The Ten Hindrances to Enlightenment, TheFour Stages of Realization
[By Dr. David N. Snyder]
The Ten Hindrances to Enlightenment
1. The belief in a permanent personality / ego.
2. Doubt / extreme skepticism.
3. Clinging to rites, rituals, and ceremonies.
4. Attachment to sense desires.
5. Ill-will / anger.
6. Craving for existence or existence in the Form World.
7. Craving for non-existence or existence in the Formless World.
Progress on the Path can be seen through the ten hindrances to enlightenment and our destruction
of them. One should practice by spending the time on the cushion in meditation, analyzing this
mind-body and seeing for yourself the hindrances and what we have overcome.
The Four Stages of Realization
After conquering the first three hindrances, one becomes a “Stream-Entrant” guaranteed of no
more than seven more re-births before enlightenment. Re-birth will only be in a higher plane
such as human or deva (angel in a heavenly plane).
A “Once-Returner” is one in whom the fourth and fifth hindrances have been greatly
weakened. Nibbana will be realized at the most in one more re-birth.
A “Non-Returner” has completely destroyed the fourth and fifth hindrances and will never be
re-born as a human or animal or anything lower. This person will be re-born in a heavenly plane
and realize enlightenment there.
The “Arahant” or ―enlightened one‖ has destroyed all ten hindrances and such a person has
completed the task and attains nibbana, enlightenment in this very life.
The ten hindrances to enlightenment is a rarely talked about subject at Dhamma centers, but it is
a very important one. Too often in spiritual matters we tend to pursue ―something. Even the
Dhamma or the Path is not to be clung to. The Buddha described the teachings as that of a raft.
Once it gets you to the other shore there is no need to continue to carry it on your back. Thus,
instead of pursuing ―something‖ we should be looking at what we need to get rid of.
But this does not mean that we should not be seeking enlightenment, which is sometimes taught
by some teachers. The feeling is that seeking enlightenment is a form of desire, the desire that is
the cause of suffering according to the Second Noble Truth of the Buddha. As was mentioned in
an earlier chapter, the type of desire the Buddha was referring to was an unwholesome, selfish
craving type of desire. Wholesome desires leading to the good for oneself and others is not the
―bad type of desire the Buddha was talking about in the Second Noble Truth. It is okay to
―desire enlightenment and seek it out, but not to cling to the Path while we are on the way or
after we have reached the other shore. Too much clinging or attachment could turn us into
fundamentalists, wishing to force our views on others. It is okay to offer the teachings to all
who will listen, but not in a forceful manner.
The first hindrance is that of the belief in a permanent personality or ego. If we still suffer from
this we tend to act in all our daily matters in a very ego-centric way, not recognizing our interconnection
to other people, which leads us to selfishness and suffering. The second hindrance is
doubt or extreme skepticism. This has to do with our doubt in being able to make it to the other
shore. If we have doubt we might take an extreme view such as agnosticism and may fall prey to
self-indulgence. The third hindrance is attachment to rites, rituals, and ceremonies. The
Buddha did not care for rituals because they are empty and do not make oneself progress on
The fourth hindrance is attachment to sense desires. If we are attached to our sense desires, we
become prisoners to our senses. The obvious example is that of an addict who constantly needs
another fix to satisfy his / her craving. But this is not limited to intoxications of drink or
narcotics, it can be cigarettes, food cravings, entertainment cravings, etc. As mentioned earlier
in this book, this does not mean that we should all become emotion-less zombies. On the
contrary, the enlightened person enjoys many things, he / she is simply not attached to them.
The enlightened person enjoys pleasure by observing it and not clinging to it. At the same time
when a displeasure arises, the enlightened one does not push it away or put any resistance to it.
This state of constant equanimity is described as ―true happiness.
The fifth hindrance is ill-will / anger. The enlightened person has completely eliminated all
forms of hate and anger from his mind.
Hindrances numbers six and seven have to do with the craving for existences in the heavenly
realms. This is still a form of attachment and craving, since it seeks out the pleasurable
experiences of a very long life in one of the heavenly realms.
The eighth hindrance to enlightenment is conceit. You might be surprised to find conceit as one
of the last hindrances on the list. This is because the Buddha knew that even people who are
very advanced and very close to enlightenment will still have conceit. This can be the conceit
that comes from the feeling ―I am superior, more spiritually advanced and this really was
an observation that could be seen in the Buddha‘s time and still today.
The ninth hindrance is restlessness. Again pursuing ―something to be an extreme practice is a
form of restlessness. One must remain patient. In all matters the ―middle way is best, not a
lazy, apathetic form or a restless, ascetic form.
The tenth and final hindrance is ignorance. This is the ignorance to reality and includes the
universal characteristics of no permanent self, suffering, and impermanence. To eradicate this
hindrance one must actually experience reality from the deepest insights of nibbana,
When you review the ten hindrances to enlightenment you will notice that there is no profession
of faith required, no belief in anything required. If you have eliminated most of the hindrances
you will basically be a very nice person. You can not be a mean person if you recognize that
there is no permanent self, if you have weakened ill-will and anger, and if you have eliminated
selfish cravings and attachments. You will notice that you do not need to belong to any one
certain religion to eliminate the ten hindrances. You do not need to be a Buddhist, but in reality
perhaps without knowing it, if you practice the teaching here, you are a follower of the Buddha‘s
teachings. You can call yourself a member of another religion or spiritual tradition, it does not
matter, if you do the practice here to completion, then you are a Saint, an enlightened one.
-----------to be continued------------
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