Practicing Insight on your own



Obstacles To The Meditation Practice


Q: What are the main obstacles for the practice of insight meditation?

A: The obstacles in the practice vipassanā-kammatthāna have three levels:


I. The obstacles of the inexperienced meditator


Ordinarily, our mind is always inclined to be associated with worldly objects, such as sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind-objects, through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the mind. These senses operate all the time and are the cause for the arising of pleasantness, unpleasantness, liking and disliking, gladness and sorrow, happiness and unhappiness, thus giving birth to desire, anger and delusion. This is what we experience in our daily life all the time. Then upādāna (attachment) clings to material things which have the nature of changing. This is māyā, illusion, enticing and fooling us, it is deceptive and illusive, causing us to be attached so that we can't see the reality of our own states of mind.


When we enter into the practice of the Dhamma and develop the four satipatthāna, we begin to see the 5 rūpa-nāma-kkhandha which are really our own body and mind. When we control the mind and apply it to the present object, which is always only one object at a time, the meditator's mind will struggle and fidget. As long as there is no mindfulness, thinking and wandering of the mind arise; it clings to objects of the past or the future continuously. When the mind wanders, annoyance follows, which is the cause of discouragement and drowsiness and many thoughts. Some people even think they don't have enough pāramī (accumulation of good deeds) to be able to practise. Some people put the blame on kamma; other people blame the teacher for not teaching well; or they say that practising insight meditation is of no use.


As a matter of fact the meditator's mind is disturbed too much by kilesa-nīvarana, the obstacles or defilements.


When mindfulness is developed only a little the mind will not yet be calm because samādhi is lacking. One has no confidence in oneself. Various doubts arise. This is the reason why the practice does not progress as it should. Some people may give up meditation and return home. They advance the reason that they have work to do in their house or that they must look after their children or grandchildren; or they say that they have no pāramī at all. Some people admit that they cannot fight their kilesa and they will come back to try again later.


The main obstacles for the meditator in the initial phase are simply the five mental hindrances (nīvarana).


Q: What are the five nīvarana (hindrances) and where do they come from?


A: 1. Kāmacchanda means delighting in and being fond of pleasant objects, such as beautiful sights, melodious sounds, fragrant smells, delicious tastes, gentle touch-contacts which are pleasing and satisfying.hindrances

2. Vyāpāda is ill-will and malevolence towards others.

3. Thīna-middha is sloth and torpor or drowsiness.

4. Uddhacca-kukkucca means restless thinking, agitation and worry.

5. Vicikicchā is doubt, uncertainty, indecision.


The new meditator will find the five hindrances (nīvarana) disturbing the mind persistently. People who have no confidence in themselves will not have the capacity to practise further and usually they will have to give up the practice.


But those practitioners who have firmness of purpose and faith in the wisdom of the Buddha will establish mindfulness to note the object that is arising at present. In other words, they will keep noting the Rising-Falling of the abdomen continuously throughout. When the hindrances appear in the mind they will make a note of those objects. For instance:


Desire arises, note 'desire, desire'; when anger arises note 'anger, anger'; when sleepiness arises note 'sleepy, sleepy'; when a wandering mind appears note 'wandering, wandering'; thinking arises, note 'thinking; thinking'; worry arises, note 'worrying, worrying'; doubt arises, note 'doubt, doubt'; uncertainty arises, note 'uncertain, uncertain'.


If the meditator always keeps noting the mental hindrances whenever they arise, he will have good results from the practice; that is to say, mindfulness will become more powerful. One will know more quickly the thoughts that have arisen. Then thoughts gradually subside. But before that, the meditators have a gloomy mood and they tend to have anger often. This anger will gradually exhaust itself until the practitioner may well be astonished at himself. Earlier there are thoughts of wanting this and that; then the thinking becomes less and less. If one can see better that these objects are not stable, do not remain as they are and change all the time, noting with mindfulness becomes more continuous, delusion will gradually wane.



II. The second stage of obstacles


arises when the practitioner has developed the kammatthāna with diligence. Good samādhi has been built up by and by. This causes manifestations of samādhi; various sabhāvā (natural phenomena) of pīti-passaddhi (rapture and tranquillity) also arise more frequently. Some meditators may become attached to such phenomena out of misunderstanding; some even believe that they have already achieved a high level of Dhamma. Some people start clinging to nimitta pictures, colour or light, holding them to be serious things; this may eventually make the mind insane.


If the meditator is glad and satisfied with these objects when he has reached this point, it will give rise to upādāna (clinging) and he will keep watching for what else is going to happen. This is called 'clinging to phenomena', which is vipassanūpakkilesa (corruption of insight); it means, these experiences become the kilesa of insight and prevent the practice from progressing. This is called 'going the wrong way', it is not the practice on the lines of the Middle Way which is the one and only way, the way of non-attachment to the groups of rūpa-nāma, the way of purity, free of āsava-kilesa, the machinery of sorrow (bias and defilement) -: the path that leads to the cessation of all dukkha without remainder!


Every meditator will have to encounter the obstacles of this second stage more or less. The meditator must depend on a vipassanā teacher who is ready to help him and make him understand that these phenomena arising are the manifestations of rūpa-nāma, they are nothing special. The target of practising vipassanā-kammatthāna is to set one's mind on an object which is higher than rūpa-nāma that is to say Nibbāna. If we get to cling and think of only the rūpa-nāma-objects we shall reach Nibbāna not. So the objects which are rūpa-nāma must all be relinquished. As long as one still feels glad and satisfied because of rūpa-nāma-objects one will not be able to surmount these obstacles. The meditator who has right understanding should acknowledge the objects that arise and let go of them.


III. Obstacles of the third stage.


When the meditator has gradually established mindfulness in noting rūpa-nāma, the 5 indriya will gain power by and by. These are:


1. Saddhā: Confidence in the wisdom of the Buddha and confidence in oneself.

2. Viriya: Diligence and exertion in preventing kilesa-nīvarana from arising; to abandon kilesa-nīvarana that have arisen; to develop mindfulness which contemplates the present object effortlessly; to maintain sati, samādhi, paā and make them stronger.

3. Sati: To be aware of the objects of body, feeling, mind and Dhamma in the present, continuously and constantly.

4. Samādhi: To fix the mind on the object which is in front (confronting), encouraging sati and spurring the development of paā (wisdom).

5. Paā: Thorough knowledge, understanding in relation to sankhārā (mind and body), knowledge of the four Sacca-dhamma (truthful facts) as they really are.


In order to know whether these five dhamma have become indriya or not, one must find out whether the obstacles of the second stage have been overcome. If they are still sticking to the meditator, then he has not yet overcome the obstacles of the second stage. This is not yet indriya (controlling power). If the second stage is overcome, it means that these five dhamma have reached the strength of indriya in other words, they are present on a large scale in their respective qualities. For example: At first sati cannot note the present. But later it becomes faster until it can see the arising and vanishing of rūpa-nāma in the present and thus catch up with reality. āna and paā are elevated stage by stage until they approach the utmost heights of āna (knowledge).


Going through the real stages of magga-phala (realization) is not such an easy thing as some people think, those who would believe that they have already reached there. Mostly it is false āna; and it is a matter of boasting too much, because nowadays is the time of the neyya-puggala kind of people, that means they must study, train and practise much more, even if in this present existence they might not attain to the qualities of the ultimate dhamma, it is a support and pāramī for the existences to come. So, when they reach a high level, the essential obstacle is that the practice will go up and down repeatedly. They will anticipate or desire to attain. Then samādhi will not have the power to overcome the obstacles of this third stage.

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