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Excerpted from Transforming the Mind by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Copyright © 2000 by H.H. Dalai Lama. Excerpted by permission of Thorsons/HarperCollins.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Of these four obstacles, the two principal ones are distraction and mental laxity."

  His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Transforming the Mind, Part 4

The other obstacle we spoke of is a scattered, distracted state of mind, and this refers to the very general problem we have as soon as we try to focus on a particular object. We find that our mind very quickly loses its power of attention, and gets distracted and carried away by ideas or memories that can be pleasant or unpleasant. 

The fourth obstacle, mental excitement, is a subcategory of distraction, but it refers more specifically to distractions associated with pleasant objects. The reason for specifying this as a separate class is because pleasant thoughts are what distract us most from meditation. They can be recollections of a past experience or of something that we have enjoyed, or thoughts about something we would like to experience. Memories and thoughts of this kind are often major factors which interfere with successful meditation,

Of these four obstacles, the two principal ones are distraction and mental laxity.

How do we deal with these obstacles? Dullness, in particular, seems to be closely connected with our physical state, so for example if we are deprived of sleep we can experience dullness, If we don't follow a suitable diet, be it in terms of what we eat or the quantities we eat, this can also bring about a state of dullness. It is for this reason that ordained members of the Buddhist monastic order are advised not to eat after lunch. By refraining from doing this monks and nuns can maintain a certain clarity of mind that is conducive to meditation, and they will also have a mental sharpness when they wake up the following morning. So good dietary behavior is a very effective antidote for mental dullness.

If we turn now to the problem of mental laxity, it is said that the reason laxity arises in meditation is because we are not alert enough, and because our energy is low. Whenever this happens we need to find a way of lifting our spirits, and one of the best ways of doing this is to cultivate a sense of joyfulness by reflecting on our achievements, or on the positive aspects of life, and so forth. This is the chief antidote for laxity.

Generally speaking, mental laxity is said to be a neutral state of mind, in the sense that it is neither virtuous nor non-virtuous (that is, it gives rise to neither virtuous nor non-virtuous thoughts and actions). However, at the start of the meditation session the mind might begin in a virtuous state. For example, a meditator can be focusing single-pointedly on the impermanent nature of life, and then, at a certain point, he begins to lose the alertness of that focused mind and lapses into mental laxity. At the beginning of his practice, however, his state was virtuous.

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