5 Hindrances

5 Hindrances

5 Hindrances

When I started studying Buddhism, I was introduced to the Five Hindrances.  They are five qualities of mind that can short-cut our spiritual growth and our ability to remain present in daily life.  Over time in exploring how these qualities emerge in my daily life, I can see them coming (sometimes a mile away).   The Five Hindrances are craving, aversion, restlessness, lethargy, doubt.

Here is an example of how I have used this practice in my daily life:  Sometimes my kids argue and bicker.  Upon waking last Saturday World War III had erupted in our living room.  All I heard was the word stop repeated several times from both kids and then wailing and a high pitched squawk.  In my head I really wanted to be somewhere else.  Still sleeping.  Still dreaming peacefully.  I woke up mad.  I stopped and took a few breaths and felt my body tight and tense.  Then I heard the word- aversion.  Each time I said the word aversion, I felt my muscles soften.  I still got out of bed and sent my kids to their rooms for some cooling off.  But I didn’t go on the warpath.

Our bodies often send us signals that we ignore.  They often tell us if we are in thoughts that are craving, averse, restless, lethargic or doubting.  If we can pause just a moment, we can notice what is going on and shift just slightly.  This subtle shift breaks our habitual responses and allows us to respond rather than react.

Below are notes from my teacher training manual from Sarah Powers and the Insight Yoga Institute.  May they help you gain some small insights along the way:

Craving:  Chasing after sensual gratification is the main ingredient in craving.  Craving occurs when we cling to something we want to remain unchanging, or when we become obsessed with something that is not here, wishing it were.  Both attitudes have an intoxicating quality that often overestimates the power of the object’s ability to deliver lasting happiness.

Aversion:  Aversion is when we resist, resent, recoil, attack, become annoyed, or impatient.  This is simply clinging in reverse as we are not wanting what is happening to be here, clinging to what we assume or wish were happening instead of what is.  The mind states of clinging and aversion are what fuel the struggle with our existence and are the main expressions of our suffering.

Restlessness and Lethargy:  These are twins of a similar source and manifest as habitual coping strategies that stem from underlying discontent.  Like channel surfing with the remote clicker, when we are neither stimulated nor interested in the content of a moment, our mind swings between two extremes: we either recklessly jump about from one detail to another, anxiously searching for something to cling to; or we simply sink into a hazy, vague disconnect rooted in aversion that we often label as boredom, but is instead mental laziness.

Doubt:  Doubt is a category all its own as it stems from a myriad of entrained thought patterns embedded in our own self-imge.  This hindrance can be the most paralyzing of all as it freezes us in a construct of unrelenting self-talk that has already convicted and sentenced us to defensiveness.  Doubt here is much different than inquiry and not knowing, as it leaves no room for possibility and instead takes on the tyranny of assuming conclusions without sincere investigation.  This hindrance grows out of an overriding hidden agenda to avoid our innermost fears and tragically keeps us from seeking out the help we need to break free from the shackles that bind us.


Elizabeth Delaney