The Simile of the Vipers

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“Bhikkhus, suppose there were four vipers of fierce heat and deadly venom. Then a man would come along wanting to live, not wanting to die, desiring happiness and averse to suffering. They would tell him: ‘Good man, these four vipers are of fierce heat and deadly venom. From time to time they must be lifted up; from time to time they must be bathed; from time to time they must be fed; from time to time they must be laid to rest. But if one or another of these vipers ever becomes angry with you, then, good man, you will meet death or deadly suffering. Do whatever has to be done, good man!’

“Then, bhikkhus, afraid of the four vipers of fierce heat and deadly venom, that man would flee in one direction or another. They would tell him: ‘Good man, five murderous enemies are pursuing you, thinking, “Wherever we see him, we will take his life right on the spot.” Do whatever has to be done, good man!’

“Then, bhikkhus, afraid of the four vipers of fierce heat and deadly venom, and of the five murderous enemies, that man would flee in one direction or another. They would tell him: ‘Good man, a sixth murderer, an intimate companion, is pursuing you with drawn sword, thinking, “Wherever I see him I will cut off his head right on the spot.” Do whatever has to be done, good man!’

“Then, bhikkhus, afraid of the four vipers of fierce heat and deadly venom, and of the five murderous enemies, and of the sixth murderer, the intimate companion with drawn sword, that man would flee in one direction or another. He would see an empty village. Whatever house he enters is void, deserted, empty. Whatever pot he takes hold of is void, hollow, empty. They would tell him: ‘Good man, just now village-attacking dacoits will raid this empty village. Do whatever has to be done, good man!’

“Then, bhikkhus, afraid of the four vipers of fierce heat and deadly venom, and of the five murderous enemies, and of the sixth murderer—the intimate companion with drawn sword—and of the village-attacking dacoits, that man would flee in one direction or another. He would see a great expanse of water whose near shore was dangerous and fearful, and whose further shore was safe and free from danger, but there would be no ferryboat or bridge for crossing over from the near shore to the far shore.

“Then the man would think: ‘There is this great expanse of water whose near shore is dangerous and fearful, and whose further shore is safe and free from danger, but there is no ferryboat or bridge for crossing over. Let me collect grass, twigs, branches, and foliage, and bind them together into a raft, so that by means of that raft, making an effort with my hands and feet, I can get safely across to the far shore.’

“Then the man would collect grass, twigs, branches, and foliage, and bind them together into a raft, so that by means of that raft, making an effort with his hands and feet, he would get safely across to the far shore. Crossed over, gone beyond, the brahmin stands on high ground.

“I have made up this simile, bhikkhus, in order to convey a meaning. This is the meaning here:

‘The four vipers of fierce heat and deadly venom’: this is a designation for the four great elements—the earth element, the water element, the heat element, the air element.

“‘The five murderous enemies’: this is a designation for the five aggregates subject to clinging; that is, the material form aggregate subject to clinging, the feeling aggregate subject to clinging, the perception aggregate subject to clinging, the volitional formations aggregate subject to clinging, the consciousness aggregate subject to clinging.

“‘The sixth murderer, the intimate companion with drawn sword’: this is a designation for delight and lust.

“‘The empty village’: this is a designation for the six internal sense bases. If, bhikkhus, a wise, competent, intelligent person examines them by way of the eye, they appear to be void, hollow, empty. If he examines them by way of the ear… by way of the mind, they appear to be void, hollow, empty.

“‘Village-attacking dacoits’: this is a designation for the six external sense bases. The eye, bhikkhus, is attacked by agreeable and disagreeable forms. The ear … The nose … The tongue … The body … The mind is attacked by agreeable and disagreeable mental phenomena.

“‘The great expanse of water’: this is a designation for the four floods: the flood of sensuality, the flood of existence, the flood of views, and the flood of ignorance.

“‘The near shore, which is dangerous and fearful’: this is a designation for identity.

“‘The further shore, which is safe and free from danger’: this is a designation for Nibbāna.

“‘The raft’: this is a designation for the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view … right concentration.

“‘Making effort with hands and feet’: this is a designation for the arousing of energy.

“‘Crossed over, gone beyond, the brahmin stands on high ground’: this is a designation for the arahant.”

Source: Āsīvisopama Sutta SN 35.238  SN iv 172 Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi /https://suttacentral.net/sn35.238

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