If we study Buddha’s teachings, we eventually come across the “three poisons”: greed, hatred, and delusion.
Maybe some of us know or live with an alcoholic who is near and dear to us. We worry about their physical and mental health, because of our compassion. Oftentimes, they will not realise the way their suffering affects other people who also carry this burden; that is why it is so important to liberate ourselves, and others (as is the Bodhisattva way) so that we create happiness that is not bound in “things”. The Buddha wisely taught about the “three poisons” or greed, hatred, and delusion. If we look closely at our situation – or the addict we care about – we can see them in smooth operation just under the surface… it does take an open mind and a bit of digging to find out if this is true or not.
How does addiction fuel greed, exactly? Reaching out for that familiar glass of whiskey on a basis beyond just having a good time once in a while can come with detriment of responsibilities to family, friends, and relationships. An addict is lost in a fantasy that they can avert traumatic memories or current problems by “de-rationalising” the mind so that solutions become almost impossible. It’s not their fault! Maybe they’ve tried a thousand times to solve their problems to no avail and found this ‘bad medicine’ instead.
A sense of solidity – what the Buddha called a sense of self – is bound up in relationships with anything imaginable to the six human senses. Instead of using wisdom, or insight, to let experiences come and go, they are ridiculously clung to and manifests an entire round of reliving the same situations without conclusion. In Buddhism, this is the reason for Samsara: birth after birth after birth.
When clinging is taken to the extreme, this is addiction. We can be addicted to so many things: our bodies, memories, foods, emotions, opinions, dramas, possessions, spending and making money, and on and on and on. As mentioned before, instead of using wisdom and insight to penetrate into our consciousness, either through solo meditation or with the help of a therapist, behaviours continue without conclusion or rest. Addiction comes with greed, because it is a staunch disregard for ourselves and those who want our well-being, as well as being so self-absorbed that thoughts of goodwill for other people/beings beyond our immediate family and friends will be impossible to manifest.
Hatred is manifested by an overt or subtle disregard for oneself as a being who is inherently free from suffering and is already complete as a Buddha in nature. Hatred for “what happened to me”, hatred for circumstances, and hatred or aversion for anything that sits outside the paradigm in one’s own mind that only seems like a trap. This is perhaps the most subtle, but without self-respect through wisdom, how are we supposed to love others?
Delusion, or confusion, are basic glitches in our systems. We come under the spell of delusion when the things we think will make us happy keep being reached for and then continually dissolve.
A rich man will grasp on to his last dollar in the palm of his hand on his death bed, because he thinks it is so solid, so entrenched as part of his identity, so real — yet it will instantly dissolve at the moment the body dissolves, also.
Delusion is part of our cultural upbringing: when a child falls down, mom is there to bring ice cream. When a teenager is having a hard time at school, she locks herself in her bedroom and plays heavy metal with a stack of video games on standby. When we hit the wall at work, we go and buy an extra large cup of coffee. We over-drink, over-sleep, and over-work. We shop for nothing. We judge other people continuously without knowing the contents of their hearts. We create hobbies and goals just to keep ourselves busy instead of inquiring into our own true self-nature or stillness.
What’s the solution to clearing ourselves up, then?
Intoxicants keep energy flowing inwardly, in a loop, instead of outwardly in relation to others. When energetic shifts are made in the body and mind, then shifts in perspective begin to happen.
- Buddha-tantra practice teaches how to unwind the knots that are in the nervous system and heart so that trauma may disappear.
- Metta, or loving-kindness, practice can help open these energetic doorways from self-loathing and despair into a wider framework encompassing all beings in the universe, so it is terribly rewarding and fulfilling!
- Medicine Buddha meditation and visualisation which helps heal the mental and physical continuum and can eventually be used in conjunction with healing other beings, also.
- Sitting in Zazen, with all the pain and craving, and getting through even ten minutes is an extreme accomplishment, because following through on destructive thoughts momentarily stops. When carried out over longer periods of practice, meditation helps de-solidify thoughts and behaviours which were once so-called rigid and unchanging. Emotions and anxiety may spill forth as these habits are unlocked, because the roots are being exposed for the first time: that’s okay. That is the purpose: to expose all the hindrances and cut them at their roots so they have absolutely no chance of survival.
If you need a guide through this tough journey from darkness into light, Vince Cullen runs Hungry Ghost Retreats and is able to teach in person anywhere in the world.
May the light of compassion, empathy, well-being, stillness, truth, love, and creativity shine on you in the face of any dangers.
Om Namah Buddhay!