The Five Hindrances, to Happiness of the Heart:
- Anger & Resentment
- Greediness & Selfishness
- Dullness & Laziness
- Restlessness & Anxiety
- Doubt & Confusion
The Caring-Awareness Inquiry
What is happening right NOW?
v N- Notice
v O- Open
v W- Welcome
Poem- The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. By Rumi,
The Five Hindrances by Jack Kornfield
There was a wonderful paper that was written a few years ago it was called “The Five Hindrances of Marriage.” It talked about the difficulties that the Buddha described in meditation — desire, anger, restlessness, laziness or sleepiness, doubt — and it describes the process of marriage as encountering these exact same forces.
- Desire for something else or better.
- Irritation and anger, especially when you discover that the person really isn’t behaving in the way that you expected and hoped and planned for them, and all the irritation and frustration that comes from that.
- The third hindrance of sleepiness or laziness, discovering after awhile that one can get complacent in relationships.
- Or the opposite — restlessness, the traditional Seven Year Itch; after a certain cycle in a relationship, one gets restless for something new or something different.
- And doubt. “Is this the right person?” or “Is this the right way to be living?” and the same forces which arise when one sits in meditation and tries to open one’s eyes inwardly, and one’s heart and mind seem to arise in relation to the people we’re closest to, and all the other people at distances from us.
Can you see that there are parallels between the sitting and other things around?
There are all kinds of stories that we make up about these states. “He did,” and “she did,” and “I will,” and “she should,” and so forth.
It’s useful to see that those stories are based on kind of myths that we build about ourselves and the world, identities that are created mostly by thought.
We can get angry at anything, including things that are already past and nothing can be done about them. And even more, we can imagine something which somebody is going to do, and sit there and get really angry at what they might do. Have you ever seen yourself do that?
We project our righteousness on other people in some way. We project our pain, is really what it’s about; that we’re in some kind of pain, and we make it somebody else’s fault. Also there’s as much suffering in the world as we experience at certain times, and we don’t want to take it in because it’s so hard for our hearts, and our culture is one that doesn’t train the human heart very well to deal with the measure of pain that’s part of life.
I got quite angry today. In fact, I was really yelling at somebody. I won’t talk about the specifics so much. I felt so indignant and I felt so right that it was very hard not to do it. It’s interesting to observe. It’s not like anger is some terrible thing, or that it won’t arise, or that all these other states won’t arise, or that there might not even be an occasion where it was appropriate.
There are some occasions for that, especially if you’re able to let it move through you instead of storing it as resentment and all kinds of other things, or if you use it in a way that isn’t really intended to hurt other people. That’s a whole other talk about anger. But here we are, living in a pretty busy and complicated world, and we see this state of being angry, or being irritated, or judgmental, arise very often, and yet we are the victims of it. It’s we who suffer from it.
The question, when it comes, is: How can we relate to it? It’s really the pain in us that we’re talking about. If we can look at that, then we can touch the world and heal it a little bit. It’s very difficult to do without healing our own pain. Let’s talk about laziness, and so forth. I said all of these are avoidances. Very often anger is really a way of not feeling the pain of someone else or what our own experience is. Judgment and fear are the same things.
Can you learn the basic precept of transforming your unwanted sufferings into the path of practice?
- If you can learn that precept, it will serve you in any circumstances.
- A key thing that it requires is faith.
- It is so important — faith in the human heart, faith in the power of awareness.
“Not faith in the Buddha”
The Dalai Lama was asked what was the most important thing one can do as a teacher of dharma, what’s the most important thing you can communicate, and he said “Faith.” Not faith in the Buddha or faith in something from India or some ancient system, but really faith in our own true nature. Rock bottom understanding of that, not just with words but because you know that it’s true that human beings have this capacity to deal with the sorrows of the world and with adversity, and that the heart is greater than all of that, and that the power of awareness is such that we can grow from any of it. That’s what we have to discover — in ourselves, in our sitting, in our families, in our lives.
Faith, not so much in doing but in stopping, in listening, in not doing so much, and letting ourselves stop avoiding things that are difficult/unpleasant, not getting so caught by the stories of what we want or what we don’t want. That’s all the mind. Minds do that, it’s sort of their job — you pay them a little bit and they just think all the time.
