Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Three Poisons of OZ.

The Wizard of Oz and the Verse of Purification.
(Written 4/29/05)

Roshi John Tarrant’s Dharma Talk on Monday [ ] on the Verse of Purification reverberated in my mind with the play of the Wizard of Oz I attended at my grandaughter's school last Saturday, becoming entangling vines in the Dharmaland.

All the ancient twisted karma
From beginningless greed, hatred and ignorance
Born of my body, mouth and thought
I now confess openly and fully.

Greed - Heartless - Tin Man - compassion - Avalokiteshvara
Hatred - Cowardly - Lion - action/practice - Samantabhadra
Ignorance - Brainless - Scarecrow - wisdom - Manjushri

We are usually taught that purification is a cleaning process where some object is purified such as wiping it down with bleach or having impurities removed. However, in one vehicle Buddhism the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance are not treated as impurities which are simply removed or wiped off of the self in order to have a pure self. The verse says they are beginningless which also means they are endless. We can’t do away with them; we must seek any freedom from karma within their midst. No matter how much I think I won’t, I still get greedy for that cheesecake, I still get angry when someone slights me, I still say stupid things (just keep reading).

So what is happening in purification; what is the role of confession?

The confession that one’s karma is from beginningless greed, hatred, and ignorance is an awareness and acceptance of our human condition and is the prerequisite to purification. Confession is what cuts through our usual denial which surrounds and protects the imagination of an idealized self capable of achieving purity as a one-sided achievement. Once we confess, we begin the purification process, which is actually a transformation process in which greed, hatred, and ignorance are not disposed of but are made aware of their true nature. But to get there we have to start by acknowledging the greed, hatred, and ignorance that we actually experience and feel, not by pretending that we have overcome such feelings, suppressed them, or purified ourselves of them.

Greed is the orientation to life in the service of the rigid self. I think if I don’t get what I want that I will lose myself or be less than myself somehow. When we confess our greed we awake in the position of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. We see that we were frozen and we feel heartless. But that same awareness is what puts us on the yellow brick road to find our heart of compassion.

Hatred is the cowardly anger born of fear. Like the Cowardly Lion, hatred first comes off as growling and threatening. I bluster and try to win by intimidation. When we confess our hatred we open the awareness of the real feelings of fear that underlie it. We can then open up to the search for courage to face our fears and act in the world with real strength and seeing through the delusions of anger and hatred.

Ignorance is the feeling of limp stupidity and uselessness. I feel stuck on a pole imagining that the world is passing me by. I’m so lame that even the crows laugh at me and no one takes me seriously. Confessing our ignorance we awake like the Scarecrow conscious not only of feeling we don’t have a brain but also feeling the concomitant desire to unravel every riddle for every individual who is in trouble or in pain. This is the Bodhisattva’s vow which is the motive force that sets us on the yellow brick road, that charges our confession with the power toward purification.

In the transformative process of purification beginning with confession, our greed, hatred, and ignorance are not driven away but are accepted as they are, becoming our new friends with their own inner drive to discover themselves along with our discovery on our journey to find our home. As we see through our illusions of self and our grasping attachment, our greed learns that it has always had a heart but didn’t know it. Our hatred discovers its courage to live in the world without the habit of cowardly anger. Our ignorance learns that there was no need to go searching for wisdom elsewhere, since wisdom was inherent all along.

In the purification process, the cold metallic rigidity of the Tin Man without a heart becomes the flowing compassion of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara; the blustering growling anger of the Cowardly Lion becomes the courageous fearless action and practice of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra facing every challenge in life; and the flopping flame fearing Scarecrow with straw for brains becomes the wielder of the flaming sword of wisdom Bodhisattva Manjushri.

But it is not that greed, hatred, and ignorance become something different in compassion, practice, and wisdom; it is that they were thus intrinsically, and we just didn’t know it. We could not see Avalokiteshvara, Samantabhadra, and Manjushri for what they are, and we saw them only as greed, hatred, and ignorance. When we see the self constructed from our twisted karma for what it is and stop trying to do away with beginingless greed, hatred, and ignorance, while confessing our lives even in the midst of them, then we can awaken to their true nature and our own.