Review of the Five Hindrances

Image Source: Monk Pillars

POSTCARD#456: Bangkok: The suttas say that one practices satipaṭṭhāna “having temporarily abandoned the five hindrances.” That means that a prerequisite for the practice of satipaṭṭhāna is the abandoning of the five hindrances first! MN 68,6:“not attaining a jhāna, the five hindrances invade one’s mind and remain. Attaining a jhāna, the five hindrances do not invade the mind and remain.”) Anyone who has experienced a jhāna knows that after emerging, one’s mindfulness is so powerful and so easy to sustain. This is the result of the five hindrances being absent.

Editors note: Continuing from last week with our review of the Five Hindrance, please note 1. sensory desire kāmma-cchanda was included there, but for convenience’s sake we have included it here also.

1. sensory desire kāmma-cchanda

 The compound kāmma-cchanda means ‘delight, interest, involvement with the world of the five senses. At the start of your meditation, place the mind beyond the reach of the five senses by returning to present-moment awareness [chapter 1, stage one, print copy, page 7]. Most if not all of our past and future is occupied with the affairs of the five senses. Through achieving present-moment awareness, we cut off most of the kāmma-cchanda. [see also: silent present-moment awareness – stage two, print copy, page 11]

 2. ill will (vyāpāda).

The  usual understanding of this second hindrance is anger toward another person. But it is more likely to be toward yourself or even toward the meditation object.

Ill will towards yourself can manifest as not allowing yourself to bliss out. There are many people who have deep guilt complexes. This is mostly a Western trait because of the way most of us have been brought up. Guilt and punishment are inseparable in our culture and in our minds. Punishment may be denying ourselves some kind of pleasure, happiness or freedom. People in the West just keep on seeking punishment. It’s crazy!

Goodwill Toward Yourself

Give  yourself  a  break, do  some  loving-kindness  meditation [Page 34 Print copy. Key in: Loving Kindness in the WordPress search box]. Say  to yourself, “The door to my heart is open to all of me. I allow myself happiness. I allow myself peace. I have goodwill toward myself, enough goodwill to let myself become peaceful and to bliss out on this meditation.”

3. sloth and torpor (thinā-middhā)

I’m sure we know it all too well through our experience of meditation. We sit in meditation and don’t really know what  we  are  watching,  whether  it’s  the  present  moment,  silence,  the  breath,  or  whatever.  This  is because the mind is dull. It’s as if there are no lights turned on inside. It’s all gray and blurry.

Making Peace with Sloth and Torpor

The  most  profound  and  effective  way  of  overcoming  sloth  and  torpor  is  to  make  peace  with  the dullness and stop fighting it! When I was a young monk in the forest monasteries in Thailand and became sleepy during the 3:15 A.M. sitting, I would struggle like hell to overpower the dullness. I would usually fail. But when I did succeed in overcoming my sleepiness, restlessness would replace it. So I would calm down the restlessness and fall back into sloth and torpor.

The Knower and the Doer

It  took  many  years  to understand what was going on. The knower is the passive half of the mind that simply receives information. The doer is the active half that responds with evaluating, thinking, and controlling. The knower and the doer share the same source of mental energy. Thus, when you are doing a lot, when you have a busy lifestyle and are struggling to get on, the doer consumes most of your mental energy, leaving only a pittance for the knower. When the knower is starved of mental energy you experience dullness.

4. Restlessness and Remorse (udhaccha-kukkccha)

The main component of this hindrance is restlessness of mind. But first let me briefly address the matter of remorse. Remorse is the result of hurtful things that you may have done or said. In other words, it is a result of bad conduct. If any remorse comes up in meditation, instead of dwelling on it, you should forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. The wise are not people who never make mistakes, but those who forgive themselves and learn from their mistakes. Some people have so much remorse that they think they can never become enlightened.


Whether we find joy or not depends on the way we train our perception. It’s within our power to change the way we look at things. We can look at a glass of water and perceive it as very beautiful, or we can think of it as ordinary. In meditation, we can see the breath as dull and routine, or we can see it as very beautiful and unique. If we look upon the breath as something of great value, then we won’t get restless. We won’t go around looking for something else.

That’s what restlessness is, going around looking for something else to do, something else to think about, somewhere else to go—anywhere but here and now. Restlessness is one of the major hindrances, along with sensory desire. Restlessness makes it so hard to sit still for very long.

Contentment  is  the  opposite  of  a  fault finding mind. You should  develop  the  perception  of contentment with whatever you have, wherever you are, as much as you can. Beware of finding fault in your meditation, that  thought  is  the  very  cause  of restlessness. It doesn’t matter how the meditation is going, be absolutely content with it and it will go deeper. If you’re dissatisfied with your progress, then you’re only making it worse. So learn to be content with the present moment. Forget about jhānas, just be content to be here and now, in this moment.

Watch the silence and be content to be silent. If you’re truly content, you don’t need to say anything. Don’t most inner conversations take the form of complaining, attempting to change things, or wanting to do something else? Or escaping into the world of thoughts and ideas? Thinking indicates a lack of contentment. If you’re truly contented, then you’re still and quiet. See if you can deepen your contentment, because it is the antidote for restlessness.

5. doubt (vicikiccā)

Doubt can be toward the teaching, about the teacher, or toward yourself.

Doubt can also be directed toward what you are experiencing now: “What
is this? Is this jhāna? Is this present-moment awareness?” Such doubts are hindrances. They are inappropriate during meditation.

If while meditating the thought “Is this jhāna?” arises, then it cannot be jhāna! Thoughts like that can’t come up within these deep states of stillness. Only afterward, when you review those states, can you look back and say, “Ah, that was a jhāna.” If you get into any difficulty in your meditation stop, and rather than think “Is this a jhāna”, ask yourself, “Which of the hindrances is this?”

[Below are the five hindrances in the usual order in which the Buddha lists them:

1. sensory desire (kāmma-cchanda)

2. ill will (vyāpāda)

3. sloth and torpor (thinā-middhā)

4. restlessness and remorse (udhaccha-kukkccha)

5. doubt (vicikiccā)]

Continued next week 4th February 2022

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