The Three Concerns

The Three Challenges

The Three Concerns
7 x 6 x 2 inches
Glass beads, sandblasted stone, paint, epoxy, glazing medium

This piece was inspired by a unique fossil stone I found by a stream. I was so impressed by the stone I wanted to put something on it I felt was worthy of the tradition of the engraved tablets of the Ten Commandments and Tibetan Mani stones. The concept behind “The Three Concerns” has made sense of so much for me that it was what I finally picked. (The stone is the one in “Desire Standing Stone”.)

These pieces grew out my experiences at Snow Lion, a Tibetan Buddhist book publisher. In the mid-90s, we printed a book called The Happiness Project: Transforming the Three Poisons that Cause the Suffering We Inflict on Ourselves and Others, by Ron Leifer, MD, an Ithaca psychoanalyst (and friend of the owners of Snow Lion.) Most people seemed to find the book overly technical at the time but it’s currently got a four-star rating on

“The Three Poisons” referred to in the subtitle are a Buddhist concept. Leifer used the English words desire, attachment, and ignorance as translations for the three. What we want, what we’re afraid to lose, and what it is that we don’t understand are said to be at the root of much of human suffering.

Curiously, what we want and what we’re afraid to lose are also very important to us and, here in the West especially, we tend to think that getting what we want will make us happy. Conversely, not getting what we want tends to make us unhappy. And losing what we don’t want to lose tends to make us unhappy.

Moreover, it seems that many of us tend to see things that get us what we want, or help us keep what we want, as being “good”. And if things interfere with us getting what we want, or keep us from it, they’re “bad”. We may want actual things, or we may want things the way we want them to be, such as ways of doing things or beliefs. Temper tantrums, arguments, and wars can result if our desires are not met.

Rather than “The Three Poisons”, I’ve called my piece “The Three Concerns”, i.e., things we’re concerned with and perhaps should be concerned about.

Some spiritual traditions try to counter the problem by advocating giving up desires. A Buddhist teacher once wrote in an article in the Snow Lion magazine that this doesn’t really work, you have to desire something. When I read this it reminded me of the country song with the line, “You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” For Buddhists, this teacher suggested that the thing to be desired is enlightenment. I like the idea of approaching desires and attachments as things to try to consciously manage—choosing what we want consciously and trying to be aware of how these choices affect how we see the world. Knowing that it’s our own desires, attachments, and ignorance that are causing much of our mental turmoil (as well as other suffering), is not what most people seem to want to hear. But it’s actually quite empowering. There’s a way out, you can always press “restart”. It’s just hard to remember this! As the phrase goes here in our time when slogans function as prayers, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

This piece was intended to be just a test for the glass beads on stone concept, but it actually worked.