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Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta 5.

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Mindfulness of Dhammas

This is the fourth and final Satipaṭṭhāna consisting five sections on the hindrances, aggregates, sense spheres, awakening factors and four noble truths. We will take one section at a time.


While the other satipaṭṭhānas have been more or less straight forward – body, feeling and mind – here the concept of ‘dhammas’, Pāli, or ‘dhārmas’, Sanskrit, is more complex.

We all know that what the Buddha taught is called the Dhamma, (capital D), often translated as the ‘law’, as in the laws of the universe, but what is meant here by dhamma’, (lower case d), is something that broadly may be regarded as patterns of physical and mental phenomena – so the laws of the universe in detail. Early Buddhism, in its Abhidhamma, or ‘higher teachings’, made a list of the dhammas arriving at the sum of 82, which were divided into four categories: consciousness, mental events (52), physical occurrences (28) and awakening, Nibbãna. With the exception of Nibbãna, each dhamma, occurring in endless variations, is considered to exist only fleetingly – just a tiny fraction of a second – and to follow each other in endless quick succession with an equally minute gap between each as it flits into and out of existence. The analogy to a book of pictures that may be flicked through to give the illusion of continuous movement is frequently used. All of the dhammas are conditioned by and are dependent upon the existence of other dhammas with the exception of Nibbãna which is an ‘un-conditioned’ dhamma – that is, not created by anything and therefore beyond decay. A timeless state! Put at its simplest, the mental events dhammas are just our thoughts and emotions coming and going.

In the context of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta we are being invited to contemplate these dhammas as either ‘mental qualities’, as in the five hindrances and awakening factors, or ‘specific categories’, as in the five aggregates, the six sense spheres and the four noble truths. This is a bit confusing because these are not ‘objects of mindfulness’ in the same way the body, feeling and mind were but rather things to be looked out for and avoided (hindrances) or gain insight into (aggregates and sense spheres) or cultivate (awakening factors) or realise (four noble truths). Plainly the method of mindfulness is being stretched again to incorporate a wide spectrum of activities. However, approached in this entirely practical way we can see a progression from ignorance to enlightenment as our mindfulness of dhammas unfolds. As the hindrances become less obscuring and mental stability and concentration increases, insight into the constituent parts of the person (aggregates) becomes possible, followed by insight into the relationship of the person to the outer world (sense spheres). This insight then blossoms (the awakening factors), which reveals an experiential understanding of things as they really are (the four noble truths). Or, in other words, a more detailed account of what is has been said many times before: when we remove the obscurations we will see how things really are – which is to be awakened.

The Ven. Anālayo p.186 sums up all these different nuances of the word dhamma in a particularly pleasing way:

Thus contemplation of dhammas skilfully applies dhammas (classificatory categories) as taught in the Dhamma (the teaching of the Buddha) during contemplation in order to bring about an understanding of the dhamma (principle) of conditionality and lead to the realisation of the highest of all dhammas (phenomena): Nibbãna.

Very neat!

The Five Hindrances

I have already written quite a bit about the five hindrances and how to work with them mindfully in ‘Why Can’t I Meditate?’, in the chapter: ‘Grabby, Grumpy, Sleepy, Jumpy and Maybe’. What follows duplicates and expands on this.

The text:

If sensual desire is present in him, he knows “there is sensual desire in me”; if sensual desire is not present in him, he knows “there is no sensual desire in me”; and he knows how unarisen sensual desire can arise, how arisen sensual desire can be removed, and how a future arising of the removed sensual desire can be prevented. If aversion is present in him, he knows…. If sloth-and- torpor is present in him, he knows…. If restlessness-and-worry is present in him, he knows…. If doubt is present in him, he knows “there is doubt in me”; if doubt is not present in him, he knows “there is no doubt in me”; and he knows how unarisen doubt can arise, how arisen doubt can be removed, and how a future arising of the removed doubt can be prevented.

As usual this is benefited by being made simpler, so:

There are five hindrances – 1. sensual desire, 2. aversion, 3. sloth and torpor, 4. restlessness and worry, and 5. doubt.

