"How much do we have to know?”
I ADVISE AND BEG YOU to listen particularly to the words of the Buddha that I am about to quote. The Buddha said that to really know any object, we must know five things about it, namely:
(1) What are the characteristics or properties of the object? (2) From what does the object arise? (3) What is its assāda, its enticing qual- ity, its appeal, its allurement? (4) What is the ādīnava, the hid- den danger, the sinister power to harm that lies concealed in it? (5) What is the nissaraṇa, the trick by means of which we can get the better of it? What is the device, the skillful means of escaping from the grip of this object?
So, to really know something we must answer these questions:
- What are its properties?
- What is its origin, its birthplace?
- What is its assāda, its attraction?
- What is its ādīnava, its harmful property, its danger?
- What is the nissaraṇa, the means of escape from the power of the object?
There are five questions altogether. If you study any object from these five points of view, you will get the better of that object. At the present time, you may be studying on the graduate level or post-graduate level. But if we are not studying from these five points of view, then we are mastered by objects, that is to say, by the world. If we study the world in terms of these five aspects, there is no way we shall be mastered by the world. So let us be careful about studying the world. Why are we studying? For what ultimate purpose are we studying? If we are studying so as to build peace in the world, then let us be very careful. Our studies will bring no beneficial results at all if not based on this Buddhist principle.
You have probably never heard of these things called the assāda, ādīnava, and nissaraṇa, yet the Tipiṭaka is full of them. These three words — assāda, ādīnava, and nissaraṇa, hardly ever present them- selves to our eyes or ears, but please remember that they appear frequently in the Tipiṭaka. When the Buddha wished to impart a real knowledge of anything, he taught along these lines. Some- times he cut it short, considering only the last three points. What is the nature of the object’s assāda (its allurement)? What is the nature of its ādīnava (its harmful properties)? Every object has both attractive and harmful qualities. What is the nature of the nissaraṇa (the cunning manoeuvre by means of which we can get the better of it)?
There is, so to speak, a hook hidden in that bait hanging there. The assāda is the juicy bait enticing the fish to bite. The concealed hook is the ādīnava, that is, the dangerous, cruel power to harm which lies hidden inside the bait. And the nissaraṇa is the technique for outwitting the hook and bait. The fish must have a technique for eating the bait without becoming hooked. The thing called the bait then no longer functions as bait, but becomes instead a good piece of food, which the fish can happily swallow without getting hooked.
Therefore, we ought always to look at the world in terms these five aspects. One aspect of the world, the assāda, the bait, lures us until we become so deeply engrossed in it that we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to all else. But there is a hook inside it. People who get hooked up on the world cannot break free; they have to drown in the world, that is, in suffering. Now, the ariyans (individuals well advanced in practice) look and see that the assāda, the ādīnava, and the nissaraṇa are such and such. They are thus able to live in the world, swallowing the bait of the world without becoming caught on the hook. They know every object well enough to be fully aware of these five things. Its properties, its samudaya (root cause), it assāda (bait), its ādīnava (hook), and the nissaraṇa (strategem).
To know any object we have to learn about and come to know all these five factors, or at a minimum the last three.
No matter what things we come into contact with in the course of our studies and other activities, we ought to apply this principle to them all. Then we shall know how to discriminate, and shall be able to reap the greatest reward without being hurt. This is called “really knowing”. By acting on this knowledge, it will be an easy task to practise Dhamma and leave behind the defilements. Viewing the world in terms of these five aspects, we shall see it as filled up with assāda or attractive allurement on the outside and ādīnava or dan- ger on the inside. We shall know the world as a swindle, a counter- feit, a deception, an illusion, and shall not become hooked upon it, not become infatuated with it. A mind that always operates with insight will view colours and shapes, flavours, odours, sounds, tactile objects, and mental images rightly in terms of these five aspects. It will not be overpowered by them and there will not develop craving and attachment to the idea of selfhood. Freedom will become its normal day-to-day condition. Ultimately it is not beyong our power to practise Dhamma and make progress towards nibbāna.