In Buddhist teachings, greed, hatred, and delusion are known, for good reason, as the three poisons, the three unwholesome roots, and the three fires. These metaphors suggest how dangerous afflictive thoughts and emotions can be if they are not understood and transformed. Greed refers to our selfishness, misplaced desire, attachment, and grasping for happiness and satisfaction outside of ourselves. Hatred refers to our anger, our aversion and repulsion toward unpleasant people, circumstances, and even toward our own uncomfortable feelings. Delusion refers to our dullness, bewilderment, and misperception; our wrong views of reality. The poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion are a byproduct of ignorance—ignorance of our true nature, the awakened heart of wisdom and compassion. Arising out of our ignorance, these poisonous states of mind then motivate nonvirtuous and unskillful thoughts, speech, and actions, which cause all manner of suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others.
Greed, hatred, and delusion are deeply embedded in the conditioning of our personalities. Our behavior is habitually influenced and tainted by these three poisons, these unwholesome roots buried deep into our mind. Burning within us as lust, craving, anger, resentment, and misunderstanding, these poisons lay to waste hearts, lives, hopes, and civilizations, driving us blind and thirsty through the seemingly endless round of birth and death (samsara). The Buddha describes these defilements as bonds, fetters, hindrances, and knots; the actual root cause of unwholesome karma and the entire spectrum of human suffering.