We are to –

Know when a hindrance is present and when absent,

Know the conditions leading to the arising and removal of a hindrance, and

Know the conditions that prevent a further arising of the hindrance.

The thing with hindrances is actually quite a big deal. It’s immediately noticeable they are an extension of the three root poisons of grasping, aversion and ignorance (sloth and torpor) – which were focused on in mindfulness of mind – and are now joined by restlessness and worry, and doubt. As such they are the antithesis of the awakening factors and the realisation of the four noble truths. That is to say they are the mind and body states that keep us trapped in suffering. However, rather homeopathically, they are also potentially the means to wake up because they can each and all become objects of mindfulness. When, say, aversion arises within me I can either simply identify with it and act from it or I can suppress it – both reactions being equally unskilful as neither does anything to make a fundamental change for the better. However, the exact same emotion when greeted with awareness, and stayed with long enough to reveal its impermanent and insubstantial nature, becomes a small step towards awakening. If this is not properly understood it would be easy to start a war with these mind states. Finding that we are yet again deeply caught up within them, we might become frustrated, angry or despondent with ourselves. Of course this it to actually pour fuel on the fire – each of these reactions is just more hindrance. However, if we accept that these are normal experiences that everyone has – including long term, established practitioners – then we can turn towards them with clarity and compassion. Perhaps unfortunately the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta gives the impression that the hindrances may be left behind as the qualities of contemplation deepen – ardency, clear knowing, mindfulness and concentration. However it would be equally true to say that as the qualities of contemplation grow we are more able to make use of the hindrances as objects of mindfulness and are less prone to them simply being obscurations. If the hindrances are all that obscures awakening this implies that they will be with us right up to when awakening happens – so they are a very important blessing and gift to be skilfully used! Let’s look at them in detail.


Sensual desire

It’s interesting that the Ven. Anālayo uses the full phrase “sensual desire” while Joseph Goldstein uses the more compact “desire”. This makes me wonder whether all desires are sensual – that is arise from the senses – or whether some come from another source, the fantasies within our minds? Thinking further about it and remembering the two previous satipaṭṭhānas, mindfulness of feeling and mind, I guess we could say that ‘feelings’ of pleasant or unpleasant arise from either the contacts through our senses or things that just happen in our mind and these are then cloaked by the ‘mind’ with a further level of wanting or not wanting and that this in turn can unfold into experiences of full blown desire – and all in a split second!

When desire is present:

Whatever we call it, it is certainly true that desires can eat us up. There seems to be a point where an innocuous choosing to have or do something turns a corner and becomes a full blown compulsive desire that is actually quite disturbing and even distressing. Naked examples of this mind state may be seen in the pain of a small child struggling with frustrated desires – they are beside themselves with the agony of it. And really it is not that much different as an adult – we too are vulnerable to compulsions – addictions – that drive us crazy until satisfied and then disappoint when achieved. A vicious circle of diminishing return.

One good thing about this hindrance is that it is obvious – well, at least the more gross forms of it! If we are to be aware when it is present then the simple intensity of the sensation makes it apparent. Make an experiment now; savour a desire you presently have and then ask “where do I feel this in my body?” – chances are you will know the answer loud and clear. Big desires at least are physically powerful and we have masses of language to describe them – yearning, longing, craving, wanting, needing, writhing, twisting, crawling!!! Given that Buddhism puts such value on equanimity it becomes clear why the hindrance of desire is so undesirable.

When desire is absent:

This one made me pause – it’s more difficult to notice in a positive way the absence of something – it’s just not there. However I began to properly think about it and started by asking when do I actually not feel some level of desire? My answer was very rarely, there is usually something even if it’s quite small. Then I thought about my meditation practice – particularly those practices which are about doing nothing – and here I realised that there is a positive experience of being without desire (for some of the time) because the experience of the practice in itself lays desire to rest. I hadn’t thought of this before but it is entirely possible to be aware of this as a desire less experience and consciously know the ease and comfort that arises from the freedom of it. In fact Buddhism rejoices in this state, recognising it as the foundation of the joy and happiness that accompanies realisation.

