“To avoid all evil,
To cultivate good,
And to purify the mind.
This is the teaching of the Buddhas.”
(Dhammapada, verse 183)
The Lord Buddha taught that there are six roots (mula) that lie behind every action (karma) that we do: three wholesome roots (kusala-mula) and three unwholesome roots (akusala-mula). These roots are volitional states of mind that predetermine the nature of thoughts, words and deeds. If they are wholesome (or ‘good’), then there will be positive results, whereas if they are unwholesome (or ‘bad’), one better watch out – either in this life or the next!
The three unwholesome roots are the cause of all negative action and its results (vipaka). These unwholesome roots are greed (lobha), hatred (dosa) and delusion (moha), and they are the threefold obstacle to our full awakening to the way things are, the Dharma. Let’s explore them a little, one by one.
Greed arises through unwise reflection on an attractive object and includes the whole spectrum of attraction from a slight longing to the strongest of desires. That I want to take milk with my tea may not be a strong form of greed, but it will create suffering around the fact that there’s no milk left in the fridge! The greed for sexual satisfaction can drive a person to the most extreme of acts, born of an uncontrolled mind that indulges in desire to the point of losing any semblance of self-control.
Hatred covers every mode of mind that feels repulsion towards an object, from the slightest feeling of ill-humor to the kind of anger and rage that sees people kill each other. It is the result of unwise reflection on something (or someone) that one doesn’t like. Dwelling on thoughts of an annoying mother-in-law and what one would like to do to shut her up will increase the amount of dosa, for sure!
Delusion, also known as avijja (ignorance), is the primary root of all suffering in the world. It veils our eyes to the true state of things (the Dharma), leading us to view the world from the position of ego or self. Things can appear permanent, substantial, happy, and comprising a separate eternal self (or ‘Self’, for that matter). Greed (lobha) and hatred (dosa) are always accompanied by delusion, as it is the ultimate cause of both.
Don’t despair, however! There is hope in the form of the three wholesome roots (kusala-mula) that make up the positive side of our actions and their kammic results. They are known as non-greed (alobha), non-hatred (adosa) and non-delusion (amoha). They are the absence of the unwholesome roots, and can be cultivated through awareness and a concerted effort to incline towards goodness. Morality as encapsulated in the five precepts of not killing, not stealing, not committing sexual misconduct, not lying, and not taking intoxicants contribute greatly to an increase in the wholesome roots.
So, as the Buddhist Path is concerned not only with the ultimate goal of nirvana, but also in cultivating what is good and wholesome, there are practices aimed at the ending of unwholesome states of mind and the development of karmically positive ones. Meditation, reflection, mindfulness as well as morality all increase generosity at the cost of the unwholesome roots. In the Buddhist Scriptures it is said:
“The perception of impurity (asubha) is to be developed in order to overcome greed, loving-kindness (metta) in order to overcome hatred, and wisdom (panna) to overcome delusion.” (Anguttara Nikaya VI, 107)
As unenlightened humans, we all suffer from large amounts of greed, hatred, and delusion. Buddhism, however, supplies us with a Way out of all this through an increase in wholesome thoughts, words and deeds at the expense of their negative counterparts. And even if your aim is the ultimate realization of awakening (bodhi), just like the Buddha himself, in the development of such a realization, the wholesome roots will naturally be more prevalent too. May we all let go of greed, hatred and delusion!