Assāda, Ādīnava, Nissarana – Introduction

November 1, 2017; revised May 25, 2022

1. This subsection replaces the old subsection, “Āsvāda (Mind-Made Pleasures), Ādeenava (Bad Outcomes), Nissarana (Relinquish).” I had used Sinhala terms in that series without realizing it. Also, I have basically re-written some of the posts — including the Introduction — to have a logical flow.

  • Furthermore, this subsection was under “Paṭicca Samuppāda.” I have now moved it to the “Sōtapanna Stage,” where it is more appropriate.
  • Here is the pronunciation of the three words:

2. There are two main categories of “pleasures” that one experiences: (i) Those arising due to kamma vipāka, and (ii) mind-made “pleasures” where we keep generating more vacī saṅkhāra  (thinking/talking to ourselves in our minds) recalling such an experience of the first kind. 

  • For example, eating a piece of cake generates a “good feeling” via the taste itself. That belongs to the first category. This is a kamma vipāka and there are “no new kamma generated”; see, “Avyākata Paṭicca Samuppāda for Vipāka Viññāna“.
  • But if we get “attached to that taste” and start thinking about how good it is and crave for more, now we are generating vacī saṅkhāra (thinking/talking to ourselves about how good it is), then we are generating “new kamma“. This second type is called assāda (āsvāda in Sinhala).

3. Therefore, assāda are basically “mind-made pleasures,” i.e., only those in the second category.

  • Those of the first type arise AUTOMATICALLY due to sensory inputs. They arise due to our kamma vipāka/gati via manō saṅkhāra. Manō saṅkhāra are defined as vēdanā, sanna which arise in each and every citta.
  • Based on those initial feelings, we are also likely to start generating vacī saṅkhāra (talking to ourselves, which is defined as vitakka/vicāra, then actual speech) and then even generate kāya saṅkhāra (bodily actions). We HAVE CONTROL over vacī and kāya saṅkhāra, and that is the key to changing our defiled gati.
  • It is important to realize that vacī saṅkhāra are associated with speech and also “talking to ourselves”: “Correct Meaning of Vaci Saṅkhāra“.

4. There is nothing we can do to stop the first kind. For example, even an Arahant WILL feel the “tastiness” of sugar or a nice meal (or saltiness of salt or unpleasantness of some medications/foods, etc.). But he/she WILL NOT become attached to that taste and crave for more.

  • It is this craving and the subsequent conscious thinking about it (vacī saṅkhāra) that is called assāda, and that is what is bad because that will extend the samsāric journey filled with suffering, as we will discuss in detail in this subsection.
  • So, it is important to distinguish between the AUTOMATIC generation of manō saṅkhāra (due to vipāka) and the CONSCIOUS generation of vacī and kāya saṅkhāra: “How Are Gati and Kilesa Incorporated into Thoughts?“.

5. It is those CONSCIOUS generations of vacī and kāya saṅkhāra that contribute to future suffering (and also lead to tāpa or “heat” in mind right now): “Suffering in This Life – Role of Mental Impurities.”

  • We “get addicted” to things like drugs, alcohol, and even over-eating by constantly thinking about them. We tend to recall past experiences and create in our minds such future experiences. This is generating vacī saṅkhāra (talking to ourselves). Then we start talking and doing things accordingly.
  • This is how we strengthen “old bad habits” and even develop “new bad habits” or gati. These habits or gati could be samsāric gati or new ones.
  • There are many posts on the site on “gati” (or habits/character). A simple explanation is in “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsavas)“, and there is a scientific explanation too: “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View.”
  • This important concept of gati is not discussed in current Theravada literature, but it can explain many other concepts.

6. The more we enjoy such “mind-made pleasures” or assāda, the more established those associated gati become. For example, a drug user/alcoholic is constantly thinking about either past experiences or the next, and is “building up” that gati. Then it will become increasingly difficult to be drug/alcohol-free.

  • There is an even worse consequence, too: that gati becomes what one craves/thinks about and will become operational in Paṭicca samuppāda via “upādāna paccayā bhava.” One can start a PS cycle just in mind by thinking about getting drunk via initiating vacī saṅkhāra and generating “bhava or existence of a drunkard.” Then, of course, one will follow-up with actual drinking, which is done via kāya saṅkhāra. Soon enough, one will end up an alcoholic.
  • Therefore, ādīnava means “bad consequences or dangers”. In this case, what we perceive as “mental pleasures” (assāda) WILL have bad consequences both in this life and in future lives: In the above example, one is likely to be matched with an “alcoholic mother” in the next birth, and be born an alcoholic.

7. This is another way to express the First Noble Truth. What a normal person thinks as “sōmanassa” (“suva” + “manasa” or “good feelings in the mind”) CAN actually be the cause for FUTURE suffering, but ONLY IF one gets attached, as discussed above.

  • Note the difference between consuming tasty food and getting attached to it; seeing a nice picture and getting attached to it; hearing nice music and getting attached to it, etc.
  • Getting to that point of being able to experience “taste things” without getting attached to them is not easy; that is not attained fully until the Anāgāmi stage. It requires more learning and contemplation (Satipaṭṭhāna bhāvanā).
  • However, to first get to the Sōtapanna stage, one needs at least to “see with wisdom” that assāda does lead to ādīnava; when that understanding sinks in, that will prevent one from committing apāyagāmi kammai.e., one’s mind will get rid of the coarse level of assāda. This subsection can help gain that “vision.”

8. When one fully understands the bad consequences (ādīnava) of these mind-made pleasures (assāda), that means one has understood the First Noble Truth as well as the causes for it, how to eliminate those causes, and the way to do it, i.e., all four Noble Truths.

  • That leads to the cessation of the samsāric journey, and that is called Nissarana (end of “carana” or journey (“nis” + “charana,” which rhymes as “nissarana”).
  • But it is a step-by-step process that starts with the Sōtapanna Anugāmi stage and culminates at the Arahant stage.

9. It will take several posts to explain the above in detail. However, understanding them will help with Paṭicca samuppāda cycles and also with Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānāpana bhāvanā.

  • The first few subsections of the “Living Dhamma” section has all the fundamentals that are needed to help understand this subsection. The posts mentioned in #3 and #4 are especially important ones.
  • Assāda is related to āsava and anusaya, as well as gati (pronounced gathi) as we mentioned above. There are many posts on those key concepts on the site, and a couple was listed in #4 above. One could use the “Search” button on the top right to locate relevant posts.
  • In the following, we will discuss a couple of more examples of assāda, ādīnava and nissarana in simple terms.

10. We know many things that provide instant gratification but are harmful in the long term. A good example is smoking. A smoker gets an enjoyment with smoking. Furthermore, he/she wants it to be repeated again and again, and that is assāda. But it has been proven without a doubt that long-term smoking causes many health problems, including cancer.

  • Even though smoking has decreased over the years, many people still smoke. I had a older friend who smoked heavily; I asked him why he would keep doing it since he knew about the bad consequences. He said the habit had been ingrained, and it was hard to break it. Many years ago, he died because of his bad habit. The last several years of his life were spent in hospitals, with parts of his lungs removed piece-by-piece, and eventually, he was on oxygen most of the time.
  • Of course he finally gave up smoking when he was about to be hospitalized. It was too late by the time he clearly saw the “ādīnava” (when he actually experienced the bad consequences). The damage had been done.

11. However, his children clearly saw what he went through and understood that smoking might provide temporary enjoyment (assāda), but is bound to bring about bad consequences (ādīnava). Thus they stayed away from smoking (nissarana).

  • This is the key point that we will prove to be valid for ANY sense of pleasure in the end. But do not worry; we do not have to (and cannot effectively) give up anything without understanding. In fact, such forced “giving up” will only lead to more stress. Our minds will automatically avoid more and more “bad things” as we keep learning Dhamma.
  • There are a few more “relatively easy to see” examples of “assāda, ādīnava, nissarana“,  even before we get to the deeper analysis in the next post.
  • Craving for tasty foods is another very clear example. Most of us cannot “see” the bad consequences of overindulging in eating, and as a consequence we have a obesity problem in most countries. This has resulted in many health problems for those people and has led to increased healthcare costs for all. Still, many people are beginning to see the truth of  “assāda, ādīnava, nissarana” of overeating.
  • Heavy drinking, use of drugs, and association with bad friends are relatively “easy to see” examples.

12. However, we can systematically understand the “root causes” for ALL such problems by using the guidelines provided by the Buddha. Once we understand the actual root causes, at least some of us can think through and avoid not only such “mundane problems”, but start seeing even more long-term benefits: It is the same line of reasoning that eventually leads to the four stages of Nibbāna.

