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Greed, Ignorance and Anger: The Three Poisons

Greed, ignorance and anger are the path to unhappiness.

What you feel matters; what you do with your feelings even more so.

Buddhism has great insights in this regard. Believing in the recycling of souls, the religion states that the harm you do will ultimately cause harm to yourself, for the deeds you perform in this life determine your future rebirth. If you are greedy or angry or ignorant (the three Buddhist poisons), you are condemned to an endless cycle of unhappiness.

You needn't believe in reincarnation to see the problem with greed, ignorance and anger. They are harmful in this life, here and now. Living your life with these emotions influencing you in overt and subtle ways takes you down the path of unhappiness.

If you demand and take more than your fair share, others will resent you and your relations will fray; if you carry anger around so that it becomes your way of being and you push others away. Being unfair undermines compassion and is contrary to generosity, both essential human qualities.

If you are unaware of self, don't understand others, and are unaware of the larger social forces around you, then you become a victim of your desires and your unconscious, the manipulations of others and the social dynamics that shape your life. Ignorance is never desirable, enlightenment always is.

Anger is different than the other two emotions in this way: anger per se isn't a problem. In fact, it is useful as an emotional marker indicating that a moral value has been breached. It is a valuable emotion in relation to perceived injustices. As legal scholar Steven Hartwell, professor emeritus of University of San Diego points out, "the role of anger is fundamentally . . . to readjust relationships . . . Anger says that not only was there an unfairness, but the unfairness either came about or was intensified because the action was inconsistent with expectations raised by the relationships . . . Anger singles that a relationship needs repair."

It isn't that you experience anger but what you do with it that matters. Correctly managed, anger rights a wrong and leads to greater happiness; when badly managed it leads to more unhappiness. When anger prevents you from thinking clearly or when anger embeds itself in your character, it poisons the well of happiness.