THE THREE POISONS
In Buddhist teachings, greed,
hatred, and delusion are known, for good reason, as the three poisons,
the three unwholesome roots, and the three fires. These metaphors suggest how dangerous afflictive thoughts and
emotions can be if they are not understood and transformed.
Greed refers to our
selfishness, misplaced desire, attachment, and grasping for happiness and satisfaction outside of ourselves.
Hatred refers to our anger, our aversion and repulsion toward unpleasant people, circumstances, and
even toward our own uncomfortable feelings. Delusion refers to our dullness, bewilderment, and
misperception; our wrong views of reality.
The poisons of greed, hatred, and
delusion are a by-product of ignorance—ignorance of our true
nature, the awakened heart of wisdom and compassion. Arising out of our ignorance, these poisonous
states of mind then motivate non-virtuous and unskillful thoughts, speech, and actions, which cause all manner
of suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others.
Greed, hatred, and delusion are deeply
embedded in the conditioning of our personalities. Our behavior is habitually influenced and tainted by these
three poisons, these unwholesome roots buried deep into our mind. Burning within us as lust, craving, anger,
resentment, and misunderstanding, these poisons lay to waste hearts, lives, hopes, and civilizations, driving us
blind and thirsty through the seemingly endless round of birth and death (samsara).
The Buddha describes these defilements
as bonds, fetters, hindrances, and knots; the actual root cause of unwholesome karma and the entire spectrum of
Although this teaching may appear
negative or unpleasant, indeed, a wise understanding of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion is
ultimately positive and empowering. With this sublime understanding we can clearly see and feel the factors that
are causing confusion, unhappiness, and suffering in our lives. And with this clarity and insight, we can make
the choice to eliminate those factors!
The teaching of The Four Noble Truths
clearly explains that when we embrace and understand the exact causes of our suffering and dissatisfaction, we
can then take the necessary steps to extinguish those causes and liberate ourselves. This is certainly positive
In addition, it is important for us to
realize that the Dharma teachings regarding defilement and purification are not just rigid, restrictive, or
authoritarian theories regarding morality, but are real and solid facts essential to our correct understanding
of reality and eventual awakening.
These three poisons are further described as follows:
In summary, for good reason,
greed, hatred, and delusion are known as the three poisons, the three fires, and the three unwholesome roots. These
metaphors suggest how dangerous afflictive thoughts and emotions can be if they are not understood and transformed.
This is a potent Dharma teaching clearly explaining the characteristics of the three poisons of greed, hatred, and
delusion, how to understand these defilements, and how to transform them using their sublime antidotes
For a PDF copy of this information, click on Transforming the Three Poisons: Greed, Hatred, and Delusion
Source: Used with permission from Neil Steven Cohen at Naljor
Prison Dharma Service, PO Box 1177, Mount Shasta CA 96067. (
Photo Credit: Intellimon Ltd.