The 5 Hindrances & How We can Overcome Them.

Via Daniel Scharpenburg
on Feb 3, 2014
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Human mind

The Five Hindrances are a series of mental factors that are said to hinder our progress, both in our meditation practice and in our daily lives.

1. Desire 

If we can just rearrange the circumstances of our lives, we will finally be able to be happy. That’s it, in a nutshell. Our desires can easily get us off track. We are endlessly distracted by them. How often do we neglect the things we need to do because of the cravings and desires that we have? Pretty often.

Attention is how we counter this hindrance. When we realize intellectually that our desires are not helping us, we can control them. It’s not about not having desires, becoming emotionless robots. It’s about controlling our desires, not letting them run away with us. Of course we want things. Our lives are uncomfortable. It’s just that we don’t want our desires to carry us away.

2. Aversion

This represents an intense feeling of emotional pain in unpleasant situations. Feelings of resentment, hostility, hatred, and bitterness stem from this hindrance. Some aversion is good, but when it turns us really hostile it becomes a problem. It’s not that we should like everything, it’s just that our relationship to the things we like shouldn’t be damaging us so much.

3. Restlessness

This represents anxiety. I can’t do this. I am worried. I want to stop. This is when we know what we should be doing, but we have the jitters. It’s obvious how this would be a hindrance to meditation. It’s hard to quiet the mind while sitting when what I really want to do is get up and move around. But, this applies in daily life too. When I’m at work sometimes I’ve just been staring at that computer screen too long and I just want to get up and walk around instead of staying focused. This is the hindrance of restlessness.

4. Sloth

This represents boredom. I could be doing something fun. We tend to expect the world to entertain us, especially in the modern world. Why should I be bored when I could be browsing the internet with my phone or watching Netflix? A dedicated daily meditation practice is a little hard to maintain sometimes, especially at first. It’s hard to do nothing when I have so much that I could be doing. This can be a hindrance in daily life too because we sometimes tend to put off things that we need to get done because they’re boring. I think this really applies to housework and things like that.

5. Doubt

This represents a lack of belief in ourselves. If I think I’m not good enough, then I am suffering from the hindrance of doubt. Don’t use doubt as a reason to not improve yourself. This applies to any kind of self-improvement. It’s the ‘can’t win, don’t try’ attitude.


These hindrances usually come up in life. No one is perfect. Being aware of them is the first step to overcoming them.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives


About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He teaches classes in Buddhist studies at the Rime Buddhist Center, where he's starting a Zen meditation group in the near future. He's studied with a wide variety of different Buddhist teachers and is a dedicated follower of the Zen tradition. He received personal instruction from Shi Da Dao, in the Caodong (Soto) tradition, and he has served as jisha (personal attendant) to Karen Maezen Miller on a Zen retreat. He's the writer of Notes from a Buddhist Mystic Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and  Twitter.


6 Responses to “The 5 Hindrances & How We can Overcome Them.”

  1. Denise says:

    Hmmm….I think having a little it of all these “hinderences ” in life is a good thing, they can spur you on it do things and make changes they are part of life so should they be eliminated all together? I think the article has the potential to make a reader feel bad about having these “hinderences” the word itself has a negative connotation.

  2. danielschar says:

    my intent was to convey the idea that we aren't trying to eliminate the hindrances so much as not let them control us.

    as for the terminology, there have been many issues with translations of Buddhist concepts for us in the west over the years. They original term is: pañca nivāraṇa. I could have just referred to them as the 5 pañca nivāraṇas, but it would have been more difficult to write using that terminology instead of the standard accepted translation.

  3. danielschar says:

    I've heard them called the five afflictions too. I definitely think five hindrances is a better term.

  4. katherinew says:

    Where's the 'how to overcome them' part?

  5. danielschar says:

    I think the editor titled the article, not me. 😉

    that being said, the first step to overcoming them is being aware of them. Maybe I should write a follow up.

  6. laura says:

    the way to overcome them is to be in the present! when in the present fully and mindfully then none of these can happen! the challenge is to learn to be fully present in the moment IMHO