One way of thinking of how the human animal functions is to acknowledge that each of us is home to some wholesome, and some unwholesome, motives. As the Buddha described it, the three unwholesome roots are anger/hatred (in Pali: lobha), greed (dosa), and delusion (moha). There are also three wholesome roots, which are the opposites of the three unwholesome ones, that is: boundless lovingkindness, generosity, and wisdom. Walking the path that the Buddha recommended involves using various techniques to wear away the unwholesome roots within ourselves and to nourish and feed our wholesome intentions.
The further we can go along the spectrum of:
1) hatred –> loving kindness
2) greed –> generosity
3) delusion –> wisdom
…the happier and more contented we will be. Of course, this progress tends to be an up-and-down adventure, with many mistakes and corrections along the way. We can only really work with our direct experience, either in the present (best) or reflecting on past actions, or making workable resolutions about future actions.
Let’s think about delusion first. The word moha does not mean simply “not knowing”; it means living our lives within an entirely false framework of belief. We think that we are unique (and terribly important) individuals, that our thoughts actions are the most interesting thing going on in the world, that the experiences of others are of little consequence, and that what we can see and touch and describe forms the entire world. The Buddha describes an alternative view where all things, human and non-human, alive and apparently not alive, are continuously interacting in the must fundamental ways; that nothing is static, all is in constant motion, from the molecular to the macro-scale. The analogy that comes to mind is that when we look at an object that appears solid – say for example a table – we take it to be SOLID. When such an object is observed very closely, with super-magnification, it turns out that the table is composed almost entirely of empty space!
Wisdom comes from seeing things as they really are, not as they appear to the casual observer. We cannot gain this sort of wisdom, which changes how everything appears to us, by reading a book, or hoping very hard. Breaking free of our ordinary world-view requires persistence, patience, and energy. At the foundation of the journey is seeing more and more clearly the actions we are doing, with body, speech and mind, and coming to understand the consequences of our actions.
The other two unwholesome roots, hatred and greed, are easier to discern in our experience, and working with them (more on this later) has the happy by-product of increasing our wisdom.