What causes desire to arise and disperse:

More self-observation made me realise that many of my desires – certainly the big powerful wants – come from my own inner dialogues and fantasies. I’m not a victim of my desires, I’m causing the suffering myself by what I unthinkingly do semi-consciously within my own mind. Then going a step further I can see that while many of my desires are simply generic – that is, common to all people – there is also a theme or colouration that can be traced back to my core wounds. This is interesting if we remember that there is something really compulsive and pervasive about a core wound in that it is always creeping into the back of our experience and distorting it with the wounds unmet expectations and needs. Given that most wounds are configured around lack or absence – not having enough – it is obvious that desire goes hand in hand with this and that the advertising world, the manipulators of desire, should use this ‘not having enough’ as the motivator to buy their products. Yet here is the rub again – though Amazon may be able to tap into my deep neediness by offering anything I might desire, experience also tells me that however many brown boxes arrive at my door this need is never satisfied – in fact it gets worse. So if I am to be mindful of what makes desire arise and how it is dispersed I must do so on two levels. First I just need to take responsibility and not feed it and two, I also need to address my deep needs from infancy and childhood in a way that is both skilful and kind. Fortunately we have mindfulness of the felt sense to help here – all these needs can be felt as sensations within our body and being present with them in a kind and non-judgemental way does authentically begin to meet that hunger.

And how to prevent further arising:

I’m not sure this is possible – certainly not in my foreseeable future! In addition to the ways I have just suggested – don’t feed the fantasies and hold the felt sense of deep longings and unmet needs in the loving embrace of mindful presence – Buddhism also has some more traditional solutions:

– Use the mindfulness of the body practices – particularly the ones about the horrors of the decaying corpse and death. These may cool our ardour.

-Guard the senses – desire can be stoked up by what we see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Also by what we do with these senses in our mind. Make wise choices about this.

-Be moderate in our eating (Why? could it be that this is an echo of the Buddha’s ascetic fear of eating because a strong body is a desiring body?)

-Be with good friends and have suitable conversation – which I take to mean not your mates who suggest you all go out, get pissed, have a laugh and follow it with a curry. (Tempting though this may be.)

-Finally I think this all comes down to whether we can mindfully catch what is wholesome and unwholesome for us. Once we know this we can substitute rules for a personal sensitivity, using our wisdom and compassion in the management of our desires.



Somehow being ‘adverse’ to something doesn’t even begin to cover the range of this second defilement. This one includes a wide spectrum between a mild dislike or disinclination through resistance, rejection, irritation, annoyance and anger, to utter repulsion on the one hand and psychopathic rage on the other. Joseph Goldstein p.131 say that traditionally all these mind states are rooted in hatred, ‘dosa’, and that mindfulness reveals something in us that, though usually mild, can erupt into the horrors of war. I’m not so sure about this. I think this hindrance is essentially about ‘not wanting’ in all its myriad forms and in most cases, if not all, has at its root fear. Hatred is at the centre of the spectrum but this is not what is at the bottom of it. This seems more obvious when we think about sorrow and grief. Both of these are considered subtle forms of aversion, but what do they reveal, hatred or fear? We may hate the experience of loss but I think more deeply we fear it.

Let’s break this down in the same way we worked with desire:

When aversion is present:

Joseph Goldstein identifies physical pain, unpleasant thoughts and situations and the personalisation of general problems as typical sources of aversion. This certainly covers just about everything but I also think it’s important to remember the two previous satipaṭṭhānas that describe how the causal root for all aversions is the wrapping of an unpleasant sensation in the cloak of not wanting – that is, an emotional reaction. Whether it’s our body sensations, things that are happening in our minds or our environment – all of these are made far worse by the stories we tell ourselves about them. Here we are back again with the wisdom of identifying the narratives that contain a second arrow.

When aversion is absent:

The basic felt sense of aversion is a feeling of contraction. Physical pain and horrible churning fantasies about myself, others and events all make me tighter, harder, smaller, shrivelling and ducking inside. And the opposite is a feeling of relaxation and ease. Being open. Think of something you have been resisting and then found acceptance of – real acceptance, not just resignation – what does that feel like?

