The Three Poisons

buddha enlightenment q&a suffering

Question: What are your thoughts on emotions feeding on each other? I was talking with people about the elections. They said there were people motivated by hate. I thought it was fear morphing into anger and hate.

The Buddha talked about three poisons. Ignorance, greed, and hate. Ignorance is very interesting because another way of looking at ignorance is by ignoring the truth. Everybody has an idea about what is the truth. What if we take away our idea about what is the truth?

When the Buddha realized his enlightenment, he perceived everybody has “enlightened nature”. But we don’t realize this because we don’t understand ourselves. We don’t understand this “I”. Not understanding this “I” creates ignorance. People will express this ignorance in different ways. Some people express it in fear. Some people express it in hate. Others may express this in sadness.

There is a Zen saying, “don’t mess with the branches, get to the root.” Where does fear come from? Where does hate come from? Where does sadness come from? What is the root of this suffering? There is a Buddhist teaching called the 12 links of dependent origination. This teaching states these things all appear out of ignorance. From ignorance through all the other connected links ends with suffering. But, in our Zen practice, we take another step. If everything comes from ignorance, then where does ignorance come from?

If you are clever, you can say ignorance comes from thinking. Then where does thinking come from? If you’re clever, you could say thinking comes from mind. So, where does mind come from? Maybe you say consciousness, so where does consciousness come from? Look at this at this closely. Peel back of these layers until you there is no answer to be found. Then you can return to the place before thinking, before fear, before sadness, before sadness, before ignorance.

Investigate that. If you can return to your before thinking mind, then you will realize your enlightened nature. Your mind and this universe become one. Then our thoughts and emotions become clear and we can use them to help this world rather than being used by them.


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