Mystic Lotus

Pañca Nīvaraṇāni

Five Hindrances

Pañca Nīvaraṇāni

Five Hindrances

Unshakable deliverance of the mind is the highest goal in the Buddha's doctrine. Here, deliverance means: the freeing of the mind from all limitations, fetters, and bonds that tie it to the Wheel of Suffering, to the Circle of Rebirth. It means: the cleansing of the mind of all defilements that mar its purity; the removing of all obstacles that bar its progress from the mundane (lokiya) to the supramundane consciousness (lokuttara-citta), that is, to Arahatship.

Many are the obstacles which block the road to spiritual progress, but there are five in particular which, under the name of hindrances (nivarana), are often mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures:

  1. Kāmacchanda

    Sensual desire: the particular type of wanting that seeks for happiness through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling.

    The hindrance of sensory desire (kamacchanda) is latching onto thoughts or feelings based on the pleasures of the five senses.

    Sensory desire refers to that particular type of wanting that seeks for happiness through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling. It specifically excludes any aspiration for happiness through the sixth sense of mind alone. In its extreme form, sensory desire is an obsession to find pleasure in such things as sexual intimacy, good food or fine music. But it also includes the desire to replace irritating or even painful five-sense experiences with pleasant ones, i.e. the desire for sensory comfort.

    Kāma chanda are anything from the extremes of lust to just being concerned with how the body is doing. Thinking about the letter that you have to write afterwards, about the rain pattering on your roof, about your kutī [monk's hut], or what needs to be built next, or where you are going to next, that’s all in the kāmaloka, the world of the senses, that’s all kāma chanda. It’s also kāma vitakka, or the thoughts about those things, about family, about health, about coming here, going there, and thoughts about words.

    This term alludes to the mind's tendency to latch on to something that attracts it--a thought, a visual object, or a particular emotion. When we allow the mind to indulge in such attractions, we lose our concentration. So we need to apply mindfulness and be aware of how the mind operates; we don't necessarily have to suppress all these things arising in the mind, but we should take notice of them and see how the mind behaves, how it automatically grabs onto this and that.


    The hindrance of sensory desire is compared to taking out a loan – any pleasure one experiences through these five senses must be repaid through the unpleasantness of separation or loss which invariably follow when the pleasure is used up. There is also interest to be repaid on the loan. Thus, the Buddha said that the pleasure is small compared to the suffering repaid.


    In order to overcome the hindrance of sensory desire (kamacchanda), the meditator must first apply mindfulness and recognize that the hindrance is present. Then one must look at the hindrance, analyze it, make it the object of our meditation, experience it fully. The meditator can then apply specific techniques such as contemplating the impermanence of the pleasant desire.

    In meditation, one transcends sensory desire for the period by letting go of concern for this body and its five sense activity. Some imagine that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body, but the truth is that the body is there to serve the five senses as they play in the world ever seeking delight. Indeed, the Lord Buddha once said, "The five senses ARE the world" and to leave the world, to enjoy the other worldly bliss of jhāna, one must give up for a time ALL concern for the body and its five senses.


    Kamacchanda can be compared to giving your approval for kāma-based thoughts and emotions to remain in your mind. It is allowing these thoughts to occupy your mind.

    In the Pāli term kāma chanda, chanda is what you have to do if you cannot attend a meeting of the community of monks, and you want to give approval and agreement to what’s happening there, you give your chanda to go ahead in your absence. It’s agreement, approval, consent, and it’s much more subtle than mere desire. This means that you are buying into, giving in to this, you want it, you approve of it, and you allow it to happen. In the same way that we have chanda in the Vinaya, we have that kāma chanda. It’s as if you give your approval for the sensory world to be in your consciousness, in your mind, you accept it, approve of it, and you play with it, that’s all chanda. It’s letting it completely occupy the mind, and it’s much more subtle than just mere desire. The kāma part of kāma chanda, that’s all that is comprised in kāmaloka, the world of the five senses, which goes from the hell realms, the animal realms, the ghost realms, the human realm, and the devā realms, to everything that is concerned with those kāmaloka realms. Kāma Chanda is acceptance, agreement, and consent for that world to occupy you.

  2. Vyāpāda

    Ill-will: all kinds of thought related to wanting to reject; feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness.

    The hindrance of ill will (vyapada) is latching onto thoughts or feelings based on anger, resentment, hostility, bitterness, etc.

    Ill will refers to the desire to punish, hurt or destroy. It includes sheer hatred of a person, or even a situation, and it can generate so much energy that it is both seductive and addictive. At the time, it always appears justified for such is its power that it easily corrupts our ability to judge fairly. It also includes ill will towards oneself, otherwise known as guilt, which denies oneself any possibility of happiness. In meditation, ill will can appear as dislike towards the meditation object itself, rejecting it so that one's attention is forced to wander elsewhere.

    The second hindrance is ill will; it is the opposite of the first hindrance, being brought about by aversion rather than attraction. Ill will refers to all kinds of thought related to wanting to reject, feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness. When they arise, we should take note of them, not necessarily suppressing them, but seeing how they arise.


    The hindrance of ill will is compared to being sick. Just as sickness denies one the freedom and happiness of health, so ill will denies one the freedom and happiness of peace.


    The antidote to the hindrance of ill will (vyapada) is meditation on loving kindness (Metta).

    Ill will is overcome by applying Metta, loving kindness. When it is ill will towards a person, Metta teaches one to see more in that person than all that which hurts you, to understand why that person hurt you (often because they were hurting intensely themselves), and encourages one to put aside one's own pain to look with compassion on the other. But if this is more than one can do, Metta to oneself leads one to refuse to dwell in ill will to that person, so as to stop them from hurting you further with the memory of those deeds. Similarly, if it is ill will towards oneself, Metta sees more than one's own faults, can understand one's own faults, and finds the courage to forgive them, learn from their lesson and let them go. Then, if it is ill will towards the meditation object (often the reason why a meditator cannot find peace) Metta embraces the meditation object with care and delight. For example, just as a mother has a natural Metta towards her child, so a meditator can look on their breath, say, with the very same quality of caring attention. Then it will be just as unlikely to lose the breath through forgetfulness as it is unlikely for a mother to forget her baby in the shopping mall, and it would be just as improbable to drop the breath for some distracting thought as it is for a distracted mother to drop her baby! When ill will is overcome, it allows lasting relationships with other people, with oneself and, in meditation, a lasting, enjoyable relationship with the meditation object, one that can mature into the full embrace of absorption.

  3. Thīna-middha

    Sloth-and-torpor: heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression.

    Sloth-torpor is a dull, morbid state that is characterized by unwieldiness, lack of energy, and opposition to wholesome activity.

    When this hindrance is present, we lose our focus in meditation. We may not be agitated in any perceptible way, but there is no mental clarity. We gradually become more and more drowsy, and then eventually go to sleep.

    Sloth and torpor refers to that heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. In meditation, it causes weak and intermittent mindfulness which can even lead to falling asleep in meditation without even realising it!


    The hindrance of sloth-torpor is compared to being imprisoned in a cramped, dark cell, unable to move freely in the bright sunshine outside.


    Sloth and torpor is overcome by rousing energy. Energy is always available but few know how to turn on the switch, as it were. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. A young child has a natural interest, and consequent energy, because its world is so new. Thus, if one can learn to look at one's life, or one's meditation, with a 'beginner's mind' one can see ever new angles and fresh possibilities which keep one distant from sloth and torpor, alive and energetic. Similarly, one can develop delight in whatever one is doing by training one's perception to see the beautiful in the ordinary, thereby generating the interest which avoids the half-death that is sloth and torpor. Sloth and torpor is a common problem which can creep up and smother one slowly. A skilful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it's too late. Like coming to a fork in a road, one can take that mental path leading away from sloth and torpor.

    When this happens, instead of persisting with the meditation, it is better to try to refresh ourselves by getting up and going for a walk or washing our face, after which we return to our meditation.

  4. Uddhacca-kukkucca

    Restlessness-and-worry: the inability to calm the mind.

    The hindrance of restlessness-worry (uddhacca-kukkucca) refers to a mind that is agitated and unable to settle down.

    Restlessness [uddhacca] refers to a mind which is like a monkey, always swinging on to the next branch, never able to stay long with anything. It is caused by the fault-finding state of mind which cannot be satisfied with things as they are, and so has to move on to the promise of something better, forever just beyond. Remorse [kukkucca] refers to a specific type of restlessness which is the karmic effect of one's misdeeds.

