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Enlightenment 101: Five Hindrances to our Mindfulness Practice
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Enlightenment 101: Five Hindrances to our Mindfulness Practice (17 min.) MP3
Transcript of a talk delivered by Brother ChiSing
October 18, 2015 - Dallas, Texas

Thank you, dear friends, for your practice tonight. As we were walking outside, there were some saxophone sounds, and then someone parked their car and just left the radio going on. I was like kind of smiling. It was like, well, I guess everyone here is helping their practice be more advanced practice. And actually that is true because even though ideally we want to find a quiet place and time to meditate, the point of the meditation is so that you can be mindful in any situation. You can stay centered even when some crisis is going on or whatever. So actually, it is good when certain challenges arise in our mindfulness or meditation or life; then we get the opportunity to practice more diligently in our situation.

Tonight I thought it would be nice to talk about the five hindrances, challenges to our meditation and our life practice and our mindfulness practice. So I will just do a very short teaching tonight, and you can do some more sharing. The five hindrances are basically craving, aversion, sloth and torpor—whatever torpor means—worry and restlessness, and doubt. So those five are basically the five major hindrances in our meditation, mindfulness, and life practice. Now a few years ago, I was trying to memorize these, and what helped was a visual to help me memorize these. So I will share that with you.

The first hindrance is craving, so I just kind of think of craving as going toward something. So for example, if you're meditating and then during your meditation you really are just wanting really badly something during your meditation. Maybe it's that you just want to feel good or maybe it has nothing to do with meditation. You're just starting to feel like you want to eat something, or you are really attracted to one of the members in the group. You know, it starts to kind of take your focus off of your meditation onto something else. So there is a craving.

And then the second hindrance is aversion. I like to think of that as—so let's say this is the center, and you are trying to grasp on to something, but aversion is the same energy, but instead of trying to grasp something, you are trying to push something away. So aversion might be someone playing the saxophone or the car radio, and you are wanting to get away from that. You want them to stop or whatever. Or maybe you have an itch or your back is aching or your feet are swollen, and you don't like it. And then all of a sudden instead of staying centered on your breath, you are starting to focus on something else, maybe anger.

Then, sloth and torpor or laziness or just sleepiness sometimes, I think of that as an arrow going down. Your energy just starts to go really low. You get tired. You're sleepy. And I get that way sometimes in my meditations, too, when I'm very, very tired. So that would be sloth and torpor or laziness.

And now the other one would be worrying and restlessness. So sometimes our energy, we are just so alert and we can't relax, because, you see, meditation requires a balance of alertness and relaxation. But when you are too relaxed, you can go into sloth and torpor. When you are too alert, you might be worrying and anxious and thinking a lot with the racing mind. Your body is fidgety. You can't sit still. Your mind cannot be quiet. So that would be restlessness and worry.

And then, in the center of all of these four, I kind of have this spiral in the center to represent confusion, doubt. Ignorance, delusion also can be there, too. But doubt and confusion, like self-doubt especially, like, "I don't think I am doing this right," or, "I've been meditating for a while, and I just don't seem to be getting it." Or, "I don't think I am cut out for this." Or you are confused about whether this is the best way for you to practice. There are so many different methods, you know? And they are all good, but which one do you choose? Or you might just start doubting even the path of dharma or the Buddha or doubting your sangha or whatever. This can prevent you from having motivation to continue diligently on the path if you give in to those doubts and confusions.

What do you do about these five hindrances? Well, I'm not going to give you all the answers tonight. Maybe some of you can come up with some reflections and insights from your own practice. But basically, when I am craving something, that is an energy that I am always putting happiness ahead of me, outside of me. And so in my practice, I have to remind myself happiness isn't external and in the future. It can only really be found deeply in the present moment, and within me.

So if I start craving something during my meditation, I have to gently remind myself if I cannot come back to just right here and right now within me, I am not going to find it elsewhere. And also this helps prevent you from having this habit energy of always seeking happiness in the future externally. Because what is detrimental about that is, let's say you want to get a new car, and then you get a new car and you are happy for a little while.

But then you want something else, and then you want something else. It is always in the future, but see, the more you do that, no matter how many external things you accumulate that bring new temporary happiness, there is still this habit energy inside of you that is always reaching for happiness in the future. Even if you have everything you need right now, you will not enjoy it because part of you has been trained habitually to not be happy now, to try to find happiness in the future, but never really to find it now. That is a mistake.

