As children we are constantly bombarded with orders from our parents.
“Don’t eat that.”
“Don’t put that in your mouth.”
“Don’t touch that.”
“Don’t leave the yard.”
“Don’t go out in the street.”
”Don’t talk to strangers.”
We learn as adults that our parents (hopefully) were just trying to look out for us, to teach us right from wrong and keep us from injury or death. Most parents do the best job that they can to protect us from the evils of the world. The world is full of dangers and poisons. You hear about a kid dying or being horribly maimed on an almost daily basis. Parents want to teach their kids the lessons that they need to be healthy and successful in this world. Kids have a tendency to test the boundaries, stretch the leash. It’s a constant tug of war. It’s all a part of growing up.
There are different kids of poison. There are the cleaning chemicals that we keep under the kitchen sink. There is spoiled food. There are all of the lawn supplies and gasoline in the garage. There is all of the pills and toiletries in the medicine cabinet. The list goes on and on.
And then there are the poisons of the soul.
The Buddha taught in his First Noble Truth, “Life Is Suffering.” He also taught about the Three Poisons, greed, anger, and ignorance. The Three Poisons are the three-headed monster of human suffering. Greed is equivalent to desire. We are creatures of desire. We desire for sex, money, material items, love and happiness. We are always searching for the newest, better and bigger thing. The next door neighbor buys a new car, so we feel the urge to buy one too. We can’t possibly wear the same dress again to a big event. We need that new pair of high tech running shoes or the newest laptop. I am just as guilty of that as the next guy. If you are desirous of that which you don’t or can’t have, then you are suffering.
The anger that the Buddha spoke of comes in the form of rage and hatred. We have a tendency as humans to hate, or at least be suspicious of those who are different from us. The difference can come in the form of physical attributes, religion, politics or ideology. Much like our ancestors, we divide ourselves into tribes. Many of us have numerous tribes that we identify with. We are (pick your country of origin)-Americans, Catholics, Conservatives, New Yorkers, Steelers fans, vegetarians and Teamsters. By design, we therefore dislike (other)-Americans, Muslims, Liberals, Californians, Cowboy fans, meat eaters and scabs. The divisiveness is as pronounced as it’s ever been. This dislike of the others can manifest itself in the form of hatred, resentment, and even discrimination. It has been seen recently in the U.S.A. in the venom tossed back and forth between the Liberals and the Tea Party. If you obsess on this kind of hatred or relate to it in any way, then you are suffering. The anger races through your brain like a lightning storm. This is what we define as stress.
And then there is ignorance. The ignorance that the Buddha speaks of isn’t the kind where you don’t know your ABC’s or multiplication tables. It isn’t that you don’t know how to read or can’t answer when someone says “Que pasa?” The ignorance that the Buddha speaks of is not knowing your true nature. We spend a lot of time examining other people. We should more time examining ourselves. Much has been made of the teachings and practices of the Buddha. There are many misconceptions about what it is all about. Buddhism is not about mysticism. Buddhism is about introspection. It’s about shining a mirror on yourself and your actions. When you examine your previous decisions and choices, then you can begin to be more conscious of your future ones. When you make conscious and informed decisions, you exercise your Buddha-nature. Anyone can be a Buddha and the Buddha-nature is in all things. As the Dalai Lama said, “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple…” If you don’t know yourself, then you are suffering.
Your brain, your heart, your body is your temple. The Buddha just didn’t teach about the three poisons. He taught about the Three Antidotes. Generosity is the antidote to greed. I’m not talking about the kind of generosity where you give a dollar to every panhandler that you see on the street. I’m talking about the generosity of spirit. It sounds cheesy, but I’m talking about say “how are you?” and meaning it. I’m talking about opening a door for someone, helping an old lady across the street. I’m talking about making a stranger smile.
The antidote to anger is compassion. When you have a moment where you feel the anger, the rage, the impatience start to rise up in you, take a second to examine the root cause of your anger. If it is directed to another person, ask yourself what that person ever did yo you. If it is a policeman, are you angry because you once got a parking ticket? If it is a service worker, is it because you once got a bad pizza? If that person has a different color skin than you, is it because you are afraid or angry because of something that happened somewhere else in the world? There are a million reasons that these feelings rise up, but is there any good reason to let them ruin your day? The strongest compassion that you can show is the compassion that you give to yourself. When a strong emotions flares reach inside yourself to examine the source. Once examined it can be discarded. The more you practice this, the less often you will have to do it.
The antidote for ignorance is wisdom. Once again, I’m not talking about the stuff you answer on the ACT. Wisdom is knowledge of self. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to take stock of your life. Meditation is an invaluable tool. Quieting your mind and staring internally can make you question your values and methods. It’s important to remember that life is a series of causes and effects. Wisdom is taking responsibility for the events in your life. Ignorance is finding someone else to blame. The sooner you drill down to the root causes, the faster the positive effects that you desire will come. Can you really wait around for someone else to make you happy? Better to take the reins and do it yourself.
That’s my plan.