What are the five hindrances?

Five hindrances mean the mental factors that cover the mind from concentrating. They are; sense-desire, ill-will, dullness, restlessness and worry, and doubt. Initially, a meditator has to fight against the hindrances because they avoid the mind from focusing on the meditation object.

It is important to identify the nature of the five hindrances and learn how to eliminate those hindrances from the mind.

1.      What is sense-desire?

Sense-desire means the self-indulgence in pleasurable sight, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical comfort. A person can enjoy those objects at a moderate level. If someone is addicted to the sense desires, that hinders his progress in meditation.

Even if a person starts to meditate with closed eyes, sense desires come to mind as thoughts. We usually start thinking about something that happened in the past or that will take place in the future. If the meditator does not pay attention, he will be totally distracted for hours among lustful thoughts.

 2.      What is ill-will?

Ill-will is thoughts related to hostility such as; anger, hatred, resentment, etc. Ill-will generates as a result of the object of anger and unwise thinking of the object. It can arise toward both animate things and inanimate things. When ill-will arises, a person cannot see the truth. 

3.      What is dullness?

Dullness is the laziness to be physically and mentally active.

4.      What is restlessness and worry?

Restlessness means the inability to settle down both mentally and physically. Repetitive thoughts avoid the mind from having a rest. When the mind is constantly active, worry arises regarding things that happened in the past or future that have not come yet. Consequently, the meditator cannot practice continuously.

5.      What is doubt?

Doubt particularly here means doubt about the practice and its results etc.

How do the hindrances affect the mind’s progress?

Five hindrances affect the mind in different ways. They are as follows.

  • Sense-desire:

When someone engages in self-indulgence excessively, he always runs after desirable objects. For instance, if an individual likes to eat tasty food, he will always look for new restaurants, food recipes, posting photos of dishes on Facebook, etc. He spends so much of his time and money on food.

Also, a person will end up in obese and various health conditions if he cannot manage his desire to eat all the time. He will keep on satisfying his taste buds rather than focusing on developing the mind.

Likewise, if a person indulges in any other sense-desire; sexual intimacy, passion for music acts as a hindrance. Even if a person sits to meditate, the five sense objects come to mind and interrupt the meditation.

  • Ill-will:

Ill-will arouses negative emotions in the mind. Consequently, you will always remember those who scolded or harmed you, your loved ones, and your possessions.

In work and family life, anger affects your relationship status with others. Thus, anger is a barrier to the progress of your material and spiritual life.

  • Dullness:

Dullness prevents you from engaging in work efficiently. When we feel lazy, it is difficult for us to focus. Tiredness or food can make the mind drift off. Also, when the mind gets calm through meditation, it is possible to fall asleep.

  • Restlessness and worry:

Restlessness creates a thinking mind. As a result, the mind cannot rest. In our daily lives, a thinking mind prevents us from sleeping and causes anxiety and depression. In meditation, these hindrances prevent the mind from concentrating on the meditation object.

  • Doubt

Doubt mentioned here is the doubt related to the progress of your meditation. Some meditators think like this; “can I meditate?”, “can I get any result?” etc. When he doubts his meditation technique, he cannot progress.

How to eliminate the hindrances?

Hindrances are very strong in an untrained mind. You need to strengthen the mind with antidotes of hindrances to eliminate them.

·        Sense-desire:

Sense-desire can be eliminated by contemplating the repulsiveness of the five sense objects. For example, if someone is addicted to sexual intimacy, he can contemplate the repulsive nature of the body. The body appears nice because it is covered with nice clothes, costumes, and accessories.

If one were to peel off the skin to see what is underneath, he will find the smelly flesh, veins, bones, etc., which are not appealing. When one thinks in this way, he can slowly get rid of the sexual desire. Similarly, you can contemplate the repulsive nature of other sense objects as well.

One can contemplate the impermanence of all sensual things. No matter how much you like them, every conditioned thing is subject to change. Thus, no point in clinging to impermanent things or beings.

·        Ill-will:

The best medicine for ill-will is generating loving-kindness in the mind. Starting from yourself, it can be spread to the entire universe including all living beings. If one can do so, there will be no more enemies or undesirable people in the entire universe.

The meditator can think positively about the unpleasant memory he is holding on to. Positive thinking can dispel anger.

For more details, Why is it important to love our enemies?

·        Dullness:

Dullness is tricky because it prevents the mind from generating any productive thoughts. You need a calm mind to meditate, but too much calmness takes you to the dreamland. To overcome dullness, the meditator can do walking meditation.

Simply get up from sitting meditation and start walking. The meditator can decide on a starting point and a turnaround point to do walking meditation.

·        Restlessness and worry:

This hindrance should be tackled with a method to calm the body and mind. Breathing meditation is one of the best methods to handle it. Sit comfortably in a quiet spot with closed eyes. Pay attention to the incoming and outgoing breath. If the mind is too agitated, you can listen to guided meditation instructions on breathing meditation.

·        Doubt:

Doubt is a hindrance that should be eliminated as soon as it appears. If the meditator doubts his practice, he will give up his practice in no time. Therefore, he should get clear meditation instructions from a reliable teacher and get clarified his doubts.

What is the RAIN formula?

Apart from the above methods, I came across the following formula on the internet to tackle five hindrances.

The RAIN Formula: When a hindrance is present it helps to investigate it:

R: Recognize it.

A: Accept it.

I Investigate it, be curious. What is it like?

• Physically (How does it feel in the body? Is it pleasant? Unpleasant? Does it change?)

• Emotionally

• Energetically (such as feelings of rushing, sinking, or lifting)

• Cognitively (What beliefs or stories do we tell ourselves?)

• Motivationally (is there an urge to act or cling?)

N: Non-identification. This is just a passing process that comes and goes, not who we are.

It’s helpful to first explore the hindrance and investigate it. Often just recognizing a hindrance is enough for it to fall away. But at other times, it’s helpful to use “remedies” to counterbalance the hindrance.


A meditator who would like to progress in the path should work on the above hindrances and make the mind free from hindrances.

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash


Rathsara (Sara) is an attorney-at-law who holds a Diploma in Buddhist Studies in ITBMU. She has engaged in community service in Sri Lanka and the United States helping many individuals. She is interested in reading, writing, and researching areas related to mindfulness. Inspired by spiritually developed individuals around the globe, Rathsara is keen to learn and practice mind-developing techniques. In the meantime, she would like to share her experience and knowledge for the well-being of others.

Recent Posts