This is the third and final article in a series of articles dealing with the Buddhist conception of the cause of all suffering in the world. In the first part we learned about the Buddhist formulation known as the Three Poisons which is seen within Buddhism as the cause of all suffering. In the second part we looked at how the Three Poisons arise and the antidotes Buddhism proposes as methods bringing about their eventual cure. Today in the third and final part we will look at how insight into impermanence brings us to the Buddhist idea of ignorance as the first link in the chain of Dependent Origination and how mindfulness developed through meditation can be of great benefit.


The previous discussion of insight into impermanence in part two brings us to the Buddhist idea of ignorance as the first link in the chain of Dependent Origination. When there is ignorance in the mind one is deluded as to the true nature of existence such as impermanence and so as Goldstein said “feelings condition desire and desire conditions grasping”.

However if instead of ignorance there is awareness and wisdom then we experience feeling but don’t compulsively or habitually grasp or push it away. The first link of ignorance is the other location where one can interject and break the chain of dependent origination and free oneself from conditioned reactions. Without ignorance there is no first link in the chain to condition the next link therefore there is no chain. No suffering.

Goldstein likens practicing moral restraint in daily life to going down to a pond and pushing the weeds aside to get a handful to drink. The weeds are still there and when you take your hands away, when you are forgetful, they, the defilements, come back and cover the pond. Mindfulness is like a fence around the pond that keeps the weeds out and the water remains clear as long as the fence is there. However if the fence is removed the weeds come back. Insight or wisdom is like going to the pond and pulling all the weeds out so that the pond is clear and the weeds do not come back. The defilements no longer arise.

In our personal daily lives the Three Poisons undermine our individual happiness, impede our relationships and hinder the unfolding of our unique creative potential. Buddhism helps overcome the three poisons by fostering antidotes: generosity, loving-kindness, and wisdom. Mindfulness allows one to see deeply into the process of conditioned arising, recognize the need to respond with wisdom and compassion to what one encounters in daily life, and deal skillfully with our own hatred and the hatred of others.

The practice of being mindful of the breath while sitting in meditation strengthens one’s capacity for mindfulness in daily life. It is in daily life, in the context of this discussion, that the ability to be mindful of mental events allows one to deal wisely with desire and aversion as they arise in response to feelings. Goldstein describes each mind-moment that is free of greed, hatred and delusion as having a certain purifying force in the flow of consciousness. Therefore it is important to cultivate such mind-moments not just on the cushion during meditation but also during daily life. Combined with deep insight in the fundamental nature of phenomena arising out of mediation practice the weeds in the mind can be pushed back and eventually removed for good.

While it is easy to see the functioning of the three poisons in others and the world we cannot just project the three poisons onto other people in order to feel good about ourselves. Greed, ill will and delusion are operating in the world and one should know that greed, ill will and delusion are operating in oneself. So to feel virtuous would be another form of delusion. I discovered personally how easy it is to fall into this trap. In discovering aversion and craving as a fundamental driving force behind behavior in the world I discovered how subtle it can be within myself in my daily life and how important it is to mindfully apply such knowledge to produce insight into my own behavior.

Chogyam Trungpa describes walking the spiritual path properly as a very subtle process and tells of how one can deceive oneself into thinking one is developing spirituality when instead one is strengthening one’s egocentricity through spiritual techniques. Looking back I am grateful for the experience because it revealed to me the deep layers and subtlety of my own aversions and perhaps a misplaced feeling of superiority because of what I had come to understand. These “mind weeds” as Shunryu Suzuki calls them have since enriched my practice.

In conclusion, within Buddhism the Three Poisons of greed, hatred and delusion is one particular formulation of a root problem that is seen as the cause of all suffering in the world. Stimulation of the senses causes feelings of pleasantness, unpleasantness or neutrality and one’s unmindful and habitual behavioral reaction to these feelings is that of desire or aversion. However with mindfulness one can watch how one’s mind responds to feelings in daily life. This provides a sort of safety net that cushions one against unskillful thoughts and actions. With mindfulness there is no being swept away be feelings into unskillful habitual patterns of reactionary behavior. Instead one can respond to situations and events with wisdom rather then delusion. Delusion is synonymous with ignorance which is an ignorance concerning the true nature of things. It is though experiential meditative insight into the true nature of things that the weeds of delusion can be removed by the root. Mindfulness in daily life allows mind-moments of purity to accumulate in what is a powerful impetus for change. Mindfulness combined with meditative insight form an elegant and powerful cure for the Three Poisons, the source of all suffering in the world.

I hope you have enjoyed this three part series. If you missed the first two parts you can find the first article here and the second here.


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