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In the Buddhist tradition, the five hindrances (Sinhala: පඤ්ච නීවරණ pañca nīvaraṇa; Pali: pañca nīvaraṇāni) are identified as mental factors that hinder progress in meditation and in our daily lives. In the Theravada tradition, these factors are identified specifically as obstacles to the jhānas (stages of concentration) within meditation practice. Within the Mahayana tradition, the five hindrances are identified as obstacles to samatha (tranquility) meditation. Contemporary Insight Meditation teachers identify the five hindrances as obstacles to mindfulness meditation.
The five hindrances are:
According to Gil Fronsdal, the Pali term nīvaraṇa means covering. Fronsdal states that these hindrances cover over: the clarity of our mind, and our ability to be mindful, wise, concentrated, and stay on purpose.
According to Rhys Davids, the Pali term nīvaraṇa (Sanskrit: nivāraṇa) refers to an obstacle or hindrance only in the ethical sense, and is usually enumerated in a set of five.
In the Pali Canon's Samyutta Nikaya, several discourses juxtapose the five hindrances with the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).[a] For instance, according to SN 46.37, the Buddha stated:
Bhikkhus, there are these five obstructions, hindrances, corruptions of the mind, weakeners of wisdom. What five? Sensual desire... ill will... sloth and torpor ... restlessness and remorse... doubt...
There are, bhikkhus, these seven factors of enlightenment, which are nonobstructions, nonhindrances, noncorruptions of the mind; when developed and cultivated they lead to the realization of the fruit of true knowledge and liberation. What seven? The enlightenment factor of mindfulness... equanimity...[b]
To overcome the hindrances, to practise satipatthana, and to establish the awakening factors are, indeed, according to several Pali discourses, the key aspects and the distinctive features common to the awakenings of all Buddhas, past, present, and future.
Anālayo further supports this by identifying that, in all extant Sanskrit and Chinese versions of the Satipatthana Sutta, only the five hindrances and seven factors of enlightenment are consistently identified under the dhamma contemplation section; contemplations of the five aggregates, six sense bases and Four Noble Truths are not included in one or more of these non-Pali versions.
In terms of gaining insight into and overcoming the Five Hindrances, according to the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha proclaimed:
How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances?
Herein, monks, when sense-desire is present, a monk knows, "There is sense-desire in me," or when sense-desire is not present, he knows, "There is no sense-desire in me." He knows how the arising of the non-arisen sense-desire comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen sense-desire comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned sense-desire comes to be.
Each of the remaining four hindrances are similarly treated in subsequent paragraphs.
The Buddha gives the following analogies in the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2, "The Fruits of the Contemplative Life"):
[W]hen these five hindrances are not abandoned in himself, the monk regards it as a debt, a sickness, a prison, slavery, a road through desolate country. But when these five hindrances are abandoned in himself, he regards it as unindebtedness, good health, release from prison, freedom, a place of security.
Similarly, in the Saṅgārava Sutta (SN 46.55), the Buddha compares sensual desire with looking for a clear reflection in water mixed with lac, turmeric and dyes; ill will with boiling water; sloth-and-torpor with water covered with plants and algae; restlessness-and-worry with wind-churned water; and, doubt with water that is "turbid, unsettled, muddy, placed in the dark."
|first jhana based
on bodily foulness
|ill will||first jhana based
|perception of light||arahantship|
|doubt||defining of phenomena
|The Pali commentary's methods|
and paths for escaping the hindrances.
According to the first-century CE exegetic Vimuttimagga, the five hindrances include all ten fetters: sense desire includes any attachment to passion; ill will includes all unwholesome states of hatred; and, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt include all unwholesome states of infatuation. The Vimuttimagga further distinguishes that "sloth" refers to mental states while "torpor" refers to physical states resultant from food or time or mental states; if torpor results from food or time, then one diminishes it through energy; otherwise, one removes it with meditation. In addition, the Vimuttimagga identifies four types of doubt:
According to Buddhaghosa's fifth-century CE commentary to the Samyutta Nikaya (Sāratthappakāsinī), one can momentarily escape the hindrances through jhanic suppression or through insight while, as also stated in the Vimuttimagga, one eradicates the hindrances through attainment of one of the four stages of enlightenment (see Table 1).[d]
The five mental factors that counteract the five hindrances, according to the Theravada tradition: