The Three Poisons
The deadly insurrection of January 6th was shocking to watch. For Americans, the Capitol is an extension of our sense of self, so to see it stormed, smashed, desecrated, to see our elected officials fearing for their lives, impacts us physically. Teaching meditation, my role is to first offer guidance to sense into the tension and any other sensations that are present in our experience. Not glossing it over, not ‘getting past’ it. But feeling it, acknowledging it, allowing it to be present. So, take a moment to notice, to breathe, to relax and release, and to be compassionate with yourself.
Next I offer Buddhist teachings to better understand our current experience. That is easy to identify in this case. The current administration has been and continues to be an extreme example of why greed, aversion, and delusion are called the Three Poisons.
We all experience greed, aversion, and delusion to varying degrees, and we can see how they cause us suffering, and then ripple out to cause suffering to others through our fear-based words and actions, because all life is interconnected. But in living memory, there has never been an American leader who is not just an example of greed, aversion, and delusion, but a celebration of them.
The majority of Americans have been horrified by this glorification of selfishness, hatred, and self-delusion, but some have felt liberated, enjoying the permission to act out greed, aversion, and delusion publicly, without remorse. Some find the display of it in the White House entertaining, not caring about the effects of the President’s words or actions. (This is especially astonishing at a time when there is so much suffering, and over 365,000 have died from COVID in this country alone. When he remarked, “It is what it is”, he was not being ‘Buddhist’, he was just abdicating any responsibility for his own misguided actions that exacerbated the ongoing challenge of dealing with the pandemic.)
Freedom, a word traditionally used to describe a state of not being beholden to a monarch or a slaveowner, has been co-opted by some to justify behaviors that put themselves and others at risk. This is not freedom. It’s the delusion that we are each isolated, powerless, that our actions don’t matter, and that we don’t need others. We do!!!
I want to return to the great news I read before the insurrection took hold of every nook and cranny of my thoughts, and celebrate that, thanks to voters in Georgia and the volunteers who helped to get out the vote, we now have the ability to do the needed work to address the planetary crisis we as a species have created through, you guessed it, greed, aversion, and delusion.
Perhaps the shock of that insurrection will help to remind us that we are all interconnected, that the frustrated protesters who went to Washington to make their voices heard, deserve to be heard, not lied to, not misled, not egged on, not goaded to do some delusional leader’s bidding to stroke his ego or fill some corporation’s coffers.
Though actions have consequences, and I trust that the system set in place will address them, can we cultivate a sense of equanimity? Can we disentangle our thoughts from blame, and get clear on the important role we each play at this crucial moment? We all are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Our representatives are as ready to listen as they have ever been. This is no time to feel hopeless or helpless. My personal perspective is that we humans will never all agree about anything, but we won’t be able to sort out our differences if we are losing our homes, if we are on the run from extreme conditions, if we are poisoning ourselves, and creating scarcity. So let’s look within and recognize the ways greed, aversion, and delusion are setting us up for destruction, paralysis, and misery. Let’s recognize the power we have when we stay present in this moment. Let’s not turn away from what is challenging but greet the work at hand with a sense of joy, of understanding that we are all expressions of life loving itself.
I want to end with great gratitude to my students and blog-readers who have been volunteering throughout this past year and more to assure that all voices are heard. It is so easy to get burned out, but I hope our sangha has been a support system helping to keep them balanced. Thank you, thank you, thank you!