Five Hindrances

It’s almost the end of the year. This is a time for wishing others well. Last year we did the same thing, just like the year before that. Wishing people well is encouragement. It’s nothing more. If you want a Vara (blessing), you have to do it yourself. Vara means an excellent thing. Vara is the same word as Pra (monk). If you practice until your mind becomes a monk, you have a personal blessing. Vara follows the law of Kamma. If you commit bad deeds, you’re cursing yourself. It’s not a Vara. If you commit good deeds, you bless yourself. Whether it’s good or bad, receiving Vara or not, depends on your own actions. No one else, not even divine beings, can help you.

If you commit immoral deeds. divine beings will run away from you. A divine being once told the Buddha that humans stink. They must be at least 1,600 kilometers away to avoid the smell. Being closer makes the smell unbearable, unless that person has good moral precepts. Good moral precepts have a good smell that can cover up a human’s foul physical smell. If you want a Vara (blessing) and want to be beloved by divine beings, you must have moral precepts. If you lack moral precepts, no divine beings will help you even if you ask.

So, having the moral precepts is one step of giving yourself a Vara (blessing). There’s no need to have many precepts. Being determined to keep the 5 precepts is enough. The first 4 precepts are the most important, as they’re a part of the path towards enlightenment. The fifth precept is in Right Mindfulness. Being intoxicated hampers mindfulness. So, keep the 5 precepts and your life will be blessed. You bless yourself. Divine beings will like you, and will bless you by helping you. But this help has a limit. It cannot violate the law of Kamma. Do divine beings exist? They do. Can they help you? They can, but within the law of Kamma. So, the ultimate outcome is governed by your own Kamma.


Nivarana means hindrances to development of wholesomeness

So, keep the 5 precepts well. Doing it well means you receive a blessing every day. Then you bless yourself further by practicing peacefulness and Samadhi (stability). Your mind will then not be immersed in impurity. The impurities that taint the mind and make it restless and hectic, allowing coarser impurities to arise are called 5 Nivarana (hindrances). The first one is Kammacchanda Nivarana, external sensual desires that are visions, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. These hindrances impair your Samadhi (stability).

When the mind is stimulated by Kammacchanda, the mind becomes restless. Or, when Byapada (ill-will) enters the mind, the mind will seek to destroy or kill. It’ll lack stability and become restless. Or if you have never practiced, the mind can become unfocused, switching around quickly between eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mental objects. You cannot follow the mind’s movements. The mind is restless and lacks stability. After a lot of restlessness (Udhacca), it is natural for the mind to be agitated and unhappy (Kukkucca). Restlessness breeds agitation. The mind is restless, agitated, and annoyed.

You can also be doubtful or uncertain about the three gems. This is called Vicikiccha. Vicikiccha isn’t being uncertain about where you are or where the road you’re on will lead to. This kind of uncertainty isn’t Vicikiccha. Vicikiccha is doubting whether the Buddha really existed, whether he actually attained enlightenment, whether the teachings are correct, or whether following his teachings can lead to eradication of suffering. If you’re doubtful about this, more uncertainty follows. Do his enlightened disciples exist, or is being a monk just another occupation? The uncertainty never ceases.

When you see bad news about some monks and if you cannot distinguish, you’ll see all monks as evil. You may think enlightened disciples no longer exist. This kind of doubt is detrimental to your determination to practice; you’re even unsure whether the Buddha really existed. How can you follow his teachings? If this uncertainty is strong enough, it will erode your confidence in other things except your own views. Your mind will totally lack peacefulness and stability.

If you were to practice sitting meditation, questions arise again. Which practice is good? Let me try this today, and something else tomorrow. This uncertainty of what a good practice is leads to restlessness. So is the doubt of what the correct practice is. Am I practicing correctly or not? These endless minor hesitations prevent you from having Sati (mindfulness) to know the present phenomena. Uncertainty and doubts about the Buddha, his teachings, and his disciples don’t lead to peacefulness.

Another hindrance (a middle level of impurities) which destabilize your Samadhi is laziness and dullness. Some surroundings can make the mind lazy and dull. When the mind is lazy and dull, the mind lacks stability. So, if one of these hindrances arise, Samadhi (stability) will cease. Be patient and continue to practice. Choose an appropriate practice object, which is an object that you like and isn’t stirring up more impurities. Continuously remind the mind to stay with this object. At first, the mind may be restless, but with perseverance, peacefulness will arise. When peacefulness arises, Nivarana (hindrances) will subside. When the mind lacks strength, Nivarana will take over the mind again.

