THE 3 POISONS: GREED, HATRED, AND CONFUSION
- known as consciousness, the mind is the factor that knows, perceives, experiences. According to Buddhist philosophy, the true nature of the mind is clear and pristine, pure experience.1
- Object – Anything that is perceived by the mind. An object can be something tangible, like a sight, sound, touch, taste, or any other physical experience, or it can be mental. Mental objects can be things like ideas, imaginings, feelings, memories, and other thoughts.4
- Greed – Attachment of the mind onto an object of desire, which turns into clinging. It is a state of wanting and believing that lasting happiness will be obtained by acquiring the object of desire.
- Hatred /aversion – Wanting to be removed or separated from the object. There is resistance to the object, and this resistance takes the form of the desire to destroy the object (anger) or run from it (fear). Hatred ranges from slight aversion to destructive rage.4
- Delusion/ignorance – False beliefs and wrong views. A persistent and insidious false view is the belief in a lasting, separate, unchanging self … the concept of “I,” “me” or “mine” being separate and independent from others. Although this view abounds, it is considered false and unskillful.
The Greed Type
This is the person or state of mind that wants things. They say yes to things because they imagine how well it will fulfill their desires. They tend to exaggerate the benefits of obtaining their object of desire. Greed personalities want to enjoy themselves. If they are enjoying themselves, they will consider how to make their experience even better. Clearly, they will be inclined towards excesses. The greed-dominated mind tends to glaze over details, thinking only of the benefits of securing the object, and neglecting the potential pitfalls, obstacles, and negative consequences. They can do very well in business because they imagine all the benefits of their plans and courses of action, and so they proceed, expecting good results.
There are endless things to want, so it is easy to move from desire to desire with temporary satisfactions and disappointments in between. This condition is not easily remedied, because there is an enjoyment – albeit temporary – in obtaining the object of desire. In its more obvious and developed forms, however, greed will incite distrust, discomfort, and possibly disgust from others, which clarifies the point that the state is not wholesome. If a greed type is thwarted from obtaining the object of their desire, anger can quickly ensue.
The Hate Type
Hatred, or aversion, is the flip side of greed; while the greed type attempts to pull things in, the hate type is always trying to keep things out. The person whose first response is “No” to any request or suggestion, is a hate type. Hate types are averse to change, to being disturbed, and they expect the worst. The focus, when this poison dominates, tends to be narrow and precise. People tend to know exactly what it is that disturbs them or what they hate, and can focus in with intense concentration. Because they foresee and expect negative outcomes, hate types tend towards pessimism and cynicism.
They are realists, however, because things in fact tend to not go the way they are planned; every silver lining has its cloud, and there are negative consequences to almost every action. In group-planning situations, a hate type will quickly point out all the problems, all the potential difficulties, and all the ways a plan might not work. If left solely up to a hate type, new projects would likely not be started, but there would still be something wrong with the way things are.
The Confused Type
The confused type does not know what course of action to take; they are perpetually in a state of indecision. They may appear lost or spacey, and they are often unsure of what they really want. The confusion is a defense against being truly committed or present, and also against self-responsibility and the uncertainty borne of taking action based on ignorance. They don’t know which stand to take, and therefore refuse to take one. In group situations, the confused type will wait for others to offer suggestions and opinions before offering their own. This is because their remarks are actually based on what other people think and say. Clearly, the confused personality is easily swayed by popular opinion. There are confused-hate types who wait for advice or opinions from those around and then proceed in the opposite direction. There are also confused-greed types, who wait for the same, but go along with the group. At the center of this state is the “I” concept – “I don’t know,” “I don’t know what to think,” “I don’t know what to do”… but it is still all about the “I.”
In reality, these poisons are modes of reacting to the world, in an attempt to secure happiness. The reason these methods cannot secure happiness is that they are rooted in ignorance. Nobody is completely or solely a greed type, hate type, or confused type.
All of us can understand these 3 poisons, because being human, we experience them all, often in combination and on a regular basis. Most of us will have a dominant mode, the poison we prefer when we are out of options or feel threatened, and we will try out the other poisons to see how well they fulfill our needs. Because these states will never fulfill us, but only keep us locked in suffering, it is important that we see these roots in ourselves, understand them, and know how to take corrective measures.