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Suppose, friend Uttiya, there was a frontier city with strong walls and a single gate. It had a wise, experienced, and intelligent gatekeeper to keep out those he did not know and to let in those he did. As he walked along the path around the city, he would not see a crack or an opening in the walls, even as small as a cat might slip through. But he would not have the knowing: So many creatures enter or leave this city. However, he would know this: Whatever large creatures enter or leave this city, all of them do so through this gate.

In the same way, friend Uttiya, the Tathāgata does not have the concern: Does the whole world gain release by this Dhamma, or half of it, or a third? But he does know this: Whoever has gained release from the world, is gaining release, or will gain release, all of them have done so by abandoning the five hindrances, the mental impurities that weaken wisdom, and by firmly establishing their minds in the four foundations of mindfulness, and by developing the seven factors of enlightenment as they really are. This is how they have gained release from the world, are gaining release, or will gain release.

AN10.95

Abandoning the Hindrances

After having developed proficiency and being able to consistently abide fully in Right Mindfulness of the mind, one's mind is sensitive enough for the next stage in the gradual training: abandoning the subtle hindrances, by developing the seven factors of awakening.

The practice of Abandoning the Hindrances is the cleansing of the mind of all karmic, volitional, ingrained tendencies, and defilements that obstruct clear seeing, and that block progress on the path to liberation.

There are five hindrances that block the path to liberation; these are:

  1. Sensual Desire: Craving for sensual pleasures and clinging to sensory experiences, such as pleasant sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile sensations.

  2. Ill-will: Feelings of hostility, anger, resentment, or aversion towards oneself or others.

  3. Sloth and Torpor: Sloth is mental lethargy, sluggishness, or dullness, while torpor refers to physical and mental inertia or drowsiness.

  4. Restlessness and Worry: Restlessness is an agitated, unsettled mind characterized by worry, anxiety, or mental agitation. Worry refers to excessive concern about past or future events, leading to a scattered and distracted mind.

  5. Doubt: Skepticism, indecision, or lack of conviction in the teachings, the practice, or one's own abilities. It undermines confidence and commitment to the path, hindering progress to liberation.

At this stage in the gradual training, these hindrances manifest themselves in subtle forms. They create obstacles or disturbances in the mind and prevent it from staying collected and single-minded in attention, abiding in one of the four estabishements of mindfulness.

Overcoming the hindrances is an important step in the gradual training because one must address these hindrances specifically; simply addressing them during Jhana practice isn't enough. Sustained effort throughout daily life is essential.

As every individual is different, one will need to identify which hindrances affect them the most, understand how and when they arise, recognize their inner strengths to counter each hindrance, and actively cultivate relevant practices to overcome them.


Hindrances and Stages of Liberation

Nibbana, or cessation, requires establishing the right causes and conditions so that all karmic processes, including contact, intentions, attention, and all clinging, come to a stop. The hindrances are subtle forms of clinging that must be let go of, at least long enough, for the mind to totally let go, for cessation of clinging to occur.

Until one has reached one of the stages of liberation, these hindrances can only be weakened and overcome temporarily when one enters Jhana.

As one attains levels of liberation, some of the hindrances are permanently let go:

Therefore, every step taken in weakening these hindrances takes us nearer to the stages of liberation, where freedom from these hindrances is unshakable.

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Disciples, these five impurities of gold, which when present in gold, make it neither pliable, workable, nor radiant, and it does not properly come to fulfillment in any craftsmanship. What are the five?

Iron, copper, tin, lead, and silver— these, disciples, are the five impurities of gold, which when present in gold, make it neither pliable, workable, nor radiant, and it does not properly come to fulfillment in any craftsmanship.

But, disciples, when gold is freed from these five impurities, it becomes pliable, workable, and radiant; it is not brittle and properly comes to fulfillment in any craftsmanship. Whatever ornament one wishes to make from it—whether a ring, earrings, a necklace, or a golden chain—it serves that purpose.

Similarly, disciples, these are the five impurities of the mind, which when present in the mind, make it neither pliable, workable, nor radiant, and it does not properly attain concentration for the destruction of the taints. What are the five?

Sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt— these, disciples, are the five impurities of the mind, which when present in the mind, make it neither pliable, workable, nor radiant, and it does not properly attain concentration for the destruction of the taints.

