The Three Poisons
I recently gave three talks on the Three Poisons. One took place at Miles Mac High School. The other was during one of our services at otera—a kind of group discussion. The third was a small interfaith gathering. We were all moved by the Buddha’s Fire Sermon which deals exclusively with the Three Poisons. The Fire Sermon was the third teaching Shakyamuni delivered after attaining Buddhahood. It was said the 1,000 followers became liberated just by hearing this teaching. By the way the Three Poisons of life are delusion, hatred and greed.

The historical Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha Shakyamuni, offered us the antidote to the Three Poisons. In the Fire Sermon he goes to great lengths to describe the impact of them on our whole selves: seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, tasting and the psychological and physical events. Our addiction to these Three Poisons play a large role in the nature of the world in which we carry out our lives. They are so deeply embedded in our world that we just might find life boring without them!

Buddha’s suggestion was that we experience a kind of dis-enchantment with the Three Poisons and the world they have created for us.

Right in the middle of one of my three presentations on the Fire Sermon, Shinran’s letters sprang to mind. This was an aha-moment for me!

The following passages I find to be among the most touching:

“Formerly you were drunk with the wine of ignorance and had taste only for the Three Poisons of greed, anger and folly, but since you have begun to hear the Buddha’s Vow you have gradually awakened from the drunkenness of ignorance, rejected the Three Poisons and come to prefer at all times the medicine of Amida Buddha. In people who have long heard the Buddha’s Name and said the nembutsu, surely there are signs of rejecting the evil in this world and signs of rejecting the evil in themselves. (evil=Three Poisons) Signs of long years of saying the nembutsu and aspiring for birth can be seen in the change in the heart which had been bad (bad=Three Poisons) and in the deep warmth for friends and fellow-practitioners; this is the sign of rejecting the world. You should understand this fully. The aspiration to transcend the world & the cause for rebirth in the Buddha Land are one & the same.”


Thus, Shinran brought Buddha Dharma full-circle to a place where human beings in their very complex lives can attain the highest spiritual levels of the Buddha Dharma here and now, just as they are.

While it is very true that the karmic results of the Three Poisons can be quite overwhelming, both Shakyamuni (2600 years ago) and Shinran (800 years ago) provide us with an antidote. For us followers of Shinran, the result is a life of grace and gratitude. I have even witnessed people who have shed tears of joy after hearing the Fire Sermon or reading the passages from Shinran’s teachings. Please take time to reflect on this during the summer months (2012). Then return to the temple to join the warmth of friends and Dharma kin. We will surely recite the nembutsu together.

Sensei Ulrich

June 24, 2012

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