  • Thus even though Buddha Dhamma is focused on “eliminating the long-term suffering”, it can also help reduce some of the “short-term suffering” too.
  • As a clear example of this, one can always examine the health of Buddhist monks. On average, they are much healthier than the “householders” in any of the Buddhist countries. They do not smoke and do not overeat.
  • And one can clearly see their “joy in heart” and the calmness of their minds even though they have very few possessions and do not seek gratification in many sense pleasures that others value so highly.

13. This last point is worth thinking about some more. If one thinks deeply enough, one can see that even some common “sense pleasures” are not that different from the pleasure one gets by inhaling a drug. They give a highly enjoyable “burst of pleasure”, but inevitably lead to bad outcomes, even short-term. One can get a hangover with a bad headache due to excess drinking, and in the case of overeating, one can feel the “discomfort” right away.

  • We seek such sense pleasures because we don’t realize the value of just having a calm, peaceful state of mind. One does not understand the value of a “neutral mind” (which is called upekkhā), unless one can experience it. It is like getting rid of a headache that one has had for a long time. We do not realize the “incessant stress” that is with us, until we reduce it.
  • Our minds are constantly under stress seeking sense pleasures. That is what we all had been doing in countless previous births too. That is why it is hard to recognize any negative consequences.

14. In the Sambhōdhi Vagga of the Anguttara Nikāya, there are several suttā on assāda, ādīnava, nissarana. The “Pubbe­va Sam­bodha Sutta (AN 3.103)” provides a succinct statement on what they are:

“..ko nu kho loke assādo, ko ādīnavo, kiṃ nissaraṇan’ti? Tassa mayhaṃ, bhikkhave, etadahosi: ‘yaṃ kho lokam paṭicca uppajjāti sukhaṃ sōmanassaṃ, ayaṃ loke assādo. Yaṃ loko anicco dukkho vipari­ṇāma­dhammo, ayaṃ loke ādīnavo. Yo loke ­chanda­rāga­vinayo ­chanda­rāgap­pahānaṃ, idaṃ loke nissaraṇan’ti..”.

Translated: “..What are assāda, ādīnava, and nissarana in this world? If one gets attached (Paṭicca) to sukha/sōmanassa, that is assāda. That gives rise to the dhammā (the seeds for future suffering, because these are really “kamma seeds”) with anicca, dukkha, and viparināma nature, which is called ādīnava. Arising of such dhamma can be stopped by constraining the tendency to indulge in sense pleasures (chanda­rāga­vinayo), and thus getting rid of the craving for sense pleasures (chanda­rāgap­pahānaṃ)..”.

  • It is to be noted that sukha is “bodily pleasure” and sōmanassa is “mind pleasure.” We will discuss this highly condensed verse in the upcoming posts.
  • In that sutta, the Buddha says that he was unable to attain the Buddhahood until he realized the need to see the dangers in sense attachments and work diligently to get rid of such cravings for sense pleasures.
  • It is important to note that dhammā are really kamma seeds that lead to future vipāka; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!“ and “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis“.

12. many other suttās discuss these three key concepts. In particular, “Assada Sutta (AN 6.112)” is notable since it ties assāda diṭṭhi to anicca saññā:

““Tayome, bhikkhave, dhammā. Katame tayo? Assādadiṭṭhi, attānudiṭṭhi, micchādiṭṭhi. Ime kho, bhikkhave, tayo dhammā. Imesaṃ kho, bhikkhave, tiṇṇaṃ dhammānaṃ pahānāya tayo dhammā bhāvetabbā. Katame tayo? Assādadiṭṭhiyā pahānāya aniccasaññā bhāvetabbā, attānudiṭṭhiyā pahānāya anattasaññā bhāvetabbā, micchādiṭṭhiyā pahānāya sammādiṭṭhi bhāvetabbā. Imesaṃ kho, bhikkhave, tiṇṇaṃ dhammānaṃ pahānāya ime tayo dhammā bhāvetabbā”ti“.

  • Or, contemplation of anicca saññā leads to the removal of assāda diṭṭhi. 
  • This is because the mind-made pleasures (assāda) are based on the wrong perception of nicca saññā, i.e., that those sense experiences are real and fruitful.
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