Five Hindrances to Enlightenment

Five hindrances to enlightenment

Last week’s post discussed how seven factors in Zen Buddhist teachings might be seen as road signs to happy and healthy human development. These seven factors are universal virtues that are found in most cultures of the world, in different words and contexts, but there all the same.

  • Mindfulness.
  • Investigation.
  • Energy.
  • Joy.
  • Tranquility.
  • Concentration.
  • Equanimity.

You don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist to see the common sense in these seven qualities. We might compare these seven factors to the five Jesuit characteristics of being loving, religious, open to growth, intellectually competent, and committed to doing justice.

The Zen Buddhists also have a list of the five obstacles to enlightenment:

  • Sensual desire.
  • Anger or ill will.
  • Sloth-torpor.
  • Restlessness-worry.
  • Doubt.

Perhaps we ignore these qualities at our peril. These impediments have their equivalents in other cultures so they might not seem unfamiliar, and might be compared with the seven deadly sins-lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

Sensual desire. How our cravings for pleasure can disrupt the best laid plans. It’s easier to sit in front of the TV eating a bowl of ice cream than to take a half hour walk.

Anger or ill will. When we direct our energy towards others in anger or revenge, normal development takes a detour, and we can arrive at places that aren’t wholesome at all. Anger takes away our ability to concentrate, be peaceful and feel joy. Anger and revenge are big obstacles to a life lived well.

Sloth-torpor. These are words that we rarely hear or see in today’s world, but their effects are all around us. Sloth refers to not working or exerting yourself, a laziness of the mind and body. Torpor is a state of senseless physical and mental activity. Sloth and torpor stand in the way of the development of any true growth, universal virtues included.

Restlessness-worry. If we are restless we can’t focus our energies on the tasks at hand. Our mind and our body cannot work together effectively, and our energies are dissipated, our peace and resiliency are diluted, and joy is lost. Worrying about things we have no control over keeps us from exercising control over the things on which we can use the seven factors. When we cannot calm our minds, we find it difficult to move forward in life.

Doubt. If we don’t trust our own abilities or the skills of others we create an obstacle to development. To progress through life, we need to have a conviction of our own worth and the value of others. Doubt creates a lack of respect for others. For the work with our children, doubt can destroy the vital link of trust between adult and child.

Virtues and vices. We have time-tested indicators to help us live a happy life, along with warnings of behaviors that can create disruptions in our journey.

Use universal virtues and character strengths to guide yourself and your children toward a life of meaningful activity and relationships.


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