The source of our happiness is not through our doing, it’s really much more through stopping. How can we work with our hindrances very specifically?
First- Notice the Type of Hindrance
If you identify the most popular ones in your own personal repertoire, it helps a lot. I’ve talked on some nights about Buddhist personality typology, which is based on our responses that come out of the sense of separateness itself; and the three roots in Buddhist psychology are the greed type, the aversion type, and the deluded type.
Greedy Type– I’m a great example of the greedy type. The general response of the greedy type is to go into a new situation and see what we like about it, and see how we might get more of it, what’s lovely about it or what we appreciate. Forget the rest. ‘I need more …’
Aversive Type– my wife is more in that category — is somebody who goes into a situation and sees what’s wrong with it, which is a very different response, painted wrong, the colours are wrong, and people are behaving wrong, and so forth. ‘The problem is …’
Deluded Type– whose tendency is to go into a new situation and not know what to make of it, not know what their place is. Characterizes by ‘I don’t know’, ‘I don’t care’
You’ve got to start to look at what is your particular way of not being present.
The thing is that they’re not bad. What’s important is to see that it’s actually very alive, and that if you can begin to work with it, it’s interesting. Aren’t you interested in yourself? Why not look at the patterns that we use in relating to our many daily experiences? It’s really juicy and it can be transformed.
Second- Identify the Type of Hindrance
So the second thing is to identify it, the best you can, without judgment. It’s hard because we tend to say these are bad — it’s bad to be irritated or to be fearful or to be angry, or it’s bad to be desiring or wanting. If we want to learn about them, the key is to be mindful, which is to say, to see and observe them as if you were studying a different person. Say, “Gee, this is an interesting force. How is this operating?”
It’s also important to see that they’re workable. When you identify or label it, it changes from being overwhelming to, “Oh, this is just the dark night of the soul.” It’s difficult, but you know what to call it.”
Third- Become Friends with the Hindrance
Then the third piece is to make friends with it, to really receive it with your heart as well as your attention, because if you dislike it, even in a subtle way in your heart, when you say, “desire, desire, desire” or “aversion” or whatever, it’s not going to go away or change. You won’t even learn much about it because you’re still in struggle with it. The more that you struggle with pains or experiences, actually the more real/stronger they become inside.
Fourth- Observe the Hindrance Change
The fourth is to observe how it changes — the more carefully, the better. Maybe you should study one a week. Pick one and observe what does it feel like in the body.
- How long does it last when you label it?
- How many labels long?
- What triggers it to arise?
- What state usually follows it?
- What is it like if you’re working with desire and you note “desire, desire, desire,” or whatever it happens to be?
- What’s the moment like when it stops?
Look at and see if you’re examining desire or fear or whatever, see what it feels like, and see if you can notice the moment when it changes. Very interesting moment, because at that moment you begin to realize not only its impermanence, but also that it’s very impersonal, it comes according to a certain story or forces.
It doesn’t last very long unless we keep telling the story over and over. You can practice with little ones. You can practice with annoyance with your partner or your spouse. Practice watching when you feel yourself to be right.
Fifth- What is Hiding?
The next — and this is really a key — is see if you can discover what it hides you from, what it distracts you from, what it covers up, what is the fear. When I said these are all forms of avoidance, if you let yourself feel desire, or fear, or boredom, or doubt, or restlessness, and you observe it, see if you can listen inside yourself a little more deeply, or even on a cellular level somehow, and see what it is that you’re moving away from, that you run from.
We move away from loneliness, we move away from grief, or unfinished business, or pain in our heart, or the fact that we haven’t really been intimate in our relations at times, and that’s difficult to acknowledge, so we distract ourselves, or we move away from pains that are unfinished in the past where we haven’t forgiven, or meaninglessness, or we move away from fear that things are out of control. They are!
Or we move away from space; it gets quiet and the whole sense of oneself which is built on busyness starts to go away, and that’s scary, so we distract ourselves. It’s not only to observe the hindrance or the state, but also to listen more deeply and see what you would experience if you let yourself just get here. What might you be avoiding?
