The Five Hindrances

Temple of the Dawn at Dusk

I believe it is almost uni­ver­sal­ly true that any­one who is drawn to med­i­ta­tion and who makes the effort to med­i­tate is seek­ing some form of peace of mind. One can say that the very effort to med­i­tate betrays or reveals dis­tur­bance. Although this may seem like an obvi­ous truth, I think many peo­ple over­look this sim­ple fact, to their detri­ment. An unspo­ken, uncon­scious long­ing for peace only adds fuel to inner dis-ease. The way things are in the moment then become per­pet­u­al­ly inad­e­quate, unsat­is­fac­to­ry, and adver­sar­i­al. Then, instead of calm­ly accept­ing and observ­ing the dis­tur­bances in the mind, the per­son invests tremen­dous impor­tance in some future, as yet unat­tained, tran­quil­li­ty or bliss. The per­son may force his or her atten­tion to rest with some present object, like the breath­ing, but there will always be a pow­er­ful expec­ta­tion to gain some future reward for one’s labours.

One of the most use­ful teach­ings by the Bud­dha in this con­text is that of the Five Hin­drances (nīvaraṇa). We can assume that we would know ful­ly and direct­ly if our minds were tru­ly in a state of peace. In each moment, whether we are engaged in for­mal med­i­ta­tion or not, we can hon­est­ly ask our­selves whether the mind is peace­ful or not. If it is not, then it is fair to assert that one or sev­er­al of the hin­drances are present­ly active in the mind. Just as most of us would pre­fer to wake up, pull back the cur­tains, and look upon a clear blue sun­ny day, there are many days (depend­ing of course on where you live) when we wit­ness oth­er weath­er sys­tems: rain, fog, sleet, light­ning, fierce winds, smog, etc. Unlike the weath­er, which isn’t sub­ject to whin­ing or sup­pli­ca­tion, the mind’s atmos­phere is affect­ed by the way we live and by the things we choose.

A very use­ful exer­cise when med­i­tat­ing (or sim­ply in qui­et moments dur­ing the day) is to take a weath­er report: first, to ask one­self, ‘Is the mind peace­ful?’ And if it is not then to exam­ine which of the hin­drances is pre­dom­i­nant. Get to know the hin­drances inti­mate­ly. Each one has a very dis­tinct flavour or ener­getic expres­sion. How does anger move through the body and mind as dis­tin­guished say from lust? Be inter­est­ed. Act like a sci­en­tist who is inves­ti­gat­ing vital phe­nom­e­na, whose inves­ti­ga­tions may lead to fan­tas­tic dis­cov­er­ies.

Colours Reflected in Water

Sup­pose there is a bowl of water mixed with lac, turmer­ic, blue dye, or crim­son dye. If a man with good sight were to exam­ine his own facial reflec­tion in it, he would nei­ther know nor see it as it real­ly is. So too, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by sen­su­al lust.

Bubbling, Sparkling Water

 

Sup­pose there is a bowl of water being heat­ed over a fire, bub­bling and boil­ing. If a man with good sight were to exam­ine his own facial reflec­tion in it, he would nei­ther know nor see it as it real­ly is. So too, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by ill-will.

Water with Algae

Sup­pose there is a bowl of water cov­ered over with water plants and algae. If a man with good sight were to exam­ine his own facial reflec­tion in it, he would nei­ther know nor see it as it real­ly is. So too, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by sloth and tor­por.

Restless Water, Restless Mind

Sup­pose there is a bowl of water stirred by the wind, rip­pling, swirling, churned into wavelets. If a man with good sight were to exam­ine his own facial reflec­tion in it, he would nei­ther know nor see it as it real­ly is. So too, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by rest­less­ness and wor­ry.

Muddy Waters, Turbid Mind

Sup­pose there is a bowl of water that is tur­bid, unset­tled, mud­dy, placed in the dark. If a man with good sight were to exam­ine his own facial reflec­tion in it, he would nei­ther know nor see it as it real­ly is. So too, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by doubt.

 

S. V. 121–4 (based on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s trans­la­tion).

 

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