The Three A’s

The Three A’s: Attachment, aversion and apathy
Contribution by Tom

Zen groups often begin their sutra service with the Purification verse (variously translated):

All the harm and suffering ever created by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, hatred and ignorance
Born of my actions, speech and thought
I now acknowledge openly and fully

Greed, hatred and ignorance, known as the ‘three poisons’, are central to the negative ways in which we relate to ourselves, other beings and the world in general and in which we contribute to the spread of harm and suffering internally and externally. As I say this short verse to myself while sitting on my cushion most mornings, I have begun to translate these ‘poisons’ into language I relate to more comfortably, using the mnemonic ‘The Three A’s’. To me, then, they have become ‘attachment’, ‘aversion’ and ‘apathy’. Using this less emotive or self-critical formulation may make it easier for us to examine ourselves on each one. We may not like to think of ourselves as particularly ‘greedy’ but recognise how easily we get attached to our actions, speech and thought. So, we may find it less confronting to ask ourselves, ‘What, this morning – here and now – am I currently clinging to (or avoiding and ignoring)?’

Am I still thinking about the clever words I spoke yesterday or the good deed I accomplished? What problem, painful experience or person – past or present – am I wishing not to address? And what moral, social or political issues am I unwilling to face?

The verse does not demand we take any specific action to counter these poisons but just to acknowledge – however uncomfortably – and sit with them in the moment. Perhaps such embodied reflection will lead to some sort of effective future action.

Tom Fisher 29 August 2019

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