The Third of the Three Poisons
Goldman Sachs has discovered Buddhism! In a recent world-wide announcement Goldman Sachs, an investment giant, stated that it was unbridled greed that destroyed
the market. It has caused so much suffering around the globe. I can just hear Dharma teachers and Buddhist laypeople all over the world shaking their heads in astonishment. Why did it take years of financial woes to “get it.”

However we need not get too self-satisfied. After all, spiritual people have been saying this for centuries. Our own tradition is formally 2600 years old and the role of greed in our lives has been a constant theme through that whole flow of Dharma. Apparently greed is so seductive that we don’t hear the music even when the ear-plug is firmly embedded in the ear. A common human experience. In our Dharma teachings there are Three Poisons. They are ignorance, hatred and greed. I am often amused when religious leaders get fixated on the power of sex. They constantly warn of its seducing us away from religious attainments. Real spiritual awakening may, in fact, may mean regarding the Three Poisons as a form of pornography!

Ignorance here is not just about knowing your days of the week. It is a profound disconnect with the world and people around us in both psychology and awareness. Ignorance in Buddha’s language was avidya. The "a" means not and the vidya is related to our video, hence, not-seeing. The teachings were regarded as a way of seeing, or a better way of seeing compared to ignorance. When we finally break through the ignorance barrier we experience the oneness with all suffering beings.

This sense oneness is not some vague sugary sentiment. Every day we kill to live. All of our thoughts, feelings and actions have as an energy source the killing and ingestion of life forms. These can be veggies or animals. We belong to a community of shared suffering, where we are interdependent on the very things we have to kill for our own survival, as they are on us. Our way of seeing ceases to be self-centric and self-powered. The House of Pain becomes a community of compassionate service, forgiveness and renunciation. This is both the release from ignorance and from hatred. They are deeply intertwined. Service to fellow beings who suffer along with us gives rise to grace. This is the spiritual depth of the simple statement about the Three Poisons.

But what about greed, the third of the Three Poisons? Our teachings tell us that everything is impermanent. We try to accommodate ourselves to this experience by clinging and craving as a way to make it all stop. This craving and clinging gives us a sense of living on an island of refuge. But even this island is part of the impermanence. So we cling to ever more complicated delusions of refuge.

People become particularly addicted to ideologies and dogmas in their wild search for something solid under their feet. The same can be said for nationalities and cultural traditions. In our present consumer society there is great emphasis on hyper-individualism through choice and ownership. But everything is impermanent, so it is finally pointless to cling to anything as the be-all and end-all of the experience of being alive.

Thus we can readily see that the Three Poisons are intimately intertwined with our day-to-day lives. They are part of our humanity. By the way, Shinran’s teachings are all about the Three Poisons! That is something we can ponder for a future Dear Dharma Friends.

In the meantime, gratitude is due to Goldman Sachs for making the impact of the Three Poisons so dramatically evident. Obviously something has dawned on him and hopefully also on those who hear his statement. Buddhist, and others, have known this for ages and ages. But we humans need constant refreshing about the basic truths of life, the Dharma. So we attend the otera, our temple. It is after all, a House Made of Dawn.

Sensei Ulrich

March 25, 2012