Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Desire

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

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

“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 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

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

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 Pali word for desire in the Satipatthana Sutta is chanda which means “willingness to have sense pleasure.”  Unwholesome sense pleasure is getting attached to more than what is needed.  This willingness to have this sort of sense pleasure causes distraction, a hindrance to our mindfulness.  As the Buddha noted in the simile of the pool of water, desires color our perceptions.  Desire can hinder enjoyment because when we have strong desire, we are focused on the future getting of something rather than being in the present, enjoyed what is.  For example, when eating, strong desire may cause us to eat quickly because we are focusing on the next bite that then enjoyed the one that is in our mouth.

Desire and fear are similar in that both are focused on the future.  Fear is focusing on what might go wrong, desire is focusing on what pleasures might appear.

Conditions that lead to the arising of desire

When desire is present, we can investigate the conditions that led to its arising.  Often, this occurs because we are not being mindful and we slip unconsciously into wanting.  For example, we are in a buffet and are influenced by the attractive appearance and smells of food.  We feel compelled to eat regardless of our need for food.  We are deluded because we assume that eating will lead to lasting happiness.  We forget that everything is impermanent and lasting satisfaction is not possible.  This is desire is just a phenomena and not us.  Likewise with the removal of desire, we can see that being mindful is a major factor.

Conditions that lead to the removal of desire

How can we know if the desire that arises is a hindrance? We can apply clear comprehension as discusses in a previous talk in the First Foundation of Mindfulness.  We investigate purpose, suitability, domain and non-delusion.  https://www.whitehallmeditation.org/satipatthana_sutta/ffm4/

If the desire is unwholesome, we can use mindfulness (paying attention moment to moment to see what is).  Goldstein notes that “mindfulness is the root of all that is wholesome.”  Once we are aware of unwholesome desire, we can use wise reflection to loosen its grip.

Preventing the arising of desire

To prevent future arisings of desire, we can strive to be more mindful and as the Buddha noted, guard our sense doors and not exposing ourselves to conditions that will lead us into wanting.  As with the buffet, we anticipate desire and take mindful steps to avoid it controlling our behavior.


  • Reread this talk and reflect on it.
  • Observe the arising of desire in your life, when it is present or absent, the conditions that cause it to arise and the conditions that cause it to fall away. Practice mindful prevention. Can you experience when strong desire hinders your present enjoyment?


  • Meditate using the mindfulness of the breath technique and focus your insight meditation on states of mind.

Next: Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Hindrances: Doubt
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