Avarana and Bahiya Suttas – Hindrances To Refined Mindfulness

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Introduction

The Avarana Sutta teaches the importance for the wise Dhamma Practitioner to recognize common hindrances to developing the Eightfold Path. It is the concentration developed through Jhana meditation that supports the refined mindfulness to notice as these hindrances arise and pass away, on our cushions or off. Once mindfully noticed, these hindrances can be gently abandoned. Through repetition, all hindrances can be completely abandoned so they no longer impede our Dhamma Practitioner.

The Bahiya Sutta describes the impersonal and dispassionate quality of mind that develops from Dhamma Practice. It is this calm and well-concentrated mind that now is no longer driven to distraction by these common hindrances: “This is not me, this is not mine, this is not what I am.”

Introduction To The Avarana Sutta

The Buddha taught that to develop Jhana – a well-concentrated mind – mindfulness of five specific hindrances is imperative to recognize and on them. It is the concentration developed in Jhana meditation that can then support the refined mindfulness necessary to integrate and develop the Eightfold Path as the framework for Dhamma practice. 

These common hindrances to awakening can not be wished away or ritually dismissed. 

  • These hindrances are not to be “validated” or analyzed as to origin or blame. 
  • These hindrances cannot be ignored. 
  • These common hindrances can be calmly recognized and abandoned throughJhana and a complete and pure Dhamma practcie.

Another word for hindrances is obstacles. These five hindrances are self-imposed obstacles commonly employed in a subtle and often unnoticed (strategically ignored) internal strategy to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Rather than avoid responsibility for these hindrances through modern pop-psychology influenced modern Buddhist practices that over-analyze these hindrances to the point of distraction, the Buddha taught the why and how of applying the Dhamma in specific ways. In this way, the Buddha taught an effective Dhamma that avoids “embracing” these hindrances that only encourage continued I-making.

The Avaran Sutta is a simple and direct teaching on what these Five Hindrances are. The Nibbana Sutta is a bit more elaborate and teaches the proper application of Right Mindfulness to recognize and abandon these hindrances. Nibbana (Sanskrit Nirvana) means “extinguished.” The entire Buddha’s Dhamma is developed to recognize and abandon “the fires of passion” that arise by ignorance of Four Noble Truths and continued conceit.

My comments below are in italics.

AVARANA SUTTA – HINDRANCES

ANGUNTTARA NIKAYA 5.51

On one occasion the Buddha was near Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove at Anathapindika’s monastery. He addressed those gathered to hear the Dhamma.:

“Friends, there are five hindrances that overwhelm mindfulness and weaken wise discernment:

  1. Sensual desire is a hindrance that overwhelms mindfulness and weakens wise discernment.
  2. Ill will is a hindrance that overwhelms mindfulness and weakens wise discernment.
  3. Laziness and drowsiness is a hindrance that overwhelms mindfulness and weakens wise discernment.
  4. Restlessness and anxiety id a hindrance that overwhelms mindfulness and weakens wise discernment.
  5. Doubt and Uncertainty is a hindrance that overwhelms mindfulness and weakens wise discernment.

“These are the Five Hindrances.

Notice that each of these hindrances arise from fabricated views of “self” in relation to an impermanent environment that produces ongoing distraction, disappointment, confusion, and deluded thinking. Uncertainty is an aspect of impedance that due to self-referential fabricated views often results in distraction and upset.

“I will provide a simile: Suppose a swift mountain river flowing unimpeded carrying everything with it. A person builds many side-channels so that the current in the middle would be dispersed and dissipated. The slowed river could carry along everything or go far.

The Buddha taught that the Noble Eightfold Path develops Right View as a guiding “middle way” avoiding the continual self-reference produced from extreme and speculative views. In this simile, the unskillful (wrong) effort spent in creating “side-channels” – alternative fake dharmas and unskillful beliefs used to support continued ignorance – results in a dharma practice that is incapable of developing understanding of Four Noble Truths and can only furthering dissertation and continued ignorance.  [3]

“In the same way when a person clings to these hindrances, they are weak and ineffective (in developing the Eightfold Path). It is impossible for these people to understand what is for their benefit or for the benefit of others. It is impossible for these people to develop awakening and a truly noble distinction in knowledge and vision.

It is impossible to develop the Buddha’s Dhamma when distorted by these five hindrances by fake or misleading “dharmas.” 

“Now suppose a swift mountain river flowing unimpeded carrying everything with it. A person comes along and closes all side-channels.  (By developing the Eightfold Path) The middle of the river would be unimpeded and would not be dispersed and dissipated. The swift river would carry along everything and go far.

“In the same way when the wise Dhamma practitioner abandons these five hindrances. It becomes possible for them to develop strong discernment and are effective in their development of my Dhamma. The wise Dhamma practitioner understands what is for their benefit or for the benefit of others. They understand how to develop awakening and a truly noble distinction in knowledge and vision.

Integrating the Eightfold Path provides the framework, guidance, and ongoing motivation to continue swiftly to the goal of awakening – Nibbana.

End Of The Avarana Sutta

Introduction To The Bahiya Sutta

It is by being fully present with dispassionate mindfulness that we are able to truly see our attachments. In this brief teaching, the Buddha taught Bahiya to put aside all views of self arising from confused and deluded thoughts based on clinging and craving.

