Veronica Shukla

Random Musings

The Three Poisons and Their Antidotes

A few years ago, when I was just starting to study Buddhist philosophy, I learned about the three poisons and their antidotes in this documentary. This concept immediately clicked with me and has been a part of my daily thought process ever since.

The three poisons are the root of all suffering. Every bit of suffering can somehow be broken down to one or more of these: greed, anger, and ignorance. Each of these poisons has an antidote.

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To reduce suffering in your life, you must apply as much of the three antidotes, as you can as often as you can. It may be easy to entertain the thought that it is the greed, anger, and ignorance of others that are causing your suffering, and that may be true in some cases. But you cannot control that. The only thing you can control is you. Worrying about that which you cannot control will only cause more suffering, so let’s get back to you.

Now, back when I learned this, my life was a train wreck. I was not about to start segregating each of my problems and pinpointing their causes. All I could do was to start dousing the fire with water. I opened the fire hose and began applying as much generosity, compassion, and wisdom as I could.

In the beginning, looking back, it wasn’t a lot. But I had to start somewhere. Each day, I practiced applying these antidotes, and each day, it got easier. I knew it would take time, as I had built a lot of bad karma for myself. So I had compassion for myself and gave myself a lot of time.

Now, several years later, I experience much less suffering. When I am experiencing emotional pain, I always examine the problem for poison. I can usually determine which poison or poisons have caused my suffering, and then I simply begin to reason with myself and apply copious amounts of antidote. Of course I am not skilled enough for this to work every time, but that does not stop me from practicing.

Last summer, I was experiencing quite a bit of suffering regarding political discourse, mainly that which I was seeing on Facebook. I would see a post which expressed views that were different than mine and get upset about it. I noticed that at random times my thoughts would be consumed by anger or annoyance towards those who posted those things or towards the party in general. Once I was able to notice that this was causing me suffering, I could do some further analysis. I decided that I was suffering from anger. I decided to send compassionate thoughts towards those who have opposing political beliefs to mine. I realized that all politicians, like all people, suffer from ignorance and that choosing to believe that one political party was less ignorant than another was a bad choice for me. So I decided to detach myself from the party to which I was adhering. (Attachment is a form of greed and a cause of suffering).

Just making this decision did not end all my suffering around this issue. I still have to practice thinking in a politically neutral way and having compassion for members of all political parties. But my suffering did drastically subside and continues to do so the more I practice.

So there they are – the three poisons and their antidotes. Knowing about them has changed how I live my life. I hope you can use them too.