But, disciples, when the mind is freed from these five impurities, it becomes pliable, workable, and radiant; it is not brittle and properly attains concentration for the destruction of the taints.

AN5.23


Sensual Desire

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What is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire or for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire?

There is, the sign of beauty. In this, frequent improper attention—this is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire or for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire....

And what, is the non-nourishment for the arising of sensual desire that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of sensual desire that has arisen?

There is the perception of unattractiveness. In this regard, the frequent application of wise attention—this is the non-nourishment for the arising of sensual desire that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of sensual desire that has arisen.

SN46.51

ILL-WILL

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What, disciples, is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen ill-will or for the increase and expansion of arisen ill-will?

There is, disciples, the sign of repulsiveness.

In this, frequent improper attention—this is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen ill-will or for the increase and expansion of arisen ill-will....

And what, disciples, is the non-nourishment for the arising of ill will that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of ill will that has arisen?

There is, disciples, the liberation of mind by loving-kindness.

In this regard, the frequent application of wise attention—this is the non-nourishment for the arising of ill will that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of ill will that has arisen.

SN46.51


SLOTH AND TORPOR

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What, disciples, is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen sloth and torpor or for the increase and expansion of arisen sloth and torpor?

There is, disciples, discontent, lethargy, drowsiness after meals, and mental sluggishness. In this, frequent improper attention—this is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen sloth and torpor or for the increase and expansion of arisen sloth and torpor....

And what, disciples, is the non-nourishment for the arising of sloth and torpor that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of sloth and torpor that has arisen?

There is, disciples, the element of initiative, the element of launching forward, the element of exertion.

In this regard, the frequent application of wise attention—this is the non-nourishment for the arising of sloth and torpor that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of sloth and torpor that has arisen.

SN46.51

Overcoming Sloth and Torpor with the Factors of Enlightenment

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Friends, when the mind is sluggish, which of the factors of enlightenment is it not the right time for cultivation, and during which is it the right time?

When, disciples, the mind is sluggish, it is not the right time for the cultivation of the tranquility factor of enlightenment, the concentration factor of enlightenment, or the equanimity factor of enlightenment.

Why is that? Because, disciples, a sluggish mind is difficult to arouse with these states.

However, disciples, when the mind is sluggish, it is the right time for the cultivation of the investigation of states factor of enlightenment, the energy factor of enlightenment, and the joy factor of enlightenment.

Why is that? Because, disciples, a sluggish mind is easily aroused with these states. And indeed, disciples, I say that mindfulness is useful in all things.

SN46.53

RESTLESSNESS AND REMORSE

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What, disciples, is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen restlessness and remorse or for the increase and expansion of arisen restlessness and remorse?

There is, disciples, non-quietude of the mind. In this, frequent improper attention—this is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen restlessness and remorse or for the increase and expansion of arisen restlessness and remorse...

And what, disciples, is the non-nourishment for the arising of restlessness and remorse that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of restlessness and remorse that has arisen?

There is, disciples, the calming of the mind. In this regard, the frequent application of wise attention—this is the non-nourishment for the arising of restlessness and remorse that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of restlessness and remorse that has arisen.

SN46.51

Overcoming Restlessness with the Factors of Enlightenment

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And when the mind is restless, for which of the factors of enlightenment is it not the right time for cultivation, and for which is it the right time?

When, disciples, the mind is restless, it is not the right time for the cultivation of the investigation of states factor of enlightenment, the energy factor of enlightenment, and the joy factor of enlightenment.

Why is that? Because, disciples, a restless mind is difficult to calm with these states.

However, disciples, when the mind is restless, it is the right time for the cultivation of the tranquility factor of enlightenment, the concentration factor of enlightenment, and the equanimity factor of enlightenment.

Why is that? Because, disciples, a restless mind is well calmed by these factors. And indeed, disciples, I say that mindfulness is useful in all things.

SN46:53

DOUBT

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What, disciples, is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen doubt or for the increase and expansion of arisen doubt?

There are, disciples, things that give rise to doubt. In this, frequent improper attention—this is the nourishment for the arising of unarisen doubt or for the increase and expansion of arisen doubt....

And what, disciples, is the non-nourishment for the arising of doubt that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of doubt that has arisen?

There are, disciples, wholesome and unwholesome states, blameworthy and blameless states, inferior and superior states, dark and bright states with their counterparts.

In this regard, the frequent application of wise attention—this is the non-nourishment for the arising of doubt that has not yet arisen, and for the increase, expansion, and full development of doubt that has arisen.

SN46.51


Developing the Enlightenment Factors

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When these five hindrances are abandoned in himself, he observes joy arising within, from joy comes delight, with a delighted mind the body becomes tranquil, with a tranquil body he feels pleasure, and with a pleasurable mind, the mind becomes concentrated.

DN9

When Right Mindfulness is fully established, it automatically leads to Right Concentration, and all Seven Enlightenment Factors are fulfilled.

However, the longer one stays abiding in Right Mindfulness, the more likely one of the Hindrances will come up. We must learn how to balance these Seven Enlightenment Factors, so that they are all kept in the right proportion, to keep the mind steady, except for Mindfulness, for which there can never be too much.

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when a disciple's mindfulness is established and not confused: the mindfulness enlightenment factor is aroused, he develops the mindfulness enlightenment factor, and the mindfulness enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment.

Dwelling thus mindful, he investigates, examines, and inquires into that state with wisdom. ...the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor is aroused at that time, he develops the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor, and the investigation-of-states enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment at that time.

As he investigates, examines, and inquires into that state with wisdom, energy that is not slack is aroused in him. At the time, Ānanda, when the disciple's energy that is not slack is aroused: the energy enlightenment factor is aroused at that time, he develops the energy enlightenment factor, and the energy enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment at that time.

When energy is aroused, joy that is free from sensuality arises. At the time, Ānanda, when joy that is free from sensuality arises in the disciple whose energy is aroused: the joy enlightenment factor is aroused at that time, he develops the joy enlightenment factor, and the joy enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment at that time.

When the mind is joyful, the body and mind become tranquil. At the time, Ānanda, when the disciple's body and mind become tranquil: the tranquility enlightenment factor is aroused at that time, he develops the tranquility enlightenment factor, and the tranquility enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment at that time.

When the body is tranquil and happy, the mind becomes concentrated. At the time, Ānanda, when the disciple's mind becomes concentrated: the concentration enlightenment factor is aroused at that time, he develops the concentration enlightenment factor, and the concentration enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment at that time.

Dwelling thus with a concentrated mind, he carefully observes with equanimity. At the time, Ānanda, when a disciple dwelling thus with a concentrated mind carefully observes with equanimity: the equanimity enlightenment factor is aroused at that time, he develops the equanimity enlightenment factor, and the equanimity enlightenment factor reaches fulfillment at that time. ...

Thus developed, Ānanda, the four foundations of mindfulness thus frequently practiced fulfill the seven factors of enlightenment.

SN54.13


The Battle Within

Upāsikā Kee Nanayon

Clear insight doesn’t come from thinking and speculating. It comes from investigating the mind while it’s gathered into an adequate level of calm and stability. You look deeply into every aspect of the mind when it’s neutral and calm, free from thought-fabrications or likes and dislikes for its preoccupations. You have to work at maintaining this state and at the same time probe deeply into it, because superficial knowledge isn’t true knowledge. As long as you haven’t probed deeply into the mind, you don’t really know anything. The mind is simply calm on an external level, and your reading of the aspects of the wanderings of the mind under the influence of defilement, craving, and attachment isn’t yet clear.

So you have to try to peer into yourself until you reach a level of awareness that can maintain its balance and let you contemplate your way to sharper understanding. If you don’t contemplate so as to give rise to true knowledge, your mindfulness will stay just on the surface.

The same principle holds with contemplating the body. You have to probe deeply into the ways in which the body is repulsive and composed of physical elements. This is what it means to read the body so as to understand it, so that you can explore yourself in all your activities. This way you prevent your mind from straying off the path and keep it focused on seeing how it can burn away the defilements as they arise—which is very delicate work.