What causes aversion to arise and to disperse:

I have already mentioned hatred and fear as the roots of aversion but what makes aversion arise in any given moment? Contemporary psychology would say something like we have ‘buttons’ that once pressed trigger defensive reactions that are highly coloured by our personal history of similar circumstances. This is why on the one hand defences are universal – we all have fight, flight or freeze reactions – but also personal – one persons buttons are not the exactly the same as another’s because each person has different personal experiences. Buddhism would say something quite similar – we have deep rooted patterns, created by our past karma, that are expressing themselves when circumstances enable them. The way that they are expressed is as fleeting mind states – dhammas – that give the impression of something solid and real but are actually impermanent and illusionary when seen as they really are.

And what makes aversion disperse?

Not surprising – mindfulness! Just like its mirror image desire, aversion can be incredibly powerful and because of this – just like desire – it offers itself as a very valuable object of mindfulness. Another experiment: think of something you really don’t like, something you are angry about (there will surely be lots of choice) and ask yourself, “Where in my body do I feel this?” Then locating the felt sense, drop the story line and breath around the sensation. Remember, we are not trying to get rid of or change the sensation in anyway, we are trusting that once we stop feeding it with further emotionally laden thoughts awareness itself will reveal its impermanence.

There are many of us who having received this suggestion may make a small stab at it and then say it didn’t work. Apart from the obvious mistake of thinking it will make an immediate enormous change and then being disappointed there is also the possibility that we actually enjoy being angry and feeling we are ‘right’. The Buddha called this “anger with its honeyed tip and poisoned root” which is to be seduced by the energy of our anger. Recently I had first hand experience of this. Someone I knew burst into our house making very aggressive accusations and I ejected him forcefully. Immediately afterwards I felt fantastic – I’d seen the aggressor off and protected my home – then gradually the feeling receded and the triumph turned to sadness as I remembered this man was also a very old friend. Our sense of self is very strong and under attack – real or imagined – becomes stronger still. Indignation, self-righteousness, playing the story back so we are the victor (or the victim), are all honey covering over something that really harms others and ourselves.

And how to prevent further arising:

Like desire I don’t imagine my own aversion is going to stop anytime soon. It is so deep in our DNA that we are really talking about altering human nature. However as well as this ‘wolf of hate’ we also have a ‘wolf of love’ that naturally will be protective of our own group even at the cost of our own life. The practices below essentially work on the balance between these two ‘wolves’ – they expand what we feel to be our family and tribe and diminish what we feel to be the hostile others. And it’s possible! Today our sense of who is within our protective circle is far greater than the tiny group it once would have been in prehistoric times. Theoretically at least there is no limit to the inclusivity we are capable of once we put our minds and hearts to it.

-Traditionally the principle antidote to aversion has been the practice of loving kindness. We exchange a closed heart for an open one.

-We may also reflect on the karmic consequences of our thoughts and deeds – never good when aversion drives blind reactions.

-Quite similar, we may repeatedly use whatever wisdom we have, or have access to, to remind us of the bigger picture. Things feel more concrete when in contraction and more open and fluid when in expansion.

-And again spend time with good friends having ‘suitable’ conversations. (Which probably will not include reading the Daily Mail).


Sloth and Torpor

The meditators nightmare! Desire and aversion are seemingly easy in comparison to this. Broadly speaking there are two basic expressions. One, when we are tired, perhaps deeply tired from a chronically stressful life. Or two, when we unconsciously need/want to be unconscious – to not be present with our thoughts and emotions.

