Monday, April 27, 2009

The Second Dart

There is a piece of modern wisdom that talks about the difference between pain and suffering: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

This idea is intended to explain that pain and suffering need not have a cause and effect relationship. In particular, consider that these two feelings are not concomitant, and do not stem from the same source, whether an object or action or person.

To explain this, the Buddha said: "The untrained, unenlightened disciple has two darts that pierce him. The trained, enlightened disciple has one."

Life must necessarily involve the experience of pain. The nature and intensity of pain can be different in different people, particularly in contrast to their experiences of the opposite - pleasure. The Buddha equates this with the First Dart that strikes us. But too often, the pain recedes only to resurface as suffering, the Second Dart. This Second Dart causes disproportionately more harm to us than the First Dart of pain. The Second Dart is a result of the mind reacting to the first experience.

Pain can be seen as being the effect of a cause, namely the impact of the First Dart. But with suffering, it is not so much the effect of a cause, but a reaction to an effect. This suffering is a complex chain of recurring, interconnected thought streams that metamorphoses from exhorbitant mental agitation to senseless anger to deep grief to strong self-pity to flashes of hatred, all in all a terribly, pointless but exhausting exercise that drains out precious mental acuity, calmness and peace of mind. 

But it can be avoided, or at least nipped in its bud, by constant practice of the idea of separation between pain and suffering. And once we see this work once, even in a small situation, we can learn to focus on the mind and body independently and over time, hope to overcome suffering.