Being uncomplacent, not letting yourself get distracted by outside things, is what will make the practice go smoothly. It will enable you to examine the defilements in the mind in a skillful way so that you can eliminate the subtlest ones: ignorance and delusion. Normally, we aren’t fully aware of even the blatant defilements, but now that the blatant ones are inactivated because of the mind’s solid focus, we can look into the more profound areas to catch sight of the deceits of craving and defilements in whatever way they move into action. We watch them, know them, and are in a position to abandon them as soon as they wander off in search of sights, sounds, smells, and delicious flavors. Whether they’re looking for good physical flavors—bodily pleasure—or good mental flavors, we have to know them from all sides, even though they’re not easy to know because of all the many desires we feel for physical pleasure. And on top of that, there are the desires for happiness imbued with pleasurable feelings, perceptions that carry pleasurable feelings, thought-fabrications that carry pleasurable feelings, and consciousness that carries pleasurable feelings. All of these are nothing but desires for illusions, for things that deceive us into getting engrossed and distracted. As a result, it isn’t easy for us to understand much of anything at all.

These are subtle matters and they all come under the term, “sensual craving”—the desire, lust, and love that provoke the mind into wandering out in search of the enjoyment it remembers from past sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Even though these things may have happened long ago, our perceptions bring them back to deceive us with ideas of their being good or bad. Once we latch onto them, they make the mind unsettled and defiled.

So it isn’t easy to examine and understand all the various defilements within the mind. The external things we’re able to know and let go of are only the minor players. The important ones have gathered together to take charge in the mind and won’t budge no matter how you try to chase them out. They’re stubborn and determined to stay in charge. If you take them on when your mindfulness and discernment aren’t equal to the fight, you’ll end up losing your inner calm.

So you have to make sure that you don’t push the practice too much, without at the same time letting it grow too slack. Find the Middle Way that’s just right. While you’re practicing in this way, you’ll be able to observe what the mind is like when it has mindfulness and discernment in charge, and then you make the effort to maintain that state and keep it constant. That’s when the mind will have the opportunity to stop and be still, to be stable and centered for long periods of time until it’s used to being that way.

Now, there are some areas where we have to force the mind and be strict with it. If we’re weak and lax, there’s no way we can succeed, for we’ve given in to our own wants for so long already. If we keep giving in to them, it will become even more of a habit. So you have to use force—the force of your will and the force of your mindfulness and discernment. Even if you get to the point where you have to put your life on the line, you’ve got to be willing. When the time comes for you really to be serious, you’ve got to hold out until you come out winning. If you don’t win, you don’t give up. Sometimes you have to make a vow as a way of forcing yourself to overcome your stubborn desires for physical pleasure that tempt you and lead you astray.

If you’re weak and settle for whatever pleasure comes in the immediate present, then when desire comes in the immediate present you fall right for it. If you give in to your wants often in this way, it’ll become habitual, for defilement is always looking for the chance to tempt you, to incite you. As when we try to give up an addiction to cigarettes, or meat: It’s hard to do because craving is always tempting us. “Take just a little,” it says. “Just a taste. It doesn’t matter.” Craving knows how to fool us, the way a fish is fooled into getting caught on a hook by the bait surrounding the hook, screwing up its courage enough to take just a little, and then a little more, and then a little more until it’s sure to get snagged. The demons of defilement have us surrounded on all sides. Once we fall for their delicious flavors, we’re sure to get snagged on the hook. No matter how much we struggle and squirm, we can’t get free.

You have to realize that gaining victory over your enemies—the cravings and defilements in the heart—is no small matter, no casual affair. You can’t let yourself be weak or lax, but you also have to gauge your strength, for you have to figure out how to apply your efforts at abandoning and destroying to weaken the defilements and cravings that have had the power of demons overwhelming the mind for so long. It’s not the case that you have to battle to the brink of death in every area. With some things—such as giving up addictions—you can mount a full-scale campaign and come out winning without killing yourself in the process. But with other things, more subtle and deep, you have to be more perceptive so as to figure out how to overcome them over the long haul, digging up their roots so that they gradually weaken to the point where your mindfulness and discernment can overwhelm them. If there are any areas where you’re still losing out, you have to take stock of your sensitivities to figure out why. Otherwise, you’ll keep losing out, for when the defilements really want something, they trample all over your mindfulness and discernment in their determination to get what they’re after: “That’s what I want. I don’t care what anyone says.” They really are that stubborn! So it’s no small matter, figuring out how to bring them under control. It’s like running into an enemy or a wild beast rushing in to devour us. What are we going to do?

