" THE IGNORANT MIND, WITH ITS INFINITE AFFLICTIONS, PASSIONS, AND EVILS, IS ROOTED IN THE THREE POISONS. GREED, ANGER, AND DELUSION." — BODHIDHARMA
Greed, anger and delusion are said to be the three poisons in Buddhism
. Greed represents our selfishness, our misplaced desire to possess things beyond our control, our constant yearning to amass more and more, thinking it will bring us happiness and contentment which does not come.
Anger is our annoyance towards people and circumstances. It happens when we are not able to accept things as they are, when our want of control becomes so strong that we refuse to accept and embrace the reality and face the uncomfortable but truthful facts. This creates resentment and leads to aversion to people and things around us.
Delusion signifies confusion, misperception, lack of comprehension and disorientation regarding life. It can be about goals in life, nature of the world, about things that matters, about what is right and wrong and so on. Delusion creates turbulence in our actions, wastes our energy and efforts and leads to perpetual dissatisfaction without delivering any substance.
Mutual inter linkage and mutually reinforcing vices
At a fundamental level, these three are not different and originate from one another while reinforcing each other too. For instance, our delusion for material things leads to obsession of possessing more and more goods for which we work hard day and night. This not only affects our health and well being but also breeds greed. We move from one action to another, all seeking the delusion of material enrichment. However, there is no limit to this greed. We become used to one material level soon while the relationships and calmness we lost in process become irretrievable. Unable to accept this quandary that we ourselves created we vent out anger against people and things, blaming them for this. This anger leads to other delusions ranging from alcoholism, smoking, sexual delinquency, etc - all seeking what is not there, the delusion of happiness.
A concrete example can be the suicide of popular TV actors and actresses. Charmed by fame and opulence of the glamor world, individuals often run after popular perception from one milestone to another often at the cost of their moral beings and disturbance of family life. It creates stress and anxiety sinking them into drug abuse and other such evils. Another example can be the pressure created by parents for cracking competitive examinations. The recent movie - Chhichhore - captures this phenomena aptly. Instead of focusing on spending quality time together and working on the strength of their character, emphasis is laid on metrics like percentage marks, rank in the class, name of the college, package in the placement and so on Evolutionary perspective. An evolutionary perspective argues that greed, anger and delusion are built in human psychology and led to better survival rates historically. This might be true to some extent. Anger can be seen as an outburst when we think something unjust has happened. Similarly, our greed leads to material insurance against deficit periods. In fact, greed, anger and delusion now become pervasive and contagious through social media and faster means of communication. It breeds insecurity and foments strife endangering both life and property. Today these three poisons manifest themselves in various forms. Disgusting inequalities, riots, environmental crisis, materialism, racism, communalism, breakdown of family system, stress, anxiety, loneliness, hypertension - all can be traced back to these three poisons which obliterate perspective and take a toll of human well being. However, the rise of civilisation with its ample resources and diversity does not align well with pre-civilisation tendencies. What might have served well in the past leads to restlessness and loss of peace today. In fact, research shows cooperation and detachment leads to better work outcomes. So, a wise understanding of these habitual behaviour can be empowering and enlightening.
Techniques to overcome these vices
These three poisons have been at the centre of not just Buddhist discourse but have been dealt with by thinkers across the world. Buddha's middle path, Aristotle's golden mean, Marcus Aurelius' rationality and stoicism, Gita's karma deal with them in different ways. In fact, Epictetus argues - Real education is to understand the nature of the world and aligning your own will with it, it can be read as path from delusion to non-delusion, wisdom.
Buddhism suggests an eight fold path aligned with four noble truths. It starts with Right view, aiming at the right understanding of the world, thus seeing things how they really are. Keeping oneself away from prejudices is the first step towards this. Then, through right thoughts (having positive and righteous thoughts), right speech (Speaking kindly and refraining from gossip and hurtful words), right conduct (saving life, not stealing, being respectful), right livelihood (jobs that do not involve hurting others and further cause of righteousness, like doctor, teacher, civil services), right effort (to work hard and persevere to overcome ignorance), right mindfulness (being aware of our actions, words and thoughts at all times) and right contemplation (Concentrating on the teachings of Buddha).
This path is aimed at non-delusion and avoidance of greed and anger, thereby, breaking the cycle and resulting in a balanced and peaceful life. Common techniques like meditation, moderation and discretion while using social media, being observant about the language used, spending offline time at playground and with family and friends - can be some of the useful, small techniques paving the way for a nonpoisonous life.