Buddha said that those who conquer their own minds are greater than those who defeat a thousand men a thousand times in battle.

The Buddha talked often about how difficult the mind is to train. There are a multitude of difficult energies you may encounter as you begin to calm the mind and collect the attention — sleepiness, boredom, restlessness, anxiety, fear, jealousy, envy, ill- will to name but a few. This path requires great patience and a good deal of courage to keep opening to all the different forces and experiences that arise. My first teacher, Anagarika Munindra, would often say, “If you want to understand the mind, sit down and observe it.” 

As you begin this course, which obstacles or difficult mind-states are you most aware of — in your practice of mindfulness in everyday life and in your sitting meditation?

To connect with the difficulty energies of your meditation practice, sit for a period before you begin this course and pay attention to those energies that hinder your mindfulness.


…a few deeply habituated patterns of mind, which when they are carelessly attended to cause of lack of vision, lack of knowledge, are detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from awareness.

These difficult states arise not only in our mediation practice but in our daily lives as well. Because they arise and influence the way we are in the world, learning to recognize and deal with these hindrances has very direct application to our lives on and off the cushion. We need to clearly understand the nature  of these forces in the mind, these habits of mind that obstruct awakening,  obstruct wisdom,  obstruct loving-kindness.

These states of mind are very seductive.  Each has its own hook for us.  When they arise we get lost and carried away — over and over again.  We get caught up in long-established habit patterns of thoughts and feelings and often act them out.

When we’re not mindful of these states, they hinder the development of concentration and wisdom and they obscure the natural radiance of the mind. When we are mindful of them, when we apply mindful and awareness and discernment, all of these states become a vital part of our practice and a vital part of our awakening.

Does this ring true for you? How do your difficult mind-states seduce you?

The five hindrances

The Buddha singled out five difficult mind states that are particularly seductive, which he called the five hindrances.    

  • Doubt
  • Restlessness
  • Sloth and torpor
  • Aversion (ill will)
  • Desire

Before you begin this course, reflect on the list of the five hindrances. Which of these are you aware of as obstacles in your practice, in your life? Are you aware of one or more of them being particularly difficult for you?

The first step necessary in working with these energies is to clearly recognize and identify them when they arise.  Although you may very well have discovered other difficult mind states,  you can use the Buddha’s teachings about these five hindrances  as a framework for understanding how to work with them all.

The Buddha gave some very explicit commentary on the presence of these hindrances:

The mind itself is clear, lucid, and unobstructed like the surface of a still pool of water. Its nature is to simply know whatever is arising. The Buddha used a simile, comparing each of the hindrances to a particular impurity of water that prevents a person from seeing his reflection in a pool of water.

 
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Your Weary Mind

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Your Weary Mind

Doubt
Restlessness
Sloth & Torpor
Aversion
Desire
Letting Go