February 28, 2021; revised March 1, 2021 (link in #3 revised, #8 and #9 re-written)
Pañca Nīvaraṇa (Five Hindrances) are defilements that “cover the mind” and make the mind agitated or lethargic and susceptible to make bad decisions. Craving for sensory pleasures is the root cause for the covering of the mind.
Why Are They Called “Hindrances”?
1. These five are indicators for “mental states.” When they become elevated, one can easily make “bad decisions.” Furthermore, it is difficult for a mind to focus on any subject or comprehend new concepts with the five hindrances at high levels.
- Pañca nīvaraṇa does not cover a mind all the time. They can be triggered under the influence of temptations.
- In such instances, one could be tempted to engage in dasa akusala to ANY extent, depending on the temptation level. One may even do strong immoral deeds (pāpa kamma) that make rebirth in the apāyās possible.
- The possibility of pañca nīvaraṇa arising will permanently go away when one attains the Sotapanna stage.
- That is why a Sotapanna is permanently released from the apāyās.
- However, getting to the Sotapanna stage REQUIRES seeing (or understanding) that craving for sensory pleasures (kāma) is the root cause of all suffering. Of course, even after “seeing” it correctly (i.e., removing the wrong vision) a Sotapanna would still enjoy sensual pleasures because he had not removed the wrong perception (saññā).
What Is the “Previously Unheard Dhamma (Teachings)?”
2. The Buddha, in his first discourse, declared that his teachings had not been known to the world (in the absence of another Buddha.) That is the meaning of the verse, “‘Idaṃ dukkhaṃ ariyasaccan’ti me, bhikkhave, pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu.” OR “bhikkhus, this is the noble truth of suffering that was not heard before..” That highlighted part of the verse appears 12 times in the sutta (3 times each for the Four Noble Truths)!
- The “previously unheard teaching” is that even though sensory experiences can provide short-lived pleasures, they ALWAYS lead to suffering in the long-term (during this life and especially in the rebirth process.)
- The root cause for that suffering is the wrong view/perception of a “me” or sakkāya diṭṭhi. That view/perception, in turn, arises because of the perceived “pleasure” in sensory experiences.
- We attach to worldly pleasures (with icchā/taṇhā) with that wrong view AND perception BECAUSE we think they can provide long-lasting happiness. But the Buddha explained that there is hidden suffering in those pleasures. See the previous posts in “Sakkāya Diṭṭhi and Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
- Upon attaining the Buddhahood, the Buddha was able to see the minds of countless living-beings and was first discouraged that most of them would not be able to comprehend his teachings. Then he realized that some have the ability to comprehend his deep Dhamma.
Kāmato Jāyatī Soko – Kāma Is a Root Cause of Suffering
3. “Dhammapada Verse 215“ provides the key idea:
Kāmato jāyatī soko, From desire, arises grief,
kāmato jāyatī bhayaṃ; from desire arises fear;
Kāmato vippamuttassa, Completely free from desire,
natthi soko kuto bhayaṃ. there is no grief; how can there be fear?
- The above verse is the 7th verse in that link. The verses 4th through 8th are the same verses with synonymous words for kāma: piya, pema, rati (pronounced “rathi”), and taṇhā. We have discussed that icchā is also the same as taṇhā. In English, we can use words like desire, attachment, craving, liking, etc., to express the same meaning.
- There are pleasurable experiences. Those are NOT kāma. More details at, “What is “Kāma”? It is not Just Sex.” It is critical to read that post.
- The desire to accumulate more such experiences is kāma. That desire has no bounds. If temptations are high enough, we may take extreme immoral actions to fulfill such desires. That is when we get into trouble. But the key is to figure out how to stop such temptations. That CANNOT be done with willpower.
- With that in mind, let us look into pañca nīvaraṇa.
What Are Pañca Nīvaraṇa?
4. Pañca nīvaraṇa are: Kāmacchanda, vyāpāda (or byāpāda), thina-middha, uddhacca-kukkucca, and vicikicchā. See “Āvaraṇanīvaraṇa Sutta (SN 46.38).”
- In the sutta, the Buddha used two words, “āvaraṇā” and “nīvaraṇā” to describe these five. The word “āvaraṇā” means “to cover (the mind.)” When the mind is covered, it cannot grasp Buddha’s teachings, and thus Nibbana (or cooling down) is prevented (the meaning of “nīvaraṇā.”)
- When a mind is “covered,” one cannot clearly see the consequences of one’s actions. It is like looking through a fog. One cannot see what lies ahead.
- Removing pañca nīvaraṇa from one’s mind is like lifting a fog. One can see far ahead with much clarity.
- But how do those 5 things cover a mind? We need to figure that out before we can remove them.
