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The Three Poisons

A brief note: I have received more than one comment about the sound quality of the most recent podcast. I am aware that the noise levels are pretty awful on episode 7. I have a new high-end microphone on order that I’ll be using on the next podcast, and I will probably go back and re-record some of the older ones. Please be patient, stay tuned, and keep your comments coming, I find them very helpful. The Three Poisons There are ‚ÄúThree Poisons‚Äù that the Buddhist must deal with on a daily basis; Desire, Hatred and Ignorance. If you’ll remember back to last week, the five precepts told us about the various things not to DO. The five precepts had to do with actions in the real world. The three poisons are a lot more subtle; they affect your mind. Desire, Hatred, and Ignorance damage your karma in ways that physical actions could never match. A burning hatred or grudge is as bad as killing someone in the effect it will have on your karma. Desire, as we have seen in the past, leads to all suffering. Ignorance is hard to beat. The goal of becoming ‚ÄúEnlightened‚Äù or reaching Nirvana is the total defeat of ignorance. Keeping an open mind and trying to understand all sides of an issue while showing compassion are the first steps in defeating ignorance. Watch out for the three poisons. They are well-named, as they can do as much damage as any real poison.

2 comments to The Three Poisons

  • I’ve struggled a long time with desire in all its forms. If the cessation of desire is the destruction of ignorance, how do we defeat ignorance without the desire to do, to strive: think of anything that we feel we must do – be it personal, political, etc. to advance the cause of enlightenment. Where would we be without desire?

  • Ah. This one is complex. It’s an excellent question!

    The word “Desire” is really not the perfect translation of the Pali word. When Buddhists talk about desire, they mean “clinging” in some respects. Greed is one of the three poisons, and is obviously bad, but that’s not what we mean by desire. Buddhists believe in the doctrine of non-permanence; nothing lasts forever. It’s not good to become to attached to things or situations or people, as things break, situations change, and people change and die. In many ways “desire” and “attachment” are joined at the hip or two sides of the same coin.

    It’s OK to “desire” to reach Enlightenment. It’s OK to desire a cheeseburger. The problem comes in when your simple desire becomes clinging or grasping; if you want Enlightenment TOO much, that desire is going to work against you. If you desire that girl/guy at work, that’s fine, go ahead and ask them out. But if you want them TOO much, you’re going to cause someone some suffering.

    So there is nothing wrong with everyday desires. Without some level of desire or goal-setting, nothing would ever get done. But don’t get too attached to your desires. Don’t get too attached to anything. Learn that nothing is forever, and take things as they come. There is a certain detachment from worldliness involved.

    I’m not sure if this answer is completely adequate, but the important thing is that in Buddhism, “desire” is more than just simple wanting something.

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