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The Five Hindrances (Nivaraṇa) stop the development of meditation by creating mental agitation and energy imbalances within the mind. When we first sit down in meditation it is necessary to suppress the Hindrances by holding our attention on one object such as the experience of breathing to develop some Fixed Concentration.
Once Fixed Concentration has been developed and our mind is temporarily free from the Five Hindrances, it is time to begin Mindfulness of Mind (Cittanupassana). This is done by loosening the grip of our attention on our meditation object, such as the experience of breathing, and allowing the Five Hindrances to arise again.
Because Mindfulness and concentration are now strong, the Five Hindrances no longer completely control our mind and we are able to observe them to develop understanding. This means being Mindful of every time that attention moves from the breath to an experience at one of the Six Senses. This requires Momentary Concentration (Khanika Samadhi) rather than Fixed Access Concentration (Upacara Samadhi) because Fixed Concentration suppresses the Six Senses preventing understanding to arise.
Each of these pairs are opposite to each other in terms of balance, Sensual Desire is the chasing of pleasant feeling, Ill will the running away from unpleasant feeling. Sloth and Torpor is mental 'sinking', Restlessness is mental agitation. Sceptical Doubt is by itself because since its base is delusion its opposite is Wisdom (Panna).
1. Sensual Desire (Kamacchanda) - Craving / attachment to objects of the sense world. Causes your attention to turn outwards, to grab onto things, to long for. This can manifest in your meditation practice and daily life as obsessive thinking and addiction.
2. Ill Will (Byapada) - Relationship to the sense world through aversion / anger based mind states, pushing away and attacking everything. This can manifest in your meditation practice and also daily life as obsessive thinking and aversive states of mind such as anxiety, depression, irritation, anger etc.
3. Sloth and Torpor (Thina-middha) - Mental Sluggishness - too low energy based on low awareness of now. This can manifest in your meditation practice and daily life as mental sluggishness or dullness. An inability to mentally engage with anything, inability to experience anything clearly.
4. Restlessness (Uddhacca-kukkucca) - Too much energy based on too much effort in each moment. This can manifest in your meditation practice and also daily life as obsessive thinking and aversive states of mind such as mental and physical restlessness, an inability to hold your attention in one place. This gives rise to energetic, nonstop thinking, no space, no silence and can manifest as physical twitching or movement.
5. Sceptical Doubt (Vicikiccha) - Delusional state of mind - doubt in your ability, your teachers ability, the technique, that meditation actually is real. This can manifest in your meditation practice and daily life as mental confusion, inability to get engaged in life, to commit to anything, this hindrance cripples you and completely stops the flow of your practice and your ability to live life. It can have a physical manifestation of depression or mental as delusion.
These Five Hindrances all exist to some degree and control us during our everyday life, you will notice that they are recognisable. They also are brought into the meditation practice, if you have been cultivating a specific hindrance by reacting to it in everyday life, that is what you will see come up most often during your seated meditation.
We can liken the Five Hindrances to surfing. When we first learn to surf we have to get through the white water before we get to the waves. While in the white water we will get thrown about here and there, at times getting held under, feeling like we are drowning.
If we hop back on the board every time we fall off we will gradually learn the skill on how to get through the white water and be able to get out the back to waves. Now is where we learn to surf, learn to stay on the waves without falling off.
In the same way you will find that during your meditation that these Five Hindrances will arise, they will throw you here and there, sometimes you may feel like you are drowning, the important thing is to keep hopping back on the board and learning the skill of staying on and finding your way through.
When you first start meditating this skill of staying on the board needs to be developed.
⚪ The surf board a metaphor for your meditation object.
⚪ The white water is a metaphor for the Five Hindrances.
⚪ The white water knocking you off your surfboard is a metaphor for the Five Hindrances distracting your attention from your object of meditation.
⚪ Hopping back on the surfboard is a metaphor for remembering that you are distracted and coming back to the object of meditation.
⚪ Getting through the white water to the waves out the back is a metaphor for developing enough concentration to suppress the Five Hindrances.
⚪ Learning to surf the waves is a metaphor for developing Mindfulness of Breathing and staying with each breath without forgetting it.
⚪ Falling off the board is a metaphor for forgetting the breath.
⚪ Surfing the waves is a metaphor for being able to stay with attention wherever it moves and always being aware of where it is sitting.
These Five Hindrances if not known and understood, hinder meditation practice and create suffering within our daily life. These Five Hindrances if known become the content of Mindfulness meditation practice and the understanding that arises matures into Wisdom which removes suffering from daily life and brings the Five Hindrances, themselves, to an end, never to arise again.
To do this we first need to approach our Mindfulness meditation with the intention of learning to surf the waves, not fighting against them, otherwise the skill of meditation will never develop and we will drown within the delusion of the Hindrances.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, Meditation Instructor from Meditation in The Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you