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The Buddha's Three Poisons - Desire, Aversion, & Ignorance

Updated on October 12, 2012

Solid Wisdom Teaching

Increasing our understanding of the self and gaining insight into our personal spiritual path from any enlightened source is wise and spiritually self serving. Regardless of your religious and spiritual affiliations, many great teachers have shared divine insights that will benefit us. When we take these insights and combine these with other beliefs that we feel deeply and passionate towards, then we have benefited ourselves with our openness to intuition and deep wisdom.

Clearly there is abundant wisdom available to inspire, motivate, and elevate us in every major religious and spiritual tradition. Buddha taught many of these great wisdom's and one in particular has such a practical message that it certainly can be rated “G” for “good for everyone”.

Buddha taught that the cause of human suffering is desire, aversion, and ignorance, which he called the Three Poisons, also known as the Three Fires. Desire is lust, greed and grasping. Aversion can be things like fear, hatred, and anger. And finally, ignorance, which may be considered the worst of the three, is ignoring our true identity, not recognizing who we really are, and thinking that we are separate, so that we seek to augment the self.

In an essay called, Sacred Unconscious, by Huston Smith, a renowned religious scholar, Smith talks about this separate self from a Buddhist perspective. He first likens this separate identity, our desires and aversions, as a tightly wrapped golf ball where the core of our separate identity is its center. He says, “This tight, constricted golf-ball self is inevitably in for hard knocks, but what concerns us here is that on average it does not feel very good. Anxiety hovers round it’s edges. It can feel victimized and grows embittered. It is easily disappointed and can become unstrung. To others it often seems no prettier than it feels to itself; petty, self-centered, drab, and bored.”

These appear to be harsh words to describe our identity, but the truth of real suffering is harsh. And Buddha points this out by saying that “Life is suffering.” There is no reason to pussy foot around this harsh truth with denials. We deny our suffering, which we don’t want to admit because it seems ungrateful at the least, so instead we look everywhere else for relief; in the sky, in our “hearts”, or our souls, in others, and so on. Until you begin to overcome suffering, these “other” places seem abstract and unobtainable. When we start with the reality - life is suffering, we admit feely, this sucks, so what can I do about it!

To overcome suffering, Buddha taught the Three Pillars, which are; Sila (Moral Conduct), Samadhi (Deep Concentration), Prajna (Wisdom). Using the Three Pillars as guidelines in our lives, we will begin the path to walk away from the Three Poisons or to extinguish the fires of the Three Fires.

What I love about a lesson from a new tradition is that many times what the lesson teaches is the same as what I already knew, but because it came to me with a new perspective it becomes more powerful. The three poisons are overall pretty obvious, wouldn’t you agree? And I can certainly see that when we harbor these “poisons” in our being that suffering will be the outcome. The high beam insight comes with the pillar of ignorance, which states that we must be aware of our identities, not the ones we share with others, but what the Buddhists call the “face before you were born” or “original face”. The infinite identify of yourself is what must be made known. And, we can use the ideas in the Three Pillars to explore this identity.

The higher point of this wisdom teaching is the approach used. It’s a little like thinking about a top down approach to life versus bottom up. The Buddhist approach starts at the top, identifying our current reality or condition. Instead of denying our suffering or reality in an attempt to save face, or not appear whiney or ungrateful, beginning from our reality we remove the pieces we don’t want (the Three Poisons), until we have emptiness (which can be translated into enlightenment). This is not the Western way. We start from the bottom and keep looking for things to “add” to us to make us more! When we add from the outside (not from the emptiness or divine higher self), then we just keep aggravating the suffering.

Having new viewpoints and wisdom teachings gives us the flexibility to consider and question many ideals and methods and perhaps continue looking for others. This is the true method for finding spiritual authenticity and awakening. Enjoy learning, enjoy getting revved up about a new concepts, ideas or beliefs because this is what makes us interesting and wise.

Blessings - Joleen

Pleased to Meet You!

Joleen (Bridges) Halloran is the author of Finding Home - Breaking Free from Limits. This book represents over 10 years of research and inspiration in the topics of personal and spiritual empowerment and provides readers with a pathway to overcome limits and discover authentic divine qualities in their lives and to live a life of unlimited freedom. .

Beyond Joleen's professional life, she is an avid reader and researcher of books related to her special passion, which is metaphysical and spirituality topics. You can find out more about Joleen's book at her books website, Additional articles of a spiritual and inspirational nature can be found at the book's website as well.

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