How is boredom classified as a hindrance?

Boredom is a frequent problem for many meditators, myself included, and it commonly occurs in most peoples’ lives.

Is there a word in Pali that roughly translates to the english equivalent of boredom? It seems like boredom could be reasonably classified as one of the five hindrances in a few different ways, or perhaps as a mixture of those hindrances.

It could be:
Sensual desire - it is a vague undirected craving to be stimulated by something entertaining

Ill Will - perhaps not in the sense of hostility towards another person/being, but an aversion to the present moment

Restlessness - an itchy desire to be doing something else

Sloth/torpor - a low level of engagement and energy in what one is doing.

Of course, at the end of the day, it does not matter too much how we classify it. It should be enough to recognize that it is an unskillful state (at least while meditating) and work to abandon it. But I would like to understand it better so that I find it easier to abandon, and so I am asking others here for their thoughts.

There are certain unskillful states which I find it comparatively easy to let go of. But boredom is very sticky for me.

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Hmm good question. I’ve always thought of boredom being somewhere in both of the sloth and torpor and restlessness hindrances. Usually boredom brings a lack of energy or engagement. Sometimes a wild feeling of boredom when you just want to run out of your house happens too.

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It’s a form of aversion because it resists reality.

"Boredom has you bypass the present for the excitement of a future possibility. ”

—Seattle Meditation Society

It is reclassified as sloth as it fails to implement the practice potential of the present:

“And what is the food for the arising of unarisen sloth & drowsiness, or for the growth & increase of sloth & drowsiness once it has arisen? There are boredom, weariness, yawning, drowsiness after a meal, & sluggishness of awareness. To foster inappropriate attention to them: This is the food for the arising of unarisen sloth & drowsiness, or for the growth & increase of sloth & drowsiness once it has arisen.”

[…]

"“And what is lack of food for the arising of unarisen sloth & drowsiness, or for the growth & increase of sloth & drowsiness once it has arisen? There is the potential for effort, the potential for exertion, the potential for striving. To foster appropriate attention to them: This is lack of food for the arising of unarisen sloth & drowsiness, or for the growth & increase of sloth & drowsiness once it has arisen.”

—Samyutta Nikaya 46.51

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I appreciate this discussion because I, too, wonder about boredom when it shows up. Just in general, even when I’m not meditating. Wikipedia describes the etymology like this:

The noun “bore” comes from the verb “bore”, which had the meaning “[to] be tiresome or dull” first attested [in] 1768, a vogue word c. 1780–81 according to Grose (1785); possibly a figurative extension of “to move forward slowly and persistently, as a [hole-] boring tool does.”

The Wikipedia entry then links this to the practice of being a bore, i.e., boredom.

Interestingly, in French, the analogous term ennui derives from Latin inodiare (“to make loathsome”) - to Old French anoier or ennuyer (which augments the meaning to include annoyance) - to the Modern French noun ennui. This modern French term also connotes a kind of existential boredom which, in my view, the English term doesn’t convey.

The Pali reads like this, in reference to the third hindrance:

Atthi, bhikkhave, arati tandi vijambhitā bhattasammado cetaso ca līnattaṁ.

Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi: There are, bhikkhus, discontent, lethargy, lazy stretching, drowsiness after meals, sluggishness of mind…

(Bhikkhu Sujato also translates arati as discontent.)

The Pali term arati is the negation of the noun rati, which means a liking (for something) per the Digital Pali Dictionary.

So if we bring this all the way back to the object of this discussion, I question whether there is a Pali word that is exactly analogous to the English term boredom or the French term ennui. The etymologies above reflect, in my opinion, an averse state of mind or mood (consistent with what @paul1 wrote). I have often wondered whether our current English term boredom is a product of modern culture … if we’re not activated by something in the moment, then we’re averse to that; if we don’t see purpose/meaning aligned to what we’re doing at points in time, then we’re averse to that (more existentially the French meaning). And so on.

Whether nesting boredom under byāpādassa (the literal word in the second hindrance) or under arati tandi vijambhitā bhattasammado cetaso ca līnattaṁ (the third hindrance) may be of less interest to me as the years go on. More recently I tend to observe a bored mind as a restless mind.

Anyway, the etymology research (thanks for the impetus @Soren :grinning:) helps me.

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Certainly boredom is a very egotistical state ‘I am not sufficiently stimulated!’

As it’s associated with ego and a sense of self, it cannot be wholesome in the sense of leading towards nibbana.

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From “Flow” theory, boredom can arise either because a task is too easy or because it’s too hard. For beginning meditators, it’s usually the latter. We have high hopes for what we can achieve in a sit and when we can’t accomplish that, we disengage. So, for me, the best thing is to just remind myself that all I have to do is take a breath. One breath. That’s literally all you have to do. Having accomplished that, allow yourself a little smile. You just meditated! Congratulations! Can you do it again? Then, as you build up the momentum, you can start to make the task more difficult so as to stay engaged. “Breathing in long… Breathing in short… Aware of the body… Relaxing the body…” and so on. Maybe that helps :blush:

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From the insight view if the practitioner’s main theme has been material acquisition, they are unaware of the spritual implications of the present, thus are prone to boredom. Through self-examination they become aware of the main defilement they are prone to giving rise to urgency:

" In the same way, a monk’s self-examination is very productive in terms of skillful qualities:[2] ‘Do I usually remain covetous or not? With thoughts of ill will or not? Overcome by sloth & drowsiness or not? Restless or not? Uncertain or gone beyond uncertainty? Angry or not? With soiled thoughts or unsoiled thoughts? With my body aroused or unaroused? Lazy or with persistence aroused? Unconcentrated or concentrated?’

“If, on examination, a monk knows, ‘I usually remain covetous, with thoughts of ill will, overcome by sloth & drowsiness, restless, uncertain, angry, with soiled thoughts, with my body aroused, lazy, or unconcentrated,’ then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head; in the same way, the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities.”

—Anguttara Nikaya 10.51

@Khemarato.bhikkhu best resource you would recommend to understand flow theory?

The foundational text is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. A collection of his work on positive psychology can be read free on the Internet Archive if you want to go straight to the source.

For secondary literature :thinking: I don’t know to be honest! I was introduced to his ideas in university when I worked in a positive psychology lab, so I never really engaged the literature per se. I just took advantage of the grad students by asking too many questions*! The Wikipedia article might not be a bad place to start… :person_shrugging: (I welcome any recs others have…)

* - Since you’re in the Pāḷi class with me, that’s probably not hard for you to imagine!

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