So, you must persevere. During the first phase of the practice, determine to keep the precepts and persevere. You need to fight these 5 Nivarana. Nivarana means hindrances to development. So, when something prevents further development of your wholesomeness, that is a hindrance. It is normal for a beginner to be full of hindrances. You need to persevere. You will make progress. Be diligent and bless yourself everyday by waking up with determination to practice.


Keep practicing diligently until the mind is used to peacefulness

Gradually guide yourself and practice. At first, there’ll be restlessness, but peacefulness will come. When the mind is used to peacefulness, the mind will regain it quickly. At first, it’ll be difficult to be peaceful, because the mind has been restless since birth. Changing this isn’t easy, but when you practice until the mind is used to peacefulness, it’ll be easy. You can become peaceful within a breath or two. This is having Vasi (skill). Vasi doesn’t arise without cause. It comes from diligent practices.
If your mind has just attained Samadhi (stability) of the peacefulness type, happiness can arise. Sometimes, in daily life, without intention to practice Samadhi, the mind enters some peace and happiness arises. Many people encounter a lot of this when they start to practice. Happiness can rise by itself. This happiness is the result of the mind having Samadhi (stability). But after more practice, you’ll see that happiness is still a rough, foreign mental object.

So, after much practice, happiness will turn into equanimity. Upekkha (equanimity) is more refined than Sukha (happiness). Happiness can still disturb the mind. Equanimity disturbs the mind less, so it’s more comfortable. When you practice every day with your practice object, sometimes, during the practice, the mind enters absorption and happiness and peacefulness arise. Sometimes they arise in daily life outside of practice. This is so because the mind is used to having Samadhi (stability).

After more practice, equanimity will rise instead. Don’t be alarmed that happiness has diminished. Happiness is like a little kid’s candy. If you’re lured by it, you’ll be addicted. Even Anagami (the almost fully enlightened one), who practices very well, can still get addicted to happiness that arises from peacefulness and seclusion. This is happiness from Samadhi that arises from not interfering with the world.

If you still prefer one phenomenon over another, you still haven’t reached the final goal of freedom from suffering. If you enjoy deep absorption and shun the world, you still have to practice. The mind still has choices, so it’s not fully enlightened. So, we need to be careful about Sukha (happiness). Suffering is easy to observe, because you don’t like it. When you observe suffering, a desire to have suffering disappear may arise. That signifies insufficient practice because the mind isn’t equanimous.

Yesterday I taught a monk who lives here. He was cleaning my abode’s windows. He was making his mind still. He said no matter what he does, this mind’s effort to be still doesn’t go away. I told him there’s no way it’ll go away. His mind made up a still, empty state. What drove his mind to do that was Tanha (craving). So, the way to fix this isn’t to eradicate the result, but to get rid of the cause, which is the craving. The Buddha taught us to eradicate the cause of suffering, but not suffering itself. Suffering is the result. Bhava (becoming) is the result. It is suffering. It is Vipaka (result of Kamma) and can’t be eradicated.
So, when you practice and the mind gets in some empty, still state, and you feel that you can’t get out. Don’t bother fixing it. Observe why your mind tried to control itself like that. You’ll find that it is the craving to be good and to practice is behind the mind’s action. Know so. Once you become mindful of the mind that craves, the craving will be eradicated. This is so because impurities can’t coexist with Sati (mindfulness). Once you know the craving to practice, that craving will disappear. This is called eradicating Samudaya (the cause of suffering). You eradicate it by knowing it with mindfulness.

Once Samudaya is eradicated, there’s no intention to fabricate any Bhava (becoming/existence) and then get stuck in that state. So, when you eradicate the cause, suffering automatically ceases. There’s no need to extinguish it. So, know the suffering, and eradicate its cause. If you build up some existence or state and get stuck there, it’ll be tight and unhappy. The way out is to eradicate the cause of that existence.

Be observant so you can see what’s behind the mind’s lock-up. Some Tanha (cravings) must be behind it, like craving to practice, craving for freedom from suffering, or craving for enlightenment. Once mindfulness knows of the cravings, they immediately cease. Once the cause ceases, the result can’t remain forever. The result may stay for a while, because there is Vipaka (result from action). You have to take that result.

