“There are these five corruptions of the heart, tainted by which the heart is neither soft, nor pliable, nor gleaming, nor easily broken up, nor perfectly composed for the destruction of the corruptions.” – Samyutta Nikāya
Nīvarana (Ni + var, to hinder, to obstruct) is that which hinders one’s progress or that which obstructs the path to Emancipation and heavenly states. It is also explained as that which “muffles, enwraps, or trammels thought.”
There are five kinds of Nīvaranas or Hindrances. They are: i. Sensual desires (Kāmacchanda), ii. Illwill (Vyāpāda), iii. Sloth & Torpor (Thīna-Middha), iv. Restlessness & Worry (Uddhacca- Kukkucca), and v. Doubts (Vicikicchā).
1. Kāmacchanda means sensual desires or attachment to pleasurable sense-objects such as form, sound, odour, taste, and contact. This is regarded as one of the Fetters, too, that bind one to Samsāra. An average person is bound to get tempted by these alluring objects of sense. Lack of self-control results in the inevitable arising of passions. This Hindrance is inhibited by Onepointedness (Ekaggatā), which is one of the five characteristics of Jhānas. It is attenuated on attaining Sakadāgāmi and is completely eradicated on attaining Anāgāmi.
Subtle forms of attachment such as Rūpa Rāga and Arūpa Rāga (Attachment to Realms of Form and Formless Realms) are eradicated only on attaining Arahantship.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of sense-desires:— i. perceiving the loathsomeness of the object, ii. constant meditation on loathsomeness, iii. sense-restraint, iv. moderation in food, v. good friendship, and vi. profitable talk.
2. Vyāpāda is illwill or aversion. A desirable object leads to attachment, while an undesirable one leads to aversion. These are the two great fires that burn the whole world. Aided by ignorance these two produce all sufferings in the world. Ill will is inhibited by Pīti or joy which is one of the Jhāna factors. It is attenuated on attaining Sakadāgāmi and is eradicated on attaining Anāgāmi.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of ill will:— i. perceiving the object with thoughts of goodwill, ii. constant meditation on loving-kindness (Mettā), iii. thinking that Kamma is one’s own, iv. adherence to that view, v. good friendship, and vi. profitable talk.
3. Thīna or Sloth is explained as a morbid state of the mind, and Middha as a morbid state of the mental states. A stolid mind is as “inert as a bat hanging to a tree, or as molasses cleaving to a stick, or as a lump of butter too stiff for spreading”. Sloth and torpor should not be understood as bodily drowsiness, because Arahants, who have destroyed these two states, also experience bodily fatigue. These two promote mental inertness and are opposed to strenuous effort (Viriya).
They are inhibited by the Jhāna factor (Vitakka, or Initial Application), and are eradicated on attaining Arahantship. The following six conditions tend to the eradication of Sloth and Torpor:— i. reflection on the object of moderation in food, ii. changing of bodily postures, iii. contemplation on the object of light; iv. living in the open, v. good friendship and vi. profitable talk.
4. Uddhacca is mental restlessness or excitement of the mind. It is a mental state associated with all types of immoral consciousness. As a rule an evil is done with some excitement or restlessness. Kukkucca is worry. It is either repentance over the committed evil or over the unfulfilled good. Repentance over one’s evil does not exempt one from its inevitable consequences. The best repentance is the will not to repeat that evil.
Both these hindrances are inhibited by the Jhāna factor Sukha or happiness. Restlessness is eradicated on attaining Arahantship, and worry is eradicated on attaining Anāgāmi.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of these two states:— i. erudition or learning. ii. questioning or discussion, iii. understanding the nature of the Vinaya discipline, iv. association with senior monks, v. good friendship and vi. profitable talk.
5. Vicikicchā is doubt or indecision. That which is devoid of the remedy of wisdom is vicikicchā (vi -devoid; cikicchā-wisdom). It is also explained as vexation due to perplexed thinking (vici – seeking; kicchā – vexation). Here it is not used in the sense of doubt with regard to the Buddha etc., for even non-Buddhists inhibit vicikicchā and gain Jhānas. As a fetter, vicikicchā is that doubt about Buddha etc., but as a hindrance it denotes unsteadiness in one particular thing that is being done. The commentarial explanation of vicikicchā is the inability to decide anything definitely that it is so. In other words, it is indecision.
This state is inhibited by the Jhāna factor: Vicāra, Sustained Application. It is eradicated on attaining Sotāpatti.
The following six conditions tend to its eradication:-- i. knowledge of the Dhamma and Vinaya, ii. discussion or questioning, iii. understanding of the nature of the Vinaya Discipline, iv. excessive confidence, v. good friendship, and vi. profitable talk.
Reference: The Buddha and His Teachings by Venerable Nārada Mahāthera