Starve the beast

- through Francois Leclercq

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As Buddhist practitioners, we need to understand how to counter the five obstacles in order to avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering.

sensual desire

When we notice an object of sensual desire entering the perceptual field, we can catch it before it catches us and observe and analyze it as a source of impurity, despite its apparent and seductive beauty.

Suppose the object of perception is a young beauty queen. Although our gaze is attracted by its apparent beauty, we can remember that what we see externally is only an outer sheath of what is internally filled with blood, pus, intestines, blood and excrement, and therefore not as attractive as it seems. . Careful observation and analysis become undernourished.

When we know that this beautiful form is governed by feelings, perceptions, mental associations and consciousness, we must know that eye consciousness is a set of energetic impulses that are sure to cause trouble if we get what we want. want and label it "mine". Hence the adage: be careful what you wish for you might get it. It's unlikely that you and she both want the same things, but the bodymind gets it wrong when, without even thinking about it, it selfishly says, "I'd like to get my hands on this."

The point here is that what the bodymind wants – if we allow the untrained mind to follow its impulses and whims – is likely to become a source of disappointment. Whatever we desire, we are unlikely to achieve our wishes.

The same goes for the five obstacles: what first attracts the senses or awareness is more likely to ignite a fire in the mind than to offer soothing satisfaction. Yet the eye and other senses have a habit of searching for problems, picking up perceptions of their surroundings. The six senses, when untrained, want to do mischief and need to be restrained.

bad will

Likewise, we note that when an object of ill will enters the perceptual field, it is common for perception to find things it does not like: things that are ugly, noisy, smelly, tasteless, or repulsive to the touch and smell. Thus, the mind makes associations that cause reactions to unpleasant touches. Suppose our neighbor's music is loud or his garbage cans smell bad. It's easy to react to this perception by thinking, “That's not right! »

No sooner have we reacted negatively than our neighbor reacts back, and we both feel ill will, which can last until one moves away or dies. The moment we react to a negative external impulse and get involved, we lose the sense of wise and detached serenity we had developed, and so we immediately revert to acting like an untamed animal – like an untrained dog that barks at a shadow.

The antidote to ill will is a good foundation in the mental training of benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. When these four factors are active, we will not make our neighbor our enemy, no matter how bad he behaves. We will not lose our foundations in these four sublime states of metta, karuna, muditaet upekkha. We will not harbor feelings of anger and ill will.

Usually the causes of hatred are deeper than loud music and stinking garbage, so we must be mindful of cultivating sublime mental states that can arrest and eliminate bad kamma tendencies. Although this is not easy to do, the alternative is to let ourselves fall into the heat of the conflicts that arise from following evil intentions. If this seems difficult to you, remember that every moment of our lives is a test of serenity. The loss of serenity provides the opportunity for ill will to feed and lash out, which is exactly what ill will wants to do.

We know how easy it is to let your guard down, if only for a moment. But when we do, we expose ourselves to retaliation from the outside world. Worse still, if we lose mindfulness, even for a moment, there is no telling what harm we might be doing to others and indirectly to ourselves.

Laziness and apathy

We notice when feelings of laziness and apathy enter the perceptual field. We have all felt the tendency to sink into the obstacles of laziness and torpor, in which we cannot summon the strength to do anything and tend to fall into a state of inertia or even to fall asleep. The way to combat such a lack of energy is to make an effort to overcome inertia, that is, to arouse energy when it is lacking by a powerful act of the will. If, through lack of wisdom, a person's mind becomes dull, it should be awakened by reflecting on such moving subjects as the dangers of birth, decay, illness and death, or the dangers of a lack of constant attention and its possible consequences.

One can also arouse energy by becoming aware of the suffering of impermanence. Some monks with indolent tendencies are advised to avoid overeating and to adjust their body posture to maintain an alert mind, or to contemplate the perception of light, or to stay in the open air and, in some cases , to undertake a meditative walk in a given place. where there are sharp stones, or better yet, to strike up a conversation about indolence with friends in the Dhamma and cultivate sympathetic joy. Let us also note that the psycho-physical slowing down of the mental process leaves more time for the defilements to penetrate the doors of the senses and feed there.

Restlessness and worry

We note when feelings of restlessness and worry enter the perceptual field. We all felt agitated, uneasy, nervous, and full of worry or remorse. The antidote to malnutrition here is right mindfulness and the application of wise attention, awakening the mind to calm and tranquil states. Another way is to talk to mature members of the sangha and, after discussion and understanding, practice the rules of the monk and develop healing calm through noble friendship. The more agitation there is, the more possibilities there are for the defilements to stir up the nervous energies and to create sparks in the mind which heat up and consume nervous energy. This is why we must cultivate a calm mind at all times.


We notice when surges of doubt enter the perceptual field. We may have had doubts about our Buddhist practice. There are doubts embedded in the mind as residues, or doubts that enter due to outside influences, lack of trust or bad influences.

Once uncertainty has arisen, like a spark to ignite doubt, it is difficult to establish trust. This is especially true when we are simultaneously busy putting out small and large fires in the mind, some of which will be due to spontaneous combustion because there are piles of fuel lying around inside, unprotected and likely to lose firmness of mind more and more rapidly. . This causes mental heat to increase, burning energy as confusion increases. Uncertainty lurks in the dark recesses of the mind and can be a dangerous enemy as it attacks from within where we are vulnerable due to a lack of focus and focus.

It is far better to train to fight the Five Obstacles than to become a slave to inherent ignorance and reckless inclinations.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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