Greed, Hatred and Stupidity Obstruct Cultivation of the Way

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua


Although our time in the world will be over in the blink of an eye, no one is ready to put it all down. People are attached to this and that, and feel that everything in this world is real. And so they scheme and plot for fame and profit, fighting and doing muddled things that go against their conscience for the sake of these two things. In the end, those who sought fame die in their quest for fame; those who chased after profit die in their pursuit of profit. All their lives they fought and competed in their confused desire for fame and profit. Why? Because they didn't recognize the three poisons of greed, hatred, and stupidity. These three are more lethal than ordinary poisons. Ordinary poisons harm the body, but not the mind. These three poisons harm both the body and the mind. They make people go insane. On a small scale, they destroy families; on a larger scale, they can ruin the country and even the world. And so these three poisons are the common enemy of all humankind.

Why do murder, arson, rape, and robbery occcur in the world? Because of peopleỖs greed, hatred, and stupidity. The three poisons at work cause people to be insatiably greedy. If they cannot obtain what they want, they feel hatred. In a minor case, the hatred remains hidden in their minds. In a more serious case, their hatred may lead them to start a fight or even a war. When that happens, the world naturally wonỖt be safe or peaceful.

On the other hand, if peopleỖs minds are pure and undefiled and everyone behaves in a kind and compassionate manner, "treating all elders as their own parents, and treating all children as their own children," the world will naturally be peaceful and free of wars.

To resolve the worldỖs problems at a fundamental level, we must deal with the three poisons; we have to think of a way to cause people not to be greedy, hateful, or stupid. How can this be done? The only way is to get them to believe in Buddhism. In Buddhism the objective is to "diligently cultivate precepts, samadhi, and wisdom; and extinguish greed, hatred, and stupidity." This is the fundamental solution. If people hold the five precepts, they will not be greedy. If they have samadhi, they will be free of hatred. If they are wise, they can break through stupidity. The three poisons are like a contagious disease, and the three studies (precepts, samadhi, and wisdom) work like a wonder drug that can swiftly bring a cure.

If all people study Buddhism, they will all be free of the three poisons, and then the problems of the world will be solved. However, this wonỖt happen easily. Why not? Because modern people do not think the way the ancients did, and because ethics and virtue have been forgotten. People cheat each other and try to get what they want by hook or by crook. They only care about profit, not about being fair and honest. For example, greedy merchants cheat their customers by diluting their liquor with water. ThereỖs an old Chinese saying, "Hanging out a sheepỖs head, but selling dog meat." The merchants of old took pride in selling genuine goods at honest prices; they didnỖt cheat children or old ladies. But modern merchants are not so ethical. They charge sky-high prices and then haggle with buyers. Neither side is honest. Honest vendors put out a sign saying "fixed prices" to avoid the trouble of haggling. Why do people cheat? Simply because they are greedy for profit.

Even the honest farmer has been influenced by the businessman and is no longer honest. Farmers use chemical fertilizers on their grains and fruit trees and feed their livestock and poultry with growth-stimulating chemically manufactured feeds, slowly poisoning the consumers of their products. Such conduct amounts to harming human life for the sake of profit, and should be prohibited by law. And yet these people are free to do as they please; the lack of laws actually encourages them. The crime of making money with no concern for human life is ten times greater than that of diluting liquor with water. The number of cancer cases is growing every day due to these unethical businessmen and farmers. People who have woken up to this fact have been advocating organically grown and unprocessed natural foods.

Gluttonous people, however, have ignored their appeals. They continue to consume huge quantities of meat and fish, filling their stomachs with them. What they are really doing is ingesting a time bomb. When the bomb goes off, their blood vessels will rupture and they will have a stroke or even die. Although there are many examples of this, no one takes heed.

From this we can see how unspeakably harmful greed, hatred, and stupidity are. Not only are worldly people the victims of these three poisons, even cultivators, if they are not careful, can be fooled and harmed by them. That's why I say that greed, hatred, and stupidity can obstruct cultivation of the Way. Right when you obtain a little bit of skill in samadhi, the fire of ignorance will burn it up. How can you be free of the fire of ignorance? Cultivate the Dharma-door of the paramita of patience; never lose your temper. This is very important. If you don't lose your temper, you will develop wisdom. The light of that wisdom will shine through the darkness of stupidity. Without dark thoughts, your conduct will be great, bright, and proper.

How should you cultivate? First of all, you have to uphold the precepts. If you can uphold the precepts, you will develop samadhi, and samadhi gives rise to wisdom. When you are replete with the three studies of precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, the three poisons of greed, hatred, and stupidity will spontaneously disappear.

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