Five Hindrances to Awakening


The Five Hindrances to Dhamma Practice is an article and talk on the common hindrances to establishing and maintaining a Dhamma practice of developing understanding of The Four Noble Truths.

Included below are two recordings of sangha discussions from our 2015 – 2016 10 week Dhamma study based on The Truth Of Happiness book. Information on the Truth Of Happiness book is here.

The Following is an excerpt from The Truth Of Happiness book. Information on The Truth Of Happiness book and ten-week course is here.

The second and sixth factors of The Eightfold Path, Right Intention and Right Effort, greatly support your overall Dhamma practice. Maintaining the strong resolve of Right Intention and engaging in Right Effort will provide the framework needed to develop and maintain a Dhamma practice. Right Intention is holding in mind the intention to put aside clinging, aversion and delusional thinking and awaken to the true nature of reality.

Being mindful of Right Intention and Right Effort, you make a commitment to practice. Put aside set times, preferably twice a day, for meditation practice. It is most effective to meditate as soon as possible after waking before becoming distracted or sidetracked by your daily routine. Doing this consistently begins to diminish conditioned mind’s desire to avoid looking at itself.

Right Effort (the sixth factor of the Eightfold Path) is keeping your self in fit physical, mental and spiritual condition as well. Getting enough rest, eating healthy, and physical exercise are all a part of Right Effort. Any exercise is a support for Dhamma practice and walking “meditation” is a very skillful way to combine exercise and mindful movement. Tai Chi and QiGong are particularly supportive of Dhamma practice. Keep in mind that there is no effective substitute for sitting meditation. Bringing the body to stillness greatly supports a calm and tranquil mind.

Five Common Hindrances to Practice

  1. Sensory or Sensual desire
  2. Ill will
  3. Sloth, torpor, or drowsiness
  4. Restlessness and worry
  5. Doubt, uncertainty or skepticism

The first hindrance to establishing a meditation practice is distraction from sensual desire. Distracted by things that appeal to the senses prevents the meditator from being mindful of practice. Often your mind will want to remain distracted by the many activities of your day. You tell yourself that you are too busy to meditate.

Your mind, at first, may want to avoid meditation. When you meditate despite this common tendency, you begin to gain control of your mind and your life.

In meditation you may be distracted by an infinite number of craving thoughts. Whatever craving thoughts arise, recognize desire as a distraction. Remain mindful of the thought or thoughts, recognizing that they are a hindrance to practice. These thoughts are as impermanent as any other thought.

Dispassionately let thoughts go and return your awareness to your breathing. This is the basic practice and continued practice will diminish sensory desire and return the mind to its natural calm and well-concentrated state.

Ill will, or holding harsh judgments, anger and resentments at others, or your self, can make it almost impossible to practice. Recognize that the cause of the ill will is your own desire that the people and events of your lives be different than they are, or that you perceive them to be.

If persistent thoughts of ill will arise, dispassionately stay with the thoughts for a moment or two, and return your awareness to the sensation of breathing.

As your awareness of the origins of ill will increase, maintain a mind of equanimity. As best as you can, remain free of judgment of the people and events of your lives. This takes Right Effort and consistent practice, and with time you can free yourself of the hindrance of ill will.

Practicing Metta Meditation, is a skillful aid in releasing harsh judgments. Practice metta whenever harsh judgments of your self or others is making it difficult to quiet your mind. Once your mind has quieted using metta, resume shamatha-vipassana meditation. [1]

Sloth, torpor, drowsiness or laziness affect everyone at one time or another. It is most skillful to recognize this as aversion to practice. It is your ego’s way of avoiding the freedom that will arise from consistent practice.

If drowsiness or sleepiness is an occasional problem, it is appropriate to rest for a while and then resume meditation. Check your posture. Lying down or not sitting up straight can contribute to drowsiness.

Drowsiness is another hindrance to practice that is to be dealt with through equanimity and persistence. Recognize that it is affecting you and your practice and stay with your practice. Drowsiness will fall away.

Restlessness and worry can be a difficult hindrance to overcome. Persistence will show results. If restlessness and worry have risen to the level of anxiety, it may be best to meditate for shorter periods of time and more often.

Remind yourself that just for the meditation period you will be putting aside restlessness and anxiety and maintain your awareness on your breath. Meditation has proven to be a very effective way of putting anxiety causing thoughts aside and staying mindful of the present moment. There is no restlessness, worry or anxiety in the present moment.

Doubt, uncertainty and skepticism can be a hindrance at any stage of Dhamma practice. Great doubt can deepen one’s practice if the doubt is allowed to be a part of practice, letting doubt be doubt and mindfully continuing with practice.

Other people’s skepticism can be a hindrance as well, especially people that do not understand the Dhamma or the purpose of meditation practice. The most effective way to work through uncertainty, doubt and skepticism is to engage in practice wholeheartedly without any unrealistic expectations.

Examine your motivations for practice. Is your intention for engaging in meditation practice to put aside craving and desire born of ignorance of your true nature, or is it to “fix” an ego-self? Uncertainty and skepticism will arise if your view or intention is to fix a broken or flawed self. You meditate to mindfully develop concentration and develop awareness of all clinging, craving, aversion and desire.

Hindrances or distractions will arise. They will have no permanent effect on your practice if you persevere. Hindrances are recognized mind states to be aware of. Be with them as dispassionately as possible. As long as you continue with your practice, hindrances will arise and subside until they no longer are a part of your conditioned thinking.

By putting aside resistance to meditation practice you will strengthen your resolve and begin to diminish your mind’s natural tendency to resist the quiet and spacious mind developed by a true and effective meditation practice.

Always avoid judging your self or your practice harshly. Do the best you can and be gentle with yourself. Maintain a consistent Shamatha-Vipassana meditation practice within the framework of the Eightfold Path and you will develop lasting peace and happiness.

One last thing: Joining a like-minded community of Dhamma practitioners greatly supports an individual practice. Joining a community of Dhamma practitioners will provide a weekly structure to your practice. A qualified teacher will notice if you are losing direction or focus, and the community as a whole will support you with their own insights and you will be able to support your sangha.

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