Five faults and eight antidotes

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The five faults and eight antidotes are a set of factors associated with shamatha practice in the Sanskrit tradition. These factors consist of a group of five mental states that are identified as "faults" or obstacles to shamatha, and the eight mental states that are cultivated to overcome these five faults.

This system was first presented in Distinguishing the Middle from Extremes (Madhyāntavibhāga) and it is elaborated upon in further texts, such as Kamalaśīla's Stages of Meditation (Bhāvanākrama). This formulation is emphasized in Tibetan Buddhism; according Zahler (2009), it has been commented upon by generations of Tibetan commentators.[1]


Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche states:

There are five faults that have to be eliminated through eight kinds of actions or antidotes. These five faults or defects prevent the development of meditation and are described by Asanga in the teachings of Maitreya in the Differentiation of the Middle Way from the Extremes.[2]

Traleg Kyabgon writes:

The Madhyanta-vibhanga says: “All aims may be realized by settling in tranquillity and making the mind pliant through abandoning the five faults by employing the eight antidotes. Settling the mind in tranquillity is the cause, tranquillity is the effect. Remembering the benefit of tranquillity, detecting laziness and agitation, abandoning faults or obstacles, applying antidotes, reaching intrinsic tranquillity—these are the eight antidotes.” This text uses slightly different terms to express the importance of being able to deal with these five obstacles by the application of the eight antidotes. Meditators who have not developed the ability to detect the obstacles, or who have detected the obstacles but have not been able to use the antidotes, are robbed of the experience of tranquillity.[3]

The five faults

The five faults (T. nyes pa lnga) of shamatha meditation according to the textual tradition[lower-alpha 1] of Tibetan Buddhism are:[2][4][5]

  1. Spiritual laziness (kausīdya, le-lo)
  2. Forgetting the instruction (avavādasammosa, gdams-ngag brjed-pa)
  3. Agitation (auddhatya, rgod-pa) and dullness (laya, bying-ba)
  4. Non-application (anabhisamskāra, ’du mi-byed-pa)
  5. Over-application (abhisamskāra, ’du byed-pa)

Spiritual laziness (kausīdya)

There are three types of spiritual laziness:

  1. Laziness of not wanting to do anything
  2. Laziness of discouragement (or feeling ourselves unworthy)
  3. Laziness of being busy with worldly things.

Thrangu Rinpoche states:

The first fault is laziness. Laziness prevents the application cation of meditation because one doesn't even begin after receiving instructions in meditation. There are actually three kinds of laziness. First is lethargy, in which one isn't interested in doing anything except sleeping. Second is attachment to worldly activity resulting sulting in no desire for dharma practice or meditation. Instead one devotes oneself to worldly activities such as hunting animals, lying and deceiving others, and so on. These are activities one enjoys, one is used to, or thinks about a lot. In one sense one has diligence, but it is an obstacle to practicing the dharma. This is also called attachment to negative activity. The third is despondency and self-accusation, which result in thinking, "Others can meditate, but I can't; others will understand stand the dharma, but I won't. " The fact is that all beings are able to meditate and work on the path, but if they underestimate their capabilities, this is also called self-repudiation.[6]

Forgetting the instructions

Forgetting the instructions (avavādasammosa) refers to forgetting the guideline instructions or losing the object of focus.[web 1]

Khenchen Thrangu states:

The second fault is forgetting the instructions, which is a lack of mindfulness on how to meditate properly. While meditating, one should be very clear about what one is doing, what faults must be eliminated, and what remedies must be applied. So one needs to remember the instructions for meditation.[6]

Dullness and agitation

These two factors, dullness (laya) and agitation (auddhatya) are classified as a single fault.[7]

Dullness (laya)

The Sanskrit term laya is translated as:

  • Dullness (Kenchen Thrangu)
  • Drowsiness (Traleg Kyabgon)
  • Mental dullness (Alexander Berzin)
  • Sinking (Alexander Berzin)
  • Stupor (Kenchen Thrangu)

Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche states: "In stupor the mind is cloudy and dull. In its obvious form there is a loss of clarity of mind. In its subtle form there is some clarity, but it is very weak."[7]

Laxity may be coarse (audārika, rags-pa) or subtle (sūksma, phra-mo). Lethargy (styāna, rmugs-pa) is often also present, but is said to be less common.

Agitation (auddhatya)

The Sanskrit term auddhatya is translated into English in a variety of ways. For example:

  • Agitation (Traleg Kyabon, Kenchen Thrangu)
  • Ebullience (Herbert Guenther)
  • Excitation (B. Alan Wallace)
  • Excitement (Erik Pema Kunsang)
  • Flightiness of mind (Alexander Berzin)
  • Mental flightiness (Alexander Berzin)

Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche states: "There are [...] two kinds of agitation. There is an obvious kind in which one keeps thinking about what one has done or what fun one has had, so one is unable to rest the mind upon anything. In its subtle form one has apparent stability of mind, but there are still subtle thoughts that keep coming up."[7]


Non-application (anabhisamskāra) means not applying the antidotes.[web 1] Kenchen Thrangu states that non-application "occurs when dullness or agitation appear in one's meditation and one recognizes these thoughts, but doesn't apply a remedy. If one does not apply the remedy, meditation will not develop."[7]


Over-application (abhisamskāra) means that meditator does not stop applying the antidotes even when they are no longer necessary.[web 1] Kenchen Thrangu explains:[7]

For example, dullness or agitation may appear in one's meditation, the remedy is applied, and the dullness or agitation is eliminated. Yet one continues to apply the remedy even though it is no longer useful. This is the fault of overapplication. The remedies should be used only when agitation and dullness appear; when they are eliminated, one should just rest in equanimity.