When sloth and torpor are present and when absent:

Anyone who has tried to sit and has been overcome by this hindrance will know how almost impossible it is to be mindful of it. It is the absolute antithesis of being awake. Sloth seems to pertain to mind, torpor to feelings within the body. Both produce a heavy, sinking feeling that is all but irresistible. However there are also many subtle expressions. Sloth and torpor are the hindrances connected to the root poison of ignorance. Ignorance most fundamentally is not to be awakened, to not know how things really are. As such this hindrance not only covers not literally being able to stay awake, but also mind states that maintain and defend our deep desire to remain ‘spiritually’ asleep. As such all forms of cutting off, distancing, spacing out, dissociation and dwelling in warm and fuzzy ‘meditation’ states that are without clarity, are also aspects of this hindrance. As are attempts to make the experience we have ‘go away’. Put like this it becomes apparent that most of us, most of the time are experiencing this hindrance because until we become awakened there will be at the very least some traces of ignorance and its manifestation as a hindrance on the path.

The opposite of this hindrance is the natural brightness and clarity of the mind that is a joy to rest in – the greatest expression of this being awakening.

What causes sloth and torpor to arise and to disperse:

The Ven. Anālayo p.197 says sloth and torpor are caused by, “discontent, boredom, laziness, drowsiness caused by over-eating, and by a depressed state of mind”. I would also say they are rooted – if not simply physical – in a deep fear of being awake and the insight into ourselves this would bring. Joseph Goldstein p.143 takes this a little deeper saying that traditionally sloth and torpor arise from “giving unwise or careless attention to certain mental states like discontent, boredom, laziness and drowsiness”. This he explains as those times when we don’t really take our sleepiness seriously, not enquiring what is at the heart of these mind states. And he is spot on – the very nature of this hindrance goes against a deeper inquiry, I just want to lay down and zzzzz. Goldstein also identifies difficult emotions – the avoidance of which we have already mentioned. Overeating – we all know what babies do once they have been fed and what the after lunch meditation session is likely to consist of. And a dreamlike meditation state that is very pleasant but lacks clarity – a state my own teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls, “stupid meditation”.

And what makes it disperse?

Exactly the same things as what prevent further arising –

And how to prevent further arising:

-As with all the hindrances the first response is simply increasing our ardour, mindfulness, clear knowing and concentration – the four elements of contemplation. Admittedly this is difficult to do but it may enable us to recognise when we are slipping and use the suggestions below to help us.

-Lessen our food intake – sitting on a huge belly of food is guaranteeing this hindrance.

-Change meditation posture – this will include sitting up, lifting the head, lifting the level of the gaze higher, opening the eyes or even standing or even doing some yoga and enlivening breathing exercises. There is little point in just sitting in a heap and sleeping. Act.

-Increase mental clarity and light. Clarity is the opposite of sloth and torpor. Light may be taken as weight and literal light. Take off some clothes, become less warm, open the windows, let some air in.

Stay outdoors – a place that is both light and cool.

-And have good friends and suitable conversations. These can keep us inspired which is another kind of light.

The sutta itself mentions paying close attention to ‘arousal’, ‘endeavour’ and ‘exertion’ – so trying harder! This is of course true but it is also important to not make sleep into the enemy. It is an opportunity to be mindful of two really difficult mental factors and when we fail – as we will repeatedly – to use this as an opportunity to exercise our kindness and compassion towards ourselves. Goldstein p.148 also names ‘wise exertion’ amongst the antidotes and I think if we link this to the deeper understanding of this hindrance – the avoidance of thoughts and emotions we fear having – then this could mean simply asking ourselves what we are stopping ourselves feeling when we repeatedly sleep.


Restlessness and worry

Energetically this is the opposite of sloth and torpor. It too is both physical and mental and so can have us hopping up off our meditation seat before we know it, completely consumed by our monkey mind. Restlessness is about the mind being unable to settle on anything – so for instance being unable to stay with the breath. Worry with regret and anxiety – the feelings that go with having done something we shouldn’t or not doing something we should. Restlessness always accompanies worry but we can also be restless without worrying.

