What Are the Three Poisons of Buddhism?

The Three Poisons

The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions, and evils, is rooted in the three poisons. Greed, anger, and delusion. ~Bodhidharma

The Three Poisons bind us to suffering.

According to Buddha’s teachings the root cause of all of our suffering, also known as Dukkha, are ignorance, greed, and hate. These unskillful actions, thoughts, and speech are known as the Three Poisons of Buddhism.

The Three Poisons are represented by a pig, bird, and snake in the center of the wheel of life in Buddhist teachings.

  • The pig represents ignorance.
  • The bird represents Attachment.
  • The snake represents Anger.
The Three Poisons of Buddhism will bind us to the wheel of Samsara where we will experience an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth again. Our ignorance of our minds and of the Buddha’s teachings along with our craving for material things, and our hatred for situations that bring us discontent will impede our path to nirvana.

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination that keeps us bound to the wheel of Samsara begins with ignorance.

Ignorance is Avidya in Sanskrit, and Moha in Pali.

Ignorance is also known as delusion and refers to ignorance of our minds, and the ignorance of Buddha’s teachings such as that of the The Four Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths teach us that life is suffering, and our suffering comes from our attachment to our desires.

Buddha also offered us a ray of hope that there was a way to end our suffering by following the Eightfold Path.

Our ignorance of the The Law Of Imermanence,and of Anatta,

or non-self, intensifies our greed and attachment for our desires. If we understood that all things are impermanent, and we have no permanent self, we would then truly understand that we cannot own anything.

Our belief in a permanent self is what leads to the creation of our ego, and causes us to think in terms of me, and mine. This thinking only escalates our greed, and our desire for more.

Attachment is one of the poisons of our mind that will prevent us from obtaining enlightenment.

Attachment is Raga in Sanskrit, and Lobha in Pali.

Attachment is also referred to as desire, sensuality, craving, or greed.

Greed is our desire for things of intrinsic value that we believe will bring us happiness, and elevate the way others see us as well.

The more we crave things, feelings, and situations to grasp at the more we bind ourselves to the wheel of samsara. This single minded obsession is similar to that of a hungry ghost.

Hungry ghosts are known as Pretas on the wheel of Samsara. Hungry ghosts are supernatural beings that are enduring a level of suffering that far surpasses that of humans.

They are zombie like hideous creatures that spend their existence seeking unnatural objects which they insatiably crave.

Does this sound like a pleasant existence to you?

It is a possible existence that awaits those who refuse to let go of their greed in the afterlife.

Anger is Dvesha in Sanskrit, and Dosa in Pali.

Anger is also known as aversion, ill will, and hatred.

We avoid people, situations, and things that we believe will prevent us from achieving what we desire. We refuse to let anyone, or anything stand in our way, moreover we will react with anger or hostility against anything, or anyone that does.

For example imagine buying yourself a brand new car. It is the first new car that you have ever owned. You envisioned your dream car, and have scrimped and saved until you could come up with enough money for a down payment that makes your monthly payments affordable.

You bring your new dream car back to your residence and proudly show it off to your friends and neighbors. You enjoy keeping it clean and polished to a shine, and have even accessorized it with aftermarket parts to personalize it.

Then after only one month you notice a scratch on the door as long as your finger.

What is your reaction?

Do you become enraged because somebody scratched the car that you just got, or is your reaction peaceful because you know the car is neither yours, nor is it permanent, and it will inevitably become scratched, and even cease to exist in the future?

When we allow our ego to determine our reaction we will fail to see our interconnectedness with everything. Our interconnectedness is explained well in The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.

Our negative reaction is caused by our ignorance, and greed.

We hold on to our negative emotions and experiences from the past as well. Continuing to hold on to these negative emotions deprives us of Inner Peace.

We must let go of the three poisons of ignorance, greed, and hate, if we are to achieve nirvana. Are you still holding onto Anger?

The Mahayana tradition there are the Five Poisons which include, Pride, and Envy.

Pride also known as arrogance is having a delusional, and high opinion of self-worth, and a mean and condescending attitude towards others who we believe are beneath us.

Envy or jealousy is having animosity for the accomplishments of others. If we despise success in the lives of others we will only poison ourselves, and create our own suffering.

According to Wikipedia The Three Poisons are the three root Kleshas of Moha. To learn more click here.

Kleshas are mental states that cloud the mind and manifest in unwholesome actions. Kleshas include states of mind such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, and depression.

The Ten Defilements

Kleshas are also referred to as defilements.

The Ten Defilements of Buddhism are:

  1. Greed
  2. Hate
  3. Delusion
  4. Conceit
  5. Wrong Views
  6. Doubt
  7. Sloth
  8. Restlessness
  9. Shamelessness
  10. Recklessness
The Ten Defilements are similar to The Ten Fetters of Buddhism, and must be released from our thoughts, and actions if we are to reach nirvana.

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