This month we will start using as a focus for our meditation and discussion the five hindrances. “There are five impediments and hindrances, overgrowths of the mind that stultify insight. What five? Sensual desire is an impediment and hindrance, an overgrowth of the mind that stultifies insight. Ill-will... Sloth and torpor... Restlessness and remorse... Skeptical doubt are impediments and hindrances, overgrowths of the mind that stultify insight.” (Anguttara Nikaya 5:51)
For this month we will start with the last one listed above, skeptical doubt. In some traditions, addressing doubt is “the path of stream-entry.” It is the first hindrance to be acknowledged on our path of development. The path of entering into the stream is not removing all doubt, but first recognizing when doubt arises and noticing how it takes us out of awareness. We begin to focus only on the questions, “Is this the right path?”, “Is this what I should be doing now?”, “Am I with the right person or in the right job?”. All of these are questions that need to be asked and we need a degree of healthy doubt to question and examine ideas. But with all hindrances, there is a shadow side, a level where our doubt is the first thought that comes to our mind and blocks our ability to move. The story below of the traveler is a helpful illustration of this concept.
A man traveling through a desert, aware that travelers may be plundered or killed by robbers, will, at the mere sound of a twig or a bird, become anxious and fearful, thinking: "The robbers have come!" He will go a few steps, and then out of fear, he will stop, and continue in such a manner all the way; or he may even turn back. Stopping more frequently than walking, only with toil and difficulty will he reach a place of safety, or he may not even reach it.
It is similar with one in whom doubt has arisen in regard to one of the eight objects of doubt. Doubting whether the Master is an Enlightened One or not, he cannot accept it in confidence, as a matter of trust. Unable to do so, he does not attain to the paths and fruits of sanctity. Thus, as the traveler in the desert is uncertain whether robbers are there or not, he produces in his mind, again and again, a state of wavering and vacillation, a lack of decision, a state of anxiety; and thus he creates in himself an obstacle for reaching the safe ground of sanctity (ariya-bhumi). In that way, sceptical doubt is like traveling in a desert.
from "The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest: Selected Texts from the Pali Canon and the Commentaries", compiled and translated by Nyanaponika Thera. Access to Insight, 7 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel026.html . Retrieved on 10 July 2012.
We look forward to seeing you at our next Tues gathering to meditate together.