The three poisons of life according to Buddhism. (Ignorance, Attachment & Anger)

The main root cause of suffering to mankind are the three poisons in which they are trapped and that leads to kleshas:

Moha (delusion, confusion)

Raga (greed, sensual attachments)

Dvesha (aversion, hate)

These three poisons that are considered to be the three-character flaws naturally found in a being, the root of Tanha (craving), and thus in part the cause of Dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness) and rebirths. Why are there sidetracks, errors, and hindrances on our path? In terms of view, it is because of the dualistic mind’s clinging passion, aggression, and delusion. These three poisons are movements of thought which are provoked by habitual patterns.

Without exception, every thought we have is mixed with these three poisons. Just as poison causes death when ingested, the three poisonous emotions take the life of liberation when they are given free rein. We may not even notice our minds are occupied by these three poisons, which produce negative Karma. As the master, our mind with these three poisons commands its servants, our body and voice, carry out the command.

In this way, we continue roaming around in Samsara, continuously turning our back on the three kayas, which is the very basis for all Samsara and Nirvana. Instead, we create the causes for the three lower realms.

The three poisons are represented in the hub of life as a pig, a rooster, and a snake representing ignorance, attachment, and anger respectively. In the hub of this well known Buddhist icon are three creatures, each biting the other’s tail. Each one is driven in pursuit of the creature in front, but at the same time is being consumed by the one that follows.

1. Ignorance:

Symbolic representation of ignorance.

The first of three poisons is ignorance that is a delusion, lack of understanding, false view, confusion, and empathy. The reason the symbolic representations of the three poisons, a pig, a rooster, and a pig are all pursuing each other but at the same time being consumed by the creature behind them is that greed, hatred, and ignorance all feed off each other. A lack of understanding leads to craving that can never be satisfied, inevitably leading to frustration, anger, and hatred.

How to overcome this poison:

The antidote to ignorance is wisdom. Once we recognize and understand the root causes of our disappointment, frustration, and anger we can begin to convert that negative energy to more positive uses. Of course, we are not going to become saints overnight. But when you feel negative emotions rising, when you are experiencing anger or intense craving, ask yourself, “Which of the three poisons are causing me to feel like this?” Is it the pig, rooster, or snake?

2. Attachment:

Symbolic representation of attachment.

The next poison is an attachment that has many manifestations. It can be described as ‘greed’, ‘clinging’, and ‘grasping’. We frequently cling to the belief that we have a permanent ‘self’ which is fixed and unchanging. Yet if we take time to consider our mental states we will see that our thoughts and feelings constantly change from moment to moment. Our bodies also change this becomes painfully aware when we look at old photo albums. Yet when we talk about ‘I’ or ‘me’ we often seem to be referring to do something constant and unchanging.

We may cling to sensual pleasures, constantly craving to satisfy our desires, ‘live now die later’. This feeling can sometimes represent lust – constantly seeking to satisfy a demanding ego by the constant need for sex, money, excitement, conflict, etc.

At some time or another, all of us are driven by greed, craving, desire, want, need, etc unless we are an enlightened being. The important thing is to recognize it for what it is and secondly is to understand that it is always going to be unsatisfactory. Even when you achieve the object of your neurotic craving, it will almost immediately be replaced by another.

How to overcome this poison:

The antidote of this poison is to develop generosity and calmness, especially in difficult situations. Be content with what you have, not yearning after what you don’t have. That is not to say that you become lazy with no will to progress. Every person wants to move forward, to grow, and gain insight but it is important not to mortgage your present happiness and contentment in the hope that you will achieve better things at some future time. Learn to think more about the needs of others rather than yourself.

3. Anger:

Symbolic representation of anger.

The next poison is anger. This has many faces abhorrence, detestation, revulsion, disgust, extreme dislike, intolerance. Like love, the word hatred has become diminished in everyday use but it is the most destructive of all human emotions leading to anger, revenge, animosity, ill-will, aversion, abuse, racial prejudice, sexual and religious discrimination, homophobia, bullying, and in its most extreme forms, violence, rape, murder, and war.

If we look closely at what we ‘hate’, we may find that it is a conditioned response. We can all experience anger, frustration, and intolerance somewhere within us. We rail because the world isn’t the way we want it to be. But ask, “what do we gain by holding on to these negative emotions? How do I benefit from all this angst?”. That fact is that hatred consumes an immense amount of energy but seldom gets us very far. Our lack of understanding fuels our desire for things to be different which in turn causes us to be frustrated and angry when life continues to disappoint us. That energy can be used for good. We can transform the negative emotions, using that energy to battle inequality, the destruction of the environment, the causes of crime.

How to overcome this poison:

The antidote of anger or hatred is Metta (loving-kindness). By developing metta through meditation we learn to come to temper these emotions, transforming them into something more positive and accepting.


The wheel of life

The bhavacakra (Sanskrit; Pali: bhavacakka; Tibetan: srid pa’i ‘khor lo) is a symbolic representation of samsara ( or cyclic existence), the wheel of life or wheel of becoming, is a mandala – a complex picture representing the Buddhist view of the universe. The wheel is divided into five or six realms, or states, into which a soul can be reborn. It is held by a demon. It is found on the outside walls of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Indo-Tibetan region, to help ordinary people understand Buddhist teachings.

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