Dharma Therapy


©2021 Susthama Kim

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The Three Poisons

Human beings are born into this world and are of this world. We tend to go around in circles and in doing so we create additional suffering that in all intents and purposes is unnecessary. Even though we know this in theory, it doesn’t stop us from going around in circles. Out of our craving to avoid pain we respond to the energy/feelings that arise in us in three ways. The first thing that we tend to do is to distract ourselves with sense pleasures. Secondly, we crave being someone and so we form an identity. Finally, when those two levels of escape fail, we despair, withdraw, and give up.

Each of the different levels of escape from pain are rooted in the three poisons and at the heart of it all is ignorance. Ignorance is not a passive state of not knowing, it is a deliberate choice to not hear and to not see, and it is fuelled by greed and hate.

The three responses to feelings that arise from affliction/suffering are:

GREED (attraction)

HATE (aversion)

DELUSION (ignorance)

Sensory Distraction

Pleasurable activities. For example, drinking, erotic sex, etc.

Painful activities. For example, self-harm, masochism, etc.

Through sensory distraction there is a sensual and temporary relief from the original source of pain.

Creation of Being

Longing to belong and to be  somebody.

Rejecting others who are not like us in order to be different from them.

Attaching and identifying with views and values that feel permanent and real. Unconsciously we create defensive mechanism. We hold opinions and a particular set of attitudes to issues, relationships, and people.

Despair of Being

Feeling dejected, we long to be alone. We find comfort in feeling numb and attach ourselves to feelings of isolation.

We reject our friends, family, ourselves, and the world. We push people away and withdraw from society.

We no longer see or hear the reality for other people. We also pretend that we aren’t in pain. Even when everyone around us can see how much pain we are in, we continue to deny and dilute the pain. The truth that we are hurting is too much for us to admit to ourselves.

Most of us function well within the first and second levels of escape. If we have a strong sense of who we are and what we like, and if we don’t have a series of traumatic events in our life that break down our defences then we can sail through life in a state of bliss. Hence the saying, ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Very occasional however, some of us may see ourselves, or our behaviour, as the cause of pain and suffering to ourselves or to others. We might not be able to find peace and solace in ourselves which then might lead us to seek self destruction and death. When we start questioning if this world is better off without us, then we have reached a point where we know that something has to die or change.

Even though the particular escape mechanisms differ hugely, depending on your circumstances, the Buddha teaches that at any moment, no matter how deaf, how selective, how narrow minded, etc, we can experience awakening. There is always the possibility that something can break through to us whether we are blissfully ignorant or in an echo chamber deep in our own self-made prison.

We don’t know what that is, or when that will happen, but it seems that for some of us, it is only when we get to the end of our tether, that we get cracked open.