When the defilements arise right before your eyes, you have to be wary. Suppose you’re perfectly aware, and all of a sudden they spring up and confront you: What kind of mindfulness and discernment are you going to use to disband them, to realize that, “These are the hordes of Mara, come to burn and eat me. How am I going to get rid of them?” In other words, how are you going to find a skillful way of contemplating them so as to destroy them right then and there?

We have to do this regardless of whether we’re being confronted with physical and mental pain or physical and mental pleasure. Actually, pleasure is more treacherous than pain because it’s hard to fathom and easy to fall for. As for pain, no one falls for it because it’s so uncomfortable. So how are we going to contemplate so as to let go of both the pleasure and the pain? This is the problem we’re faced with at every moment. It’s not the case that when we practice we accept only the pleasure and stop when we run into pain. That’s not the case at all. We have to learn how to read both sides, to see that the pain is inconstant and stressful, and that the pleasure is inconstant and stressful, too. We have to penetrate clear through these things. Otherwise, we’ll be deluded by the deceits of the cravings that want pleasure, whether it’s physical pleasure or whatever. Our every activity—sitting, standing, walking, lying down—is really for the sake of pleasure, isn’t it?

This is why there are so many, many ways in which we’re deluded with pleasure. Whatever we do, we do for the sake of pleasure without realizing how deeply we’ve mired ourselves in suffering and stress. When we contemplate inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness, we don’t get anywhere in our contemplation because we haven’t seen through pleasure. We still think that it’s a good thing. We have to probe into the fact that there’s no real ease to physical or mental pleasure. It’s all stress. When you can see it from this angle, that’s when you’ll come to understand inconstancy.

Then once the mind isn’t focused on wanting pleasure all the time, its stresses and pains will lighten. It will be able to see them as something common and normal, to see that if you try to change the pains to find ease, there’s no ease to be found. In this way, you won’t be overly concerned with trying to change the pains, for you’ll see that there’s no pleasure or ease to the aggregates, that they give nothing but stress and pain. As in the Buddha’s teachings that we chant every day: “Form is stressful, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness are all stressful.” The problem is that we haven’t investigated into the truth of our own form, feelings, perceptions, thought-fabrications, and consciousness. Our insight isn’t yet penetrating because we haven’t looked from the angle of true knowing. And so we get deluded here and lost there in our search for pleasure, finding nothing but pain and yet mistaking it for pleasure. This shows that we still haven’t opened our ears and eyes; we still don’t know the truth. Once we do know the truth, though, the mind will be more inclined to grow still and calm than to go wandering off. The reason it goes wandering off is because it’s looking for pleasure, but once it realizes there’s no real pleasure to be found in that way, it settles down and grows still.

All the cravings that provoke and unsettle the mind come down to nothing but the desire for pleasure. So we have to contemplate so as to see that the aggregates have no pleasure to offer, they they’re stressful by their very nature. They’re not us or ours. Take them apart and have a good look at them, starting with the body. Analyze the body down to its elements so that the mind won’t keep latching on to it as “me” or “mine.” You have to do this over and over again until you really understand.

It’s the same as when we chant the passage for Recollection while Using the Requisites—food, clothing, shelter, and medicine—every day. We do this so as to gain real understanding. If we don’t do this every day, we forget and get deluded into loving and worrying about the body as “my body,” “my self.” No matter how much we keep latching onto it over and over again, it’s not easy for us to realize what we’re doing, even though we have the Buddha’s teachings available, explaining these things in every way. Or we may have contemplated to some extent, but we haven’t seen things clearly. We’ve seen only in a vague blurry way and then flitted off oblivious without having probed in to see all the way through. This is because the mind isn’t firmly centered. It isn’t still. It keeps wandering off to find things to think about and get itself all agitated. This way it can’t really get to know anything at all. All it knows are a few little perceptions. This is the way it’s been for who knows how many years now. It’s as if our vision has been clouded by spots that we haven’t yet removed from our eyes.

Those who aren’t interested in exploring, who don’t make an effort to get to the facts, don’t wonder about anything at all. They’re free from doubt, all right, but it’s because their doubts have been smothered by delusion. If we start exploring and contemplating, we’ll have to wonder about the things we don’t yet know: “What’s this? What does it mean? How should I deal with it?” These are questions that lead us to explore. If we don’t explore, it’s because we don’t have any intelligence. Or we may gain a few little insights, but we let them pass so that we never explore deeply into the basic principles of the practice. What little we do know doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t penetrate into the Noble Truths, because our mindfulness and discernment run out of strength. Our persistence isn’t resilient enough, isn’t brave enough. We don’t dare look deeply inside ourselves.

