Samatha meditation controls the Five Hindrances by overcoming each with a counteracting jhāna or Absorption Factor developed by focusing inside [internally], meditating into peacefully happy trance states. First, let’s understand the Five Hindrances.
The Five Hindrances are the obstacles which block or cut off the mind from transcending to wisdom. As shown below, they are drowsiness, doubt, ill will, restlessness and sensual desire.
The following are the Hindrance Definitions:
- Drowsiness (thīna-middha): sleepiness, drowsiness, laziness, sloth, torpor, languor, stolidity,
- Doubt (vicikicchā): doubt, perplexity, scepticism, indecision, uncertainty,
- Ill Will (byāpāda): ill will, hatred, malevolence, aversion.
- Restlessness (uddhacca-kukkucca): Agitation, worry, anxiety,
- Sensual Desire (kāma-chanda): Sensual desire in fi ve sensual objects which consists of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch.
Drowsiness can be caused either by sleepiness or laziness. It includes both mental sluggishness (sloth) and physical sluggishness (torpor). Doubt is usually specifi c to the current meditation procedure, “Am I doing the right thing?” Ill Will can vary from active anger or hatred to simply feeling ill at ease, “Do I really belong here?” Restlessness is usually the familiar racing and fl eeting of the mind from one thought to another, but can also include specifi c worries and anxiety. Finally, Sensual Desire is the enveloping sea that encompasses all the others. We are born into this world of sensual desire because of our enchantment with seeking sensual pleasures. In combination, these Five Hindrances do a good job of confusing our normal thinking and obscuring the true nature of our situation.
What are the causes of the Five Hindrances?
- Drowsiness caused by dislike, discontent or aversion (arati),
- Doubt or Uncertainty caused by lack of contemplation (ayonisomanasikāra),
- Ill Will caused by annoyance, anger, hatred, enmity, repulsion, or repugnance (patigha),
- Restlessness caused by being unable to stop the mind from mental distraction or anxiety, lack of peace (cetasoavūpasama).
- Sensual Desire caused by lust or craving for beautiful, pleasing perceptions (subhasaññā).
As shown, drowsiness stems from dislike or discontentment. Doubt comes from lack of contemplation. Ill Will may be due to superficial annoyance, but often refl ects more deeply instilled feelings of anger or hatred. Restlessness indicates our habitual inability to stop the mind due to failure to be able to tune out distractions. However, it can be overcome with mental training. Sensual Desire is caused by the lust and craving for pleasure which pervades our whole approach to life. It is the most deep-seated hindrance and the ultimate target of mental training.
The Five Hindrances can be eliminated by the five Jhāna Factors which mentally control or extinguish them.
- Applied thought (vitakka) eliminates drowsiness and laziness (thīna-middha),
- Sustained thought (vicāra) eliminates doubt (vicikicchā),
- Joy (pīti) eliminates ill Will (byāpāda),
- Peaceful Happiness (sukha) eliminates restlessness (uddhacca-kukkucca),
- One-pointed Concentration (ekaggatā) eliminates sensual desire(kāmachanda).
Applied Thought or increased attention overcomes Drowsiness. Sustained Thought or prolonged contemplation overcomes Doubt. Feelings of Joy (pīti) overcome Ill Will and peaceful happiness overcomes restlessness. One-pointed Concentration overcomes sensual desire and gives rise to the neutral Feeling of Equanimity which appears in the deepest jhāna state.
Applied Thought (vitakka) is contemplation of feelings or sensations. Its characteristic is directing the mind through attention to be focused on an object. Its function is gathering and maintaining and understanding and analyzing where its result is leading the mind. Sustained Thought (vicāra) means considering the object as its characteristic, its function is keeping the mind and mental concomitants occupied with the object, and its result is keeping the mind anchored on that object.
Vitakka and vicāra always go together, but vitakka arises before vicāra. Vitakka is cruder than vicāra. It is like the sound of a bell when struck, while vicāra is like the humming sound afterwards.
