SN 12.52 - how to contemplate the danger in things that can be clung to?

Hello all,

I am working through the Suttas to provide insights that can help deepen my practice, and am working with the Samyutta Nikaya for a while. In SN12.52 (SuttaCentral) the teacher says “Bhikkhus, when one dwells contemplating danger in things that can be clung to, craving ceases."

Been contemplating on this for a while, but I am stuck and unable to process this. How exactly does one contemplate the danger in things that can be clung to? Can anyone share their experiences or provide some examples that could help get me started?

Thank you in advance for any insights or suggestions.
~ Sam

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The contemplation of the repulsiveness-of-the-body is one such example. The contemplation of the stages of the corpse are other examples. Finally, the contemplation of the repulsiveness-of-food is another such example.

These are described as “painful” practices. I understand these contemplations to be activities which are “intellectual” as opposed to other meditative activities which are mentally calming.

As for how to practice these, I think that is up to you to discover what works best for you. It is like learning to freestyle on the piano, or learning to paint. Everybody is going to have their own style. What types of thoughts lead you to feel dispassion towards these things? Discover that, and develop those thoughts.

These contemplations are also only just starting points and jumping off points. In principle, you can perceive the unattractiveness in any type of sensual delight. Get creative.

Bhikkhu Sona has a book which contains pictures of the various stages of a corpse in decay that you might appreciate.


There are miljons of people who are addicted to drugs, liquer, this and that. They cling to certain temporary feeling. An intoxication. But does it end suffering, is it an escape? No, they are certainly on a downwards path. With such an example you see the danger of the things one seeks an escape for suffering in. A nice simile is that of a fish and bait. At first sight is seem attractive but one grasp at one meets misery. You can also think for example of the danger to cling to wordly succes, power, wealth and how you might do immoral things to support this way of living. It is very easy to enter a downwards path, i feel.

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The practitioner needs to study impermanence and penetrate the illusion of continuity. There is a time element between the birth of externals and their death, which causes the ordinary uninstructed worldling to make a grave miscalculation about their characteristic, taking everything to be permanent. That perception does not accord with reality as things are in a process of ageing and decline. The way to change perception is project impermanence on the externals, and to take every opportunity to note impermanence in the body, such as ageing, sickness, and death (see perception of drawbacks Anguttara Nikaya 10.60). There are other specific exercises listed in the first foundation of mindfulness, Majjhima Nikaya 10 or Digha Nikaya 22.

They also learn to focus on the breath because when attachments are dropped, the mind needs a substitute:

[13] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on inconstancy.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on inconstancy.’ [14] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on dispassion [literally, fading].’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on dispassion.’ [15] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on cessation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on cessation.’ [16] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on relinquishment.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on relinquishment.’

This leads to an overall change in perception which has a feeling tone of dispassion.

"[6] “And what is the perception of dispassion? There is the case where a monk — having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building — reflects thus: ‘This is peace, this is exquisite — the stilling of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving, dispassion, Unbinding.’ This is called the perception of dispassion.”

Anguttara Nikaya 10.60

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If you love someone do you cling to them? Yes of course. You would look forward to their company and seeing them again. You would want to spend more time with them. You want to make them happy and buy gifts. You will spend hours/days/years/decades contemplating and spending time for them. You will become unhappy if they dislike you. You will cry if they do something against you. You will be depressed if they die and leave you forever.

Above is an example of the consequences that occur due to clinging(loving) someone. It’s natural and occurs due to cause and effect. Although you may try to mitigate the consequences such as not clinging as much, it still leads to some suffering. This is unavoidable.

That is the danger of loving(clinging to) someone.

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Thank you @Soren for the suggestion. Your point about the nature of the practice is exactly why I asked for advice. Earlier mindfulness practice would help calm the mind, but as I go deeper into the practice, I often stay contemplating something (starting with the first truth of dukkha), having to go deeper, unwrap it and experience it, experience its flavours and shades, and to use day-to-day clinging and states of mind as fuel to practice.

Using advice from the suttas has been extremely helpful in this practice, and SN12.52 in particular is what I need to work on now due to the current state of mind and where I see this going in my practice - there is a fair amount of grasping going on that I need to deal with now. Thanks for your point on getting creative.

I’ve seen the book you mentioned - I think it was called Cemetery Contemplations, thank you for the reminder, I’ll fish it out for future work.

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Thank you @paul1 specifically for the explanation in your first paragraph, the references to the relevant suttas, and later on this point:

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According to SN 22.82 (= SA 58), the notion of danger (adinava) is about the impermanence (anicca), the suffering (dukkha), the unstable nature (viparinama-dhamma) of the five aggregates.

This is one of the ‘seven things’ that one has to know and see as they really are for the ending of dukkha, according to SN/SA suttas.

Pages 49-50 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (151.3 KB)
Page 34 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (69.3 KB)

So, to contemplate the ‘danger’ is not about the practice of reflecting on the body as impure (asubha), according to SN/SA suttas.


Thank you @thomaslaw for the precision. Appreciate your clarification and the two links to the excerpts from the book.

Just as change in objects due to impermanence happens imperceptibly, so the current of samsara exerts an unseen movement:

“Perceiving constancy in the inconstant,
pleasure in the stressful,
self in what’s not-self,
attractiveness in the unattractive,
beings, destroyed by wrong-view,
go mad, out of their minds.”


“When those with discernment listen,
they regain their senses,
seeing the inconstant as inconstant,
the stressful as stressful,
what’s not-self as not-self,
the unattractive as unattractive.
Undertaking right view,
they transcend all stress & suffering.”

—Anguttara Nikaya 4.49

For the perception view see the translator’s note here: