[三毒] (Jpn san-doku )
Greed, anger, and foolishness. The fundamental evils inherent in life that give rise to human suffering. In The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, the three poisons are regarded as the source of all illusions and earthly desires. The three poisons are so called because they pollute people’s lives and work to prevent them from turning their hearts and minds to goodness. The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra by T’ient’ai speaks of the three poisons as the underlying cause of the three calamities of famine, war, and pestilence, stating: “Because anger increases in intensity, armed strife occurs. Because greed increases in intensity, famine arises. Because foolishness increases in intensity, pestilence breaks out. And because these three calamities occur, earthly desires grow more numerous and powerful than ever, and false views increasingly flourish.” In the “Simile and Parable” (third) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni says to Shariputra, “He [the Thus Come One] is born into the threefold world, a burning house, rotten and old, in order to save living beings from the fires of birth, aging, sickness, and death, care, suffering, stupidity, misunderstanding, and the three poisons; to teach and convert them and enable them to attain supreme perfect enlightenment.”
“At the root of human misery, Buddhism sees three destructive impulses: greed, anger and foolishness, which it terms the ‘three poisons.’ These are the essence of all the delusions and negative workings of life that impede the realization of our full potential for happiness and creativity.”
Buddhism began as a bold, humane confrontation with the fact of suffering. Its original impulse is not one of retreat or escape from life’s challenges and contradictions. Rather, Buddhist practice could be broadly characterized as the struggle to draw forth and shine the light of human wisdom on life and society. A thorough understanding of the causes of human misery is a departure point for this philosophy. Thus Nichiren writes, “One who is thoroughly awakened to the nature of good and evil from their roots to their branches and leaves is called a Buddha.”
At the root of human misery, Buddhism sees three destructive impulses: greed, anger and foolishness, which it terms the “three poisons.” These are the essence of all the delusions and negative workings of life that impede the realization of our full potential for happiness and creativity.
Of the three, foolishness is most fundamental, as it facilitates greed and anger. Foolishness here means ignorance (passive or willful) of the true nature of life. It is blindness to the reality of our interrelatedness–not merely our connectedness to and dependence on each other, but the connectedness of the unfolding of each of our lives to the unfolding of the very life of the universe; the fact that each of us is a vital component of life itself and a nexus of immense possibilities. Because it obscures life’s true, enlightened nature, this ignorance is also referred to as “fundamental darkness.”
Our deepest sense of fulfillment lies in the experience of this connectedness and in actions that uphold it. Under the influence of such ignorance, however, we look for fulfillment through acquisition and possession (of objects, fame, power, and so on). Greed is the uncontrolled impulse to fulfill these desires, even at the cost of the unhappiness of others. Inevitably, such pursuits lead only to a sense of frustration.
Anger is the violent impulses that spring from the same egocentric orientation. It is not only explosive rage, but also resentment, envy–all the insidious, ultimately self-destructive emotions of the wounded ego.
These poisons thus undermine our individual happiness, impede our relationships and hinder the unfolding of our unique creative potential. Their influence, however, goes beyond this. On a societal level they well forth from the inner lives of individuals and become the cause of conflict, oppression, environmental destruction and gross inequalities among people. One Buddhist text expresses it this way: “Because anger increases in intensity, armed strife occurs. Because greed increases in intensity, famine arises. Because foolishness increases in intensity, pestilence breaks out. And because these three calamities occur, earthly desires [delusions] grow more numerous and powerful than ever, and false views increasingly flourish.”
From the perspective of Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are an inherent aspect of life and can never be completely eradicated. In fact, a religious approach based on eliminating these poisons from one’s life may simply breed hypocrisy. Buddhist practice in the Nichiren tradition can be described as a process of continually transforming the energy of these deluded impulses and redirecting it toward the creation of value. In a more general sense it is through the spiritual struggle to continually orient our lives toward respecting others and working for the broader good of all that we are able to transcend and transform these poisons. In this process, the destructive energy of anger, for example, is sublimated into a protective force that can counteract injustice, preventing us and others from merely being swept along by outside forces or being taken advantage of by those with ill intent.
Dialogue based on a will to genuinely connect with people in an attitude of respect and mutual encouragement is a powerful key in this transformative process.