To truly understand any problem, the problem must be observed clearly, without discriminating thought and without a view of self attached to what is observed. This includes the immediate and mundane problems of the ever-changing physical world, and the individual and immediate problem of the distraction of stress and unhappiness.

In Dhamma practice, as dispassionate mindfulness develops, the distraction of the physical world and the distraction of our own individual stress and unhappiness is understood as the same distraction. The ego-personalities’ need for the people and events of the phenomenal world to be different than they appear to be is the distraction of stress.

It is the distraction of stress that leads to mindlessness and maintains stress and unhappiness, and the confusion of the ego-personality.

It is the very first teaching when the Buddha set the wheel of truth in motion that he describes the truth of all stress and unhappiness:

“Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of stress, disappointment, unhappiness and suffering: birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”

As a consequence of being born in this world, we are all subject to stress arising from impermanence and clinging. The five clinging aggregates describe the mental/physical components of the ego-personality in the phenomenal world. This is a Noble Truth in that it transcends time. It was true at the time of the Buddha and it is true today.

In describing the Noble Truth of Stress the Buddha is teaching to see clearly and with dispassion that these experiences are inevitable and are to be understood as impermanent manifestations of non-self or the ego-personality. Stress arises from the ego-personality wanting these and all other experiences to be different than they are. The ego-personality is what has taken form through the five clinging-aggregates.

By putting aside all views of self, by letting go of the attachment to the ego-personality, no views are left to influence the experience of the present moment.  Clear vision and Right View then define our experience.

This is mindfulness of the Buddha’s Dhamma. Whole-hearted practice of Jhana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path is what the Buddha taught to develop dispassionate mindfulness free of the ego-personalities discriminating and discursive views.

Through knowledge developed through whole-hearted engagement with the Dhamma the distraction of the world is overcome, stress and unhappiness are abandoned, and lasting peace and happiness prevails.

Bahiya was right to understand the immediacy of needing to awaken through the Dhamma. No one can know when sickness, aging and death will arise and this is why the Buddha gave these final instructions moments before he himself passed:

“Impermanence and decay are relentless. Strive diligently for your own salvation.”

BAHIYA SUTTA

UDANA 1.10

Bahiya was revered in his community as a person of great understanding. One day in seclusion Bahiya entertained the idea of whether he was an Arahant, an enlightened being, or was he lacking in some key understanding.

In meditation, a female deva told him that he was not yet an Arahant. In fact, his current practice did not have the qualities that could give rise to enlightenment. (the deva is metaphor for Bahiya’s own heightened awareness) He asked the deva (insight arose within him) if there was one in the world who knew the way to enlightenment.

The deva told Bahiya of the Arahant, a rightly self-awakened one who teaches his Dhamma. The Buddha was in Savatthi at the time. Bahiya immediately left to find the Buddha and learn the Dhamma.

He came upon a group of monks and asked if they knew where to find the Buddha. The monks told Bahiya that the Buddha was on his alms round. Bahiya went into town and came upon the Buddha. Bahiya feared impermanence and uncertainty and was concerned that he or the Buddha may die before he, Bahiya, received the Dhamma.

The Buddha was serene, at peace. Bahiya placed himself at the Buddha’s feet and asked: “Teach me the Dhamma Awakened one. Teach me the Dhamma for my long-term welfare and lasting happiness.”

The Buddha replied, “This is not the time, Bahiya, I am on my alms round.”

Bahiya pleaded “Awakened one, no one can know for sure the dangers there may be for you or for me. Teach me the Dhamma for my long-term welfare and lasting happiness.”

A second time the Buddha responded, “This is not the time, Bahiya, I am on my alms round.”

Again Bahiya pleaded “Awakened one, no one can know for sure the dangers there may be for you or for me. Teach me the Dhamma for my long-term welfare and lasting happiness.”

Finally, the Buddha relented: “I will teach you the Dhamma, Bahiya. Listen carefully to my words. Train your self in this manner: In what is seen, there is only the seen. In what is heard, there is only the heard. In what is sensed, there is only the sensed. In what is cognized, only the cognized.

This is how you should train yourself. When for you there is in what is seen only the seen, in what is heard only the heard, in what is sensed only the sensed and in what is cognized only the cognized, then Bahiya there is no you in connection with what is seen, heard, sensed or cognized, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor there nor anywhere in-between. This and only this is the end of stress and unhappiness.”

Upon hearing the words of the Buddha Bahiya’s mind cleared. Clinging and grasping, greed and aversion ended, and all self-referential views were extinguished. Bahiya awakened gaining full human maturity.

Shortly after Bahiya’s encounter with the Buddha and his enlightenment, he was attacked and killed by a cow. The Buddha, upon hearing of Bahiya’s death instructed some monks to retrieve the body, to cremate it properly and to prepare a memorial to Bahiya.

When completed the monks, knowing Bahiya’s awakening, asked the Buddha what Bahiya’s future state would be. The Buddha replied:

“Monks, Bāhiya was wise. He practiced the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and did not pester me with issues not related to the Dhamma. Bāhiya, monks, is totally unbound.”

“Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing there the stars don’t shine, the sun isn’t visible. There the moon doesn’t appear. There darkness is not found. And when a sage, a brahman through great wisdom and discernment, has realized [this] for himself, then from form & formless, from bliss & pain, he is freed.”

End of Sutta

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