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I’m going to talk about the 3 Poisons and their antidotes and then we’ll
Three Poisons are Greed, Anger, and Delusion. They are also called the Three
Unskillful or Unwholesome Roots. They are the root of all that poison our lives.
the confession, we say:
the Evil karma created by me since of old,
On account of greed, anger and delusion,
Born of my body, mouth and mind,
I now confess it
I think it is safe to say that for the most part the mind leads and the body and
mouth follow. Although at one time or another we all have blurted out something
inappropriate or taken hold of something hot and burned ourselves without
consciously thinking, the thought was actually there but it was a deluded,
ignorant thought - that is, it was stupidity.
three poisons are products of the mind manifested as selfishness, lies, hateful
speech, and thoughtless destructive actions.
is sometimes called ‘grasping’. It is more than selfishness and can take
many forms. We may think of it as something having to do with money but more
often than not, it has to do with the other thing - a meanness of attitude - an
ego that says “me first”. Have you ever taken the last piece of pie, not
because you really wanted it but because you didn’t want someone else to have
it? Have you ever warned someone about something and when it happened, you
smugly said “I told you so” and enjoyed their misery because it fed your ego
and your greedy need to be right?
antidote for the poison of greed is Sympathetic Joy.
that you and your friend work together and are up for the same promotion, and he
gets it. It would be very easy to tell yourself that he went behind your back
and curried favor, that he didn’t deserve it, that you did deserve it and it
might even be true. But if that resentment festers, it will destroy your
friendship. Instead, just as you might share his sorrow, share his joy. Be as
happy for him as you would be for yourself in the same position. When you feel
joy, depression dissolves, the body has new energy. Just think how often good
things happen to others (a new car, a promotion, the birth of a grandchild, an
IRS audit showing a refund due). By practicing sympathetic joy, you can tap into
a wellspring of positive energy. (and you’ll be a nicer person to be around
because your joy will enhance the other person’s joy).
if someone is happy about something that you have no interest in, it’s a bit
harder to have sympathetic joy. But say a wrestling fan tells you how happy he
is to get to spend an afternoon talking to Hulk Hogan, translate that into the
joy you would have if you got to spend an
afternoon with your favorite celebrity. You might ask, “why would I bother, I
don’t even like Hulk Hogan?” But haven’t you noticed that sometimes when
someone, you resent, gets something that you wouldn’t normally want in your
home, you envy them? That is greed, grasping. This is poison.
the second poison is sometimes called ‘hatred’
and while they are not necessarily the same, they are equally
destructive. When we are angry, we may not even realize it or know the reason
why. We overreact and are unreasonable. Frequently, we take our anger out on
innocent bystanders, not the person we hate or are angry at. As an example, my
sister hated our father. Every time he came to our area,
she would pack up her kids and leave town so he couldn’t get to meet
them and by doing so, punish him. And while his feelings might have been hurt,
the person her actions damaged the most were herself and her kids. She was
damaged because she didn’t face her anger and put it to rest. The kids, who
didn’t get to meet their grandfather before he died, never got to learned
about the history of the paternal branch of the family. These are all things
that those kids, now grown, would like to know and share with their children.
antidote for this poison is compassion. When you are wishing someone well, you
cannot wish them ill at the same moment. The mind just doesn’t work that way,
even though it may seem to. It is like your computer running a program while you
are using your word processor or checking your e-mail, it’s just going back
and forth between the two very fast.
I first moved to the Vietnam Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, there was a young
monk, named Vinh, whose very presence would raise feelings of anger and
resentment. Just by coming into the same room with me and without a word passing
between us, my breathing and heartbeat would rise and I’d mindlessly become
angry. I can’t even say I hated him since I didn’t know him well enough to
hate him. I have no idea why I reacted that way and called it a personality
conflict. It was making me pretty miserable since I saw him every day. Then I
started repeating part of the Metta, the Well Wishing
Verses. - (Later I’ll hand out copies of the Metta for
you to take home.) - Every time I thought of him, I would silently repeat over
and over again “May Vinh be happy and well, may no harm come to him, may he
learn compassion”. After a week or so, I realized that it was my lack of
compassion that was at the root of the problem and changed the verse to “May
Vinh be happy and well, may no harm come to him, may I learn compassion”. And
a little while later, I changed it again to reflect the fact that we both had
issues. Now I frequently use “May so-and-so be happy and well, may no harm
come to him, may we learn compassion”. Since the mind can’t do two things at
once, practicing the Metta dissipates ill feelings. Try
it, but remember you have to really mean it and not just whisper empty phrases,
otherwise it is a waste of time. As you do it, warmly think of that person in a
loving manner. By the way, I never did find out why I couldn’t stand Vinh and
I don’t think he changed much over the last few years but now we are friends.
is sometimes called ‘ignorance’, ‘ folly’,
'stupidity'. The antidote for this poison is equanimity which leads to
wisdom. To quote a Buddhist dictionary “Equanimity is one of the most
important Buddhist virtues. It refers to a state that is neither joy nor
suffering but rather is independent of
both. It is the mind in equilibrium and elevated about all distinctions.”
the story of the farmer whose son finds a horse. Everyone in the village was
excited about it and congratulated the farmer. He replied “we’ll see”.
