Buddhism explains that the three roots of evil, known as the “Three Poisons,” cause the most unhappiness, pain, and suffering in our lives.
These poisons consist of ignorance, aversion, and attachment, and are symbolized by a pig, snake, and bird at the hub of the Wheel of Life in Buddhist Bhavachakra artwork.
From these three poisons the entire cycle of existence evolves.
The Three Poisons also represent greed, anger, and delusion. They describe how we can become attached to superficial longings, how we can feel angry or aggressive if our longings are denied, and how we remain in this state if we prefer to perceive things as we imagine, rather than how they actually are.
Whenever we are motivated by any of these “poisons,” according to Buddhism, we will endure suffering in the form of karma.
If we look closely at narcissism, we will see that the Three Poisons are at the root of it. Depending how strongly the poisons have taken hold, and how much we have allowed them to rule and control our lives, determines the level of narcissism and can be a strong indicator that there is a mental illness or disorder present, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Greed is strongly associated with desire and lust, which are both major characteristics of narcissism. Within narcissism, there is an unquenchable thirst and obsession for material possessions, money, and also for control. When we are behaving in narcissistic ways, we look for satisfaction externally and never feel as though we have enough. Greed compels us to do whatever it takes and behave immorally in order to gain more.
Ill will or anger puts us in a state or dissatisfaction and resentment. When we are led by ill will or anger, and our ego is not being fed, our reactions will be volatile and fueled by animosity.
Delusions and ignorance cause us to deny, or be unaware, of our true nature. When we are deluded, we fail to see the interdependence and interconnection of all things, and have a misguided perception of reality.
“The Buddha” means “the awakened one,” and those who are not yet awake are still wrapped within their own delusions with a distorted perception of reality.
When we are consumed with the Three Poisons, we not only cause ourselves pain and suffering, but we cause our loved ones, as well as society and the outer world, to suffer too. This is similar to how we affect everyone around us when we radiate warmth, loving-kindness, and compassion—but at the opposite end of the spectrum.
When we become aware of the Three Poisons within ourselves, and within others, we will see how they play a prevalent role in creating and sustaining a consumerist society, global conflict, and warfare.
Admitting to any, or all, of these poisons does not determine if we are narcissist. In fact, it is quite the opposite. To be awake and aware enough to question oneself and use introspection for self-improvement is far from narcissistic behavior. It shows a willingness to overcome harmful traits and behaviors, and this is something those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder rarely, if ever, are open to doing.
Many of us may carry mild traits of narcissism, or the Three Poisons, as we have been conditioned from childhood to act and think in particular ways. However, our conditioning does not determine our true nature, or how capable we are of changing our behavior.
Our true nature is an awakened, open heart of compassion and an enlightened mind of wisdom.
Greed will dissipate when we practice selfless service to others and generosity.
Hate will dissipate when we practice openhearted loving-kindness, forgiveness, and compassion.
Delusion will dissipate when we practice mindfulness and meditation and understand and experience reality as it is, rather than with fears and desires clouding our perception.
We may notice that at different periods of our lives, one poison dominates over the other two. We might become attached to material possessions hoping they will bring us some form of happiness. This may lead us to want more, as we realize that temporary distractions are not satiating our thirst.
Simply by being aware of the Three Poisons and accepting that they are inherent in all of us in some way, even if only subtly, will bring incredible personal transformation.
Not only will we be able to work on eliminating our greed, ignorance, and delusions, but we will also work on becoming more compassionate and forgiving to ourselves, as well as extending this outwards toward others who are also consciously or subconsciously allowing the poisons to dominate in their lives.
Interdependence and oneness are cures for greed, ignorance, and delusions. When we awaken, we realize that we are all interconnected and that we will only be entirely free from suffering and exist in a state of contentment and joy when we truly understand that harming others also harms ourselves.
When we fully awaken to oneness, the poisons dissipate and we transfer the negative qualities from the Three Poisons into acceptance and awareness—and from there we reach harmony and inner peace.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Callie Rushton