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Hindrances to concentration: Restlessness

Stages of the Path #125: The Fourth Noble Truth

Part of a series of Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner talks on the Stages of the Path (or Lamrim) as described in the Guru Puja text by Panchen Lama I Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen.

  • Restlessness includes the worrying, anxious mind
  • Doing prostrations and purification as a way of taming the restless energy
  • Working with the restless mind

We’re going to talk about restlessness and remorse today. They’re put together (even though they’re two things) they’re made one of the five hindrances to developing concentration.

Restlessness is the mind of anxiety, fear, apprehension, tension, nervousness. The mind can’t sit still, it’s proliferating all sorts of things. It is anywhere but where the body is. It is anywhere but in the present. It’s just whacko.

We all know this mind. It’s a big hindrance to meditation, isn’t it? The mind is just, it’s worrying, it’s in the future, it’s conceptualizing, it just can’t sit still. I remember when I did the first three-month retreat, the Vajrasattva retreat, and it’s like, I couldn’t sit still for a minute. What I realized by the end of the retreat was that I just had this incredible restless energy. It wasn’t just the mind and it wasn’t just the body. It was the two things together. I could sit there and sometimes just feel this restless energy flowing through my body that says, “I’ve got to move! I’ve got to do something! I can’t sit here!”

We have that energy, don’t we? I think that’s why, actually, when we’re young (and also when we’re old), we’re really encouraged to do a lot of purification and accumulation of merit, because those practices often have a lot of physicality to them. If you have a lot of restlessness, if you do a lot of prostrations it’s a good way to put that restlessness into some use. Rather than just sitting there and squirming you’re doing the prostrations, and hopefully thinking about purification and so on. Or you do the mandala offering, and again you’re moving. Or you’re doing water bowls, 100,000 water bowls. Or you’re making 100,000 tsa-tsas. All of those things involve movement. Or you’re doing 100,000 Dorje Khadro, and so you’re offering the sesame seeds into the fire. I think all those things are very, very skillful to do when we have a lot of restless energy, which may be when we’re young, or it may be at any time in our life. But those practices where we really use our body, together with our speech and our mind to create merit, are very good as an antidote to the restlessness.

And then of course we have to look at that mind that’s going all over the place and wondering what in the world it’s thinking to achieve by doing that. It’s like, “Where do you think you’re going to get on the path by roaming the universe? And by worrying about everything.”

We’ve already had some Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner discussions about worry and anxiety.

Good to stop there, so you can wiggle around with that for another day or two. [laughter]

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.