When restlessness and worry are present and when absent:

Joseph Goldstein p.153ff. lists physical and emotional restlessness and restlessness that comes in obvious and subtle forms. We all know the obvious form but the subtle form is the pervasive discontent that most of us feel much of the time. In this sense we are restless for something we feel we haven’t got and here we can see how actually the hindrances are all closely melded together – restlessness being connected to desire and aversion – wanting this and not wanting that. Worry, similarly comes in different forms. Many of us have a kind of generalised anxiety as we struggle to keep up with the commitments in our lives. Much of the monkey mind is taken up with fears about what might happen and fantasies about what we want. In the mindfulness courses these patterns of emotionally laden thoughts are pinpointed as ruminating, catastrophising and generalising. Three patterns of useless, stress promoting thinking that we do well to recognise and interrupt. Perhaps most basically we could say that a mind that is caught up in the pain of ignorance is also an agitated mind because ignorance leaves us feeling something is just not right, that there is something important missing and yet we do not really know what it is or where to look. If this is so then being mindful of when restlessness and worry are absent is again to know the calm, clarity and ease of awakening.

What causes restlessness and worry to arise and to disperse:

Both Joseph Goldstein and the Ven. Anālayo list a lack of mental calm and concentration, too pushy an attitude to our practice and whizzing ourselves up with lots of conceptual chitter chatter as sources of restlessness. Goldstein also adds ‘unwise attention’ for which he cites becoming reactive to the NEWS. Worry is created by dwelling guiltily on the past and fearing the future and also failing to meet goals that we have unrealistically set ourselves. To these I would add a haphazard pattern of practice where we keep on starting and stopping and not having a regular time and duration for our practice. This is highly disruptive and frustrates the creation of a solid and stable practice ‘habit’.

What causes restlessness and worry to disperse

Is … mindfulness! Restlessness and worry are emotional and therefore can be felt in the body. Making these sensations our objects of mindfulness, dropping the story line, we directly observe their coming and going. Goldstein p.159 also mentions being precise in our attention, which in other words is to increase our concentration that will in turn deepen our experience of calm. So calming our anxious mind. How do we increase concentration? By making our mindfulness more precise – more detailed. He also suggest opening our eyes as we practice – this suggestion was also made for sleepiness – in both cases it makes having a swimming or thought overwhelmed mind more difficult.

When it comes to worry, if worry is founded on a guilty conscience, then this conscience becomes easy once we act well.

And how to prevent further arising:

In addition to mindfulness and the other suggestions listed above the tradition offers:

-Know what the teachings say and …

-Clarify our understanding through questioning. I think here the idea is knowledge and understanding are settling. Traditionally this is linked to Monks worrying about their understanding of the Dhamma.

-Be ethically impeccable – and being so we will not later be plagued by embarrassing or guilt laden memories.

-Learn from those who are wise – always a good idea.

-And have good friends and suitable conversations – and here, if isolation and blowing things out of proportion are contributing to our restlessness and worry this makes good sense.

Finally I would add, just as with sloth and torpor, don’t become at war with restlessness and worry – that is become more restless and more worried! The mind does naturally think and unless we are masters of the calm abiding practices that can create a deep thought free absorption state, thoughts are going to be present in our minds. This being so we need to distinguish between ‘big thoughts’ – those that thoroughly distract us – and the small periphery thoughts that are insufficiently strong to take us from our mindfulness. These we can leave as they are.



Buddhism has a complex relationship to doubt. The Buddha encouraged that we consider the teachings carefully before committing ourselves. That we were to doubt them in a healthy way until we became certain that they were for us. Here, in the hindrances, doubt is not considered positively – it is something that has become corrosive to our commitment. However, later, in Zen Buddhism doubt is redeemed and Zen speaks of the “great doubt” that plays a central part in awakening – if we doubt everything what is left?

When doubt is present and when absent:

In some ways doubt is the most dangerous hindrance because it can stop our practice – perhaps forever. It takes different forms but essentially we either doubt the teaching and perhaps the teacher or we doubt ourselves – our ability to practice and make the teaching real in our lives. This type of doubt is entirely unwholesome – unlike the wholesome inquiry that the Buddha recommends when we first encounter the teaching. Looking closely at this doubt we may find that it is actually acting as a defence. If I doubt something I will be unwilling to properly commit and throw myself in. It will keep me at the edge in a position I am familiar with and that is not threatening. Even if the doubt is directed at myself this too can be a particularly cunning form of defence because ‘can’t’ is so often ‘won’t. I have also noticed that doubt comes in the form of emotion or thought. Doubt as an emotion is about feelings that keep us from engaging – often quite vague and nebulous. Thought on the other hand, as the hindrance of doubt, is usually quite clever, having all sorts of reasons, qualms and questions, for not just getting on and letting ones own real experience give the answers.

