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
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.
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.
Sloth and torpor
Aversion (ill will)
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:
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.