This is the eighth in my series on the Buddhist mind-training slogans, lojong.
Three objects; labeling our world
There is power in labels. We humans have a tendency to categorize everything in our world. Acharya Judy Lief uses the following example: We put the people we deal with into mental bins such as “friend,” “enemy” or “not worth bothering with.” We do this both individually and collectively.
This in itself is not a problem according to this slogan. We sometimes need to classify the people and things around us so that we are aware of who we should put our trust in and who will likely hurt us in the end. The problem is that the observation takes on meaning; they become unwavering definitions of the person or event that may or may not hold true over time. We assign value to people and situations. Rather than a person displaying a behavior that is hurtful in some way, we decide that the person (not the behavior) is bad at their core. Or we assign a value of good or bad to an event based on how we feel when the event occurs. What feels bad to us in the moment may be one of our pivotal moments that catapult our lives in a new direction that brings about something amazing.
Three Poisons: Fixed Reactions to Our Own Labels
Once we decide that the label we have assigned is solid, we only react to the label, rather than the actual situation or person. The reaction tends to be one of three quite dysfunctional ones: to grasp, to hate or to avoid. These three reactions are traditionally referred to in Buddhist teaching as passion, aggression and ignorance. We begin to focus on what can further our self-servings agendas and what threatens them and we ignore everything else.
Three Virtuous Seeds: Taking Responsibility for Our Own Reactions
Once we are able to see the pattern we can start to see that the three poisons are our own creation, not a manifestation of the enemy. When we take away the external object to which we have attached a poison, it no longer has legs on which to stand. We draw the poison into us so that others are not affected by it and in doing so it is transformed into one of the three virtuous seeds. By taking responsibility for our own reactions we are able to let go of the value we have placed on the person or situation.