, or no experience, is a “feeling.” This feeling arises from ignorance of Four Noble Truths and is rooted in a personalized and fabricated view of self.

The first arrow is simply the stress and unhappiness that occurs in the phenomenal world. The second arrow is the stress and unhappiness caused by ignorance giving rise to clinging, craving, desire, and aversion. In other words, wanting the people and experiences of life to be different than what occurs compounds the initial pain of an experience.

The Buddha continues: “Sensing pleasure or pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain the uninformed (through self-reference or personalizing the experience) joins with it. The uninformed is joined to birth, aging, sickness, death, and joined with sorrows, grief, pain, and despair. Through reaction to the experience, the uninformed joins with and furthers their confusion and suffering.

Now the Buddha teaches how a person well-informed of Four Noble Truths and understanding the true nature of stress and unhappiness responds to the arising of dukkha:

“The well-informed person, when stress arises, has no resistance. With no resistance, no resistance-obsession is formed. They feel one pain – physical – but not mental. Just as if they were shot with an arrow but not another, they would feel only one pain – the physical pain.

“With no delight (reaction) in sensual pleasure, no pleasure obsession occurs. The well-informed person understands what is actually present and understands its origination, its allure, its drawbacks, and its passing away. They do not become sorrowful, regretful, or distraught. They remain disjoined from pleasure and pain.

“The well-instructed person, understanding stress (Dukkha), does not generate a mental reaction to pain, pleasure, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain.

“This is the distinction between those uninformed and those well-informed of the Four Noble Truths.

“A well-instructed person who has developed the Heartwood Of The Dhamma (The Eightfold Path [2]) understands the arising and passing away of all phenomena (Three Marks Of existence [4])

This also relates to Right Meditation and remaining mindful off the arising and passing away of the breath-in-the-body. Obsession with what is stressful causes one to become stuck in a feedback loop only focused on the arising of the stressful experience. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is the singular meditation method taught for the sole purpose to develop the concentration necessary to remain mindful of the arising and passing away of the breath-in-the-body. From this well-concentrated foundation, one can then clearly notice the arising, the allure, the drawbacks, and the passing away of ordinary phenomena and avoid becoming obsessed with and stuck to only the arising of ordinary phenomena. [8]

Noticing the arising, the allure, the drawbacks and the passing away of ordinary phenomena is also taught as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. [9]

“Craving and aversion no longer distract the mind or continue ignorance. Approval and rejection are dismissed, no longer in existence.

“Now, no dust remains, or sorrow or regret either. For those that understand the Dhamma, they have left behind becoming further ignorant and have arrived at the Far Shore (of awakening,)”

“No dust remains” refers directly to the Ariyapariyesana Sutta, and many others, and who the Buddha is directing his Dhamma to – “those with little dust in their eyes.” [10]

End Of Sutta

 

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  3. Fabrications
  4. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  5. Teaching An Authentic Dhamma
  6. Wisdom Of Restraint
  7. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
  8. Right Meditation – Samadhi – Jhanas
  9. Satipatthana Sutta – Four Foundations of Mindfulness
  10. The Noble Search For The Noble Path

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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