Restlessness and doubt are hindrances

This is a sort of inner fever

The next hindrance is restlessness. If you’re restless, you’ve got a sort of fever. Now, if you had high fevers, you know that you’re in bed and suddenly you’ve got to move, it’s terribly uncomfortable; then you get just for a few seconds, then you’ve got to move again. Then you feel alright, then you’ve got to move again. Whichever position you are in, after a few seconds, it becomes unbearable, you toss. You’ve got to have something cool here and they put a nice bandage here if you demand it. Then, “Oh no, it really didn’t work.”

This is a sort of inner fever. We think if we’re in a fever, “Oh, if only I could move, just move, just get out this, I’ll be better.” So, you move [and then feel bad again]. It’s an inner fever and, in modern terms, the teacher says the car stopped maybe, but the engine’s still running. He gave us an example of people who sometimes, even sitting in meditation, you can hear the engine revving up inside them. Now, this is a sort of fever; and we feel that when it becomes subtle, it can take the form of activity – and the form of benevolence that it takes is, “I’m going to help you if it kills both of us. I’ve got to do it.”

Now, there was one such person who was a tremendously a hard worker in a sangha – tremendously, nothing was too much trouble. Everything was perfect. She didn’t call attention to herself (as you do), but one thing really did [get to her]. She didn’t express it, but it really did anyway and that was the people just sitting there. Sometimes they’d come in, and things would be fairly well-arranged, but not perfectly arranged. She would be just doing the final touches and these people would say, “Candles should’ve been properly centred.”

One day she said, “They just sit there. I’d like to sit there, but these things have to be done.” The head of that sangha said, “Alright, now you sit, you be one of them. I will arrange for two people to do what you yourself have been doing.”  This was done and she would come, a quarter-of-an-hour or 20 minutes beforehand.  Things would not be perfect, but according to instructions, she would just sit there [as if] she had given it up. Then the two people came in and they began centring things and getting it all ready for the session.

Because she was spiritually advanced, she found this in herself, “No, I couldn’t just sit there. As they were arranging the things, I was mentally going, ‘Just a centimetre that way, just like that. Oh, those two candles don’t match, it’d be better (of course, there’s no rule), but it would’ve been better if they’d been same colour.” She came back and she said, “Yes, I understand that, when I said, ‘I’d like to sit,’ it wasn’t so.” Then she could begin training on the actual point.

The last point is doubt. This is one of the things that has infinite extension. There’s an example, from the world, this is in the days of private medicine. A man who had money, but was also very effective in his profession, used to go to a first-rate doctor. He said once to a friend, “The doctor’s interest, of course, is to cure the illness you go to him for; but, of course, his financial interest is to leave you slightly sick, isn’t it? If you’re perfect, healthy, you won’t go back.  So he leaves out some little thing, nothing big, of course, otherwise you won’t go to him anymore. It’ll be just a little thing; and I realized this, that the prescription he gives me is intended to cure me 95%, but to leave 5%, so that I’ll be going back to him.”

The friend said, “What do you do?” The patient said, “Well, I amend the prescription.” He said, “I change it because I realize that he’s only given me a 95%, so I look for the extra 5%.” The friend said, “In actual fact, you are always slightly off colour, aren’t you? Nothing serious, but you are.” He said, “Yes, I think he knows, so he’s allowing for that, and he’s cutting [back more].  So that means I have to do it even more to get the proper dose.” You can imagine how the story goes on.

This is an example of doubt, and they give many other such examples. The doubt is endless and it’s a form of wanting to escape basically: “How do we know?” One of the forms that doubt takes, in fact, is that something is dangerous. It was asked of a Chinese master, “This Buddhism and these meditations and these practices you do – aren’t they potentially dangerous? They can go wrong, and they have gone wrong, haven’t they? Haven’t there been people who tried them, and it’s been not a success at all? Dangerous, aren’t they?”  The Chinese master said, “Yes. Yes, to practise Buddhism is dangerous; but not nearly so dangerous as not to practise Buddhism.”

We can have our doubts, but if they’re only on a particular basis of what we know, they can extend on this basis. When we enter a training, we are committing ourselves to a training whose basis we don’t yet know.  But it’s not making ourselves the slaves of a dogma, because these things are confirmable. The teacher’s not saying [merely] believe this; he’s saying believe this and practise it, and then you’ll confirm it. It’s not a dogma, but he is presenting something; and he says, believe this and practise it.

When the nuclear bomb was being developed, of course, there were doubts.  The American Admiral, Leahy, who was one of the Naval scientists, was told about this in absolute secrecy, of course, just before the test was to take place. He is recorded as saying, “It won’t work. I say that on the basis of a lifetime study of explosives.” He had a lifetime study of explosives, and he was an expert in them. But what he knew was molecular energy and this was nuclear energy, something entirely outside his experience.  His doubt was on the basis of his experience, which was great, but only in a particular line. What the teacher says is that we have to make a jump of faith, because it’s a new basis that we’re going into.

Well, then there’s one thing more.  We always feel, “Oh, well I have to believe this. We have to have faith, and that’s a one-way business.”  But it isn’t a one-way business – the teacher has faith in the pupil and pupils often don’t see this clearly. The teacher has faith, just as the music teacher of experience, he knows.  “Now, you have no use for Beethoven – none at all.  Well, you won’t have for four or five years.  But, if you play, you will have.”  The teacher sees this, and he has faith in this. In the same way, the Buddhist teachers don’t give us instructions of the sort, “Well, you may do it; or you may not; or you might succeed…”  They have faith in the pupils, because they’re seeing something.

Well, those are the five hindrances – desire, anger, sloth, restlessness and fever, and the last, doubt. Now, this [Chinese] character consists of three parts:


The top part can mean a lid and that’s something like a tray and it’s got the sense of covering in the Chinese. It’s not so much a ball and chain hanging around our ankles, but something that’s covering a light. One of the sayings is, “Don’t have your dealings with men, have your dealings with heaven.”  If you have your dealings with men, as they are, you will be entangled in ‘like and dislike’ of them.  But have your dealings with heaven, with space; and there’s heaven in them, and heaven in yourself.

Don’t have your dealings with the clouds, have your dealings with the sky. The clouds are the sky frowning, so to speak, and there was used to be an old song, ‘Painting the clouds with sunshine’. Well, this is the opposite of the Buddhist training, which is not trying to paint virtues onto something which is basically deluded; but it’s to dissolve delusions. There was one of those poems, which I learned when I was reluctantly reading Japanese poetry.

“’Clouds are clearing up and soon there’ll be light.’

Don’t think like this.

From the very beginning in the sky,

There has been the bright moon.”

It’s not painting, but it’s clearing.  Well, that’s from the Chinese side, but these things are thought of as coverings, as clouds. Don’t have your dealings with the clouds, have your dealings with heaven. Don’t have your dealings with the clouds in the people and in yourself, but have your dealings with the heaven, which is shining in the people and in your own heart.

Well, thank you for listening.

Talks in this series are:

1. The five hindrances are desire, anger, sloth, restlessness, and doubt

2. Hidden hindrances

3. Anger is a hindrance

4. Restlessness and doubt are hindrances

The full talk is The Five Hindrances

© Trevor Leggett

Similar Posts