Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Introduction

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.125-134)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 121-129) 

Mindfulness of Dhammas

The Pali word, dhamma, has many meanings.  Analayo suggests that in the Satipatthana Sutta, dhamma means “categories of phenomena” that can arise in the mind.  There are five categories of phenomena:  the hindrances, the five aggregates, the six sense spheres, the seven awakening factors and the four noble truths.  Starting with the hindrances, there is a progression of contemplations leading to awakening.

“Michael Carrithers, who wrote about the forest monks of Sri Lanka, said that in this foundation of mindfulness “the propositions of doctrine are transmuted into immediate perception, here and now.”  It is this transmutation of doctrine into direct perceptions that brings the teachings alive for us. Instead of a philosophical analysis or discussion, the Buddha is showing us how to investigate these truths, these dhammas, for ourselves.” (Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening)  In other words, rather reflecting on just words, we can directly experience these dhammas for ourselves thus making it much more accessible and less abstract.

How will you know that these dhammas are true?  The Buddha said in the Kalama Sutta: “Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.” http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html

The Hindrances

“And how, monks, does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas? Here in regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas in terms of five hindrances. And how does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas in terms of the five hindrances? “If sensual desire (aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, doubt) 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. Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening 

The hindrances are phenomena that obscure our perception.  The Buddha used the following simile to describe how each hindrance obscures the mind:

There is a pool of clear water that reflects our image.

When sense desire is present in the mind, it is as if the pool were suffused with a colored dye.

Desires color our perceptions.

When aversion is present, it is like boiling water. We can’t see clearly.

When we’re heated up by anger, we’re in a state of turbulence.

Sloth and torpor are like the pool overgrown with algae.

There is a stagnation of mind that prevents us from seeing clearly.

Restlessness and worry are like water when it is stirred up by the wind.

The mind is tossed about by agitation.

And doubt is like muddy water, where we can’t see to the bottom,

and everything is obscured.

–SN 46.55 Sangaravo Sutta

The hindrances have an unwholesome effect on our minds.  It is necessary to abandon them before moving on to the next dhammas.  “He (the Buddha) said that when attended to carelessly, “these five hindrances are makers of blindness, causing lack of vision, causing lack of knowledge, detrimental to wisdom, tending to vexation, leading away from nibbāna.” But when we attend to these states carefully, we learn to see into their empty, transparent nature and no longer get so caught up in their seductive power. They then become the focus of our mindfulness and the very vehicle of our awakening.”  Goldstein, Joseph. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

Next: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Aversion
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