1. Sensory desire
  2. Ill-will
  3. Lethargy and drowsiness
  4. Restlessness and worry
  5. Doubt

The last of the five hindrances is doubt, vicikicchā in Pali. To be clear, there are two distinct types of doubt: a hindering, pessimistic doubt, which can stop us in our tracks, and a questioning, clarifying form of doubt, which encourages curiosity and discovery. The hindrance refers only to the first of these two types.

Vicikicchā includes skeptical doubt, self-doubt, confusion, indecision, vacillation, over-thinking, and paralyzing fear/anxiety. Doubt can also originate in bringing wrong assumptions to spiritual practice, for example expecting to gain or accumulate (instead of shed) things through mindfulness practice. Doubt is a mental state related to delusion or being unclear; the metaphor for the hindrance of doubt in the Pali canon is trying to see truly in murky water.

Three remedies for doubt are:

  1. Gratitude or appreciation for the Dharma teachings
  2. Develop concentration by chanting, mantra, or other practice
  3. Investigate experience persistently

Gratitude or appreciation for the Dharma teachings could take the form of turning attention towards some part of the teaching that has meaning for us; it could be faith in the possibility of awakening (for everyone), or an appreciation for the coherence and power of the Buddha’s Four Truths or Eight-fold Path. If any of the “sublime state” practices has been useful in the past, they can be called upon in times of doubt, that is, unbounded, all-inclusive lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, or equanimity. We can also turn to any “noble” friends to discuss our doubts with, that is, people whom we trust to have our best interests at heart. Personally, I like to remember that I have not yet found a more coherent or helpful system for viewing experience.

We can purposely place the mind in a more congenial state by using one of the many concentration practices. Chanting when in distress can be soothing and a reminder of what is true. Mantra practice, or simply counting breaths may also be helpful. Walking meditation might also be in this category because it can even out our energy.

Lastly, giving one’s doubt appropriate attention, investigating it mindfully and methodically, can strengthen both our faith and our mindfulness. Ajahn Chah once reassured a Western disciple:

Doubting is natural. Everyone starts out with doubts. You can learn a great deal from them. What is important is that you don’t identify with your doubts: that is, don’t get caught up in them. This will spin your mind in endless circles. Instead, watch the whole process of doubting, of wondering. See who it is that doubts. See how doubts come and go. Then you will no longer be victimized by your doubts. You will step outside of them, and your mind will be quiet. You can see how all things come and go. Just let go of what you are attached to. Let go of your doubts and simply watch. This is how to end doubting.

Ajahn Jayasaro says that the hindrances don’t appear in the mind as a result of meditation; rather, meditation reveals hindrances that are already latent within the mind but are difficult to isolate and deal with effectively in daily life. With persistent, appropriate attention, we all become more expert at handling the hindrances when they come up in our practice.


About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Causes and results, Dukkha, General, Hindrances. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Doubt

  1. jeffreznik says:

    That was a great series on the 5 hindrances, Lynn – very helpful, and I’m sure will be a useful reference to go back to for review in the future. Thank you very much!

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