5 Reasons We Suffer, According to Buddhism

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We all encounter mental roadblocks in life. To feelings of self-doubt to anxiety and depression, mental hindrances can be extremely tough to deal with.

However, we’re not the first human beings that suffered from such obstacles.

Buddhist monks and philosophers have studied and practiced the art of freeing the mind from these negative emotions that tie us to what they call the Wheel of Suffering.

They found 5 common hindrances to the mind.

We’ve gone through each of them below and we’ve also discussed how we can actually go about overcoming these obstacles for a peaceful and happy life.

1) The Mental Hindrance of Desire for Sensing.

What is it:

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

Buddhist master Traleg Kyabgon explains it best:

“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.”

How to overcome it:

To overcome the hindrance of sensory desire, the meditator must use mindfulness and acknowledge the hindrance. Then they must observe the hindrance and experience it fully. Once experienced fully, the meditator must contemplate the impermanence of the pleasant desire. Buddhist master Ajahn Brahmavamso emphasizes the technique for letting go of concern for the body and five senses completely:

“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 Jhana, one must give up for a time ALL concern for the body and its five senses.”

2) The Mental Hindrance of Aversion and Ill-Will.

What is it:

This involves latching onto thoughts or feelings based on hostility, anger, resentment, bitterness etc.

Ajahn Brahmavamso states:

“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.”

How to overcome it:

According to Ajahn Brahmavamso, meditation on loving-kindness is crucial:

“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.”

3) The Mental Hindrance of Lethargy and Laziness.

What is it:

This is characterized as a morbid state of lacking energy and desire for wholesome activity.

Ajahn Brahmavamso states:

“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!”

How to overcome it:

To overcome laziness, we need to use our energy sources. Ajahn Brahmavamso says:

“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.”

4) The Mental Hindrance of Restlessness and Regret.

What is it: 

This refers to the mind being agitated and unable to settle down. Ajahn Brahmavamso explains it best:

“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 kammic effect of one’s misdeeds.”

How to overcome it:

Gil Fronsdal says it’s about understanding what makes you restless and accepting it and taking action:

“[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) The Mental Hindrance of Doubt and Uncertainty.

What is it: 

This involves self-doubt and not truly understanding oneself.

Ajahn Brahmavamso states:

“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.”

How to overcome it:

According to Ajahn Brahmavamso, this is overcome by having clear instructions and a way to move forward. He says:

“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.”

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