The Sallatha Sutta – The Two Arrows
Freedom and Safety Though The Middle Way
For a complete understanding of the Buddha’s Dhamma referenced herein within the scope and context intended, please read “Foundations Of The Buddha’s Dhamma” on our Home Page: Becoming-Buddha.com.
This introduction was updated on June 12, 2020.
In the Loka Sutta, the newly-awakened Buddha describes his view of the world: “The world is aflame. Rooted in ignorance the world is afflicted by sensory contact and perceives suffering as ‘self.’ Rooted in ignorance, it misunderstands ‘self’ and becomes anything other than ‘self.” Noting has changed in the proceeding 2,600 years.
As we emerge from a global lockdown, constitutionally supported protests, and vivid examples of systemic hatred towards each other, the wisdom found in an awakened human being’s understanding of stress and suffering continues to provide true refuge and a clear “how-to” manual for living peacefully in an always troubled world.
Du to continued ignorance of Four Noble Truths, individual and collective reactions to what is currently occurring will lead to individual and collective fear and the confusion, frustration, and rage that often follows.
In a world rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths, many decisions made prior to action are based on media-supplied scientific “facts” that support a view framed by ideological, political, and personal associations, and desired outcomes. Social protests are also prone to the same ignorance that pervades the world. This is not meant as denigration on protests or protestors or issues of racism. It is a commentary on the Buddha’s Dhamma in relation to the underlying ignorance that continues to fuel the social conditions that give rise to questionable decisions, protests, and violence.
Putting aside the severity of the Coronavirus, the same issues this author has observed for the past 64 years continue today. There has been a war somewhere in the world my entire life. There has been extreme reaction to impermanent conditions my entire life. I have participated in large anti-war, anti-racism, and anti-poverty protests in the 1970s. Despite great effort by many thousands of individuals, governments, originations, and organized moments, wars, violence, and social brutality continue in ignorance.
Ignorance still breads organized wars between countries and organized and justified tension between individuals and disparate groups. This tension-rooted-in-ignorance can only erupt during favorable conditions as mass uncertainty, protests, and typical violence.
Ignorance still breeds questionable decisions. Ignorance still breads racial cops. Ignorance still breads racist criminals. Ignorance still brands racist parents, children, cab drivers, carpenters, doctors, nurses, protesters, rioters, etc. There is no single class of people that are entirely free of violence, hatred, racism, and views influence by greed, aversion, and deluded thinking.
Both the social brutality of racism or the social brutality of war and violence, and reaction to eve-changing physical conditions, are rooted in the single aspect of human life that underlies and supports all stress and suffering: Ignorance of Four Noble Truths.
Many government decisions and resulting guidelines are based on the best available science and statistical “facts,” which are often merely anecdotal observations. It is human nature to rely on scientific ‘facts” and manipulated “statistical data” to support an arbitrary view of impermanent phenomena. These facts are often adapted to support a position or political association, or grasped-after results.
The debate on the need for a complete lockdown of human beings will last for a long time with “scientific” conclusions supporting contradictory scientific findings. These debates will undoubtedly result in an infinite number of contradictory “expert, science-based” conclusions and are often used to support subtle fabricated views behind the mask of science. This arbitrary application of scientific “facts” and massaged or ignored statistics that now support an ignorant view negates both the scientific inquiry and any realistic hoops of actual and skillful change.
My commentary is not an indictment of science. Scientific inquiry and the need to understand and manipulate worldly phenomena have led to great advancements in humanity and great destruction. It should be expected that scientific inquiry from a community lacking understanding of Three Marks Of Existence will often be conditioned by fabricated views of individual human beings and our human environment. Scientific inquiry into worldly phenomena is not inquiry into Four Noble Truths.
Science can often describe the formation of physical matter and the interaction between mind and matter. Scientific inquiry describes physical phenomena with an increasing scope but always lacking the Right View informed by understanding Four Truths. This can only create a subtle tension between scientific facts and the reality of human life unfolding. Ignorance of Four Noble Truths is not protection from the greed, aversion, and ongoing deluded thinking that follows this specific ignorance. Ignorance of Four Noble Truths will always affect scientific and statistical conclusions.
This subtle tension underlying fabricated though commonly agreed-upon conclusions ultimately fuels the subtle confusion, fear, and anger maintained in the world by disparate and often desperate groups clinging to their common views while canceling any differing views through subtle and obvious forms of coercion and violence. A realistic and unbiased view of recent and ancient human history reveals just this tension of conditional views.
Wise Dhamma Practitioners developing Right View within the framework of all eight factors of the Path gain the ability to see and reference what is occurring with a calm and peaceful mind established through understanding Four Noble Truths.
Grasping after “normalcy” or a “new normal” is avoided while maintaining the refined mindfulness of the Eightfold Path.
Rapid or gradual changes to the world’s environment or systems is not grasped after or avoided. Rapid or gradual changes to the world’s environment or systems is understood with a calm and peaceful quality of mind.
