Mary Stancavage
Letting Go of the Second Arrow

On August 8, 2020, after meditation, we learned about a core Buddhism teaching about human suffering — the Second Arrow.

At Teachers’ Corner last Saturday, we read the sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 36.6) that taught the concept of the Second Arrow, and then listened to a Dharma talk on “Letting Go of the Second Arrow” by teacher Mary Stancavage. As humans, we all feel pleasure and pain (the “first arrow”), including the “well-instructed disciples of the noble ones”, as the sutta said. However, how we react to it determines whether we are shooting ourselves with a second arrow or not.

The group then had a short discussion on how we might apply this concept both on and off the cushion — how to, as the teacher said, “cultivate a patient, non-reactive, curious and welcoming attitude towards anything in our experience that seems unpleasant.”

The material we shared during our session are all posted below: “Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow” in Samyutta Nikaya 36.6; and the video “Letting Go of the Second Arrow” by teacher Mary Stancavage. Also posted are our suggested questions for discussion on the topic.

Happy learning!


From the Teachers: Letting Go of the Second Arrow


Dharma Readings:

'Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow' - Samyutta Nikaya 36.6; translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu



Dharma Video:

“Letting Go of the Second Arrow” – Mary Stancavage*

00:00 to 02:04 min. : intro to speaker   |   02:15 to 09:15 min. : silent meditation   |   09:15 to 30:01 min. : dharma talk + Q & A

* Mary Stancavage is founder of “Undefended Dharma.” She first encountered Buddhism over 30 years ago. In 2005, she began studying with Noah Levine and eventually completed the first cohort of his teacher training. She was empowered to teach Buddhadharma in 2009 and has been facilitating groups and teaching ever since, including teaching meditation in recovery centers in Los Angeles. Mary serves on the Board of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice which works towards building a just and sacred society. She is also a part of the Meditation Coalition which is committed to ethical behavior, social justice, and compassionate action. Previously, she was Executive Director of the Mind Body Awareness Project in Oakland which brings mindfulness and emotional awareness training to underserved and incarcerated youth. A few years ago, she began to investigate the concept of living with an undefended heart, which she believes is the root of what the Buddha asks us to do in his teachings.



  • Mary Stancavage mentioned that we often react to unpleasant situations with: blame (self or others), denial, wishing it’s not so, or distraction with short-term pleasure-seeking (e.g., drugs, alcohol, sex, work, eating…). The Sutta describes these as “resistance-obsession” & “delights in sensual pleasure.”
    Are there other ways that we tend to react to unpleasant situations or feelings, discomfort, pain?
  • Mary Stancavage (and the Sutta) also said:
    • “Human condition” > “It’s gonna hurt!”
    • “The second arrow always lets us down.” “We always lose a fist fight with reality.”

    What’s your reaction to this teaching? Your experiences of when that second arrow has let you down?

  • What do you think of the following definition of “Mindfulness”? How does that relate to what we do on the cushion?
    • “[Mindfulness is] cultivating a patient, non-reactive, curious and welcoming attitude towards anything in our experience that seems unpleasant.”
    • [“Turn towards discomfort with kindness, compassion, generosity; hold it with love.”]
  • 4. Let’s explore the following definitions of “Equanimity” and “No Preference”:
    • “[Equanimity is] a deep intimacy of ourselves, in our experience, without preference.”
    • No Preference is … “we may have a desire for [things] to turn a certain one way or another but we let go of needing it to be a certain way…. [Not] hold on to that result saying, ‘it must be this way…'”