Today I will start a series of posts about how we can change the world through mindfulness and the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings. This transformation starts with individuals and progresses through groups, corporations, and then societies. Ultimately, a global movement is possible and will be accomplished through sustainable business practices and leaders who embody mindfulness.
Without transformation at an individual level nothing much can happen. When the three fires prevail people will continue to perpetuate violence. I don’t just mean aggression. I mean speaking with integrity as in Nonviolent Communication and being cognizant of how actions affect others and the world around us. We perpetrate all manner of violence and these violences can be traced to the Three Fires.
So, we’ll start with these fires. They are greed, hatred, and confusion. You may also see these referred to as the three poisons but the Buddha used the metaphor of fire. These fires burn and consume our lives and without the mental training that has mindfulness at its core, they are likely to continue burning. It is possible that the fire can go out.
Greed aka desire, blinding passion, and lust operates on gross and subtle levels. The obvious level is the obsessive dedication to the acquisition of material wealth. Having more and more things and the underlying but mistaken belief that such acquisitions will lead to happiness.
Greed also operates at a less obvious level. We want things in micro fashion too. We want to feel a certain way, to think a certain way, to be seen a certain way. In fact, every moment of existence is colored by some type of desire most of it out of awareness. Yet, despite being out of conscious reach, these desires shape our behavior. The more unaware of these desire-based commitments the more attached to them we are. The more attached we are, the more anguish we will feel and inflict through unskillful behavior.
Meditation practice can bring this hidden world of grasping into focus. We can see how the mind reaches out for things in every moment, whether these are material things or experiential things. We want confirmation, validation, and reassurance. These desires are ceaseless, endless, and bottomless. They can never be fully satisfied.
Hatred aka aversion is our tendency to push things away. It is overt hatred and hostility and it is the more subtle not wanting of experience. We don’t want to be uncomfortable, uncertain, or inconvenienced. We seek power over things rather than cooperation with them, including other people. We separate ourselves from others through linguistic distinctions all in the form of “us” versus “them.” These comparisons are countless and each one accentuates a sense of separation that would cease to exist if examined closely enough.
That examination occurs during meditation. We discover that it is the mind that constructs and supports these labels, distinctions, and categories. They originate in the mind and are perpetuated by culture and we take them for granted.
The combination of greed and hatred results in a ceaseless pushing against and pulling towards every moment of existence. This pushing and pulling requires time and energy that could be spent making the world a better place but is wasted in the futile attempt to seek a secure foothold in an impermanent world.
Confusion aka ignorance and delusion is a misapprehension of the three marks of existence. We are confused about the how the mind works, how physics work (impermanence), and what the self is. These will be covered in their own entry next time.
These three fires drive behavior in the world that leads to harm. Simple as that. The comedian Jim Carey hitting a serious note in a graduation address said, “The effect we have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” Mindfulness can facilitate these effects to be beneficial, promoting the greater good.