Some people make Bhava (existence) of a very tight mind from self-control. It’s very stressful. Once they know the cravings to practice and see so much force to control themselves, that cravings and force cease, but the tightness will continue for a while longer. That’s Vipaka (result from action) from the past. Same thing applies to your body. Your body is a Vipaka. Even if you don’t get attached to it, it will last for a while before ceasing.

So, when you practice, keep observing your own mind. Gently let the mind stay with one object that is conducive to happiness continuously. Keep doing it. If the mind wanders off to create a Bhava (becoming), which is normal for almost everyone, know so. Is this harmful? Not really, because Sila (moral precepts), Samadhi (stability), and Panna (wisdom) arise only when the mind is in a Bhava (becoming/existence). But once you know that it is a Bhava, you can be free from it. That’s a higher level of wisdom of knowing the Noble Truths: knowing that having Tanha (cravings) leads to that Bhava.


Not every peaceful mind is stable

Keep practicing. Doing so is blessing yourself more and more. The mind will be happy and peaceful. Then, cultivate wisdom. When the mind is happy and peaceful, you develop further self-blessing. Practice until the mind is stable. Stability is a higher level blessing than peacefulness. A peaceful mind isn’t necessarily stable, but a stable mind is always peaceful. You have to understand that not every peaceful mind is stable.

If you practice Tejo-Kasina, you focus on a fire until the mind is peaceful with that fire as an object. The fire will cease and luminosity will arise and you will attain Patibhag-Nimmita (intermediate mental vision) or Uggaha-Nimitta (advanced mental vision). This kind of peacefulness isn’t stable. The mind gets absorbed into the fire or the mental vision. So, when peacefulness arises, stability isn’t guaranteed. But if you practice until the mind is stable, that stable mind is always peaceful.

I teach how to attain a stable mind every day, but you guys can’t do it consistently. You need to practice more. The way to attain a stable mind isn’t to force the mind to be stable. The mind doesn’t like to be controlled. Know when the mind is unstable. An unstable mind wanders off to eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or abstract objects. Most abstract wanderings are thinking. Or it can wander off to see. When it has wandered off to see, the mind is no longer stable. It has wandered off to your eyes.

When the mind wanders off to hear, it wanders off to your ears. The same can happen with smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, or wandering off to physical contacts, like feeling that today’s weather is cool and comfortable. If you’re mindful, you’ll know that the mind has wandered off, and stability will automatically rise. This is so because the mind that wanders off consists of an impurity called Uddhacca (restlessness). It makes the mind circle around to eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or abstract things.

Visions, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical touches are the outside destinations of a circling mind. Dhamma-rama (mental object) is the inside destination of a circling mind. If you know that the mind has wandered off, the mind will be stable without your intention. This is so because when the mind wanders off, it has a restless-type impurity. Once mindfulness knows that the mind has restlessness, impurity will cease. So, restlessness will cease and stability will arise automatically.

When I talk about the mind that wanders off, it can sometimes make Buddhist theorists uncomfortable. They say there’s no such thing as a wandering mind. The mind rises at the eyes and then ceases. The mind also rises at the ears and then ceases. There are so many minds. There isn’t one mind that wanders around. They are correct. Once you’ve practiced up to a certain point, you will actually see that. The theorists understand it correctly. But when you practice, you observe what you actually see. You’ll see that there’s only one mind that wanders off to the eyes and then comes back. It’ll do the same thing with ears, nose, tongue, body, and mental objects.

Know things the way you actually see them. Otherwise, you’ll fall into the trap of getting stuck in the theory, and that will prevent you from seeing actual phenomena. For example, the theory says, “the mind rises at the eyes and sees visions,” and you get absorbed in finding out whether the eyes actually see visions or not. Getting stuck there is restlessness. The theoretical knowledge has exceeded what you can practice. You no longer see actual phenomena. So, you practice with what your mind can actually see. If you see that the mind wanders off, you’ll see that the mind that has wandered off ceased. You’ll feel so.


The mind doesn’t have a location

At first, when you’re not skillful, and you know that the mind has wandered off to see visions, you’ll try to reel the mind back. When you’re trying to reel it back, the mind will get tense. At the next moment, the mind wanders off to the ears, you reel it back again, and the tenseness is still there. But, after a lot of practice, you will see that wherever the mind rises, it ceases. When I started practicing, I also saw the mind coming and going, so I asked Luangpu Dune where the mind is.