The eight antidotes

The eight antidotes (Sanskrit: pratipakṣa; Tibetan: gnyen-po) or applications (Sanskrit: abhisamskāra; Tibetan: ’du-byed pa) to the five faults of meditation are:[4][8]

  • Antidotes to laziness:
1. belief, trust, faith (śraddhā, dad-pa)
2. intention (chanda, ’dun-pa)
3. effort (vyayama, rtsol-ba)
4. suppleness, pliancy (praśrabdhi, shin-sbyangs)
  • Antidote to forgetting the instructions:
5. mindfulness (smṛti, dran-pa)
  • Antidote to agitation and dullness
6. awareness (samprajaña, shes-bzhin)
  • Antidote to non-application
7. application (abhisaṃskāra, ’du byed-pa) or volition (cetanā, sems pa)
  • Antidote to overapplication
8. non-application (anabhisaṃskāra, ’du mi-byed-pa) or equanimity (upekṣā, btang snyoms)

Antidotes to spiritual laziness

The four antidotes to spiritual laziness are:

These four antidotes are translated into English in a variety of ways. For example:

  • Alexander Berzin: belief in a fact; intention; joyful perseverance; a sense of fitness
  • Kenchen Thrangu: aspiration ( or intention); zeal; faith; well trained
  • Traleg Kyabgon: conviction; inclination; vigor; pliancy of body and mind.

Belief (śraddhā)

Belief (śraddhā) is one of four antidotes to laziness.

The Sanskrit term śraddhā is translated as:

  • Belief in a fact (Alexander Berzin)
  • Conviction (Traleg Kyabgon)
  • Faith (Kenchen Thrangu)

Kenchen Thrangu states that although śraddhā is similar to the antidote of intention, intention means that one has something to aspire to, while faith means a belief in something very valuable.[9]

Traleg Kyabgon states: "Conviction can develop only if we are convinced of the benefits of meditation and the harm that conflicting emotions cause in a distracted confused mind."[3]

Traditionally, it is said that belief can be developed by contemplating the faults of distraction (vikṣepa, rnam-par gyen-ba).

Intention (chanda)

Intention (chanda) is one of four antidotes to laziness.

The Sanskrit term chanda is translated as:

  • Aspiration (Jeffery Hopkins, Kenchen Thrangu)
  • Inclination (Traleg Kyabgon)
  • Intention (Erik Pema Kunsang, Alexander Berzin)
  • Interest (Herbert Guenther, Kenchen Thrangu)

Kenchen Thrangu explains:[10]

[Aspiration means] that one likes to meditate and is happy meditating. One could say that one is attached to meditation, but this attachment is positive, so we use the word aspiration because the attachment is to something that is not negative and harmful.

Effort (vyayama)

Effort (S. vyayama; T. rtsol-ba) is one of four antidotes to laziness.

The Sanskrit term vyayama is translated as follows:

  • Effort
  • Exertion
  • Joyful perseverance (Alexander Berzin)
  • Vigor (Traleg Kyabgon)
  • Zeal (Kenchen Thrangu)

Kenchen Thrangu states: "If one has interest and motivation to practice, then one doesn't have to force oneself to practice meditation; there will be a natural zeal to practice."[9]

Suppleness (praśrabdhi)

Suppleness (praśrabdhi) is one of four antidotes to laziness.

The Sanskrit term praśrabdhi is translated as:

  • Flexible (Kenchen Thrangu)
  • Pliancy of body and mind (Traleg Kyabgon)
  • Sense of fitness (Alexander Berzin)
  • Supple (Kenchen Thrangu)
  • Suppleness
  • Well trained (Kenchen Thrangu)

Kenchen Thrangu states:[11]

This means that one's mind is ready at any moment to meditate. One doesn't have to think, "Oh, now I'm going to have to meditate-how difficult, what a strain meditation is."

Antidote to forgetting the instructions

Mindfulness (smṛti)

The antidote to forgetting the instructions is mindfulness (smṛti). The essence of mindfulness is not forgetting. It means again and again remembering what to adopt and what to abandon.[12]

Kenchen Thrangu states:

The fifth remedy is mindfulness, which remedies forgetting the instructions of meditation. One has a meditative state in which one doesn't forget the instructions. Mindfulness has three characteristics. First, one has a sharpness and clearness of mind in which the instructions are not forgotten. Second, although the mind is very sharp and focused, there are not many thoughts arising because meditation is nonconceptual, so there are not many thoughts arising and the mind is naturally focused one-pointedly on an object. Third, because one has trust and faith and has the suppleness or flexibility of having become well trained, meditation becomes pleasant with a sense of comfort and pleasure. These three qualities in one's meditation cause the meditation instructions not to be forgotten.[9]

Antidote to agitation and dullness

Awareness (saṃprajanya)

The antidote to agitation and dullness is awareness (saṃprajanya, shes-bzhin).

Taleg Kyabgon states:

The third obstacle or fault is drowsiness or dullness and agitation, and these two are counted as one. To counteract these two tendencies, we apply awareness. As we begin to develop and cultivate mindfulness regarding external objects, by focusing our minds on the breath, on our mental processes, and so on, it becomes possible to practice awareness. Without mindfulness it is almost impossible to be aware of these two fundamental obstacles to meditation, dullness or drowsiness and mental agitation. Even if no particularly disturbing thoughts are arising in the mind, or no strong, violent emotions are present, and there is a semblance of calmness, nevertheless there is no real sense of clarity. The mind is dull, which can lead to a feeling of drowsiness or stupor. This is harder to detect than mental agitation, the incessant inner chatter and dialogue and the upsurge of emotions that can disrupt our meditative state. Awareness should be applied to detect whether dullness or mental agitation is present.[13]

Antidote to non-application

The antidote to non-application is identified as either of the following mental factors:

  • application (abhisaṃskāra, ’du byed-pa),[web 1] or
  • attention (cetanā, sems pa)

Kenchen Thrangu states:[14]

The fourth fault is inactivity in which one experiences dullness or agitation in one's meditation but does nothing about it. When this happens, one will fall under its power and obviously not be able to work toward enlightenment. When one recognizes that there is dullness or agitation during meditation, one should remember and apply the remedies with diligence. So performing the proper remedy will eliminate the defect of inactivity.

Antidote to over-application

The antidote to over-application is identified as either:

  • non-application (anabhisaṃskāra, ’du mi-byed-pa),[web 1] or
  • equanimity (upekṣā, btang snyoms)

Kenchen Thrangu states:[14]

The fifth fault is the defect of overactivity, which means that when one is meditating with none of the five faults, one shouldn't do anything but rest in that meditative state. Doing this will eliminate the defect of overactivity.

Relation to the nine mental abidings

According to Geshe Gedun Lodro, whoever cultivates the nine mental abidings overcomes the five faults through the eight antidotes, and, conversely, whoever overcomes the five faults through the eight antidotes likewise cultivates the nine mental abidings.[15]

The Dalai Lama states: "Through applying the eight antidotes the five faults are gradually eliminated, and one passes through nine stages of concentration."[8]

Relation to the five hindrances

The five hindrances to concentration is another list of obstacles to meditation that is presented in both the Pali and Sanskrit traditions. The system of the five faults and eight antidotes is presented only texts of the Sanskrit tradition. Thubten Chodron states:[web 2]

[...] the five hindrances to concentration [...] are presented both in the Pali texts and the Mahayana texts. However, Maitreya and Asanga, in their Mahayana texts, presented a list of five faults to concentration and eight antidotes. There’s some overlap between these two sets of the five hindrances and the five faults. But there are also some differences so it’s good to go through both sets. This then gives us a rounded, complete picture of how to generate concentration.


  1. Kenchen Thrangu Rinpoche states: "In the Treasury of Knowledge the practice of meditation is described in terms of the textual tradition and also in terms of the oral instructions of the great meditators. The texts are important because they describe and explain the meaning of the teachings of the Buddha, and the instructions are important because they come from the actual experience of meditating. [...] the textual tradition [...] describes meditation in terms of the five things that can cause meditation to go wrong and the eight ways to eliminate these faults."[2]


Web references


  • Dalai Lama (1975), The Buddhism Of Tibet and the Key to the Middle Way, Harper & Row 
  • Denma Locho Rinpoche; Lati Rinpoche (1996), Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom, ISBN 0-86171-119-X 
  • Geshe Gedun Lodro (1998), Calm Abiding And Special Insight: Achieving Spiritual Transformation Through Meditation, Snow Lion 
  • Guenther, Herbert V.; Kawamura, Leslie S. (1975), Mind in Buddhist Psychology: A Translation of Ye-shes rgyal-mtshan's "The Necklace of Clear Understanding, Dharma Publishing, Kindle Edition 
  • Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche (1993), The Practice of Tranquility & Insight: A Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Snow Lion, Kindle Edition 
  • Traleg Kyabgon (2001), The Essence of Buddhism, Shambhala 
  • Zahler, Leah (2009), Study and Practice of Meditation: Tibetan Interpretations of the Concentrations and Formless Absorptions, Snow Lion 

Further reading

  • Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche (1993), The Practice of Tranquility & Insight: A Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, Snow Lion, Kindle Edition , pp. 39-45
  • Traleg Kyabgon (2001), The Essence of Buddhism, Shambhala , pp. 61-68
  • StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png Achieving Shamatha, StudyBuddhism
  • RW icon height 18px.png Five faults
  • Rangjung a-circle30px.jpg nyes_pa_lnga

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