By Daniel Scharpenburg
There is a teaching in Buddhism called the three kleshas.
Sometimes these are called the three afflictions or the three poisons. These are said to be the three negative emotions that cause us the most suffering. They are the ones that prevent us from realizing our enlightened true nature.
They are usually called Greed, Hatred and Delusion and sometimes they’re called Attachment, Aversion, and Ignorance.
The three poisons are caused by ignorance of our true nature and ignorance of our enlightenment. Coming from ignorance, these poisons motivate us to make mistakes and act in ways that are outside our own interest and cause harm to ourselves and others. Many of our actions are tainted by these poisons. They exist within us lust, craving, anger, jealousy and confusion. These poisons can ruin us.
The teachings of the Four Noble Truths really tell us that when we come to understand suffering and the causes of suffering, that’s when we can suffer less. We can takes the steps necessary to overcome these causes.
Greed is our selfishness. Our desire, attachment and yearning for happiness and satisfaction from external sources. It is our impulse to always want more. We want the objects of our desire, regardless of what those are, to bring us permanent satisfaction so we can feel complete. It helps to think about the accumulation of wealth. Money is made up of numbers and numbers never end, so we can chase that forever if we are obsessed with how much is in our bank account.
When we believe that our fulfillment is dependent on what we have, then we come to realize that we don’t really get the same satisfaction we were expecting. We always want more. Greed can affect our relationships, our jobs, and everything else.
Greed can also manifest as a lack of generosity.
Hatred is our anger, aversion toward things we don’t want, whether that be unpleasant people, circumstances, or even toward ourselves. It can manifest as anger, but also as impatience, ill-will, annoyance and hostility. We habitually resist and avoid feelings, circumstances, and people that we don’t like. We really want everything in our lives to be pleasant. This is nothing but a reinforcement of our illusion of duality and separation. Hatred puts us in a cycle of always finding something wrong.
When we are carrying hatred, our minds are frantic. We can’t be calm. We have a very easy time getting obsesses with whatever conflicts we are in. We can also have a conflict within, a hatred for our own feelings that we don’t like. With hatred we create enemies out of those around us and out of ourselves.
Delusion is our confusion and our misperception of reality. This is our lack of ability to understand the nature of things as they are—free of our labels and preconceptions. Under delusion we aren’t in harmony with the world around.
Without right perception, we don’t understand the way things are interdependent and impermanent. Because of this we are always looking outside ourselves for satisfaction. Because of our delusion we don’t understand our true nature.
The teachings of the Buddha tell us that our true nature is enlightened—that this will be realized if we can just see through our layers of ignorance. The goal of our practice is to free ourselves from these three poisons so we can see our true nature.
To overcome these poisons we have to first learn to notice them when they arise. When we are mindful and aware, we can recognize these things coming into our minds. In addition to just being mindful, there are things that are called antidotes to the three poisons. These are states of mind that we can cultivate that are said to help us overcome the three poisons.
To overcome greed: we cultivate generosity, service and equanimity. We can reflect on how impermanent all the things we want are. We can practice giving away things we don’t need. We can also practice acts of service.
To overcome hatred: we cultivate loving-kindness, compassion and patience. We want to learn how to embrace our life experiences with out aversion. We want to do practices that help us soften and open our hearts. We can also practice compassion for ourselves to deal with our own unpleasant feelings. Our feelings of insecurity and inadequacy require us to show ourselves patience and kindness.
To overcome delusion: we cultivate wisdom, insight and understanding. Our meditation practice can help us learn how to experience reality as it is and free ourselves from delusion. Perceiving and acting in harmony with the interdependent nature of things, realizing that all beings and things are one, we free ourselves from delusion.
By studying the Dharma and trying to live up to the Buddha’s teachings, we can overcome the kleshas. When we overcome these three poisons, our true nature can shine forth like the sun.
Editor: Dana Gornall