Back then, I could practice until I saw some disturbances in the middle of the chest. I saw that impurities arise there, and I thought the mind was in the center of the chest, and it could run out to perceive at eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mental objects. When the practice got more advanced, I thought the mind was at the center of the chest. So I asked Luangpu Dune for confirmation that the mind was at the center of my chest. I asked “Luangpu, where is the mind?” He answered, “The mind doesn’t have a location.” I was even more puzzled. The mind really doesn’t have a location. Wherever it arises, it ceases.

Keep practicing and you’ll understand. You’ll know that there’s no permanent location for the mind. Wherever it arises, it ceases. Then, another mind arises somewhere else, and ceases there. The mind can rise at the eyes and cease. Then it will arise at the mind and cease. It can arise at the nose and ceases. It will arise at the mind again and cease. At first, I tried to reel it back towards the center of the chest. After I became more skillful, there’s no need to do this. Once there’s contact and you know it, the new mind arises at itself and the new mind is stable. Practice and you’ll see.

The theory is good, and much of what the theorists say is correct. We aim to fix the wrong view that there’s only one mind. When you practice, you’ll feel that you have only one mind. Everyone in the world thinks they only have one mind. Each dog feels like it has only one mind. They feel like there’s an immortal self. If you think further, you may think that your body will one day die, but this mind leaves this body and enters a new one. This is a wrong view. The mind actually rises and ceases. Wherever it rises, it ceases. There is no mind that travels from this body to the next. That view isn’t Buddhism. That’s the result of insufficient practice, not seeing that the mind rises and ceases all the time.

Continuously practice. Right view and right understanding will develop. When the mind is stable, cultivate wisdom. Be mindful of the body and the mind with a stable, impartial mind. The mind will see Trilaksana (the three characteristics) of the body. The body is impermanent, in conflict and decay, and is non-self. If the mind is stable and mindfulness sees Vedana (happy or unhappy feelings), it will see that Vedana also has Trilaksana. They’re impermanent, in decay, non-self, and don’t belong to self. If the mind is stable and mindfulness sees Sanna (memory and perception), it will see that Sanna also has Trilaksana.

If the mind is stable and mindfulness sees Sankhara (mental fabrications), which can be wholesome, unwholesome, or neutral, it will see that Sankhara has Trilaksana; they’re not under your control. They’re not self, nor belonging to self. Finally, if the mind is stable, and mindfulness sees the mind that rises and ceases at all 6 senses, you will see that the mind also has Trilaksana. It rises and ceases, and is decaying. It’s not self, nor does it belong to self.

If you thoroughly see this, you are a Sotapanna (a stream enterer–who attained the first enlightenment). You have eradicated the wrong view that there is self. There isn’t. Once you’ve got this far in your practice, life will be full of happiness and peacefulness. The mind will be knowing, awakened, and blissful without requiring upkeep. But if you haven’t got enough wisdom, the mind will wander off to cling on different objects frequently.

But if you practice until you thoroughly know Dukkha (suffering), you’ll see that the 5 Khandhas (aggregates) are nothing except suffering. This is the ultimate wisdom. The mind will let go of the 5 Khandhas and will never pick them up again. Now, you no longer need to guard your mind. Since you start practicing, you must guard your mind with mindfulness. When you’ve attained the ultimate truth, the mind will let go of the 5 Khandhas, which are the physical and abstract phenomena.

You can let go of all Khandhas because you can let go of the mind. Letting go of the mind is letting go of the Khandhas. This is because Khandhas stem from the mind. Letting go of the Khandhas means letting go of the world. The mind by itself can create all 5 Khandhas. Referring to Paṭiccasamuppāda (dependent origination), it says “Vinnana (sense consciousness) is the cause of Namarupa (abstract and physical phenomena).” Khandhas are Namarupa. So, if your wisdom is complete, and knows that the mind isn’t self, Khandhas, which is the result of the mind, can’t be self. This doesn’t come from thinking, but comes from deeply knowing.


The Real Supatipanno

So, practice. If you practice until you see that 5 Khandhas aren’t self, self isn’t Khandhas, there’s no self in Khandhas, and nor is there self anywhere else, then, your mind is a Pra (Vara, monk, blessed, excellence) Sotapanna (stream enterer). Your mind is a Pra (Vara). Pra (Vara) means excellence, and you have received the highest blessing. The Buddha said being a Sotapanna is more desirable than being an emperor. An emperor rules the world and has many physical belongings, but the Buddha said being a Sotapanna is superior.