The Essentials for Attaining Buddhahood – Transforming Poison into Medicine
To hope to attain Buddhahood without speaking out against slander is as futile as trying to find water in the midst of fire or fire in the midst of water… just as a single crab leg will ruin a thousand pots of lacquer. This is the meaning of the passage in the sutra, “Because the poison has penetrated deeply and their minds no longer function as before” [LS, p228]
“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is the teaching that will enable all people to attain Buddhahood.
First, let us understand what constitutes slander.
From the perspective of Nichiren Buddhism, slander is the act of going against the life-affirming philosophy of the Mystic Law, which teaches that every person has a Buddha nature. The teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Lotus Sutra expound the vital principle that every person has the Buddha nature and therefore everyone can become a Buddha.
This principle not only highlights the immense dignity of all lives but also clarifies the way to achieve peace and happiness for all people, that is, by enabling every person to awaken to and manifest their Buddha nature.
However, existing within all human lives is our fundamental darkness, which seeks to create human sufferings by blinding, deluding and causing people to disbelieve the Buddha nature within their lives.
For example, fundamental darkness can manifest as the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity, which make people disbelieve that the Buddha nature exist within their own lives and the lives of other people.
Overwhelmed by the three poisons, people are unable to bring forth the virtues and strength of their Buddha nature – wisdom, courage and compassion – to overcome their sufferings and evil tendencies.
Instead, under the control of the three poisons, people commit evil acts that kill, maim, hurt and cause suffering to oneself and others. Such evil acts constitute acts of slander.
Teachings that go against the principle of inherent dignity and Buddha nature within human lives expounded in Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra are therefore considered as slanderous teachings.
Lacquer is a traditional varnish that is used as a solvent that gives a finishing shine on wooden furniture. It is said that if a crab is placed inside lacquer, the lacquer will be contaminated and can no longer be used.
To use another analogy, faith can be likened to pure water. Just like a bowl of pure water, even one single drop of poison will contaminate it.
This is precisely why one who teaches Buddhism must also teach the frightful nature of the poison of slander.
Let’s say for instance, there are two bottles of liquid – one is poison, the other is medicine. It is not sufficient to inform others which bottle is the medicine. Merely stating “this bottle is the medicine” will not prevent others from consuming the poison by mistake.
We must clearly say, “This bottle contains poison, please do not consume it.” Without stating this clearly, there will be a possibility that someone may mistakenly consume the poison.
It is for this reason that the Daishonin taught here that not clearly teaching others about the poison is being uncompassionate.
Likewise, the phrase “speaking out against slander” means to “teach others about the frightfulness of poison”.
“Speaking out against slander” is equivalent to teaching others about the frightfulness of poison and therefore, such acts are based on the spirit of compassion. With genuine compassion, one will be able to attain Buddhahood.
The same principle applies for the practice of propagation. Why is it important that we introduce Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism to others?
The practice of propagation entails two aspects. One aspect is to teach others about the beneficial power of medicine (through teaching them the correct teachings of Nichiren Buddhism) and the other aspect is to teach them not to consume the poison (erroneous thoughts) at the same time.
By speaking to others about these two aspects, one is at the same time eradicating the “poison” of erroneous thoughts and negativities that exist in one’s life.
In other words, while convincing others about the correct teachings of the Daishonin’s Buddhism, one is engraving these teachings in one’s life, thereby bringing forth one’s Buddha nature as a result.
This is why by carrying out the practice of propagation, one can transform the three poisons of greed, anger and stupidity into medicine and thereby change one’s karma as a result.
SGI President Ikeda said, “As long as Buddhism is a philosophy that teaches the inherent dignity of human life, it is crucial that its practitioners strive resolutely against those tendencies that promote disrespect for human life, discrimination, and the destruction of life. Unless we put a stop to evil, we cannot achieve genuine, lasting good. Likewise, unless we take a firm stand against slander and error in terms of Buddhism, we will not be able to attain Buddhahood.”
In this way, our movement for kosen-rufu (peace and happiness for all people) seeks to spread the philosophy that teaches the inherent dignity of human life while transforming the tendencies that promote disrespect for human life in oneself and others.