Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Opening to insight: The five hindrances

The five hindrances are obstacles in meditation and in life.  They are manifestations of the three root defilements--greed, hate and delusion.

The five hindrances are sense desire, ill will; sloth and topor; restlessness, worry and remorse; and doubt.  The first two hindrances, sense desire and ill will, represent the forces of attraction and aversion that we can have towards sense objects and are manifestations of the defilements of greed and anger.  They are the strongest of the hindrances.  The other three hindrances are manifestations of delusion, usually in association with other defilements (Bodhi, 2010).  Although less toxic than the first two hindrances, they too obstruct meditative progress.  Restlessness, worry and remorse disquiet the mind and distract us.  Sloth and topor drain our energy and doubts saps our confidence in what we are doing.

In traditional explanations of these hindrances, the simile is employed of the mind being like water.  When sense desire dominates, the mind is like water that is dyed with many bright and alluring colors.  When ill will dominates, the mind is like boiling water.  When restlessness, worry and remorse dominate, the mind is like water churned up by the wind.  When sloth and torpor dominate, the mind is like a stagnant pond choked with weeds and algae.  When doubt dominates, the mind is like muddy water.  For each of the hindrances, the water is disturbed and it is not possible to see clearly through it.

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