A Quick Overview

The three poisons or the three harmful origins in Buddhism – known in Tibetan as “dug gsum” — concerns the three core obstructions (kleshas) of Moha (delusion, ignorance), Raga (greed, attachment), and Dvesha (aversion, ill will). These three poisons of Buddhism of toxins is believed to be three conditions entrenched in human beings, which is the product of craving. They are the central reason for Dukkha (human suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness) and rebirths.

The three poisons of Buddhism are metaphorically illustrated as a cock, snake, and pig in Buddhist artwork — signifying greed, aversion, and ignorance. These poisons are believed to be the sources that imprison sentient beings in samsara, perpetually creating karma. A place where ignorant beings drift and repeat birth, death, and rebirth, over and over. They are said to be the basis of all of the other kleshas – from which all unskillful or harmful actions begin.

They are understood to be the source of our relentless desire for objects, and from which of all of our destructive illusions stem — dreadful contaminants which evoke physical and mental illness. The deception and negativity in life, that obstructs the fulfillment of our complete potential for bliss and creativity, originate from the three poisons.

These pollutants are thought to demoralize our capacity for contentment, hinder our human connections, and very much limit the ability for our highest creative potential. They become the root of the conflict, domination, ecological devastation, and revolting disparities amid societies.

Below are more in-depth explanations of the three poisons of Buddhism 

Poison 1: Ignorance (Moha)

The ignorance of moha is the unawareness of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, and of the ultimate nature of reality. It expresses the certainty that phenomena are permanent. Most critically, moha exhibits assurance in a separate and lasting person or identity. It is grasping this notion, and the aspiration to defend and exalt the personality, which effects greed and hate.

We are persistently looking outside of ourselves for pleasure, gratification, and answers to our difficulties. This outward searching creates confusion about virtuous, life-affirming actions that cultivate true happiness.  We also do not recognize the non-virtuous, negative, and unwholesome actions that create suffering.

In ignorance, one is not attaining one’s potential for bliss, which is our true nature (Buddha-nature). Ignorance produces anxiety and a sense of feebleness, powerlessness, lethargy, passiveness, and will-fullness.

It is thoughtlessness to the fact of our inter-connectedness, not just to each other, but also simultaneously to the Universe itself – along with its immeasurable potential.

Delusion is a misunderstanding of the way the world functions. It’s our incompetence to appreciate the nature of things just as they are — free of misrepresentation. Consequently, we are not in unison with ourselves, others, or with life. When we are ignorant, we are not living in harmony with Dharma. This delusion fixes us to a nasty cycle.

Poison 2: Greed (Raga)

Greed can indicate anger and aversion as well as hatred. Hate results from ignorance because, as noted above, we do not perceive the connection of all things and beings. Rather, we understanding ourselves as separate. Therefore we decide things to be desirable, grasping at them. Else we experience aversion, and we desire to escape them.

We typically get angry with anyone who impedes us regarding something we desire. We are envious of those who possess objects we desire. We hate that which scares us or appears to intimidate us.

Greed can be expressed as stinginess, lack of compassion, hoarding, or self-indulgence. It applies to our mislaid desire and attachment.

Hatred implies our revulsion towards unpleasant people and conditions, as well as towards our own painful emotions.

Amid greed and hatred, we make unskillful choices and have selfish and un-integral intentions, which trigger us to act unethically and immorally. They are the origins of our own pain and suffering, and those of our family and society.

Another layer of greed appears as a lack of generosity and compassion toward others. Greed impacts our personal lives, our professional lives, and the area of international business and politics. Global conflict and warfare, as well as environmental devastation, are clear indications of our corporate and political greed. Our greed, craving, and ever un-satiated desires touch each person on this planet. Greed is a ceaseless and destructive cycle that only propagates suffering and unhappiness.

Poison 3: Aversion (Dvesha)

Dvesha can point to anger and aversion, as well as hatred.

It concerns the determination to preserve and defend ourselves. We exploit others to get what we desire in hopes of feeling more secure, yet this really just forces more isolation.

If one is ruled by anger, one is generally depressed or possessed by political views, actual or imaginary adversaries, or immersed in some other negative reality. Anger is the fierce inclinations that stem from narcissistic orientation. It is acted out as fiery wrath, resentment, envy—all the forms of feeling affecting the injured ego.

With hatred and aversion, we reject battle and suppress our fear, pain, isolation, etc. – regarding these as an inner enemy. Subsequently, our mind is neurotic — never calm — and we are relentlessly busy with schemes of self-preservation or vengeance.

We construct conflict and enemies around us, and internally. Hatred exhibits anger, hostility, dislike, aversion, and/or ill-will.