Buddha statue quiet lake
The Five Hindrances
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The Five Hindrances (29 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
October 26, 2014 - Dallas, Texas

When I first encountered this teaching on the five hindrances—it is pretty basic, but as I kept contemplating it, I came up with this visual way of presenting it. I don't know why I get a lot of visual presentations in my meditations when I contemplate certain teachings. So one of these days, hopefully by next year, I'm going to try to write a book that contains some of my particular presentations on the Buddha's teachings, which many times these things I have not seen anywhere else. They just kind of come to me.

I think that these visual presentations make it easier for beginners to understand and also to remember, so this really helps me to remember what the five hindrances are, because one is lust or craving, desire. So it is as if the error is like you are wanting to hold on to something, so you are drawing it in toward yourself. But then the opposite is aversion or hatred, and you are pushing it away. So the energy is you are clinging or you are pushing away.

You know, craving, lust, desire, these may take different forms in your meditation. At first, this is primarily a teaching on meditation, but as you will see, you can apply it to your whole life and see how these different qualities also affect your life. It is good to be mindful of how much of a percentage of these qualities exist in your meditation as well as your life, but without judgment. Just notice. Because as you notice, if you will also notice how it changes over time, especially if your practice is consistent. It changes, and that brings joy because you can see there is actually some progress being made.

So, notice these things, between the craving and aversion. Also notice your energy level, whether your experience is sloth, kind of sleepiness, laziness, zoning out. Many times when people meditate, they might mistake this is zoned out state of consciousness for mindfulness or concentration and meditation consciousness, and they are not the same. Zoning out is a very different entire consciousness than mindfulness. I mean, sometimes you need to relax and let go and be a little zoned out because you need some rest for your mind. So zoning out is not always bad, but don't think that being zoned out is the same as being mindful. They are very different.

So, just be careful that you don't just completely zone out when you are meditating. Just notice how much low energy you have. But see, when we notice these things, that is already helpful, and then we can also do a little something about them, too. You know, when experiencing craving, notice it, and just come up with ways that you know that are helpful to let go of the craving.

Same with aversion. When you are angry or hating something or resisting something or pushing something away, just practice something that might help with that. For example, you could practice lovingkindness meditation if you are experiencing a lot of aversion. And it's not even necessarily a person that you're angry at. It might be just a situation or yourself or whatever. Your leg falls asleep all the time, your back always hurts when you meditate, or you get irritated easily by sounds, or you don't like the fact that you have lots of thoughts.

Well, you can practice loving yourself, loving the sound, loving the feeling, loving your body. And it doesn't even have to be love, loving it, because for some people that is way too hard, to love something you don't like, but how about peacefully coexisting with it? Let it be. Just let it have its space. So that is another way of practicing lovingkindness.

You know, going back to the craving, there are some pretty drastic meditations that the Buddha taught some of his monks and nuns, and the Buddha usually gave all different techniques of practices for certain groups of people. So there wasn't ever really one-size-fits-all when the Buddha taught. So there are different kinds of people that have different needs. But for those who are wanting to be monks or nuns, who want to completely renounce most of the worldly life, to really focus on the inner life, he would give these very drastic meditations, such as the meditation on the decay of the body or the meditation on death. He usually didn't give these meditations to regular people like you and me, you know. He gave us easier ones like lovingkindness. But for certain monks and nuns, he gave pretty drastic ones to help them let go of their craving.

You know, we all have maybe a little bit too much desire in our lives. Think about certain foods that you just can't seem to live without or certain thoughts or certain whatever. Notice how instead of just letting them be there, notice how many times you give in or obsess about them. That is just part of being human, so just notice that. But there are things you can do. You can do practices that can help you to let go.

I actually did something similar to this once, and actually I'm going through it this whole year really. This whole year has been a letting go meditation for me as I am healing through cancer and everything, and I don't know how long or short my life is going to be. That is true of all of us, but it is just so in my face this year, and I started noticing, oh, I have lost weight. I have lost my sense of taste and smell. I am losing some vision in my right eye. And I have lost a lot of energy to do a lot of the things I used to love to do, and it is interesting to notice that.

But it has also been helping me to let go of things that are not that important, to realize, well, how important was that? I mean, for example, I really miss Braum's peppermint ice cream, and I can't even taste it now very well, and of course it has way too much sugar, so I don't want to eat any of that right now. But maybe someday again.

You know, I laugh at myself. Well, gosh, it is nice to just enjoy it, but do I really need it, and why do I miss it so much? Is it really that important? So I am starting to meditate on how important are things to you and reprioritize. So what is really more important to me is not foods that I miss tasting. Really, my priority I realized is I actually want to spend more time with people, with friends. I haven't been doing that as much the last few years, and so the last few weeks I have thought of calling up some people and texting them to say, "Hi. Let's do lunch," just simple little things like that. And I'm just noticing, yeah, that is actually more important to me.

