The Three Poisons are ignorance, attachment, and
aversion. Ignorance is symbolised by a pig, attachment is symbolised
by a rooster and aversion is symbolised by a snake. The traditional
image of these three may either show a pig vomiting the two others
– symbolising ignorance as giving rise to attachment or aversion,
or it may show the three animals biting each others' tails to point
at how these three poisons perpetuate samsara. As long as the pig
of ignorance is engrossed in the dung heap of confusion, it ignores
that all appearing phenomena are complexes resulting from causes
and conditions, and not at all solid realities. Based on the assumptions
of such ignorance we develop likes and dislikes, and consequently,
strategies of attachment towards what we like, and strategies of
aversions towards what we don't like.
These three poisons – ignorance, attachment and aversion –
form the basis of our actions.
Whatever we do under the influence of them, our thoughts and actions
are consequently poisoned and it follows that the results will be
Our experiences are results of our actions and the
motivations behind these actions. This is known as the law of cause
and effect, or karma. When we engage in 'dark' actions based on
ignorance, attachment or aversion they will generate painful results
corresponding to these negative attitudes.
In contrast when we are motivated by 'light' sentiments such as
kindness, empathy, and generosity, these will result in the corresponding
positive experiences. Dark or destructive actions bring about rebirth
in the lower realms, while light or ethical actions bring about
rebirth in the upper half of the Wheel of Existence.
The black and white semi-circles illustrate the ramifications of
actions with the white semi-circle showing persons ascending, and
the black semi-circle showing persons descending. While on one hand
this image illustrates the responsibility for an individual's actions,
it also establishes how an individual is empowered to create his
or her own destiny in samsara. For this reason Buddhists emphasize
the importance of accumulating virtue and discarding evil, and place
great importance on even the smallest ethical and meritorious action.
The verse on the left is from the Vinaya, the Buddhist scriptures
on discipline, and emphasises the importance of ethical behaviour.