Extinguish the Three External Evils and the Three Internal Poisons

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua


Use the Six Guidelines to wash and sweep your own nature until not the slightest bit of filth remains.

What are the three external evils? They are killing, stealing, and lust. Why is there so much turmoil in society? It's because of the mischief caused by these three evils. Most of the news in the newspaper every day has something to do with these three evils. It is said, "Of the myriad kinds of evil, lust is the foremost." Eight or nine out of ten killings are motivated by lust. This deviant trend is truly horrible. If one doesn't kill, steal, or engage in sexual misconduct, then one is imperceptibly helping to settle the society and maintain peace in the world.

What are the three internal poisons? They are greed, anger, and delusion. With insatiable greed, people are never content. They are happy when they obtain whatever they are greedy for, and angry when they don't. As soon as they get angry, ignorance starts to stir up trouble and encourage fighting. At that time, they lose their sense of reason and become foolish. They act without thinking of the consequences and do muddled things. In a less serious case, they might just hurt people's feelings. In a more serious case, they may do totally outrageous things.

How can we extinguish the three internal poisons? Shakyamuni Buddha left us a good prescriptionỞprecepts, samadhi, and wisdom. Cultivators must uphold precepts. When precepts are upheld, samadhi power comes forth. And from samadhi power, wisdom power arises. They are all connected. If one can observe precepts, one will not have greedy desires. If one has samadhi, one will not give rise to anger. If one has wisdom, one will not act foolishly.

The three evils of the body come from our external physical nature. The three evils of the mind arise from our internal psychological nature. Because of greed, anger, and delusion, one commits killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. If one could convert greed, anger, and delusion into precepts, samadhi, and wisdom, then killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct would no longer occur.

The three poisons defile our inherent nature so that it cannot be clean and pure. When the true mind is covered up, the false mind becomes the host and controls everything. As a result, we are muddled and confused, with never a clear moment. Living this kind of life, one is nothing but a walking corpse. What fun is there in that?

We must cleanse our inherent nature. How? We can use the Six Guidelines - no fighting, no greed, no seeking, no selfishness, no pursuit of personal advantage, and no lying - to wash and sweep until not the slightest bit of filth remains. With no fighting, the world will naturally be free of wars. Without greed for fame and benefit, people will get along harmoniously. With no seeking, one's character will naturally be lofty and noble and one will be respected by everyone. With no selfishness, one will always be considerate towards others and forget oneself. One won't find fault with others and won't discriminate about the four marks [of self, others, living beings, and life span]. With no pursuit of personal advantage, all benefits will be shared equally and no one will try to monopolize things. One may even go out of one's way to take a loss so as to make others happy. With no lying, people will trust one another and always speak the truth, and thus unnecessary troubles will be avoided.

When we practice these Six Guidelines and bear them in mind, we are indirectly helping the government and directly helping ourselves. We should realize clearly how important our own responsibilities and obligations are. We want to be perfect and outstanding members of the society, not bad citizens who disturb others. If we can be like this, then we are true Buddhists. I hope you will work hard in this respect. If you always go far off seeking for some secret and wonderful dharma, you are losing the substance for the shadow and will never find the true Dharma.

Finally, I hope everyone will cast the three external evils and the three internal poisons far, far away, and never have to deal with them again. These evils and poisons are vile, corrupt, and untrustworthy. If we aren't careful, we will fall into their clutches. They certainly welcome us to be a part of them and wallow in the mire with them. Take care not to get caught in their snares. We must be alert and wise enough to turn away from defilement and unite with enlightenment. If we aren't clear about things, we will turn away from enlightenment and unite with defilement, forming a partnership with the six defiling sense objects.

A talk given on May 5, 1985


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