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In ven. Nyanaponika Thera's compilation, The Five Mental Hindrances and Their Conquest, some aspects seem to recur:

  • One should attend to hindrances -- sloth included -- with wise attention and not unwise attention. What is meant by this?
  • For sloth, one should contemplate the drawbacks of sloth (e.g. meditate on death, on suffering) and on inspiring topics (e.g. sympathetic joy, spiritual journey, master's greatness). Are inspiring topics of contemplation natural remedies against sloth? If so, would being moved and experiencing awe counter sloth as well?

Such states as awe or being moved have been studied and valued in psychology, but I have never seen them opposed to laziness or lack of motivation. It just seems to me that the topics of contemplation mentioned in the Five Hindrances text most likely elicit elevation and a sense of meaning in their practitioner.

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Yoniso manasikāra as such means “directing the attention to the roots of things,” that is, observing phenomena as they truly are, as being characterized by impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self.

Yoniso Manasikāra Sampadā Sutta

You should know the experience of the hindrances are also impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self.

If so, would being moved and experiencing awe counter sloth as well?

Stimulating the mind may result in sloth on the downturn when stimulation is ending.

2

Great question! There are multiple approaches to counter sloth, as indicated in the article. Sloth and torpor are essentially an imbalance of energy, being on the lower end of the energy spectrum. The ideas for counters are naturally those things that arose energy of the sort that will refresh and buoy the mind. The goal isn't to swing as a pendulum from one extreme to the other, but to slowly bring it to the center - perfectly balanced between relaxation and excitement.

Wise attention is keeping something's origin in mind, seeing to know the causal relationships, and to pay attention to arising phenomena in such a way as to understand clearly their true nature - impermanent, unsatisfying, and Not-Self. Wise attention is the dawn, the forerunner of the Noble Eightfold Path. So, watch the hindrances thusly - observe so as to know their conditioned origin, know how they arise and fall, know that they are impermanent, not you, and are indeed unsatisfying.

Inspiring topics can counter sloth, but the topic should be one that directs you toward balance, toward the Dhamma, toward peace and relinquishment. Battle speeches may be inspiring, but may also over agitate the mind and inspire wandering thoughts. I find good Dhamma talks or books can be very inspiring in the right doses, and invigorate a slothful mind. On long retreats, one may get quite exhausted at times - but a good Dhamma talk can be like the strong arm of a good friend pulling you back up to your feet.

Experiences of awe, being moved, wonder, etc. also can work, if treated with wise attention and bring one to balance. They can be over-stimulating and lead to restlessness as well. For example, if you have an amazing meditative experience, have some nimitta or bright lights of joy or Piti, one may feel awe, moved to tears, and then firmly attach, cling, and identify with these experiences. But with wise attention, we are not trapped by such, and let those go too. They can be motivating - if it gets us on the cushion for the right reason, great. It shouldn't be to replicate those feelings or recreate experience or attain something specific though.

1

Ajahn Brahm wrote the following in his essay entitled "Five Hindrances".

Wise attention here refers to: "A skillful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it's too late".

The method to overcome sloth and torpor is written in the quote below i.e. by rousing energy through developing interest.

Sloth and torpor refers to that heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression. The Lord Buddha compared it to being imprisoned in a cramped, dark cell, unable to move freely in the bright sunshine outside. In meditation, it causes weak and intermittent mindfulness which can even lead to falling asleep in meditation without even realising it!

Sloth and torpor is overcome by rousing energy. Energy is always available but few know how to turn on the switch, as it were. Setting a goal, a reasonable goal, is a wise and effective way to generate energy, as is deliberately developing interest in the task at hand. A young child has a natural interest, and consequent energy, because its world is so new. Thus, if one can learn to look at one's life, or one's meditation, with a 'beginner's mind' one can see ever new angles and fresh possibilities which keep one distant from sloth and torpor, alive and energetic. Similarly, one can develop delight in whatever one is doing by training one's perception to see the beautiful in the ordinary, thereby generating the interest which avoids the half-death that is sloth and torpor.

The mind has two main functions, 'doing' and 'knowing'. The way of meditation is to calm the 'doing' to complete tranquillity while maintaining the 'knowing'. Sloth and torpor occur when one carelessly calms both the 'doing' and the 'knowing', unable to distinguish between them.

Sloth and torpor is a common problem which can creep up and smother one slowly. A skillful meditator keeps a sharp look-out for the first signs of sloth and torpor and is thus able to spot its approach and take evasive action before it's too late. Like coming to a fork in a road, one can take that mental path leading away from sloth and torpor. Sloth and torpor is an unpleasant state of body and mind, too stiff to leap into the bliss of Jhana and too blinded to spot any insights. In short, it is a complete waste of precious time.

The advice from SN 9.2 (below) would also be helpful:

Now at that time that mendicant fell asleep during the day’s meditation. The deity haunting that forest had compassion for that mendicant, and wanted what’s best for them. So they approached that mendicant wanting to stir them up, and addressed them in verse:

“Get up, mendicant! Why lie down?
What’s the point in your sleeping?
What slumber can there be for those afflicted,
injured, pierced by an arrow?

You should amplify the faith
that led you to go forth
from the home life to homelessness.
Don’t fall under the sway of slumber.”

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