Mindfulness of the hindrances

Here we are, considering the fourth framework for cultivating mindfulness: principles/phenomena/dharmas. Specifically, we’ll take up how we can practice mindfulness with the hindrances. As a reminder, the hindrances are:

  1. sensual desire,
  2. anger,
  3. sloth-and-torpor
  4. restlessness-and-worry, and
  5. doubt.

To be clear, we are mainly thinking of our own hindrances, not other peoples’. We can learn from observing other folks’ mistakes, but the errors we make ourselves are the ones most likely to make a lasting impression on us.

Before we get into specifics on each of the hindrances, we should remember that the fourth framework asks us to observe the conditions that lead to the arising of the hindrances and the conditions that lead to the fading or overcoming of the hindrances. Unfortunately, there is not a simple list of things to avoid and things to draw near to us. Because our life experience is unique, we need to figure some specific things out for ourselves.

Ven. Anālayo offers an excellent metaphor in his book Satipaṭṭhāna Meditation: A Practice Guide (p. 154). We can imagine ourselves as a chess player…

Our friend has just made a threatening move, attacking our queen (gardez!). We will not get angry because of that. After all it is a game and the other player is our good friend. Yet at the same time we do want to win.

With this type of attitude, wanting to win without getting angry, we examine the situation: “Let me see, how did I get into this? How come I am now in the situation of being about to lose my queen?” On examining how this happened, we keep a lookout for the type of move that will save our queen. In other words, we try to identify the condition that will lead us out of this situation.

Ven. Anālayo goes on to point out that by seeing an arisen hindrance as a chess move, we are less likely to take it personally. That is, we don’t need to see our sensual desire or anger as something to feel guilty about or get annoyed with. It is simply what is happening now. It is also likely that whatever our favored hindrance is will arise in the future. Can we prepare ourselves by changing our attitude to our own obstructions, or by adjusting how we handle them?

The degree to which this particular mental condition can actually function as a “hindrance”, in the sense of obstructing our inner clarity, is inexorably interwoven with the degree of our identification with the images and associations it conjures up in the mind.

That is to say, the more closely we identify with our desire or anger or agitation or sloth or doubt, the harder it is to work with. By creating a little distance between “me” and the present obstructive mind state, we make a space we can work in.

The hindrances obstruct our mental clarity and actually block our pathway towards non-clinging, towards liberation. Only we have the power to mindfully, methodically, remove those obstacles.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Anger, Causes and results, Hindrances, Mindfulness, Patience and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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