It’s okay to stop and feel what’s actually present. This is a big part of practice, to open your body, to use your breath, your attention, and your heart, and feel what’s here, and stop moving; to come to rest in the moment. This is where it gets very delicate. It’s called, Watching the Movement of Mind.
I’ll close with something from Achaan Chah. He talks about the Middle Way:
“Just take one seat in the middle of the room and don’t get up, and see the things as they come and go.”
So working with these states in one’s sitting practice, in driving in a traffic jam, in the supermarket, in one’s marriage, or one’s intimate relations, in the workplace – they are the same forces.
Begin to work by identifying them, start to see what your common patterns are, maybe take a look and see what you are avoiding by having them there, and see if you can bring your heart into them as well, because for the most part they arise out of some place of pain. If we can open and soften to that, to kind of melt to it, there’s a much deeper place of well-being that is our Buddha-nature (Awaken-Nature), that is our birthright, and it’s there for anybody who stops (and drops:).
Two Short Hindrance Practices
The Five Mental Hindrances to Happiness of the Heart:
- Anger & Resentment
- Greediness & Selfishness
- Dullness & Laziness
- Restlessness & Anxiety
- Doubt & Confusion
When we feel a hindrance or several at once, we think we are restless, slothful, or doubtful. But the hindrances are just mental factors, said the Buddha — not the truth.
To work with the hindrances, watch their rising and passing — for instance, notice the energy of your restlessness. Then they can come and go.
Each hindrance has an antidote. For instance, you may feel aversion to others, to yourself, or to what has happened. it is really an aversion to something internal, not to something outside. Trying to suppress unpleasant feelings can result in an unhealthy layering of aversion.
The antidote to Anger & Resentment is loving-kindness. If the aversion comes from self-hatred, practicing loving-kindness toward yourself can be helpful. If the aversion is toward others or toward an experience, practicing acceptance allows you to become compassionate and present, allowing you to deal better with a difficult circumstance.
A simple but often effective practice is to sit and internally say “yes” to a difficult experience. As you do this, watch what happens to your mind and body. In this way, connecting to your own experience can be an antidote to aversion.
This practice does not mean a passive acceptance of all events, but rather a clear-eyed recognition of the situation that allows you to deal with whatever arises.
What’s your experience when you try saying “yes” to your experience instead of resisting it?
Feeling, The Fear
Fear underlies each of the 5 hindrances the Buddha spoke of: greed, aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt. We’re greedy because we’re fearful we won’t get what we want, or we feel aversion toward a difficult situation because we’re afraid of it.
How should we deal with fear?
There are general instructions for all the hindrances:
- First, know that it is happening. (What is happening?)
- Let yourself feel the fear. (Feel the feelings.)
- Don’t judge yourself for it. (How am I relating to it?)
- Pause and recognize that your identity has contracted into a fearful self. (EGO)
- Be compassionate toward yourself, neither grasping nor resisting your fear. (I am sorry, I Love you 🙂
Then investigate the feeling:
- What are you really fearful of?
- What are you clinging to or pushing away?
- It may not be the immediate situation that you think is the trigger for fear, but rather something broader.
- It could be one of the most common fears: fear of inadequacy or fear of what others think.
Fear comes from a belief, not necessarily from reality. Anticipation is the major ingredient. A Buddhist monk tells of pulling out his own tooth with a pair of pliers — without anaesthetic. His listeners are horrified. “Weren’t you afraid?” they ask. “When I walked to the tool shed to pick up the pliers, I wasn’t afraid. When I pulled out the tooth, I was afraid for a couple of minutes. When I cleaned the pliers and took them back to the tool shed, I wasn’t afraid.” Because he was concentrating on the moment, as Buddhists are taught to do in meditation, his fear was limited to the brief time he was doing something scary.
To deal with fear, Buddhist suggest mindfulness.
- Notice what’s happening in the mind and the sensations in the body.
- As you concentrate on the moment and feel your body getting grounded, you may feel less fearful.
If you don’t confront your fear, you may have fear of fear. But if you examine your fear with a clear mind, you may realize that it is only a belief, not the truth.
Adapted by G Ross Clark