This Buddhist Parable Can Ease Your Suffering During a Crisis
Consider the real meaning of nirvana next time you face a crisis.
A breakup or divorce, the death of a loved one, being diagnosed with a serious illness, or losing your job, all of these crises can cause tremendous suffering. How we handle such things is important. Will we show self-compassion or ruminate over the fact that this wasn’t supposed to happen?
In the parable of the arrow, sometimes called the second arrow, you picture yourself walking through a forest. Suddenly, you’re hit by an arrow. This causes you great pain. But the archer isn’t done. Can you avoid the second one? That’s the arrow of emotional reaction. Dodge the second by consciously choosing contemplation. It will help you avoid a lot of suffering.
When talking about esoteric Buddhist philosophy, it’s important to lay down a few clarifications. There are a lot of misconceptions out there. In truth, Siddhartha Gautama was the son of an elected chief, born in India near the Nepalese border around 400 BCE.
He isn’t exactly a religious figure, as he’s sometimes portrayed. Buddhism is a philosophy, not necessarily a religion. However, as it spread out in Asia, local beliefs often got mixed in with the philosophical teachings.
Even so, you can very well be a religious person of any faith, an agnostic, or even an atheist, and follow Buddhism or adopt some of its contemplative practices. And in fact, there’s a small but growing interest in what’s called secular Buddhism. Of course, the object, according to the Buddha or "Enlightened One," was to reach nirvana. So how can it not be a religion?
The Buddha wasn’t a deity or a prophet. He was just a guy who “woke up.” By: terimakasih0. Pixababy.
Alan Watts was a famous 20th century philosopher who elucidated many of the differences between Eastern and Western thought. In particular, he educated Western audiences regarding Zen. Watts said that in Sanskrit, nirvana means “wind.” In meditation, it is the breathing that's often focused upon. It's through this practice, particularly when breathing out, that the word is evoked.
In other words, the concentration is on this phase of breathing where the person is meant to let go. You let go of your wind and it comes back to you, it's said. But if you hold in your breath, you’ll struggle. So nirvana isn’t a spiritual realm. It’s simply the act of letting go, when our natural reaction may be to feel anxiety and grip even more tightly.
Nirvana isn’t heaven, it’s the act of living life without craving, and without holding on too much to our own expectations. It’s not that Buddhists shed their emotions. Practitioners have feelings and thoughts but they don’t cling to them. It’s this clinging that causes suffering, in this view. Instead, they try not to be too attached.
In life, we almost never consider terrible things befalling us. We know that we’ll get sick sometimes, we'll fail, that people will die around us, and that we’ll die ourselves, someday. But any such event is an abstract notion, until something bad happens. Then we’re knocked off kilter. It becomes real and we’re devastated.
We can’t believe we’d been so unlucky. Or perhaps, we think it’s completely unfair and we look for who’s responsible. That’s the second arrow, exacerbating the issue. Part of it comes from the fact that the truth doesn’t square with our preconceived expectations.
The parable of the arrow helps us understand how our emotional reactions sometimes make matters worse. By: Jakub Jankiewicz. Bow and Arrow. Flikr.
After telling the two arrow parable, the Buddha said, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”
This is often summarized as, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” It begs a thoughtful approach to the first arrow, which is difficult to do. But if you can accomplish this, it’ll help ease your pain and avoid suffering.
The ways we often react are complaining, pointing the finger, condemning ourselves, or over-analyzing. Sometimes we even seek refuge in pleasures or distraction. Consider those who drown themselves in TV, food, sex, drugs or alcohol, when something painful occurs. Unfortunately, none of these offer lasting comfort and in the end, usually make things worse.
In The Arrow Sutra the Buddha said, "We cling to diversions, rather than observing what is actually present, the arising and passing of feelings.” So instead of turning away from emotions, turn towards them. How do you really feel about the situation really? Are there motivating emotions underneath that which you are allowing yourself to recognize or feel? If so, what new awareness arises from their acknowledgement?
Mythologist Joseph Campbell. By: Joan Halifax (Upaya) [CC BY 2.0]. Wikimedia Commons.
Instead of knee-jerk reactions, allow the time to let yourself feel your emotions and explore them, curiously, without judgment or fear. That’s not easy to do. You should pat yourself on the back if you can do this successfully.
Letting your past expectations melt away and see the situation as it truly is. This can help you process the event and even gain some insight. It may also allow you the space you need to find the right perspective and develop a plan for righting the situation or at least, mitigating it. In psychology, this is sometimes called learning to respond instead of react.
According to the late, world renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, in his series of talks called The Eastern Way, in Sanskrit, the word nirvana literally means “no wind.” As opposed to Watts’s example, here Campbell brings up a different interpretation. This is the place of no wind. While looking into a pool of water, you can see your reflection. When the wind blows the water ripples, distorting the image. You don’t see reality as it is.
So what nirvana is, is the place without wind. It’s the ability to see things clearly without distortion. If when confronted with a crisis, we can clear our mind and choose the proper way to respond, rather than lashing out, which ends up hurting others or ourselves, we can take action that’ll help the situation rather than making it worse.
To learn more about avoiding the second arrow, click here:
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Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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