Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Three Poisons (And The Antidotes)

In the teachings of the Buddha, there are recognized three "poisons" that contribute to human suffering: greed, anger, and delusion. Just as physical poison is harmful to the body, so too are these three traits toxic to us in the way they cause suffering in our daily lives.

Greed is all about clinging to someone, some thing, or some thought. When we want things to be other than the way they are, we have been poisoned by greed. Things get worse when we become rigidly attached to things, people, expectations, and ideas. 

Anger is an expression of aversion. We want to push away that which we do not want, which usually causes the thing we don't want to push back even harder. 

Both of these poisons have their roots in delusion. When we take things personally, and a sense of self arises, we tend to cling to wanting things to become entrenched in the way we want things to be. Aversion in the form of anger arises because we take things personally that have nothing to do with us. For example, I have an issue with drivers who do not signal their intention to turn left at traffic lights until the light turns green. When anger arises in these cases, it is because I am seeing the situation as having something to do with me, when it has nothing to do with me. As a result, I am the one who is suffering.

The antidote for greed is to release the tight fist of clinging, and to acknowledge how things are in this moment. The antidote for anger is to act with compassion toward ourselves and others, and to treat ourselves and others with loving kindness. The antidote to delusion is to always remember that there is no "self" in anything. The things that we identify with as being I, me, or mine are merely arising events that are brought about by causes and conditions. 

In other words, we need to stop taking everything so personally.


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