So what, I can't smell the incense right now, and I can't taste my favorite ice cream flavors, but you know what? That is not important. That desire is not so important, so I want to refocus on what is important to me. So when you meditate on craving, it helps you to reprioritize, especially to what you really, really truly want. And of course, with aversion, you can practice with lovingkindness, compassion, forgiveness practices. And someone here mentioned Tonglen.

Now, notice also besides craving and aversion what your energy is like in your meditation and your life, and see what you can do about it. So if you are experiencing a lot of sloth and tiredness and sleepiness in your meditation, there are actually lots of practical things you can do about that. You can actually lie down for meditation and just do a lying down meditation. So that is okay.

You can also notice if this is a pattern with you that you are always sleepy during meditation. This happened to me for the first year of my meditation practice several years ago. I noticed I always got sleepy and I didn't know why, but then I realized it is because I always meditated right after dinner. Then I'm like, okay. It is like the end of the day. I am tired, and I just ate a big meal. Duh. I'm going to be sleepy and tired and slothful during my meditation. So I switched to meditating before breakfast in the morning after waking up, and maybe doing a little bit of light exercise to kind of wake me up. Then I didn't fall asleep anymore during my meditation, at least in the mornings.

I also sometimes do a meditation in the afternoon right before dinner, so I have learned how to meditate before a meal rather than after a meal because I tend to get slothful and tired and sleepy if I meditate after. Also, just notice if you're always tired during meditation, that might be a message from your body to give yourself more rest time. Maybe you are working too hard. Maybe you are not sleeping enough. Maybe you are eating foods that make your body sluggish. So when you are meditating and you notice that, it is like a message from yourself to mindfully change something. So yeah, just notice that.

And then of course, the opposite energy, when you have way too much energy going on and lots of worry and time is racing, you are feeling anxious or fearful or maybe just judging yourself too much, feeling perfectionistic about everything. Just notice that, and you can do certain things to relax that.

By the way, going back to sloth, basically some people find it helpful to do some movement practices before they do their sitting meditation to rev up their energy, which is why in traditional Buddhist practice, many times people will practice several prostrations, bowing before they do their sitting practice, just over and over and over again. Maybe at least three times or three times three times, which is nine times, or some people do 108 times. So you can have a little dharma workout there.

I remember the first time I did 108 prostrations at this Korean Zen Buddhist temple, and oh, I couldn't feel my legs after that. My muscles ached, and it was so hard to do everything else for the rest of the retreat, but I learned my lesson to take it a little easier my first few times.

But anyway, you can do bowing practice. That will really wake you up. Or chanting practice. Chanting for several minutes really energizes you, so I want you to try and notice how much energy it gives you. And then when dealing with the worry aspect, when your mind is racing, think about ways that you can practice with that. Certain methods might be better for you.

For example, a lot of beginners, they think, okay. I'm just going to sit without any distraction. I'm going to just meditate, and then their mind is just racing, and they don't know what to do with this racing mind. They don't know that it is okay to have a racing mind, so then they are worried about being worried. They are anxious about being anxious. So that doesn't help. But there are very, very practical methods that you can use to help calm down the mind. You can focus on the feeling of the breath, and you can focus on other concentration practices, like counting the breath one to ten, or silently chanting a mantra with your breath. I mean, there are many, many ways to help calm and soothe the mind.

And you know, if you are the kind of person where none of these methods team to work for you, that is okay, too. Sometimes you need to do other kinds of practices for a while before you can do sitting meditation practice. But I always say if you are in a room with other people meditating and you just can't meditate, then you might as well just pray. You know, do something positive in your mind. So during the whole 20 minutes, just pray silently. Focus your mind on prayer, and that will also help. So, don't be too hard on yourself.

You know, when the Buddha taught the way of enlightenment, he knew there were all kinds of people in the world with various degrees of capacities and inclinations. He didn't teach silent sitting meditation to everyone. He had different methods of practice for different kinds of people. So don't be too hard on yourself if you do not feel like sitting meditation is easy for you. It is not easy for most of us really, but I personally believe that all of us can do some form of meditation. If it is not sitting meditation, maybe at least walking meditation or some other form of mindful practice. Mindfulness is universal. But the form that it takes, like sitting meditation or not sitting meditation, everyone is a little different.

Last but not least, there is the hindrance of doubt. This can be self-doubts, doubting the practice. It can also just be feeling uncertain and also feeling deluded or ignorant of the truth. So this is a major issue for many people. As they are practicing, they doubt themselves that they can do this or that they are doing it right or that everybody will get benefit from it or that they can ever become enlightened or what ever. So just notice how much of that is there. You don't have to judge it. It is just everybody has it, you know?

I mean, if this wasn't universal, then why would he teach it? Because the Buddha also experienced this, too. You see? We all experience these things, all of us. I hear all the time the new people here, just, "I am the worst meditator here." Well, we all think that. So join the club, right? But, you know, notice and work with this doubt.

Perhaps come up with practices that can help you with that, such as affirmations. I like affirmations. You know, one of the sets of affirmations I have been working this year is, I am healthy, happy, whole in body, mind, and soul. I am healthy, happy, whole in body, mind, and soul. And another set of affirmations that I received in my spirit a few years ago that I sometimes teach here is, I am safe. I am loved. I am free. And so, if you practice with affirmations, it can help with the doubt I think, because then you are focusing on affirming a positive truth rather than just being caught up in your self-doubt. And of course, that self-doubt can also lead to self-sabotage so many times. I think we all know of this experience. I certainly do.

But here is a teaching that I would like to present in closing this teaching on the five hindrances, which is to see the other side of the hindrances. Because in our practice, everything is included, not excluded. In other words, what that means is nothing is ever wasted. Everything, even the trash, the garbage, and the yucky stuff of our lives actually can become compost then be turned into fertilizer, into nourishing a beautiful garden of vegetables and flowers and whatever wonderful things in our lives.

In our interfaith Buddhist practice, we understand that hindrances or human failings or maybe what Western society calls sinfulness doesn't have to be a problem. It can actually be embraced, transformed, and turned into enlightened wisdom. So this might be a little bit different understanding of the human condition because in some teachings in the world, human nature is completely depraved, completely separated from the divine, completely lost, and it should be completely shunned and rejected.

But that is not how we understand human nature and our interfaith Buddhist understanding. We rather see that all of nature and all of humanity, that all of our immaturities, flaws, human failings, they can all be embraced and transformed, composted to become fertilizer for a garden of enlightenment and happiness and peace.

So, now I will take a look at the five hindrances, but from the point of view of the positive side of it. So craving, lust. Yeah, that has a negative quality, but what is the positive side of that? It is when you can have a true enlightened desire, right? When you can hold onto with determination your spiritual ideals, you know? When you can really be dedicated. So the positive aspect of craving would be enlightened desire, dedication to the path of enlightenment. No matter what is going on, you hold on to your faith and your practice.

Now, what is the enlightened or mature aspect of the hindrance of anger, aversion, hatred? It is the ability to renounce and to let go, and it is the ability to not be complacent about that which causes suffering to yourself and others. So again, there is also a degree of dedication energy here because you are dedicated to letting go of the causes of suffering, and you are dedicated to transforming the world by letting go of that which causes suffering. It is the ability to truly renounce all that causes unhappiness in ourselves and each other.

And it is almost like that phrase in the Bible, righteous indignation. You know, there were times when the prophets or Jesus or whoever, they had a righteous indignation. It wasn't just like the kind of anger that was just human anger that just wants revenge and hate. It is more of a righteous godly kind of feeling of wanting to create peace and justice and equity for others, and it is standing up against oppression and standing up against that which is causing suffering, you see? So it is like that.

And then the positive side of the sloth is the practice of rest, restfulness. Because in our society, we are always on the go. Go, go, go. And everything has to be a goal, and everything, you always have to keep getting more and more. You know what? There is a beauty about just resting, just being. That would be the positive side of sloth.

And the positive side of worry would be to be creative, to allow your mind the freedom to explore and to come up with new ideas. Because on one side, you have this mind that is racing and everything, and if it is not harnessed in an enlightened way, it can be a hindrance. But when it is cultivated in a positive way, that same racing mind can be something very beautiful because it can produce new inventions, new ideas, new ways to help people, new ways to practice spirituality that are relevant to our modern society. You see? So the positive side is the creative mind. And it also can be expressed as true concern.

And then of course, we have the final hindrance of doubt. The positive side of this is learning how to be okay with uncertainty. In fact, in the Zen tradition, we have something called great faith and great doubt, and both are equally necessary in our practice, even though they sound like opposites. They are both necessary in the practice.

What it means is great doubt, in the positive aspect, it means to basically question your assumptions, question what you think is right, question your priorities. You know, don't just accept an answer because that is what tradition said or that is what this great teacher said for that is what this book said. No. You have to find the truth for yourself.

And this is a quality that I know is very, very strong in me because I am constantly questioning and looking at myself and also the religious teachings in the world. I'm trying to understand what is the essential truth of them and what are the parts that are things that aren't so helpful. But if I didn't have that quality, I would just be a fundamentalist who accepts whatever I am told. But I have strong positive doubt.

But of course, our practice is to learn how to navigate doubt, because these are just energy. These are five energies, and I don't know what to call these energies. They are just energies, five different energies. But if we do not practice mindfully with them, they can lead to the immature form, or if we are mindful, we can cultivate it into the awakened form, the mature, wise form. Right? So it is just energy, but it can go either way depending on how you practice with it, right?

So that is why you practice spiritual practice and mindfulness. We want to cultivate the mature version of these energies and not let the immature versions of these energies run our lives.

I think that is good enough for tonight. I want to say thank you for putting up with listening to me, because of the medications and everything, my mind doesn't always have the same kind of seamless feeling to it, at least from my point of view. You might not notice anything. I don't know, but for me it does feel hard to keep my focus and my train of thought. But you know what? That doesn't matter so much, does it? What matters is that I love you and you love me and we're sitting together and practicing together and we are creating love in the world through our togetherness and that feels really good.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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