In a simile, the Buddha compared a calm mind to a clear, calm lake set in serene surroundings. But the clarity of this lake could be lost if one or more of the following takes place:
- If a dark-coloured dye is added
- If the lake has boiling water
- If the water is covered with moss
- If the water is disturbed by wind
- If the water is turbid and muddy
Similarly, a peaceful mind will become spoiled due to five hindrances (nivarana). They are called “nivarana” (pronounced neevarana) because they cover the mind from seeing clearly. Just like one cannot see the bottom of a lake if any of the above five factors are present. But when the hindrances fall away, even temporarily, the mind naturally calms down and lends itself to concentration and insight.
- Chasing after sense desires (Kamacchanda) is like adding dye to water – we talk about being blinded by desire – we can’t see clearly. The mind chases after happiness in external conditions which cannot bring lasting happiness, and inevitably end in suffering. And they chase sense desires again to escape the suffering – it is like being on a hamster wheel.
- Hate (Vyapada) is compared to boiling water. When someone is enraged they lose control – it is like entering an animal realm. They blame the external conditions they don’t like as the cause of their anger – or if they blame themselves, they get angry about being angry.
- Sloth and torpor (Thina middha) – so wonderfully descriptive of the sleepy lethargic state of mind which tends to happen as soon as we calm the mind down – is compared to moss and slime covering the water.
- Restlessness and worry (Uddhacca-kukkucca) – which is manifest as both mental and physical restlessness – is compared to wind disturbing the surface of the water.
- Doubt (Vicikiccha) is compared to muddy water. This is a sceptical doubt – a lack of confidence in the Dhamma. We doubt whether we are following the right path – which creates indecision and a lack of commitment to any path of practice. Doubt feeds yet more doubt – like stirring up the mud in the bottom of the lake. We need some degree of faith to try things out, and to develop confidence in the Dhamma through the results we experience.
Martin Evans 19 September 2020