Unfortunately, the Three Poisons we discuss often in Buddhism do not come with attention-grabbing labels. They tend to sneak into our lives and cause suffering until we gain an awareness of them. Though not always pleasant, gaining that awareness and learning to work with them is necessary for ending Samsara. Most of us have a “favorite” that we wrestle with more than the others. Let’s examine them, so we can get better at identifying them.
- Ignorance, also referred to as delusion or indifference. Its opposite is wisdom. This can be experienced as an inability to see the truth or reality of ourselves or the world around us. Whenever our perceptions are different from reality, we will experience and cause suffering. When we cling to ignorance, we forget our interconnectedness and see ourselves as separate from others. We don’t have to look far in society to see the pain that is caused when we believe we are separate from others.
- Attachment, also referred to as greed or lust. Its opposite is generosity. This often leads to selfishness and a clinging to self and one’s own preferences. An extreme example would be disregarding the needs of others or even endangering others to get the object of one’s desires, or an attitude of only wanting or caring for things that we like.
- Aversion, also referred to as hatred or ill will. Its opposite is loving kindness. In the same vein as Attachment where we only try to get the things we want, when we experience Aversion, we push away (usually aggressively) the things that we dislike. If we allow our ignorance to take over, we can conjure up hatred for the things that we dislike and the people we see as blocking our desires.
We can’t control the presence of these poisons (Darn it!), but we can choose whether to feed them and allow them to fester once we recognize them. In an ideal world, we would make time to do a practice of Clearing the Stale Energies the moment these feelings arrive. Life is full of non-ideal moments. With our regular practices like Tonglen, Shamata, and Vipassana, we sharpen our awareness and become better at breathing through these afflictive states rather than rooting wallowing in them.
Here’s to slowly moving the needle towards loving kindness, generosity, and wisdom. It’s not easy, so be sure to celebrate every tiny step along the way.
You can find Clearing the Stale Energies, Tonglen, and Shamata practices here.