Three poisons

The three kleshas of ignorance, attachment and aversion are referred to as the three poisons (Skt. triviṣa; Tibetan: dug gsum) in the Mahayana tradition and as the three unwholesome roots (Pāli, akusala-mūla; Skt. akuśala-mūla ) in the Theravada tradition.

The Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan terms for each of the three poisons are as follows:

Poison Sanskrit[7][8] Pali[9] Tibetan[7][10] Alternate English translations[7] Skt./Pali/Tib. Synonym[11][12]
Ignorance moha moha gti mug confusion, bewilderment, delusion avidyā (Skt.); avijjā (Pāli); ma rigpa (Tib.)
Attachment rāga lobha ‘dod chags desire, passion, greed n/a
Aversion dveṣa dosa zhe sdang anger, aggression, hatred n/a

Note that in the Mahayana tradition moha is identified as a subcategory of avidya. Whereas avidya is defined as a fundamental ignorance, moha is defined as an ignorance of cause and effect or of reality that accompanies only destructive states of mind or behavior.[13] Moha is sometimes replaced by avidya in lists of the three poisons. In contemporary explanations of the three poisons, teachers are likely to emphasize the fundamental ignorance of avidya rather than moha.

In the Theravada tradition, moha and avidya are equivalent terms, but they are used in different contexts; moha is used when referring to mental factors, and avidya is used when referring to the twelve links.[14]

Relation to physical illness

In the Buddhist traditions, it is believed that the three poisons are the cause of both physical and mental illness. Geshe Tashi Tsering states:[18]

According to Buddhism, even physical health is linked to mental states. Thus the real threats to our well-being are attachment, anger, and ignorance—the three fundamental deluded minds that lead to all other afflictions, both mental and physical. Only with thorough understanding of the mind and its functions can we hope to transcend the disturbing thoughts and emotions that plague us.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche states:

Ancient tradition believes that the three root poisons are not only the causes of all suffering but also the causes of disease as well.[19]

In Tibetan medicine, it is believed that the three poisons obscure the flow of the energetic wind (Tib. lung) through three main subtle energy channels within the body.[19]

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