Three poisons (Buddhism)
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The three poisons (Sanskrit: triviṣa; Tibetan: dug gsum) or the three unwholesome roots (Sanskrit: akuśala-mūla; Pāli: akusala-mūla), in Buddhism, refer to the three root kleshas of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. These three poisons are considered to be the cause of suffering (Sanskrit: dukkha).
In the Buddhist teachings, the three poisons (of ignorance, attachment, and aversion) are the primary causes that keep sentient beings trapped in samsara. These three poisons are said to be the root of all of the other kleshas.
The three poisons are represented in the hub of the wheel of life as a pig, a bird, and a snake (representing ignorance, attachment, and aversion, respectively). As shown in the wheel of life (Sanskrit: bhavacakra), the three poisons lead to the creation of karma, which leads to rebirth in the six realms of samsara. Of these three, ignorance is the root poison. From ignorance, attachment and aversion arise.
In the Buddhist traditions, it is believed that the three poisons are the cause of both physical and mental illness. Geshe Tashi Tsering states. In Tibetan medicine, it is believed that the three poisons obscure the flow of the energetic wind (Tib. lung) through three main subtle energy channels within the body.
Opposite wholesome qualities
- amoha (non-bewilderment); prajna (wisdom)
- alobha (non-attachment)
- adveṣa (non-aggression, lack of hatred); mettā (loving-kindness)
Sanskrit/Pali/Tibetan terms and translations
The three kleshas of ignorance, attachment and aversion are referred to as the three poisons (Skt. triviṣa; Tibetan: dug gsum) in the Mahayana tradition and as the three unwholesome roots (Pāli, akusala-mūla; Skt. akuśala-mūla ) in the Therevada tradition.
The Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan terms for each of the three poisons are as follows:
|Poison||Sanskrit||Pali||Tibetan||Alternate English translations||Skt./Pali/Tib. Synonym|
|Ignorance||moha||moha||gti mug||confusion, bewilderment, delusion||avidyā (Skt.); avijjā (Pāli); ma rigpa (Tib.)|
|Attachment||rāga||lobha||'dod chags||desire, passion, greed||n/a|
|Aversion||dveṣa||dosa||zhe sdang||anger, aggression, hatred||n/a|
In the Mahayana tradition moha is identified as a subcategory of avidya. Whereas avidya is defined as a fundamental ignorance, moha is defined as an ignorance of cause and effect or of reality that accompanies only destructive states of mind or behavior. Moha is sometimes replaced by avidya in lists of the three poisons. In contemporary explanations of the three poisons, teachers are likely to emphasize the fundamental ignorance of avidya rather than moha.
In the Theravada tradition, moha and avidya are equivalent terms, but they are used in different contexts; moha is used when referring to mental factors, and avidya is used when referring to the twelve links.
- Daniel Goleman (2003), pages 106, 111
- Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen (2010), p. 451.
- Ringu Tulku (2005), p. 30.
- Dalai Lama (1992), p. 4, 42
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- Ranjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary. http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/gti_mug (this entry lists the Tibetan term ma rigpa as a synonym for the Tibetan git mug)
- Berzin, Alexander. Berzin Archives, Glossary of Buddhist Terms
- See Moha (Buddhism).
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- Access to Insight, Nidana Sutta: Causes (AN 3.33 PTS: A i 134 Thai 3.34; BJT 3.34)