To go by our own estimates of how far is enough in the practice is to lie to ourselves. It keeps us from gaining release from suffering and stress. If you happen to come up with a few insights, don’t go bragging about them, or else you’ll end up deceiving yourself in countless ways. Those who really know, even when they have attained the various stages of insight, are heedful to keep on exploring. They don’t get stuck on this stage or that. Even when their insights are correct they don’t stop right there and start bragging, for that’s the way of a fool.

Intelligent people, even though they see things clearly, always keep an eye out for the enemies lying in wait for them on the deeper, more subtle levels ahead. They have to keep penetrating further and further in. They have no sense that this or that level is plenty enough—for how can it be enough? The defilements are still burning away, so how can you brag? Even though your knowledge may be true, how can you be complacent when your mind has yet to establish a foundation for itself?

As you investigate with mindfulness and discernment, complacency is the major problem. You have to be uncomplacent in the practice if you want to keep up with the fact that life is ebbing away, ebbing with every moment. And how should you live so that you can be said to be uncomplacent? This is an extremely important question, for if you’re not alive to it, then no matter how many days or months you practice meditation or restraint of the senses, it’s simply a temporary exercise. When you’re done, you get back to your same old turmoil as before.

And watch out for your mouth. You’ll have trouble not bragging, for the defilements will provoke you into speaking. They want to speak, they want to brag, they won’t let you stay silent.

If you force yourself in the practice without understanding its true aims, you end up deceiving yourself and go around telling people, “I practiced in silence for so many days, so many months.” This is deceiving yourself and others as well. The truth of the matter is that you’re still a slave to stupidity, obeying the many levels of defilement and craving within yourself without realizing the fact. If someone praises you, you really prick up your ears, wag your tail and, instead of explaining the harm of the defilements and craving you were able to find within yourself, you simply want to brag.

So the practice of the Dhamma isn’t something that you can just muddle your way through. It’s something you have to do with your intelligence fully alert—for when you contemplate in a circumspect way, you’ll see that there’s nothing worth getting engrossed in, that everything—both inside and out—is nothing but an illusion. It’s like being adrift, alone in the middle of the ocean with no island or shore in sight. Can you afford just to sit back and relax, to make a temporary effort and then brag about it? Of course not! As your investigation penetrates inwardly to ever more subtle levels of the mind, you’ll have to become more and more calm and reserved, in the same way that people become more and more circumspect as they grow from children to teenagers and into adults. Your mindfulness and discernment have to keep growing more and more mature in order to understand the right and wrong, the true and false, in whatever arises: That’s what will enable you to let go and gain release. And that’s what will make your life in the true practice of the Dhamma go smoothly. Otherwise, you’ll fool yourself into boasting of how many years you practiced meditation and will eventually find yourself worse off than before, with defilement flaring up in a big way. If this is the way you go, you’ll end up tumbling head over heels into fire—for when you raise your head in pride, you run into the flames already burning within yourself.

To practice means to use the fire of mindfulness and discernment as a counter-fire to put out the blaze of the defilements, because the heart and mind are aflame with defilement, and when we use the fire of mindfulness and discernment to put out the fire of defilement, the mind can cool down. Do this by being increasingly honest with yourself, without leaving an opening for defilement and craving to insinuate their way into control. You have to be alert. Circumspect. Wise to them. Don’t fall for them! If you fall for whatever rationale they come up with, it means that your mindfulness and discernment are still weak. They lead you away by the nose, burning you with their fire right before your very eyes, and yet you’re still able to open your mouth to brag!

So turn around and take stock of everything within yourself. Take stock of every aspect, because right and wrong, true and false, are all within you. You can’t go finding them outside. The damaging things people say about you are nothing compared to the damage caused inside you when defilement burns you, when your feeling of “me” and “mine” raises its head.

