In the center of the iconic Buddhist Wheel of Life paintings, or Bhavachakra, you will find a picture of a pig, a rooster, and a snake. They represent the three causes of samsara, the wheel of life where unliberated beings wander and experience birth, death, and rebirth over and over again. The causes and forces behind this are called the three poisons. They refer to the root of suffering. In Buddhist tradition, these three poisons are called Ignorance, Greed (desire) and Anger.
Ignorance (the pig)
The deepest ignorance of all is not understanding our true nature, not understanding that we are not separate from each other and our surroundings.
It is the "I" that creates separation, and separation leads to suffering. Viewing this "I" as an inherent existing identity, in Buddhist perspective, is based on Ignorance. It’s simply because we don’t know. Therefore, the antidote for Ignorance is wisdom.
Wisdom is not about understanding truth conceptually, though conceptual understanding can be seeds for wisdom. Since they are seeds, we can nurture them and help them flourish. Being a gardener of our own soul, we can nurture the seeds of wisdom by contemplating and meditating on them. Develop a heart of longing, a longing to know the truth. We think about them like how much we think about our lovers.
Use wisdom as objects of meditation and contemplation. These practices become the fertile ground for seeds to sprout and flourish. So the seeds become thoughts, thoughts become speech, speech becomes actions, and actions shape our behaviour patterns.
Greed or Desire (the rooster)
Another cause of suffering is the mindset of wanting more and more. It's the pain of not feeling enough.
Greed and desire comes in different forms: fame, money, power, sensory enjoyments, success, excitement and so on. No matter what the objects are, the cravings are the same. We rely on an external object to feel good, to be happy. And that dependency is the basis of addiction. It is that strong desire and lust that throws us back into the perpetual cycle of sufferings. The antidote of greed and desire is non-attachment.
Non-attachment is not about living in a cave, or getting a divorce and becoming a monk. It is about giving space to what we are strongly attached to, giving space to what we really desire. It is about when we lose something, we cultivate a sense of "oh–well" then let that go; or when our children turn out to be different people than we expect, we give them space to grow, and fly.
It is a sense of, we don’t really own anything here. We are just passengers in the world. Allow things to come and go. It is ok to own things, but it is also ok to loose them.
And if one day we feel ok about non-attachment, we can give a little more and offer ourselves more. This is to practice generosity. In generosity, we gradually let go of our possessions, based on love. It is not about giving away what we don’t want. It is to give away what we do want.
Among the three poisons, anger is the most destructive and harmful. If we feel deeply and look closely at ourselves when we are angry, in the moment when we are in rage, we forget all the love and goodness in everything. It’s an overwhelmingly negative feeling. It has the power to take over our whole being, completely possess us and lead us to wrong views and wrong actions. Anger is the reason why we have war, why we kill and why we cause harm.
The antidote to anger is a heart of loving-kindness. And to develop loving-kindness, we need to first learn how to turn anger and defensiveness into sadness and vulnerability.
Anger comes from hurt. It projects out as defensiveness and aggressiveness. Anger separates us from others as it hardens our heart. When we feel anger coming up, we can sit with it and give it space. We can let go of the storylines, as those are fuels to the emotions. Let the hurt be felt and allow ourselves to feel sad, as sadness softens our heart.
When we are angry, we deepen the delusion of duality. When we are sad, we allow loving-kindness grows, which bring us closer together.
When we are able to feel the hurt with tenderness, true warriorship grows in our heart.