The Buddha taught the Eightfold Path as the “Middle Way” between extreme views that otherwise manifest as extreme reactions to ordinary occurrences. This confusing tension reveals a subtle aversion to life-as-life-occurs and experienced as distracting and often debilitating stress. As has been recently seen, subtle aversion can lead to overt rage and violence that is then institutionally ignored by “righteous” actions supported by ideological social and political associations. There can be no resolution in this mental feedback-loop maintained by associated ideology
With continued practice and taking continued refuge, the vivid examples of ignorance present in the world is understood. From understanding, true compassion arises now framed by the living example of wisdom resting in an awakened, fully mature mind. This quality of mind understands the often subtle forms of clinging-to-ideology facilitated by clinging to others with like fabricated views.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitioner understands change.
- The Wise Dhamma practitioner’s mind is established in life-as-life-occurs.
- The wise Dhamma Practitioner emerges from lockdown and amid civil unrest with the same calm mind that entered lockdown.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitionde resolves conflict within their mind. They are then a living example of conflict resolution through peaceful undertsnding rather than examples of fear-based decisions and often reactive violence.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitioner understands that worldly manifestations of ignorance often is maintained by the institutionalized support of continued societal ignorance and mutual agreement and associations.
Virus and other disease-causing agents are part of a worldly environment. This environment is rooted in ignorance. Racist cops, racist whites, racist blacks, racist Doctors, racist teachers, racist house painters, racist meditation teachers, racist meditators, are all part of this same ignorant environment. The resolution is not anger against these manifestations of ignorance. The resolution does not reside in fear-based actions or fear-inducing actions. In democratic societies, the most peaceful and immediately effective peaceful protest is regular intervals of well-informed individual voting.
If one is concerned with police violence, voting tho mayors and governors who have maintained racism on their local police forces out of office while voting for those who have demonstrated a view as close as possible to the individual freedom found in the Buddha’s Dhamma will bring actual and sustained peace. This same well-informed view will also support a vote for those who have exampled reason and leadership without political bias.
When established with integrity, a democratic republican form of government allows for continual wise responses through their qualified leaders by voting with concentration and refined mindfulness.
A mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths will always feel distressed when its fabricated views are threatened. This mind will attach to the tension created by clinging to fabricated views. The reaction to this tension now can only fuel further clinging to ever-more-extreme-views. Grasping-after this fabricated tension then produces further fear and clinging to fear-based views.
A Wise Dhamma Practitioner has the wisdom to know what the Buddha taught and what he did not teach.
- The Wise DShamma Practitioner understands that all things in the phenomenal world are impermanent – even observed “facts.”
- The scientist who is a Wise Dhamma Practitioner observations of phenomena is rooted in Right View and a profound understanding of Three Marks Of Existence.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitioner naturally abandons all aversion and hatred.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitioner abandons clinging to social and political ideology and makes voting decisions based on the Reality of Four Noble Truths.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitioner is established in True Refuge, taking refuge in the example of a human Buddha, his authentic Dhamma, and a well-focused and well-informed sangha.
- The Wise Dhamma Practitioner is Free of worldly entanglements
In the Sallatha Sutta, the Buddha uses the metaphor of being struck twice by arrows – once by common circumstance and again by grasping-after desire. It is by personalizing the common worldly circumstance of stress and disappointment 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.
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.
The Buddha teaches the meaning of understanding Dukkha and awakening to Four Noble Truths:
- Understanding stress and unhappiness
- Abandoning the cause of stress and unhappiness
- Experiencing the cessation of stress and unhappiness
- Developing the Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of stress and unhappiness.
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.
As a human society, we will continue with issues of violence and hatred that can only be managed and occasionally contained by legislation. As a society, we will only end violence and hatred through understanding Four Noble Truths. As Wise Dhamma Practitioners, we can contribute to true human maturity by developing and exampling an awakened human being. If we as Dhamma Practitioners truly care for other human beings, we will “take to the Dhamma like our hair is in fire” and complete the task. In this way, we can truly “protest” worldly conditions in the most effective way: by changing our own minds and understanding the reality of a world rooted in basic ignorance.
This is the Radical Acceptance example by the Buddha as a mature and realistic response to all worldly conditions. Undesrtabdiubg brings peaceful acceptance resulting in a conflict-free mind that is incapable of introducing conflict of any kind into an already troubled world. This is true compassion informed by profound wisdom.
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 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.
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.
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.
My comments below are in italics.
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.
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, any ignorance-obsession about this feeling of pain, pleasure, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain (ambiguity) overcomes and obsesses them.
Here, the Buddha teaches how the self-referential reaction to impersonal and ordinary events reinforces views ignorant of Four Noble Truths that support 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.
Feeling in this sense is any disturbance in the mind arising from lack of restraint. Any desire that an experience must 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 ) understands the arising and passing away of all phenomena (Three Marks Of existence )
This also relates to Right Meditation and remaining mindful of 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. Jhana meditation is the unique meditation method taught for the sole purpose of developing 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. They avoid becoming obsessed with and stuck to only the arising of ordinary phenomena.
Noticing the arising, the allure, the drawbacks, and the passing away of ordinary phenomena is also taught as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
“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.”
End Of Sutta
For All Who Reside In The Dhamma - Agantuka Sutta
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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 Acharya Buddharakkhita, 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 edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
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