    The fourth hindrance is restlessness and worry, which refers to all the mental activities that go on in our mind due to its restless nature.

    The discomfort of restlessness creates an outward looking [tendency] – what can I do to fix this? What can I do to settle this? So the challenge in restlessness is how to turn towards it and be present for it and engage it.


    Restlessness (uddhacca) is compared to being a slave, continually having to jump to the orders of a tyrannical boss who always demands perfection and so never lets one stop.


    Restlessness [uddhacca] is overcome by developing contentment, which is the opposite of fault-finding. One learns the simple joy of being satisfied with little, rather than always wanting more. One is grateful for this moment, rather than picking out its deficiencies. For instance, in meditation restlessness is often the impatience to move quickly on to the next stage. The fastest progress, though is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage.

    Remorse [kukkucca] refers to a specific type of restlessness which is the kammic effect of one's misdeeds. The only way to overcome remorse, the restlessness of a bad conscience, is to purify one's virtue and become kind, wise and gentle. It is virtually impossible for the immoral or the self-indulgent to make deep progress in meditation.

    There are a variety of ways to engage restlessness, be present for it. One is learning, reflecting, meditating and contemplating what the nature of restlessness is. There might be a really good cause for you to be restless. Maybe you haven't paid your taxes in ten years. In this case, you don't need meditation, you need to pay your taxes. You don't use meditation to run away from the real issues of your life. Sometimes what's needed is to really look and understand are there root causes for being restless.

  5. Vicikiccha

    Doubt: lack of conviction or trust.

    The hindrance of doubt (vicikicchā) refers to doubt about one's ability to understand and implement the meditation instructions, as well as about the teacher and Buddhist teachings in general.

    Doubt refers to the disturbing inner questions at a time when one should be silently moving deeper. Doubt can question one's own ability 'Can I do This?,' or question the method 'Is this the right way?,' or even question the meaning 'What is this?.' It should be remembered that such questions are obstacles to meditation because they are asked at the wrong time and thus become an intrusion, obscuring one's clarity.

    When we meditate in the presence of this hindrance, we have a constant nagging feeling: 'How do I know what I am doing is right? How do I know if this thing really works and if I am not just wasting my time? How do I know what the Buddhist teachings say is true? How do I know if that what the meditation teachers have taught me is right and that they are not deluded?


    Doubt is compared to being lost in a desert, not recognising any landmarks.


    Such doubt is overcome by gathering clear instructions, having a good map, so that one can recognise the subtle landmarks in the unfamiliar territory of deep meditation and so know which way to go. Doubt in one's ability is overcome by nurturing self-confidence with a good teacher. A meditation teacher is like a coach who convinces the sports team that they can succeed.

    The end of doubt, in meditation, is described by a mind which has full trust in the silence, and so doesn't interfere with any inner speech. Like having a good chauffeur, one sits silently on the journey out of trust in the driver.

They are called "hindrances" M 10 S 46:2 because they hinder and envelop the mind in many ways, obstructing its development (bhavana). According to the Buddhist teachings, spiritual development is twofold: through tranquillity (samatha-bhavana) and through insight (vipassana-bhavana). Tranquillity is gained by complete concentration of the mind during the meditative absorptions (jhāna). For achieving these absorptions, the overcoming of the five hindrances, at least temporarily, is a preliminary condition. It is especially in the context of achieving the absorptions that the Buddha often mentions the five hindrances in his discourses.

The five mental (jhāna) factors that counteract the five hindrances

  1. Vittaka

    Initial Application - Coarse examination counteracts sloth-torpor (lethargy and drowsiness)

  2. Vicara

    Sustained Appplication - Precise investigation counteracts doubt (uncertainty)

  3. Piti

    Joy - Physical well-being counteracts ill-will (malice)

  4. Sukkha

    Happiness - Mental bliss counteracts restlessness-worry (excitation and anxiety)

  5. Ekaggata

    One-Pointedness - Single-pointed attention counteracts sensory desire

Chapter:Different Types of Consciousness Mental States Miscellaneous Section Analysis of Thought-Processes Process Freed Section Analysis of Matter Abhidhamma Categories The Compendium Of Relations Mental Culture