Hindrances to concentration: Dullness

Stages of the Path #123: The Fourth Noble Truth

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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.

  • Often drowsiness has nothing to do with how much sleep we’ve gotten
  • Antidotes to drowsiness and dullness
  • Watching meditation posture
06-01-10 Stages of the Path #123, Fourth Noble Truth (hindrances to concentration: dullness)

We’ve been talking about the five hindrances to meditation. Remember those? The first one was sensual desire, craving for sensual pleasure. The second was ill will and malice. Now we’re at [feigns falling asleep] dullness and drowsiness.

It’s very interesting, in our meditation, have you ever noticed how your mind can be hyperactive one moment, and as soon as you stop that and apply the antidote, BAM, it’s asleep. Have you ever noticed that? And it has nothing to do with how much sleep you got the previous night. In fact, sometimes if you sleep too much that causes more drowsiness in the meditation. The mind, it’s like, it’s either really on, or it’s off. We have to avoid both of those extremes.

Just on a very, very gross level, the first thing to start doing is to get enough exercise. Exercise won’t make you tired, it will help wake you up. That’s also why we do prostrations often before we start a meditation session, not only for the exercise but also because it purifies the negative karma. But the exercise doesn’t hurt one single bit, at all.

Also, if you have trouble, splash cold water on your face. Don’t wear so many clothes. You look in the meditation hall, everybody with this blanket and this wrap-around, and this jacket, they’re all toasty. But if you’re too toasty you’re going to get dull and drowsy. It’s better to not have so much.

Oh you’re giving me those looks. [laughter] One look says it’s going in this ear and out the other ear. And the other look is: “Who me? I don’t do that.”

Try to have good meditation position, good posture. If you don’t that’s going to not only put your back out, but it’s going to make you tired. That’s why they say to have a cushion under your rear. If your rear is higher your back is straighter. If your back is straighter the energies are flowing better and it’s easier to be awake. You can imagine–sometimes they recommend–that you have a little chord here (at the top of your head) pulling you up so your spine is straight. That’s very helpful. Doing yoga or tai chi (or whatever) is also very helpful. Sometimes even a little bit of pain will keep you awake. [laughter] Although sometimes it doesn’t at all, you even sleep through that.

Try some of these gross things. Don’t just say, “Oh, I can’t meditate because I’m too tired.” That’s the usual excuse. It usually doesn’t have to do with not sleeping enough, because when it comes to staying up late to watch a movie or to talk with our friends we have plenty of energy the next morning, even though we didn’t get much sleep the night before. So try and brighten your mind.

Also another thing to do is imagine light. Start out your meditation and imagine you exhale this dull mind in the form of smoke, and when you inhale you inhale light, so you get this very bright light filling your body and mind.

That’s why you also find when you do a meditation on the Buddha before doing your checking meditation on the stages of the path, where you visualize the Buddha and light coming from the Buddha, then you imagine just being filled with light, and that helps the mind stay awake, prevents the drowsiness. So, try those kinds of things.

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