This is the first of a series of three articles dealing with the Buddhist conception of the cause of all suffering in the world. In learning about this Buddhist idea we will learn about how Buddhism proposes to eliminate the cause of all suffering. Throughout the series I will be touching on Buddhist meditation techniques, my personal meditation experiences and the role meditation has to play in the elimination of suffering.
It may interest you to know that Buddhism contains a formulation of the root cause of all suffering in the world. The idea being that if you know what the root cause of suffering is that root can be removed and all suffering averted. The root cause is known in Buddhism as the Three Poisons (doshas). The three poisons are greed (raga), hatred (dvesa) and delusion (moha). These three poisons are seen as three fundamental aspects of selfish craving causing suffering.
In this context, greed means self-centered desire such as the desire for pleasure and possessions. One of the fundamental laws of our world is that everything is impermanent. Nothing is static. Everything changes. Due to the fact of impermanence greed cannot ever be satisfied. Even if the object of our greed is eventually possessed because of impermanence the object is bound to slip through our fingers. Ultimately if we are possessed by greed we will be left deeply dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction is a form of suffering. Note that this does not refer to all desires. Rather only to those that are excessive, selfish and usually directed towards unwholesome objects or ends. Often such greed is compulsive or habitual.
Interestingly many people experienced in utilizing the law of attraction know that craving after something which they are trying to attract, being too excited, actually blocks you from getting that something. The new thing or level of being that you want to attract must feel normal to you. If thinking about what you want to attract arouses anxiousness then you will actually push it away. I learnt this lesson recently. I own a number of websites and had been actively working to attract a higher level of success from those websites. Within a day or so after I started things began to happen. The month ended the best ever in terms of website traffic and income. Then early the next month, very soon after I started holding the intention, my websites attracted just shy of the previous month’s record in the very first week of the month. I got so excited I was daily telling everyone who would listen how much the websites had made. In hindsight I quite literally could not believe it. And then, as suddenly as it began, everything stopped. Lesson learnt.
The second of the three poisons is hatred or aversion, which is expressed as rejection, irritation, condemnation, anger, and violence. For example I may be averse to studying for a university exam for a particularly boring subject however the work must be done and so I suffer through wishing all the time that I was somewhere else. It is not the study itself that causes me to suffer but my aversion to it. Finally, the third poison, delusion, is synonymous with ignorance (avijja). Here ignorance means ignorance of the true nature of reality, a deep-seated misperception of reality, an ignorance concerning the true nature of things.
Transcendence of suffering is the central focus of Buddhism. It realistically identifies existence as suffering. However it then goes on to show that there is a cause for suffering – selfish craving and that if craving is the cause of suffering it follows that once craving is removed suffering will cease. Therefore the simplest definition of Nirvana is the end of greed, hatred and delusion. This is because the Three Poisons are the base root of all bad karma. If the will behind an act is driven by greed, hatred, or delusion then the act is unskillful. Unskillful acts always have negative consequences (suffering) for the actor.
Coming up in part two of this three part series we will take a look at how the Three Poisons arise and the antidotes Buddhism proposes as methods bringing about their eventual cure. 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.
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