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Starving the Beast

As Buddhist practitioners, we must understand how to counter the Five Hindrances in order to avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering.

Sensual desire

When we note an object of sensual desire entering the perceptive field, we can catch it before it catches us and watch and analyze it as a source of impurity, despite its apparent and alluring beauty.

Suppose the object of perception is a young beauty queen. Despite our eye being caught by her apparent beauty, we can remind ourselves that what we see outwardly is only an external sheath of what is internally full of blood, pus, guts, gore, and feces, and therefore not as attractive as it might seem. Close observation and analysis becomes de-nourishing. 

When we know that this beautiful form is ruled by feelings, perceptions, mental associations, and consciousness, we should know that eye consciousness is a bundle of energy urges that are certain to spell trouble if we obtain what we want and label it “mine.” Hence, the adage: be careful what you wish for because you might get it. The odds are not good that you and she both want the same things, yet the body-mind is fooling itself when, without even thinking, it selfishly says, “I’d like to get my hands on that.” 

The point here is that what the mind-body wants—if we let the untrained mind follow its impulses and whims—will likely become a source of disappointment. Whatever we desire, the odds are unlikely that we will achieve the fulfillment of our wishes. 

And so it is with all of the Five Hindrances: what at first attracts the senses or consciousness is more likely to start a fire in the mind than offer soothing satisfaction. Yet the eye and the other senses are in the habit of looking for trouble, picking up perceptions from their environment. The six senses, when untrained, want to get up to mischief and must be contained.


Similarly, we note that when an object of ill-will enters the perceptive field, it is common for perception to find things it dislikes—things that are ugly, noisy, smelly, distasteful, or repulsive to touch and smell. Thus the mind makes associations that cause reactions to distasteful contacts. Suppose our neighbor’s music is noisy or his garbage smelly. It is easy to react to the perception, by thinking, “This is not right!”

No sooner have we reacted negatively than our neighbor is reacting back, and we are both feeling ill-will, which may last until either one moves away or dies. The moment we react to a negative, exterior impulse and become involved, we lose whatever sense of wise, detached equanimity we had developed, and so we run right back into acting like an untamed animal—like an untrained dog barking at a shadow. 

The antidote to ill-will is good grounding in the mental training of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. When these four factors are active, we will not make our neighbor our enemy, no matter how badly he behaves. We will not lose our foundations in these four sublime states of metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha. We will not nourish feelings of anger and ill-will. 

Usually, the causes of hate lie deeper than loud music and stinking garbage, so we must be mindful in the cultivation of sublime mental states that can arrest and eliminate tendencies towards bad kamma. While this is not easy to do, the alternative is to let ourselves fall into the fire of contention that arises from following bad intentions. If this seems difficult, remember that every moment of our lives is a test of equanimity. Loss of equanimity affords ill-will an opportunity to nourish itself and run rampant, which is exactly what ill-will wants to do.

We know how easy it is to let down our guard, even if only for a moment. But when we do, we open ourselves to reprisals from the outside world. Even worse, if we lose mindfulness, even for a moment, there is no telling what harm we might do to others and indirectly ourselves.

Laziness and listlessness

We note when feelings of laziness and listlessness enter the perceptive field. We have all felt the tendency to allow ourselves to fall into the hindrances of sloth and torpor, in which we cannot arouse the necessary force do anything and tend to fall into a state of inertia or even go to sleep. The way to combat such a lack of energy is to make an exertion to overcome inertia—to arouse energy when it is lacking through a forceful act of the will. If, through a lack of wisdom, one’s mind becomes dull, one should rouse it through reflecting on such stirring subjects as the perils of birth, decay, disease, and death, or the dangers of a lack of constant attentiveness and its possible consequences.  

One can also arouse energy through awareness of the suffering of impermanence. Some monks with indolent tendencies are told to avoid overeating and to adjust body posture to maintain an alert mind, or to contemplate the perception of light, or to remain in the open air, and, in some cases, to undertake walking meditation in a location where there are sharp-edged stones, or, better yet, to engage in conversation about indolence with friends in the Dhamma and cultivate sympathetic joy. Note also that the psycho-physical slowing down of the mental process allows the defilements more time to enter the sense doors and nourish themselves there. 

Restlessness and worry 

We note when feelings of restlessness and worry enter the perceptive field. We have all felt restless, uneasy, nervous, and full of worry or remorse. The antidote for de-nourishment here is Right Mindfulness and the application of wise attention, arousing the mind to calm states of tranquility. Another way is through talking to mature members of the sangha and, after discussion and understanding, practicing the monk’s rules and developing healing calmness through noble friendship. The more restlessness there is, the more opportunities the defilements have to stir up nervous energies and create sparks in the mind, which heat up and consume nervous energy. This is why we should cultivate a calm mind at all times.


We note when stirrings of doubt enter the perceptive field. We may have experienced doubts about our Buddhist practice. There are doubts embedded in the mind as residue, or doubts which enter due to outside influences or a lack of confidence or due to bad influences. 

Once uncertainty has arisen, as a spark to ignite doubt, it is hard to establish confidence. This is especially so when we are simultaneously engaged in putting out little and big fires in the mind—some of which will be due to spontaneous combustion because there are piles of fuel lying around inside, unprotected and susceptible to the accelerating breakdown of firmness of mind. This causes increased mental heat, burning energy as confusion increases. Uncertainty lurks in the dark corners of the mind and can be a dangerous enemy because it attacks from inside, where we are vulnerable due to a lack of focused attention and concentration.

It is much better to train to fight the Five Hindrances than it is to become a slave of inherent ignorance and unwise inclinations.

Related features from BDG

The Dangerous Six Sense Doors
Hindering the Hindrances
The Four Sublime States

More from Theravada Teachings by Prof. David Dale Holmes

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kerri lowdon
kerri lowdon
2 months ago

Thankyou for your careful words ,I appreciate the time and energy it took for you to do this ,A lotus to you