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Five hindrances

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In the Buddhist tradition, the five hindrances (Sinhala: පඤ්ච නීවරණ, romanized: pañca nīvaraṇa; Pali: pañca nīvaraṇāni) are identified as mental factors that hinder progress in meditation and in daily life.[1] In the Theravada tradition, these factors are identified specifically as obstacles to the jhānas (stages of concentration) within meditation practice. Within the Mahayana tradition, the five hindrances are identified as obstacles to samatha (tranquility) meditation. Contemporary Insight Meditation teachers identify the five hindrances as obstacles to mindfulness meditation.

The five hindrances are:[2][3][4][5]

  1. Sensory desire (kāmacchanda): seeking for pleasure through the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and physical feeling.
  2. Ill-will (vyāpāda; also spelled byāpāda): feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness.
  3. Sloth-and-torpor (thīna-middha): half-hearted action with little or no effort or concentration.
  4. Restlessness-and-worry (uddhacca-kukkucca): the inability to calm the mind and focus one's energy.
  5. Doubt (vicikiccha): lack of conviction or trust in one's abilities.


According to Gil Fronsdal, the Pali term nīvaraṇa means covering. Fronsdal states that these hindrances cover over: the clarity of our mind, and our ability to be mindful, wise, concentrated, and stay on purpose.[1]

According to Rhys Davids, the Pali term nīvaraṇa (Sanskrit: nivāraṇa) refers to an obstacle or hindrance only in the ethical sense, and is usually enumerated in a set of five.[6]

In Pali Literature[edit]

In the Pali Canon[edit]

In the Pali Canon's Samyutta Nikaya, several discourses juxtapose the five hindrances with the seven factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).[a] For instance, according to SN 46.37, the Buddha stated:

Bhikkhus, there are these five obstructions, hindrances, corruptions of the mind, weakeners of wisdom. What five? Sensual desire... ill will... sloth and torpor ... restlessness and remorse... doubt...

There are, bhikkhus, these seven factors of enlightenment, which are nonobstructions, nonhindrances, noncorruptions of the mind; when developed and cultivated they lead to the realization of the fruit of true knowledge and liberation. What seven? The enlightenment factor of mindfulness... equanimity...[7][b]

Anālayo underlines:

To overcome the hindrances, to practise satipatthana, and to establish the awakening factors are, indeed, according to several Pali discourses, the key aspects and the distinctive features common to the awakenings of all Buddhas, past, present, and future.[8]

Anālayo further supports this by identifying that, in all extant Sanskrit and Chinese versions of the Satipatthana Sutta, only the five hindrances and seven factors of enlightenment are consistently identified under the dhamma contemplation section; contemplations of the five aggregates, six sense bases and Four Noble Truths are not included in one or more of these non-Pali versions.[8]

In terms of gaining insight into and overcoming the Five Hindrances, according to the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha proclaimed:

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances?

Herein, monks, when sense-desire is present, a monk knows, "There is sense-desire in me," or when sense-desire is not present, he knows, "There is no sense-desire in me." He knows how the arising of the non-arisen sense-desire comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen sense-desire comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned sense-desire comes to be.[9]

Each of the remaining four hindrances are similarly treated in subsequent paragraphs.

The Buddha gives the following analogies in the Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2, "The Fruits of the Contemplative Life"):

[W]hen these five hindrances are not abandoned in himself, the monk regards it as a debt, a sickness, a prison, slavery, a road through desolate country. But when these five hindrances are abandoned in himself, he regards it as unindebtedness, good health, release from prison, freedom, a place of security.[10]

Similarly, in the Sagārava Sutta (SN 46.55), the Buddha compares sensual desire with looking for a clear reflection in water mixed with lac, turmeric and dyes; ill will with boiling water; sloth-and-torpor with water covered with plants and algae; restlessness-and-worry with wind-churned water; and, doubt with water that is "turbid, unsettled, muddy, placed in the dark."[11][12]

From post-canonical Pali literature[edit]

method of
path of
first jhana based
on bodily foulness
nonreturning or
ill will first jhana based
on metta
sloth and
perception of light arahantship
and worry
serenity (samatha) arahantship and
doubt defining of phenomena
The Pali commentary's methods
and paths for escaping the hindrances.