Sure, you can enjoy things in the future and you can enjoy external things, but if you do not find happiness within and now, it is going to make it much more difficult finding that, even when we have a lot of things and even when good things happen in the future. You have to start creating a different habit, the habit of learning how to just be mindful right here and right now.

So that is why I try to encourage people to not just consider meditation a means to an end. I mean, in some ways, it is, in a sense, but you have to also see meditation as just simply resting in this moment, appreciating this moment right now, and you can be enlightened in this moment. Yeah, there is a future enlightenment, too, but you have to find that enlightenment here also. Just a little tiny enlightenment. Oh, I am enlightened just a little bit right now because I am enjoying my breath. I am appreciating my heartbeat. I am allowing myself the happiness of just being present during this, and I'm appreciating the fact that I am a beautiful, radiant being in this universe.

And then as far as aversion goes, something that sometimes helps me when I am not liking something in my meditation, like a sound or an ache or whatever. Maybe my mind is just racing or my body is twitching and itching, or if something comes up in my mind all the sudden of someone I had an argument with or whatever, or some circumstance in my life I wish was different. Something that sometimes helps me is I remind myself with this nice phrase: It is what it is. It is what it is. You know? Everything is as it is. Just remind yourself your life is as it is. Things happen. People are the way they are, and that is the way it is. And if we can accept that, learn to just accept, that helps us to calm down the aversion.

Then as far as sloth or sleepiness is concerned, just be aware of the cycles of your practice, and when you practice. And also your whole daily routine. Look at even how much sleep you are getting because it may be a sign that you are not giving yourself enough sleep. You're not taking enough rest for your body. Maybe you're not doing enough exercise or maybe you are meditating at certain times that are not so helpful to your body, like usually when you meditate right after you eat a big meal, it is not the best time. I mean, if it is the only time you have, it do it anyway, but just know that your body might be wanting to take a nap at that time, after a big meal.

So just be aware of your daily routine and habits and your sleeping patterns, because that might be affecting why you are always sleeping during meditation, because finally you stop, and you go to sleep. It is the only time during your day you're giving yourself the opportunity to relax, right? Of course you feel sleepy, because you haven't given your body that opportunity at other times.

And then restlessness and worry, all this energy, if you have a lot of energy, then do something before your sitting meditation. If you tend to have a lot of restlessness and all of that, then do chanting or bowing, prostrations, a little bit of qi gong, a little bit of yoga, a little bit of walking meditation before you sit. That way it helps to get that energy out, and then you're able to just settle a little bit more.

Another thing about meditation—and of course this also applies to daily mindfulness and your whole life, but I am just talking specifically about meditation—if you are feeling a little sleepy, make sure your eyes are open and focus upward, maybe on the tip of your nose, your breath there, or focusing and visualizing in your forehead. That usually will help a little bit to bring your energy up, but if you're very restless and all monkey mind, then it is better to—you can either have your eyes have opened or closed and focus more on the lower abdomen as you feel the breath in and out. This will help you come out of the surface wandering mind into the deeper part of your body-mind.

Okay. And then as far as doubt and confusion are concerned, sometimes I do feel doubt and confusion at times. What I do is I remind myself of what I do know for sure—or at least pretty certain. I remind myself that, for example, I might bring to mind I do believe that the Buddha was an enlightened person and shared. I mean, it is so obvious to me because what he taught is still going on after centuries of time. And my best proof is the Buddha's teachings transcended all the way to Thich Nhat Hanh in the 20th and 21st century, and I have been with him, and I have been one of his disciples with the whole monastic and lay community for retreats many, many times. And I know there is something real there. I feel it. I see it.

So I just try to remember those times, and then I try to apply that for myself. If the Buddha can do it and Thich Nhat Hanh can do it and all these other disciples can do it, I can do it. So it might not look the way they do it because I am a unique human being, just like you are unique, but I can do it in my own way, and I can allow enlightenment to express in my own way.

And just the little enlightenments. Don't worry about the big enlightenment, okay? That will happen when it comes, but right here and right now, what is the little enlightenment? I can enjoy my breath. I can enjoy this flower. I can enjoy that candle. I can enjoy the fact that I have a body that's still alive, even though there are certain parts that aren't functioning, but it is okay. I am grateful. So you know, you may want to just remind yourself of the truths you do know when you start having confusion and doubt.

Ok well, I think that's enough for tonight's teaching.

Transcribed by Jessica Hitch

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