The Three Poisons In Buddhism

The Unwholesome Roots Of Suffering

If you ever take a closer look at the iconic Buddhist image of the Wheel of Life, or Bhavachakra. You will find a picture of a pig or boar, a rooster, and a snake at the center of the image. Which represent the three main unwholesome roots of our suffering and the venerability of the assault of afflictive thoughts and emotions if they are not understood and transformed thus enable these energies to entrap unliberated beings wander and experience birth, death, and rebirth in the wheel of Samsara.

According to Buddhism, as long as our thoughts, words, and actions are conditioned by the Three Poisons; Greed, Hatred and Ignorance, they will continue to generate Karma and influence the fate of our life. We are not able to eradicate all these three poisons as these are what made us humans, but we can try to purify ourselves as much as we can through polishing our actions, speech and thoughts which cause all manner of suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and others.


Greed is represented by the Rooster in the image of the Wheel of Life. It refers to our selfishness, misplaced desire, attachment, and grasping for happiness and satisfaction that gratify us. Greed is a burning desire, an unquenchable thirst, craving, and lust. We seek for lasting satisfaction and fulfilment by hoarding things that we don’t need and owning objects that we desired just for self-glorification.

The poison of greed creates an inner hunger that led us constantly chasing towards an unattainable goal, creating an impression that happiness is dependent upon that goal. Unfortunately, driven by the power of greed, we are never content of what we have had, that satisfaction will not last and once again the greed and desire will arise and sought for the next thing that will hopefully bring a higher sense of satisfaction.

We can experience the symptoms of our greed appearing in even the most trivial instances, and of course, greed can manifest itself in even more compulsive and destructive ways as well. We always seem to want more, we want bigger and better, we want to fulfil our insatiable inner hunger and thirst (craving). This type of greed affects our personal lives, our professional lives, and the domain of international business and politics (Global conflict and warfare). It may lead to manipulation and exploitation of others to satisfy one’s need. Our greed is an endless and pernicious cycle that will only bring suffering and unhappiness in its wake.


Hatred is represented by the Snake in the image of the Wheel of Life. Any display of anger, hostility, dislike, aversion, or ill-will; wishing harm or suffering upon another person. With aversion, we habitually resist, deny and avoid unpleasant feelings, circumstances and people we do not like. All these are classified into Hatred.

We often view ourselves as individual instead of the whole picture, so when things turn out to be unfavorable to us, we are angry with what came in between; we are jealous of people who have things that we want, we want everything to be pleasant, comfortable, and satisfying all the time. We hate anything that pose a threat to us and not in our ways.

The power of Hatred pulled us into the brutal cycle of finding conflict and enemies around us. It is our instinct to jump into a defense mode when there is conflict or perceived enemies. Our mind is neurotic, never calm and endlessly occupied with strategies of self-protection or revenge. That goes to the same when sometime we have an aversion to our own uncomfortable feeling we are fighting within ourselves. “Forgive others also means liberate yourself, so that you could move on with your life”. Try overcome your hatred by embracing loving kindness and compassion.


For all evil things, and all evil destiny they are derived from Greed, Hatred and ignorance. Among these three, Ignorance is the primary root cause of all evil and misery in the world. In the Buddhist Art of the Wheel of Life, Ignorance is represented by a Pig/Boar and it is depicted to these three animals each biting each other’s tail which shows how each poison perpetuates each other.

Ignorance refers to bewilderment and misperception; the wrong views of reality and the lack of wisdom. It is like seeing a filtered world through one’s perception (self-center) with a colored lens, indulging in one own believes and failed to see or understand the real truth. Which in turn creates more ignorance, more greed, more anger and lead to the entanglement with the vicious cycle of self-created suffering.

Ignorance is like cancer and it spread like wild fire. If it is not tamed, it will fuel your innate greed and hatred in no time which will eventually destroy your life. So, how do we deal with these powerful emotions? Are we destined to be a victim of them forever?

Well, one thing we must know and accept is that they will never totally go away, because that is our nature as human beings, but we can take the first step by doing a soul searching, starting from within ourselves on how we became victimized by them. With this sublime understanding we can clearly see and feel the factors that are causing confusion, unhappiness, and suffering in our lives and act in accordance to the teaching of the Dharma, we can slowly move towards transcending them and liberate ourselves.

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