The Five Hindrances
- Sensory desire (kāmacchanda): seeking for pleasure through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling.
- Ill-will (vyāpāda; also spelled byāpāda): feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness.
- Lethargy (thīna–middha): half-hearted action with little or no effort or concentration.
- Restlessness (uddhacca–kukkucca): the inability to calm the mind and focus one’s energy.
- Doubt (vicikiccha): lack of conviction or trust in one’s abilities.
The hindrances are called hindrances because they directly prevent and hinder awakening, and the development of the factors of awakening. The five hindrances are familiar mundane states that everyone walking a spiritual path is bound to have experienced at some time or another. The good news is that despite the fact that these mental habits preclude awakening, there are specific, easy to follow steps to train the mind to first subdue the hindrances temporarily, and then through insight into the workings of mind, we can directly loosen the hindrances and their effect in the mind, until they no longer arise at all, during meditation or during daily activities.
This is quite an achievement but also quite possible. If a practitioner has a sincere desire to awaken, and the willingness to follow simple steps with faith and diligence, awakening is available in this life! This fact should be celebrated, and with that note, we will begin to develop samatha in conjunction with vipassana, step by step. By learning the principles in this text and employing them in every situation, everyone can awaken.
Combatting the Hindrances
An attitude of opposition plays directly into some of our more flawed characteristics as humans, and directly uses the frustration of dukkha into energy of opposition of the dukkha. When we suffer, we know that it is because our mind creates suffering. We know that it is optional to suffer, and that we want to not suffer. With this fact in mind, the hindrances are a direct opponent and an adversary. The hindrances prolong our stress and strain. We can learn ways to systematically dismantle the hindrances until they no longer arise.
Sensory desire is directly opposed by turning inward for the meditation. Every time we turn away from objects of the world and turn to our own mind, we are renouncing the attachment we have to external affairs for the moment. We are engaging in an act of rebellious renunciation of objects of the senses. We take the energy and frustration of the day, and we intentionally channel it in a way that says “I don’t need anything”. This act of renunciation provides a karmic charge and the more times we repeat this action, the stronger the mind’s power with a similar intention in the future. We are intending to look inwardly for fulfillment.
Indeed, with the full fruition of samatha, and along the way, the fruits of the practice are highly gratifying. The pleasure of calm-abiding arrived at through mental unification, is much better than the sensory pleasure we get from external objects. We get a direct experience of rapture, tranquility, equanimity, mindfulness, energy, investigation, and concentration, and we find that these mental factors are much more wholesome and useful for the mind than any temporary pleasure gained from sense objects. There is a nourishing aspect to the bliss of calm abiding that is much more compelling.
Traditionally, sensory desire is opposed by contemplation of the body, but the SigmaTropic system instead relies on positive reinforcement methods of meditation. We learn to come to an equanimity in regard to sense objects, not through aversion, but through the satisfaction afforded to us by calm abiding.
Ill will and Aversion
The practice of loving-kindness meditation directly opposes ill will and aversion and is a standard practice in the SigmaTropic System. The basis is the softening of the self-other duality through clear comprehension of the mental factors of loving kindness. This practice can be done if the ill will and aversion is a continual hindrance. The meditator might be encountering persistent ongoing thoughts about a colleague at work, and there may be ill will in that context. Or there may be bodily pain, or remorse for something we did or said. Metta (loving-kindness practice) directly opposes ill will. Mental unification eventually leads to a state of physical pliancy, and pain will no longer arise in the meditation. Meanwhile, standing Zhan Zhuang poses can be done if pain is the main hindrance arising. This practice allows the meditator to systematically release tension in the body and directly promotes a state of relaxed energy.
Sloth and Torpor
Energy cultivation practices developed in Category I concentration are the main tools that we use to reverse sloth and torpor. This useless state of mind must be decisively antidoted if we want to awaken. The exercises are simple and easy to follow. If dullness is the main hindrance arising, the main objective is to notice the dullness as soon as possible and apply an appropriate remedy. See Category I concentration- dullness for detailed instructions.
Restlessness and Worry
This is a discontented, unstable, unsteady state of anxiety that we aim to directly treat with an appropriate remedy. The physical body and the mind are connected, and states of restlessness are mental and physical phenomena. We can recognize this hindrance as soon as possible and do deliberate belly breathing and use mindfulness of breathing in a way as to counteract the effect of anxiety in the body and begin to calm the mind. This tendency of mind will also be weakened as samatha is developed and the seven factors of awakening are developed. But for state of anxious frenzied thinking, we want to physiologically stabilize the body, then the mind will follow. Use deliberate, slow breaths when using the mindfulness of breathing instructions.
The hindrance of doubt is a direct enemy to awakening. We can have many different thoughts which register in the mind that have a common source of doubt. In fact, western people seem to especially struggle with doubt, due perhaps to all the information we have available to us about how to do spiritual practice and what enlightenment is and what are good qualities and what are bad qualities of mind. Reading inspirational stories, having direct experiences of insight, and experiencing mental unification serve to counteract doubt. If doubt is the main obstacle, accumulative concentration using a mantra such as Om Mani Padme Hum can act as an aid to counteract doubt. Doubt also has a commonality to pride, and thus, prostration can directly counteract doubt.