The Origin of Greed Hate and Delusion

Someone asked me where greed, hate, and delusion come from. Here’s how I answered.

Where do greed, hate, and delusion come from?

People have been working on that question for centuries!

My guess is that it’s rooted in the very existence of the separate self. 

Now, there’s self and there’s Self. There are Buddhist teachings about anatman, or non-self. And there are other Buddhist teachings about the Self. So it gets confusing. There is no self, but there is a Self. Or, a better way of conceiving it is that we confuse Self with self. We think we are a small self, but we are actually Big Self.

If you want to look for the origin of greed, hate, and delusion, you’ve got to talk about the small self, the ego-based sense of being an individual entity separated from everyone and everything else in the universe, a subject as opposed to the objects that the subject encounters.

It might be that greed, hate, and delusion are inseparable from “small self.” Avidya, often translated as “ignorance,” is the root of the illusion of “small self.” It is also the root of greed, hate, and delusion. Or, maybe we could say that delusion (avidya) is at the root of greed and hatred. 

When we see ourselves as the Big Self — the self that includes everyone and everything — then greed and hatred don’t make sense. There’s nothing to be greedy for and no one to hate. But when we see ourselves as individuals in competition with other individuals, greed and hate seem to make sense.

When we choose to do the wrong thing, to act out of greed and hate, we’re choosing to serve the “small self.” Only the “small self” could see any sense in acting that way. We think there is something to be gained for the “small self” by doing that thing — whatever it happens to be. But we are wrong.

The problem is that the “small self” is mistaken, it’s deluded (avidya). The thing it thinks will enhance it will not enhance it. At best, it can move some object or sensation from one part of the Big Self to another part of the Big Self. But this is temporary. Big Self always wants to be in equilibrium. So any such action will be corrected and the balance restored. In the mind of the individual “small self” this will often be perceived as pain and suffering, when the thing it thinks it has gained is taken away. But from the point of view of Big Self, equilibrium has been restored and everything is fine, the imbalance has been corrected.

Studying the Precepts has been useful. At first they just looked like a bunch of rules that restricted me and kept me from having fun. But after working with them for a while, I could see the practicality of them. The Precepts aren’t meant to be restrictive or moralistic. They’re meant to help you have a better life by not disturbing the balance of things by demanding stuff that won’t really help you even if you get it.

The person who wrote to me asked if zazen has inspired me to do good. I think it has. It’s made me see the benefits of doing good, or at least doing better — if I can’t always do good. It’s a sort of “selfishness.” I’ve seen that doing good is better for my self — both “small self” and Big Self. I feel better when I do good and feel worse when I do wrong.

This doesn’t mean I never make mistakes. I do. But each mistake seems to be a learning experience. So I try to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.

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Angel City Zen Center now meets on ZOOM several times each week often with Brad giving the lectures. We’re even having an online retreat in November. For details check aczc.org

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IT CAME FROM BEYOND ZEN and SEX SIN AND ZEN are now available as audiobooks from Audible.com! You can also get Don’t Be a JerkHardcore Zen,  Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You in audio form — all read by me, Brad Warner!

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