If you don’t honestly come to your senses, there’s no way your practice of the Dhamma can gain you release from the great mass of suffering and stress. You may be able to gain a little knowledge and let go of a few things, but the roots of the problem will still lie buried deep down. So you have to dig them out. You can’t relax after little bouts of emptiness and equanimity. That won’t accomplish anything. The defilements and mental effluents lie deep in the personality, so you have to use mindfulness and discernment to penetrate deep down to make a precise and thorough examination. Only then will you get results. Otherwise, if you stay only on the surface level, you can practice until your body lies rotting in its coffin but you won’t have changed any of your basic habits.

Those who are scrupulous by nature, who know how to contemplate their own flaws, will keep on the alert for any signs of pride within themselves. They’ll try to control and destroy conceit on every side and won’t allow it to swell. The methods we need to use in the practice for examining and destroying the defilements within the mind aren’t easy to master. For those who don’t contemplate themselves thoroughly, the practice may actually only increase their pride, their bragging, their desire to go teaching others. But if we turn within and discern the deceits and conceits of self, a profound feeling of disenchantment and dismay arises, causing us to pity ourselves for our own stupidity, for the amount to which we’ve deluded ourselves all along, and for how much effort we‘ll still need to put into the practice.

So however great the pain and anguish, however many tears bathe your cheeks, persevere! The practice isn’t simply a matter of looking for mental and physical pleasure. “Let tears bathe my cheeks, but I’ll keep on with my striving at the holy life as long as I live!” That’s the way it has to be! Don’t quit at the first small difficulty with the thought, “It’s a waste of time. I’d do better to follow my cravings and defilements.” You can’t think like that! You have to take the exact opposite stance: “When they tempt me to grab this, take a lot of that—I won’t! However fantastic the object may be, I won’t take the bait.” Make a firm declaration! This is the only way to get results. Otherwise, you’ll never work yourself free, for the defilements have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves. If you get wise to one trick, they simply change to another, and then another.

If we’re not observant to see how much we’ve been deceived by the defilements in all sorts of ways, we won’t come to know the truth within ourselves. Other people may fool us now and then, but the defilements fool us all of the time. We fall for them and follow them hook, line, and sinker. Our trust in the Lord Buddha is nothing compared to our trust in them. We’re disciples of the demons of craving, letting them lead us ever deeper into their jungle.

If we don’t contemplate to see this for ourselves, we’re lost in that jungle charnel ground where the demons keep roasting us to make us squirm with desires and every form of distress. Even though you have come to stay in a place with few disturbances, these demons still manage to tempt and draw you away. Just notice how the saliva flows when you come across anything delicious! So you have to decide to be either a warrior or a loser. The practice requires that you do battle with defilements and cravings. Always be on your guard, whatever the approach they take to seduce and deceive you. Other people can’t come in to lead you away, but these demons of your own defilements can because you’re willing to trust them, to be their slave. You have to contemplate yourself carefully so that you’re no longer enslaved to them and can reach total freedom within yourself. Make an effort to develop your mindfulness and discernment so as to gain clear insight and then let go until suffering and stress disband in every way!


Sutta Study


Just as the body depends on food, the awakening factors depend on nutriment. The Tathagata gives specific conditions for each of the factors:



Venerable Lomasavaṅgīsa explains to Mahānāma that the difference between a trainee and the Realized One is that the trainees practice to give up the hindrances, whereas the Realized One has already ended all defilements:



Here the awakening factors are described in the context of hearing the teachings and reflecting on them. This leads to full enlightenment, or at least to some lesser attainment:



The various awakening factors can be donned at different times of the day, like a man who puts on bright colored clothes whenever he wants:



The Tathagata spells out in detail the factors that nourish the hindrances, and those that nourish the awakening factors:



Some wanderers tell some Buddhist desciples that they, too, teach the five hindrances and the seven awakening factors, so what is the difference? The Tathagata explains by giving a detailed analytical treatment that he says is beyond the scope of the wanderers:



The brahmin Saṅgārava asks why sometimes verses stay in memory while other times they don’t. The Tathagata replies that it is due to the presence of either the hindrances of awakening factors. He gives a set of similes illustrating each of the hindrances with different bowls of water:



Some wanderers tell some Buddhist desciples that they, too, teach the five hindrances and the four Brahmā meditations, so what is the difference? The Tathagata explains the detailed connection between the Brahmā meditations and the awakening factors, which taken together lead to liberation: