Further thoughts on the metaphor for nīvaraṇa

I previously raised the question of what metaphor we should use for the nīvaraṇa, and there was a nice discussion on the topic. My suggestion was that the root metaphor was not something that blocked progress on a path, but something that shrouded in darkness.

I have come across another passage, which supports my thought, and suggests a new rendering. In DN 13, MN 99, and MN 125 we have a passage that refers to someone who is afflicted by the nīvaraṇa. From MN 99:

Imehi kho, māṇava, pañcahi nīvaraṇehi brāhmaṇo pokkharasāti opamañño subhagavaniko āvuto nivuto ophuṭo pariyonaddho.
Pokkharasāti is āvaraṇa-ed, nīvaraṇa-ed, covered, and engulfed by these five hindrances.

Now, here we have two extra words in addition to the usual nīvaraṇa and āvaraṇa. (You might not recognize these, as here they’re past participles: āvuto nivuto.) The new terms are:

  • ophuṭa, which, despite the spelling, is just another variant from the same root, i.e. ava-vuta. (In the MS edition on SuttaCentral, the passage at DN 13 adopts the variant onaddha as the main text, which is probably a false normalization from pariyonaddha.)
  • pariyonaddha is quite a common word meaning “engulfed, covered, enveloped”.

The use of pariyonaddha is a strong support for the idea that the key underlying metaphor is “wrapping” rather than “obstructing”.

It also suggests a translation, as in certain contexts pariyonaddha may be translated as “trapped”. Could we use this for nīvaraṇa? Here’s the same passages I quoted before, with the new rendering. Maybe we could use “cage” for the synonym āvaraṇa.

  1. ime pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya cetaso upakkilese paññāya dubbalīkaraṇe
    These five traps, corruptions of the heart that weaken wisdom
  • ime pañca āvaraṇe nīvaraṇe cetaso ajjhāruhe paññāya dubbalīkaraṇe
    These five cages and traps, parasites of the mind that weaken wisdom
  • Pubbā koṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ.
    No first point is found of sentient beings roaming and transmigrating, trapped by ignorance and fettered by craving.
  • Ko cāhāro avijjāya? ‘Pañca nīvaraṇā’tissa vacanīyaṃ.
    And what is the fuel for ignorance? You should say: ‘The five traps.’
  • Pañcime, bhikkhave, nīvaraṇā andhakaraṇā acakkhukaraṇā aññāṇakaraṇā paññānirodhikā vighātapakkhiyā anibbānasaṃvattanikā.
    These five traps are destroyers of sight, vision, and knowledge. They block wisdom, they’re on the side of anguish, and they don’t lead to extinguishment.
  • Ekamekenapi kho, bhante, nīvaraṇena abhibhūto yathābhūtaṃ na jāneyya na passeyya, ko pana vādo pañcahi nīvaraṇehi?
    Sir, someone who was overcome by even one of these traps would not truly know or see, not to speak of all five.
  • Imehi kho, māṇava, pañcahi nīvaraṇehi brāhmaṇo pokkharasāti opamañño subhagavaniko āvuto nivuto ophuṭo pariyonaddho.
    Pokkharasāti is caged, trapped, covered, and engulfed by these five hindrances.

Since the the underlying metaphor in wrapping, are these traps in the sense of nets? Snares?

To stay within the metaphor: Does one say in English someone is “overcome” by a trap?


Brings to mind the sutta about Mara the hunter trapping the deer that are beings. Or the similar one only with monkeys (SN 47.7). In the latter one it is the 5 strands of sense desire that are the traps. I don’t remember what the traps were in the former.

I like “caged” and “trapped” much better than “hindered”.

I really like “covered” and “engulfed”.

After that last thread you started @sujato, I keep “seeing” myself, whenever I reflect on them, as swimming in the nīvaraṇa. I think that’s why I prefer something like “engulfed”. Also, I can’t help perceiving them as if they’re nebulous and flowing (like being trapped forever under some vision obscuring, blankets that are made of some incredibly strong fabric) as opposed to rigid and hard. Whereas, “trapped” and certainly, for me, “caged”, gives the sense of something more defined and fixed with some kind of hardness - there’s a sense, for me, of a kind of stone or rock like quality.

These are all very subjective notions of course. But I’m still feeling incredibly grateful that you shared your findings and opened up the discussion. Thank you again. :bodhileaf::anjal::bodhileaf:


No more than one is “overcome by a hindrance”. I hope it’s stretchy enough to accommodate it. But this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when you make such far-reaching changes, it has all kinds of unexpected implications.

Why not? But remember, the basic metaphor is getting wrapped in the coils of a massive snake …


As I understand it there’s the Teachings (Dhamma) and then there’s the Meaning (attha?). Exploring the context (i.e. the Meaning should be ‘experienced’, joy will arise if it reflects what is internally rings to be true’)…

Effect on the mind:
AN5.51 ‘overcome awareness & weaken discernment’. The main current of a Stream dissipated.
AN5.23 'when the mind is debased by these five impurities, it is not pliant, malleable, or luminous’
AN46.55 'man with good eyesight examining the reflection of his face in it would not be able to know or see his face as it has come to be.
'one neither knows nor sees what is for one’s own benefit, or for the benefit of others, or for the benefit of both…

Similies: AN46.55 1) bowl of water mixed with lac, yellow orpiment, indigo, or crimson,2) bowl of water heated on a fire, boiling & bubbling over,3) bowl of water covered with algae & slime 4) bowl of water ruffled by the wind, 5) bowl of water stirred up, turbid, muddied

themes: obscures seeing,
pollution, debilitation

If we base the term entirely on the meaning, five obscurations, or five shrouds seem appropriate. It should have a negative connotation and not be neutral like five covers. Just my take on it.

With metta


“Trap” is pretty neat, easy to understand and seems to work reasonably well in all cases.

It doesn’t quite conjure up images of being wrapped up or engulfed in something but it definitely has connotations of being surrounded or totally stuck…in something easy to get into but hard to get out of.

And for some reason the phrase “trapped by ignorance” really resonates with me.


the english meanings of caged, engulfed, etc, feel much stronger and powerful than “hindrance and obstacle”.

The english meanings for Hindrance and obstacle feel like you can easily side step them, whereas being “engulfed, caged, completely shrouded” by defilements seems to match the observed real effect of the nivarana and avarana more accurately. That is, we act completely powerless, stupid, and in a way that leads to suffering.


I just came across a case where this doesn’t work. At MN 125 the nivarana are used in a simile of a mountain that is “blocking” the view. Here, “blocks, obstructions, hindrances” seem to be the only suitable choices.


Another passage I came across that explicitly requires the sense “wrapping, covering”. In DN 13, the nivaranas are compared to a person who lies down completely wrapped from head to foot. As well as the usual nīvaraṇa and āvaraṇa the text adds onahana and pariyonahana, which definitely mean “covering, wrapping”.

So orime tīre sasīsaṃ pārupitvā nipajjeyya.
But they’d lie down wrapped in cloth from head to foot.

pañcime nīvaraṇā ariyassa vinaye āvaraṇātipi vuccanti, nīvaraṇātipi vuccanti, onāhanātipi vuccanti, pariyonāhanātipi vuccanti.
the five hindrances are called ‘obstacles’ and ‘hindrances’ and ‘coverings’ and ‘shrouds’ in the training of the noble one.