Doubt when absent is the positive experience of confidence. This is not blind belief – Buddhism is not keen on this. But rather having our own experience we know that we are doing something useful and meaningful. It does not mean that we accept everything but it does mean sometimes deciding to not engage in a judgement until one knows more clearly for oneself. A wise suspension of disbelief.

What causes doubt to arise and to disperse:

Interestingly the Buddha observed that ‘careless attention’ was the cause of doubt. To understand this we need to understand that the Buddha was seeing it on a moment to moment basis. At this level of detail a thought enters the mind as a seed of doubt and this – if not mindfully recognised – grows into a whole story that then destroys our practice. In this sense mindfulness as ‘the guardian at the gate’ becomes very apparent. Just one small thought comes knocking and seeing it clearly we don’t let it in. To this I would add that ‘just one small thought’ can actually be incredibly powerful if it is linked to our personal psychological wounds. Those of us who have a poor opinion of ourselves or who prefer to think of ourselves as a victim will be particularly vulnerable to thoughts that pick up and consolidate these positions. Similarly those of us that protect against vulnerability through using our minds to keep in control and at a distance will also easily let in the doubting thought.

And how to prevent further arising:

What prevents doubt arising is largely similar to what prevents restlessness and worry – which suggests to me that at least some aspects of doubt are a form of anxiety in themselves.

-Have a clear understanding of the teaching – if doubt comes from not really knowing what is being taught this may resolve it.

-Ethical impeccability – not quite sure why this helps – makes us feel confident in ourselves?

-A strong commitment – the antidote to wavering doubt.

-And our good friends with their fab conversation again.

As one who is deeply prone to doubt I very much take on the theme in this hindrance about the ability to distinguish between wholesome and unwholesome doubt. Wholesome doubt has many times refined my understanding and torn down things in my spiritual life that were inauthentic. Unwholesome doubt frequently has reflected my ambivalence about commitment. But there is also another kind of doubt that may be distantly connected to the Zen idea. The doubt that is a form of happily not knowing. Knowing itself can be something we grasp onto to push away feelings of unsettling insecurity. Being able to rest in not knowing, being able to leave something open, having a doubt that needs no resolution. In these there is something positive and valuable.


The antidote to all of the hindrances is contemplation – the ability to clearly know through the application of mindfulness when a hindrance becomes present either while we are meditating or at other times in our life. Close observation will also reveal that the hindrances come all mixed together. If we think about it this is no surprise – they are just thoughts and emotions and the monkey mind jumbles everything together. Wanting and not wanting are always inextricably entwined. Sleepiness and anxiety, though seemingly opposites, are united in their ability to obscure how things really are – as is doubt.

We have also seen that the tradition offers lots of additional antidotes. Although these are not mindfulness as such they all require mindfulness to recognise that we need to employ them. I think this is a really important point. Mindfulness is not enough. To muster the resources to become awakened we must also use our minds to create a clear understanding of what we are to do, live in relationship to others that neither hurts them nor ourselves and be able to use the meditative methods that cultivate calm and insight. Looked at carefully all the antidotes that are bullet pointed are aspects of the noble eightfold path.

And one last thing that I particularly like from my reading for this section. Joseph Goldstein p.161 says know that awareness is already present. That when we find ourselves distracted by the hindrances it is not an occasion to scrabble desperately back to mindfulness but rather a moment to recognise and rest in the awareness that is already there the instant the hindrance – an obscuration – dissolves.

Points for practice

Try noticing the hindrances – when we notice them we need do no more then notice and just let them go. In this dhamma theory it is believed that only one dhamma can exist in each moment, (mixed and complex feelings are a mass of mixed dhammas all happening in rapid succession giving the impression of more than one thing), so the moment the dhamma of mindfulness becomes present the hindrance is banished. (Though this does not mean it will not return!).

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