According to the first-century CE exegetic Vimuttimagga, the five hindrances include all ten fetters: sense desire includes any attachment to passion; ill will includes all unwholesome states of hatred; and, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt include all unwholesome states of infatuation. The Vimuttimagga further distinguishes that "sloth" refers to mental states while "torpor" refers to physical states resultant from food or time or mental states; if torpor results from food or time, then one diminishes it through energy; otherwise, one removes it with meditation. In addition, the Vimuttimagga identifies four types of doubt:

According to Buddhaghosa's fifth-century CE commentary to the Samyutta Nikaya (Sāratthappakāsinī), one can momentarily escape the hindrances through jhanic suppression or through insight while, as also stated in the Vimuttimagga, one eradicates the hindrances through attainment of one of the four stages of enlightenment (see Table 1).[d]

The five mental factors that counteract the five hindrances, according to the Theravada tradition:[4]

  1. vitakka ("applied thought", "coarse examination") counteracts sloth-torpor (lethargy and drowsiness)
  2. vicāra ("sustained thought", "precise investigation") counteracts doubt (uncertainty)
  3. pīti (rapture, well-being) counteracts ill-will (malice)
  4. sukha (non-sensual pleasure) counteracts restlessness-worry (excitation and anxiety)
  5. ekaggatā (one-pointedness, single-pointed attention) counteracts sensory desire

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example, in Samyutta Nikaya chapter 46, Bojjhanga-samyutta, discourses 46.31 through 46.40 are based on this juxtaposition (Bodhi (2000), pp. 1589–94).
  2. ^ Bodhi (2000) elides the middle five factors of enlightenment since all seven factors of enlightenment are identified previously multiple times in Bodhi's text.
  3. ^ Upatissa (1995), p. 316, identifies that sense-desire is "destroyed through the Path of Non-Return." In the context of commenting on sutta SN 46.55, Bodhi (2005), p. 440, n. 14, states that sensual desire is "eradicated by the path of arahantship (since kāmacchanda is here interpreted widely enough to include desire for any object, not only sensual desire)".
  4. ^ Regarding the Sāratthappakāsinī commentary, see Bodhi (2005), p. 440, n. 14 Regarding the Vimuttimagga commentary, see Upatissa (1995), p. 316



  1. ^ a b Fronsdal 2008, The Five Hindrances: Introduction; 2008-10-13.
  2. ^ Fronsdal (2008), Introduction.
  3. ^ Traleg Kyabgon (2001), p. 26.
  4. ^ a b Wallace (2006), pp. 158–159.
  5. ^ Brahmavamso (1999).
  6. ^ Rhys Davids & Stede (1925), p. 376.
  7. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 1591–92.
  8. ^ a b Anālayo (2006), pp. 239–40.
  9. ^ Thera (1994).
  10. ^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997).
  11. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 1611–15.
  12. ^ Walshe (1985), pp. 73–75.
  13. ^ Upatissa (1995), pp. 91–92.

Works cited[edit]

  • Anālayo, Bhikkhu (2006). Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization. Birmingham: Windhorse. ISBN 1-899579-54-0.
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu, tr. (2000). The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-331-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Bodhi, Bhikkhu, ed. (2005). In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-491-1.
  • Brahmavamso, Ajahn (1999). "The Five Hindrances". Budsas.org. Buddhist Society of Western Australia. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  • Fronsdal, Gil (2008). Online Course: Five Hindrances Series (audio). Audio Dharma. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  • Rhys Davids, T. W.; Stede, William, eds. (1925). The Pali Text Society's Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. A general on-line search engine for the PED is available at [1].
  • Thanissaro Bhikkhu (1997). "Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life". Access To Insight. Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Retrieved 2021-11-04.
  • Thera, Nyanasatta, tr. (1994). "Satipatthana Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness". Access To Insight. Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Retrieved 2021-11-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Traleg Kyabgon (2001). The Essence of Buddhism. Shambhala Publications.
  • Upatissa, Arahant (1995). The Path of Freedom (Vimuttimagga). Translated by Ehara, N.R.M.; Thera, Soma; Thera, Kheminda. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 955-24-0054-6.
  • Wallace, B. Alan (2006). The Attention Revolution. Wisdom Publications.
  • Walshe, Maurice O'C. (1985). Samyutta Nikaya: An Anthology (Part III). Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. Retrieved 2021-11-04. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]