We never had an emperor in this era. There’s no one in known history who has ever ruled the entire world. How much can a trillionaire eat in a day? Not that much. They can have 100 houses, but can live in only one at a time. They can have 100 partners, but can attend to one at a time. So, those material things aren’t of real essence. They lure people in the world to fight for them. But once you practice, you’ll see that the world consists only of things that arise, temporarily stay, and decay. There’s no real essence to them, but a well-practiced mind can reach happiness and peacefulness.

The Buddha taught that even if you were a king or an emperor, you still can’t escape the constant fear of being overthrown or assassinated. There isn’t real happiness. You’ll worry of getting poisoned at every meal. There’s no real happiness. Worldly happiness is always tainted with discomfort.

Some time ago, I went up a mountain to visit Luangpu Sim at Tham Pha Plong. I can no longer go up there today, but I could when I was younger. Luangpu was old but he could still go up because he was riding on a palanquin carried by his students. The palanquin is very heavy. There was a rich woman whose business was making incense sticks. She gave a lot of incense sticks to Luangpu, and asked for Luangpu’s blessing from her donations to be very rich.

Luangpu smiled and told her that being rich is burdensome. So she asked why. Luangpu said that robbers can rob her, and she wouldn’t be happy. So, she asked for another blessing to be free from theft and robbery. Luangpu stopped teaching there and smiled instead. Worldly happiness is tainted and isn’t perfect. Asking for a blessing to be rich is equivalent to asking for another type of burden. Rich people have the burden of investing and avoiding scams.

So, worldly possessions aren’t permanent. Don’t be too attached. You can’t live without them, but know how to be content. Then develop Sila (moral precepts), Samadhi (stability), and Panna (wisdom). Panna is the right view and understanding: understanding the world and life, and knowing that worldly things are temporary and impermanent. All phenomena arise, stay, and decay. If you understand Dhamma, you’ll see that everything that rises will cease. This is the Dhamma of Pra Sotapanna (first level of enlightenment–stream enterer). A Sotapanna is a Pra, regardless of monkhood status.

The phrases revering the merit of the disciples says “the group of disciples of the Buddha have practiced well. They practice to be free from suffering.” Who belongs to this group? 4 pairs of Purisa, or, sequentially, 8 Purisa. Purisa means person. 4 pairs are Sotapatti-Magga and Sotapatti-Phala, Sakadagami-Magga and Sakadagami-Phala, Anagami-Magga and Anagami-Phala, and Arahatta-Magga and Arahatta-Phala. These 4 pairs, or 8 sequential, persons are the disciples of the Buddha.

So, the Buddha didn’t say that one has to enter monkhood in order to be his disciple. When you practice well and have attained Sotapanna (the first enlightenment), you have practiced well. You are a Pra (Vara, blessed, excellence), and there’s no need to enter monkhood. So, the real status of a Pra isn’t your uniform. Someone, like me for example, who wears a monk robe is called Sammuti Pra (common Pra). But a layperson wearing normal clothes who has attained enlightenment is a real Pra.

So, receiving a Vara (blessing) to be a Pra is excellent. Being Pra is excellent. So, stop asking for new year’s Vara (blessings). It’s immature to be asking for handouts. Make your own Vara (blessings). Keep the moral precepts. Practice peacefulness. Practice the mind until it becomes stable. Cultivate wisdom until you see the ultimate truth of the body and the mind, which is 5 Khandas. See their impermanence, conflict and decay, and non-self characteristics. Then you’ll be a Pra and will receive blessings everyday without asking for them from someone. This is the true blessing.

A few days ago, someone asked me for a blessing. So I told them, “refrain from all unwholesome deeds. Cultivate wholesome deeds. Practice your mind.” They were a little puzzled. Is this a blessing? Yes, this truly is, but “I wish you all peaceful, wealthy, healthy, and happy lives” isn’t a blessing. Many old monks themselves don’t have good health. Don’t be so naive. If you want a blessing, it is “refrain from unwholesome deeds. Cultivate wholesome deeds. Practice until your mind is pure.” This is the ultimate Buddhist blessing. So, today’s teaching is for new year eve’s day. Go make yourself blessings.

Luangpu Pramote Pamojjo
Wat Suansantidham
30 December 2023