Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on October 13, 2014

The Buddhists top the list when it comes to writing stuff down. There is said to be more Buddhist writing, on an order of magnitude of ten or so, than for any other religion or spiritual discipline. I guess that's proof that I'm a Buddhist. And this is especially true when it comes to making lists. Buddhists seem to have lists of every possible category, and lists by their very design are abstract or concise. And this goes for the list of what the Buddhists call the "Three Poisons," which are: ignorance, attachment, and aversion. Together, these three poisons are said to create all of the emotional havoc we experience, which are called the Kleshas.

For myself, I tend to go to sleep when I see lists and graphs or I skip over them as fast as I can get through them, but that's a bad habit that I have. Instead, lists should be expanded as far as their meaning goes, which I intend to do here with the three poisons, which if looked at carefully really are very simple to grasp. These three poisons speak to the heart of what is called Samsara – the endless cycles (up and downs) of existence.

The most virulent or "root" poison is "Ignorance," said to be the direct cause of the other two poisons, attachment and aversion. Ignorance is simply the result of "ignoring." In other words, the ignoring of the true nature of the mind and our preoccupation instead with the Self as a permanent and separate entity apart from everything else is said to directly lead to the other two poisons, liking and disliking. It is the Self that pulls the things we like close (attachment) and pushes what we don't like away from us (aversion).

Chögyam Trungpa used to say that aggression (aversion, hatred, etc.) is the exact opposite of enlightenment. Anyway, these three poisons are said to be what leads to the endless creation of karma and its continuing obscuration of our mind, layer upon layer.

This ignoring of and/or distraction from our true nature might suggest that once upon a time we were not distracted. The Platonic idea that we once were "enlightened" and have since fallen away is not supported by the Buddhists, who say that individually we have never been enlightened, not in all the time in the world up to now, but instead have always been obscured. And that's a long time to be obscured.

One reason I like the Buddhist teachings is that they are so obvious and simple, like these three poisons. Described in a single sentence: we ignore the actual true nature of the mind in favor of endowing our Self with mistakenly-perceived permanence, and immediately begin to gather what we like close (attachment) and do our best to keep away from us what we don't like (aversion). What could be simpler?

In other words, the distracting influence of our self as a permanent entity (separate from all other entities) is what is called ignorance – simply ignoring. And while ignoring the actual nature of our mind, we protect the perceived self by attaching to it all the good things we like (attachment) and keeping away all the things we don't like (aversion). In short, the ignoring (ignorance) of the true nature of the mind and the preoccupation with the Self is the basic cause for the arising of the other two poisons, attachment and aversion. That is simple enough, but how to remove it?

The remedy clearly is to stop gilding the self and cease ignoring the true nature of how our mind works, at which time the other two poisons, attachment and aversion, will gradually deconstruct on their own. This is why it is said that ignorance, the ignoring or distracting our attention from the true nature of the mind, is the key or root poison to be addressed. If we can recognize that the Self is not what we thought it was, a permanent entity, but instead is literally a collection of our own likes and dislikes, then our fixation with it can gradually deconstruct, allowing us to incrementally transfer our identity from the self to the actual nature of the mind itself.

A frontal approach, trying to destroy, deny, or otherwise brutalize the Self never works. This actually feeds the self and makes it stronger. What works is to recognize what the self actually is, something we created (like a warm blanket) and to not take it so seriously. We start by not taking the self so seriously, by discounting its importance, and gradually thin out its influence. That seems to work. For example, it is perfectly understandable and acceptable to like (or even love) yourself. After all, it's our creation, our own baby, so to speak.

As I like to say, listening to your own self is like the ventriloquist raptly listening to his own dummy. If we examine the self closely we find that there is nothing new (not ever) there because the self is literally just an assemblage of our current likes and dislikes that is held together by our own attachments and aversions. Once we begin to realize that fact, really understand it, we take a less subservient tone with our self. We certainly don't look up to it, and our endless love of it becomes, well, embarrassing. It is like endlessly preening in a mirror.

Here in the West we are told to be true to ourselves, and to always "be" ourselves, yet at the same time we are told not to be selfish. And it is considered embarrassing to be caught liking yourself a little too much, etc. There is a serious disconnect there. The only slogan I can get behind is that of Socrates, to know thy self. But to know the self is not to love it, but to understand it as something that we put together, one attachment at a time. And like Pick-Up-Sticks, we can take it a part one attachment at a time. We can let go.

I began to catch on some years ago that my Self was nothing more than a warm blanket, something that while useful around the house, was entirely handmade by me. It was a sad reflection of my likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and fears, something like a scrapbook or montage that I pinned things on.

I also understood that this familiar Self will gradually wear itself out of importance, and certainly be entirely abandoned when I die. When that became a realization I was no longer threatened by self love, self denial, or self loathing, nor care what anyone else thought about my self and relationship with myself. So I kind of just put my Self out to pasture, like you would an old cow, and let can graze and do its "self-thing" as much as it wants. I see to it that it has enough hay (or whatever it needs) to be content and not act up, but I (whoever "I" am) will no longer be following my self so closely. It is being de-emphasized. I am changing the channel, so to speak.

There is no doubt that my Self is still very much present, and it is clear to me (and to everyone) that I like myself. At the same time, I don't take myself as seriously anymore. I am not rude or harsh with myself, but see it mainly as old news, so it is not getting as much attention from me as it used it -- poor baby.

All of this "self" stuff obscures the actual or true nature of the mind behind it. Another way to say this is that my self is increasingly becoming more transparent. I begin to see through it more of the time and understand how it works. My self is not as important as it once was.

The key point here is that the whole problem with ignorance is that we are ignoring the actual or true nature of our mind in favor of a preoccupation with our self. We have been simply misdirected. The obsession with the self distracts us from what we would otherwise focus on, which is the true nature of the mind itself. As we begin to get over our self and start to see through it, we can transfer our exclusive identification with the self to the nature of the mind itself. As this re-identification takes place, the focus on the self gradually grows less and the focus on the mind itself and its nature grows stronger. We begin the transmigration that we will each eventually have to undergo at death, but earlier than otherwise – the transfer of consciousness.

As to ignorance, that root poison? I am learning to stop being quite so ignorant, to stop ignoring the true nature of the mind itself or, as my first dharma teacher would say to me, over and over:

"Michael, if you spend all of your time in the sideshow, the main tent will be gone."

[Photo taken today. We have had rain, and as I write this the rain pounds the ground outside my office. It is autumn, for sure.]