Second Arrow (two versions)

The arrow whistled through the air
and in my flesh it landed.
I felt a flood of burning pain,
my breast forever branded.

While tears of anguish filled my eyes,
I saw a second shaft,
and as I watched it flying near,
I stepped into its path.

“You nincompoop!” the Buddha cried,
“Your poor deluded brain!
Why heap optional suffering
on mandatory pain?!”

“O gentle Master,” I replied,
“That wound disturbed my soul.
In choosing this, the second dart,
at least I have control.”


Master Buddha told a story
of a man shot with an arrow.
It was painful, harming, terrible,
as such wounds always are.

Then there flew a second arrow,
and this man, he saw it coming.
Yet he chose not to avoid it;
no, he stepped into its path.

“How unwise!” cried one disciple
gazing upward at the Buddha.
“Tell me, Master, why did this man
choose to multiply his pain?”

“It’s his nature,” said the Buddha,
“as it is for us when we add
to the weight of pain the burden
of reality denied.

“When we’re wounded, and we won’t
accept the fact that it is so,
and we wish that it were otherwise,
so we doubly suffer.”

“Ah, I see,” said the disciple,
“and what’s more, I understand
just why a soul in pain might choose
to let this second arrow pierce.”

Then the Buddha was astonished!
(Not a usual occurrence.)
“Pray, explain,” he asked the monk,
“Why do we act so foolishly?”

“I believe, O honored teacher,
we behave like this because
‘first arrows’ plunge us into chaos.
Choosing pain restores control.

“In a world that often wounds us
it may seem our only chance
at freedom is the sovereignty
to step into that arrow’s path.

“But to give up wishing it weren’t so
is hard to contemplate. It feels like
losing hope that circumstance
might yet be otherwise.”

“Nonetheless,” the Buddha said,
“we must give up this hopeless
hoping for a ‘better past’
if we wish, in the present, to be free.”

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