Kāmacchanda Is the Main Nīvaraṇa
5. Kāmacchanda is stronger than kāma rāga. It is like lōbha but focused on kāma.
- Kāmacchanda is the highest level of attachment. Here one is willing to do abhorrent acts (killing, raping, etc.) to satisfy one’s desires.
- When kāma rises to the kāmacchanda level, one becomes unaware of the bad consequences of one’s actions. Kāmacchanda comes from kāma + icchā + anda, or “being blinded by sensory attractions.” Here, “icchā” is liking, and “anda” is blind.
- It is said that “one loses one’s mind” when blinded by attachment to sense pleasures, i.e., one cannot think rationally when one has kāmacchanda.
- See, “Lōbha, Rāga and Kāmacchanda, Kāmarāga.”
Vyāpāda Is a Consequence of Kāmacchanda
6. The second nīvaraṇa, vyāpāda, arises because of kāmacchanda. But it is a different manifestation. Instead of becoming lustful, one becomes hateful and angry.
- That anger arises when one is prevented from satisfying one’s desire for sensual pleasures. Patigha (or displeasure) is a lower level of vyāpāda and is not a nīvaraṇa. One does not do “apāyagāmi deeds” with patigha.
- We have heard about people killing others to get their wealth or their spouses or other loved ones. That happens when one’s mind becomes overwhelmed with kāmacchanda.
- Dosa (or dvesha in Sanskrit or Sinhala) is the ANGER that arises based on initial lōbha. Here, dvesha comes from “devana” + “vesha” — දෙවන වේශය — or second manifestation of lōbha. We get angry when someone else is in the way of getting what we want. This statement is from “Lōbha, Dōsa, Mōha versus Rāga, Paṭigha, Avijjā.“
- With dosa, one will inevitably take a “downward path.” That is the meaning of vyāpāda (“vaya” or ‘downward”+ “pāda” or “direction.”) Thus, vyāpāda is the same as dosa.
Other Three Nīvaraṇa Also Have Roots in Kāmacchanda
7. When one gets attached to sensory pleasures, one’s mind becomes dull (Pali word is thina.) Because of that, the mind gets stuck (middha.)
- Thus, thina-middha refers to a mind that has become lethargic and stuck. Such a mind would not be able to focus on anything, let alone difficult concepts. A good example is those addicted to watching movies, TV, sports, etc., all day. Their minds are stuck. Some people forget even to eat.
- A different manifestation is uddhacca-kukkucca. Here, one becomes “high-minded” (uddhacca) with perceived wealth or power and starts doing lowly deeds (kukkucca.) For example, a powerful politician or a wealthy person may engage in “lowly deeds” like bribery, rape, etc.
- A mind is susceptible to cravings for sensory pleasures because it has no true faith in Buddha Dhamma. It is not certain that the concepts in Buddha Dhamma are correct. For example, there are doubts about the laws of kamma or rebirth. Having such doubts is vicikicchā. Such doubts will go away only when one comprehends the Four Noble Truths.
- Further details at, “Key to Calming the Mind – The Five Hindrances.”
Noble Truth on Suffering – Kāma Is the Root Cause of Suffering
8. A key aspect of comprehending Noble Truths is to see that kāma (craving for sensory pleasures) is the root cause of future suffering.
- It is embedded in the verse that describes the root cause of suffering: “yampicchaṃ na labhati tampi dukkhāṃ” (“Yam pi icchaṃ na labhati tam pi dukkhaṃ”. See, “Essence of Buddhism – In the First Sutta.”
- “Yam pi icchaṃ“ means “whatever is liked or craved for”. “Na labhati” means “not getting”. “tam pi dukkhaṃ” means “that leads to suffering”.
- Therefore, that verse simply says: “If one does not get what one craves or likes, that leads to suffering.”
- Note that kāma arises due to icchā.
Importance of Getting Rid of Micchā Diṭṭhi
9. Micchā Diṭṭhi has TWO levels. Not knowing that kāma is the root cause of suffering is the deeper level of micchā diṭṭhi.
- First, one needs to get rid of the 10 types of wrong views that include not believing in the laws of kamma and rebirth. The deeper level of wrong views is removed when one becomes a Sotapanna and realizes that attachment to worldly things only leads to future suffering, i.e., understand the Four Noble Truths.
- That deeper level of micchā diṭṭhi starts fading away when one becomes a Sotapanna. At that point, ALL FIVE nīvaraṇa are removed permanently.
- An average human (puthujjano) thinks exactly the opposite way; That one should live FOR sensory pleasures. That is why it is so hard to change that ingrained mindset. But it is not that different from the mindset of a fish who only thinks about the tasty bait and does not see the hidden dangers in biting into that tasty bait.
10. All relevant posts at, “Paṭicca Samuppāda – Essential Concepts.”