Joy or Rapture (pīti) has joyfulness as its characteristic. Its function is physically and mentally suffusing, and its result is physical and mental glow. There are fi ve kinds of pīti:
- Minor Thrill,
- Momentary or Instantaneous Joy,
- Showering Joy, like a wave hitting the shore,
- Uplifting joy, and
- Suffusing joy.
Peaceful Happiness (sukha) eats or eases away physical and mental discomfort. Its characteristic is gladness, its function is increasing its components and its result is generosity.
Pīti is pleasure that arises. Sukha is experiencing the pleasure. When the mind has pīti, it also has sukha, but when the mind has sukha, that does not mean that it also has pīti. For example, pīti arises immediately when a man without food traveling in the desert finds an oasis or water. Only when he reaches the shade of the oasis or drinks the water, does sukha (happiness) arise.
In the following quotes, Lord Buddha describes meditating to overcome the Five Hindrances (Majjhima-nikaya 12/469-474/502-
Monks, what needs to be done further? A monk in this Norm-discipline will find a quiet shelter which is a forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a mountain valley, a cave, a cemetery, a thorn forest, an open-air area or a heap of straw. He returns from gathering alms and after his meal he sits crosslegged, upright, maintaining mindfulness. If he eliminates covetousness and develops a mind without covetousness, he will purify the mind from covetousness. If he eliminates violence and ill will, he is without thought of ill will and he
has compassion, he will purify the mind from ill will.
If he eliminates sloth, he is free of sloth, and contemplates the light of mindfulness and will thus purify the mind from sloth. If he eliminates restlessness, his mind will not be distracted and he will become tranquilized, mindful. He will purify the mind from restlessness. If he eliminates doubt, he will be free from doubt, and fi rm in the foundation of wholesome states, he will have purifi ed the mind from doubt.
A monk contemplates and sees these Five Hindrances, which have not yet been eliminated, such as a debt, a disease, a prison, as slavery and then, traveling along a remote path, he contemplates and sees these Five Hindrances which become eliminated and, then, are replaced as being without debt, being without disease, being free from prison, being liberated and being in a secure place.
In the following quote, Lord Buddha describes the four rūpajhānas (Majjhima-nikaya 12/469-474/502-507):
A monk eliminates the Five Hindrances which are defilements of the mind that weaken wisdom, and he calms his mind, becoming freed from sensedesire and unwholesome states, and, then he attains the First Jhāna. He has Applied Thought (vitakka), Sustained Thought and joy ...
Again, a monk attains the second jhāna and his inner mind is purifi ed and becomes one-pointed because Applied Thought (vitakka) and sustained thought (vicāra) are eliminated. There are only joy and happiness of concentration ...
Again, a monk who has equanimity and mindfulness moderates happiness with both mind and body. Because joy is eliminated he attains the Third Jhāna. The Ariyas (Noble Ones) praise those who attain this jhāna as living happily, with equanimity and mindfulness…
Again, a monk who attains the Fourth Jhāna has no suffering or happiness because happiness and suffering are eliminated and his former sorrow is eliminated. There is only equanimity which purifies mindfulness. The pure mind suffuses every part of his whole body, like a man whose head is covered by a white cloth. There is no part of his body untouched by the white cloth.
When the meditator concentrates the mind to stop still firmly, so well that he or she can attain a counterpart sign or patibhāga-nimitta deeply seated in both eye and mind, then all fi ve jhāna factors will appear together to suppress the Five Hindrances. This is the first jhāna.
When the meditator trains the mind to stop firmly even more still and deeper, the mind lets go of the coarsest factors of applied thought (vitakka) and sustained thought (vicāra), only rapture or joy (pīti), peaceful happiness (sukha) and one-pointed concentration (ekaggatā) remain. This is the second jhāna.
When the meditator trains the mind to stop more fi rmly still, and it becomes more refi ned, the mind refi nes rapture or joy, and only peaceful happiness and one-pointed concentration remain. This is the third jhāna.
When the meditator trains the mind to stop still fi rmly even deeper and more refined, the mind drops peaceful happiness, so that only one-pointed concentration remains and the mind becomes still in equanimity (upekkhā). This is samādhi or concentration of the fourth jhāna.