Home » Features » The Buddha’s Eight Remedies For Drowsiness

If one does not
even resolve to stay awake,
how can one resolve to fully awaken?

Stonepeace

Drowsiness is a common recurring problem for many meditators (and chanting practitioners, as chanting is a meditative practice too). If we fail to counter the ‘z monster’ despite having had enough rest, it is perhaps due to habitual dullness of the mind, lack of resolution or discipline. Whatever the cause might be, what did the Buddha have to say on countering drowsiness? As recorded in the Capala (Pacala) Sutta, once, the Buddha saw, with his divine vision, that Moggallana was nodding off during his meditation practice elsewhere. As swiftly as a strong man might extend his flexed arm or flex his extended arm, the Buddha appeared almost instantaneously by supernormal teleportation before him, to advise on the hows of resolving drowsiness. As soon as any of the Buddha’s remedies below works, one should immediately return to the original subject of meditation, instead of focusing on the remedy or proceeding to more remedies, or one would be digressing, missing progress in the intended practice.

Here are the Buddha’s tips, as paraphrased in sequence. (Note that resting is recommended only as the last resort – if one is truly tired. This ensures that one’s drowsiness is not habitually due to lack of will and diligence.) [1] If there is drowsiness, do not attend to or pursue that perception in the mind then (as it might be the cause of drowsiness). [2] If there is still drowsiness, recall the Dharma learnt and memorised, re-examine and reflect upon it (as this makes one awake and aligned to the Dharma). [3] If there is still drowsiness, repeat aloud the Dharma learnt and memorised (as this requires more effort and further awakens one.) [4] If there is still drowsiness, pull both earlobes and rub the limbs with the hands (as this invigorates bodily circulation).

[5] If there is still drowsiness, stand up, wash the eyes, look around and upwards at the major stars and constellations (as this freshens one up physically and helps the mind to focus). [6] If there is still drowsiness, visualise daylight to brighten the mind (as bright light wakes one up and keeps one awake). [7] If there is still drowsiness, practise to-and-fro walking meditation mindfully (as physically active meditation might be a better idea then). [8] If there is still drowsiness, mindfully recline in the lion’s posture (which the Buddha is portrayed to lie in) on the right side, with one foot upon the other, and be determined to rise quickly after rest, thinking ‘I shall not indulge in lying down or drowsiness.’ Thus were the Buddha’s instructions for Moggallana, who later became proficient and self-liberated in meditation.

The path to awakening
is to use our current wakefulness
to awaken further and further.

– Stonepeace

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