Dharma Talk on the Five Hindrances




-Restlessness and Worry


These five are the mind-states that hinder our ability to meditate. These are the issues that arise when I find I have a “bad” sit. The talk today is about the tools you have in your meditation toolkit to practice with these hindrances when they arise. A typical description of the first jhana, the first tier of concentration meditation that Ginger has described in her one day retreat in January, is when these Five Hindrances are not present.

For those who like labeling during meditation, these categories are good to know: desire, aversion, drowsiness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. The feeling tones of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral can help point towards if any of these are present. Desire and Drowsiness can relate to the Pleasant, Aversion and Worry can relate to the Unpleasant, and Doubt especially but also Drowsiness and Restlessness can dwell in the Neutral where nothing much seems to be happening.

Who thinks they had any of these arise during their sit tonight?

One key technique is a replacement. Your mind if focusing on one of these and a way to change things up is to do a bait-and-switch on your mind.

Aversion – The replacement technique for aversion would be metta. Not necessarily metta for the person or situation you have aversion towards but as usual start with yourself and send thoughts of loving-kindness towards yourself, someone you care about, etc. Alternatively, the breath meditation of calm, perhaps deep breathing can recenter yourself in times of aversion. There is a lot of energy in aversion so use that energy fruitfully and skillfully.

Desire – For desire, the replacement technique would be recollection of generosity either towards yourself or towards others. Gratitude also falls into this category by shifting the mind’s focus from the wanting of something to being thankful for something or recollecting a time you were generous or someone was generous to you. There is a lot of energy in desire and shifting that energy to another subject can be very productive but do not ignore to fight that energy.

Drowsiness – This one is slightly different because it is part physical and part mental. It can be worked with in both ways either separately or together. On the physical side, doing things like opening your eyes to let it light and leaving them open, standing up, sitting in a different way such as on a cushion, or taking some rapid breaths. Perhaps not eating before the sit. Mentally, it can be helpful to take a little bit more control of your thoughts and intentionally think through aspects of the dharma. I often recite some of these lists, challenge myself to try to remember, pretend I am explaining a concept of the dharma to a friend, etc. Sometimes you have to have the wisdom though to realize you may just be tired and need to rest.

Restlessness and Worry – This one is primarily mental but can have physical manifestations. It also wraps itself around another hindrance. With the right setting, this can be the correct time to practice walking meditation perhaps instead of sitting. Otherwise, practices such as equanimity and concentration on the breath, or body scans can be effective methods for drawing your mind away from the worries of the world and restlessness of the mind. The energy of restlessness and worry can also be shifted into the Brahma Vihara practices.

Doubt – This is quite possibly the most difficult of the hindrances and where reliance on confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha can come into play as well as working with an acceptance of the unknown.  Confidence in your own ability and the ability of all individuals to alter their mind-states through this practice. Confidence in the happiness that comes from seeing reality as it is.  Confidence in this group that practices together, has the same difficulties in practice, and works together to move us all forward.

Guided meditation, page 170 of Working with the Five Hindrances by Ajahn Thiradhammo