A bit of confusion for me on the exact definition of the 3 poisons, craving, clinging etc

When I learnt it all in English, I grouped greed together, which when I looked up the Pali words includes lobha, kāma-rāga, kāmatanhā, etc. So there’s a bit of confusion for me on what’s the 3 poisons.

If we group them using lobha like below,

The 3 three principles of demerit are: greed (lobha), hate (dosa), and delusion (moha).

Then the non returner has eradicated 2 of 3 poisons. If we group them via rāga, then the non returner still have rāga for form and formless realms.

Below is more of a copy and paste thing from my comments to a question on r/Buddhism.

Craving (tanhā) and attachments (upādāna) are part of the chains in dependent origination.

Desire may also be the translation for Chanda, and is commonly used as translation of tanha. For the tanhā/Chanda difference, do refer to the other post recently made. I shall focus on tanha here.

The 3 three principles of demerit are usually used as the root when evil, unwholesome Kammas are made. So whatever actions by body, speech or mind which has it’s root motivation from greed, hatred or delusion are unwholesome Kammas.

Lobha, greed and dosa, hatred are both fetters eradicated by the non returner. Yet the non returner may still have raga to the form or formless realms.

Pause a bit here. I shall copy and paste some of the Pali words used here from Pali dictionary. I realized that the issue is not completely crystal clear for me now.

[Sk.tṛṣṇā,besides tarśa (m.) & ṭṛṣ
=Av.tarśna thirst,Gr.tarsi/a dryness,Goth.paúrsus,Ohg.durst,E.drought & thirst; to *ters to be,or to make dry in Gr.tέrsomai,Lat.torreo to roast,Goth.gapaírsan,Ohg.derren.-another form of tasiṇā]
lit.drought,thirst; fig.craving,hunger for,excitement,the fever of unsatisfied longing (c.Loc.:kabaḷiṅkāre āhāre “thirst” for solid food S.II,101 sq.; cīvare piṇḍapāte taṇhā=greed for Sn.339).Oppd to peace of mind (upekhā,santi)

[fr.upa + ā + dā]
– (lit.that (material) substratum by means of which an active process is kept alive or going),fuel,supply,provision; adj.


  • 2 (as philosophy & ethics) excitement,passion; seldom by itself,mostly in combn with dosa, & moha,as the three fundamental blemishes of character:passion or lust (uncontrolled excitement),ill-will (anger) and infatuation (bewilderment):see dosa2 & moha; cp.sarāga.

– These three again appear in manifold combns with similar terms,all giving var.shades of the “craving for existence” or “lust of life” (taṇhā etc.),or all that which is an obstacle to nibbāna.Therefore the giving up of rāga is one of the steps towards attaining the desired goal of emancipation (vimutti)

[cp.Vedic & Epic Sk.lobha; fr.lubh: see lubbhati]
covetousness,greed.Defined at Vism.468 as “lubbhanti tena,sayaṁ vā lubbhati,lubbhana-mattam eva vā taṁ,” with several comparisons following.‹-› Often found in triad of lobha, dosa, moha (greed,anger,bewilderment,forming the three principles of demerit:see kusala-mūla)

sensuous lust,is one of the 10 fetters

Ok, so rāga seems to be the more flexible terminology which can covers a lot of ground.

Lobha is equal to Kāma rāga in being eradicated by the non returner.

The rāga for form or formless realms seems to be capable of being translated to be craving for form and formless realms. These fetters still exist for the non returner.

Let’s see the traditional elaboration of tanhā (craving) Taṇhā - Wikipedia

  1. Kāma-taṇhā (sensual pleasures craving)
  2. Bhava-taṇhā (craving for being)
  3. Vibhava-taṇhā (craving for non-existence)

The first one can also be equated with Kāma raga above as well as lobha as the fetter eradicated by a non returner.

The second one is rāga for form and formless realms too. As well as general wanting to become someone or preserve the self eternally.

Vibhava tanhā is more related to dosa (hated) and it is based on wrong view of no rebirth which drives suicide.

Listing the traditional upādāna (grasping, attachment, fuel, clinging):

  1. sense-pleasure clinging (Kāmupadana)
  2. all views clinging (ditthupadana)
  3. rites-and-rituals clinging (silabbatupadana)
  4. self-doctrine clinging (attavadupadana).

It seems that the stream winner would had eradicated the last 3, for having purified their view. And the first one is eradicated by the non returner.

A bit of a bummer is that the 3 poisons is defined sometimes using raga instead of lobha/Kāma (something). So moha, rāga (or lobha), dosa

Given the loose usage of rāga as seen in the 10 fetters,

  1. belief in a self (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi)
  2. doubt or uncertainty, especially about the Buddha’s awakeness and nine supermundane consciousnesses (vicikicchā)
  3. attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa)
  4. sensual desire (kāmacchando)
  5. ill will (vyāpādo or byāpādo)
  6. lust for material existence, lust for material rebirth (rūparāgo)
  7. lust for immaterial existence, lust for rebirth in a formless realm (arūparāgo)
  8. conceit (māna)
  9. restlessness (uddhacca)
  10. ignorance (avijjā)

There can be some way of saying that the non returner had eradicated 2 of the 3 poisons (if we use lobha), or not (if we use rāga). I shall use the neater version of lobha.

Anyway, so long story short, if you skip the above, just see the below for summary and analysis.

The tanhā/craving can be craving for non becoming which involves hated (dosa). So craving is more general than lobha/greed of the 3 poisons. Craving can even be for the form or formless realms, not limited to the sensual realms (kāma) like lobha (greed) is.

So when greed is eradicated by the non returner, there still is craving there.

Difference between craving (tanhā) and clinging (upādāna) is like liking and grasping. Craving reaches out, clinging holds onto the object. Eg. For say vegan ice cream. Reminded of the nice taste of it on a hot day, I may crave to want some vegan ice cream. If I make it a habit to eat vegan ice cream everyday and enjoy it so much that I cling onto it as part of my identity, that is clinging/attachments. As if I am nothing without daily vegan ice cream. Worse suffering when not getting it compared to craving.

It seems like all 4 clingings are abandoned by a non returner?

What’s the Pali for the English word poison in this context? I’m not familiar with that usage.

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It’s akusala-mūla in Pāli. It turned into triviṣa at some point in later Indian Buddhism:

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