The Three Poisons are explained on this site as the source of negative mental states and also what we might think of as “evil,” or “harmful” actions. The basic idea is that as long as we are conditioned by, or continue to be influenced by, the Three Poisons, our thoughts and actions will generate harmful karma and ultimately cause harm to ourselves and others.
The Sanskrit words for the Three Poisons are usually translated into English as “ignorance,” “hate,” and “greed.”
Ignorance – Ignorance is considered the primary cause of all evil and misery in the world. It is our lack of knowledge about the true nature of reality that causes the hate and greed we so often see or experience. And it is ignorance of the true nature of reality that leads to dukkha. If we can eliminate ignorance, we can eliminate all the harm, all the dukkha. This type of ignorance is most often manifested in the belief that things are fixed and permanent. And it is clinging to this belief and the desire to protect or elevate ourselves that causes hate and greed. The antidote to this poison is Wisdom.
Hate – Hate grows out of our ignorance, especially our ignorance of the truly interconnected nature of all things and beings. When we are ignorant of the true interconnectedness, we begin to cast value judgments on things and people; we like this, or we hate that. When we are ignorant of the true reality, we set ourselves apart and often begin to harbor “natural” suspicions of those who are different. Or we can be taught to hate anyone or anything that is different from us. The antidote to this poison is Loving-Kindness.
Greed – This refers to a desire for something we think will satisfy our wants or that will somehow make us better or “more than” we are now. It also refers to our drive to protect ourselves, including by acquiring many new things in order to elevate our status and protect ourselves in our own minds. This can lead us to exploit others or attempt to manipulate them to get what we desire. But any satisfaction we do receive from these things is only temporary and only leads to more and more need to reaffirm ourselves as “better than.” The antidote to this poison is generosity.