A few days later the son fell off the horse and broke his leg. All the
villagers commiserated with the farmer and he still just replied “we’ll
see”. About a week later the emperor’s soldiers came through the village,
drafting all the healthy young men into the army. The farmer’s son was the
only one left behind and the farmer had nothing to say.
who are not even handed in their thinking and actions are hard to be around. You
can’t always depend upon them. In Jr. High we had two teachers who were opposite in the practice of equanimity.
Mr. Forrest was a tough teacher. You could never get away with anything in his
classes, but, even if he was angry, his punishment always fit the crime, and he
didn’t give a lighter punishment or better marks to someone he liked. He never
made hurtful, inappropriate remarks, either. Mr. Sullivan, on the other hand,
was wishy-washy. He’d let us get away with murder and then when he’d had
enough, he’d come down hard on the next one acting up, giving them a
punishment that was way out of proportion
to the crime. He had pets and if he didn’t like you, he would say the most
hurtful, inappropriate things and you never knew where you stood. It goes
without saying that Mr. Forrest was well respected and looked up to by all the
students although not necessarily liked and Mr. Sullivan was a joke to be
some ways equanimity is like walking a tightrope. Balanced, you get to the other
end safely, overbalancing or under balancing, you go splat. When we gently
vibrate somewhere in the middle instead of wildly swinging between joy and
sorrow, like and dislike, we make better decisions and live a happier, more
reason equanimity leads to wisdom is that it allows you a clear view, uncolored
by expectations, desires and fears. You
see what you’re looking at just as it
is. The mind, not wading through a mire of emotions and conflicts, is no
longer deluded. This doesn’t mean that you won’t make decisions that others
might consider wrong or even illegal. The difference is that you won’t lie to
yourself about why you are doing it and the possible consequences of your
actions - and you’ll accept those consequences without whining and blaming
as it is. What
a great phrase! It is accepting yourself and others, just you are. Some people
have the mistaken idea that if you accept something, it means not changing it.
But that’s not it at all. It means that as long as you are deluded you will
make wrong decisions because you are basing those decisions on a faulty
ago a young neighbor of mine had severe pain every time she ate french fries or
chocolate. I suggested that she ask her doctor about her gall bladder since it
seemed to be the right symptoms. Her doctor took one look at her and laughed.
All he saw was an exhausted nineteen year old with a new baby.
He told her that she had about thirty years before she needed to worry
about her gall bladder and sent her on her way with some Maylox.
Three days later, after eating a large bag of Hershey’s kisses she was
rushed to the hospital and had her gall bladder removed. The first doctor
hadn’t really seen her, just his idea of her. How often do we see what we want
to see, not what’s there. That’s why con men do so well because people want
to believe them.
times we may want to reform our thinking and
behavior, but part of the three poisons is habit. Habit gets ingrained
surprisingly fast. You come home from work after a very difficult day. Your partner has had an equally
stressful day and snaps at you for dumping your stuff on the table and
you snap back. The next night, the same kind of thing happens and you
both say something hurtful. The third day, things went well at work for both of
you but when you got home you found yourselves snapping at each other for no
other reason than that you have gotten into the habit of snapping, sniping and
saying hurtful things to each other. And its a hard habit to break.
antidote for the three poisons are Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and
Equanimity which are sometimes called the Four Sublime Abodes. The word, love,
is here used in the Buddhist sense of not so much ordinary human affection, even
in sublimated form, but as in a detached and impersonal benevolence raised to
the highest possible pitch of intensity. Without Love, Compassion turns to
contempt. Without Love, Sympathetic Joy turns to vicarious satisfaction. Without
Love, Equanimity turns to heartless indifference.
you might ask if I wasn’t encouraging vicarious satisfaction in the
suggestions I made earlier about practicing Sympathetic Joy. The answer is yes
and no. Yes, if you’re only doing it to feel good; no, if you’re doing it to
head off greed and grasping. You need to understand that Karma, which means
‘deed’ or ‘action’, is the cause and effect within conditions of your
life. What you think, say and do, comes back to you and how you react to those
effects become new causes and hence there are new effects. How often have you
fibbed because you didn’t want to face a situation and then lied to yourself
with “I don’t want to hurt his feelings or make him mad.”? And
didn’t it come back to bite you? My great aunt Edith was stuck in Hawaii
during World War II. Meat was scarce so her friend made a rather horrid soybean
casserole and my aunt gagged down two big helpings, not wanting to hurt her
friend’s feelings. Years later, they met in San Francisco and my aunt was
invited to dinner. Her hostess proudly carried in a soybean casserole, saying,
“I remember how much you enjoyed it last time.” I don’t believe she ever
told another fib. You can be honest with one another without using truth as a
weapon. People who are cruel, love to use truth to hurt others because then they
can say “Well, I was only telling the truth”. See? Here the poison of greed
raises its ugly head as it feeds the ego.
combination of Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity will keep our
lives in balance. Without each and every one of them together, we can easily get
off on a tangent and not only spoil our own lives but the lives of people around
won’t lie to you and say that any of this is an easy thing to practice but the
rewards are enormous. And just as bad habits become ingrained so do good ones.
Four Sublime Abodes of Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity not
only deliver us from lives poisoned by greed, anger and delusion but
also lead us to enlightenment.
Bổn Sư Thích Ca Mâu Ni Phật