I heard that "grasping a sign" is considered a bad thing in Buddhism. Why is that so and what does that refer to?
Here are some references to that phrase in answers on this site:
You are talking about the process of grasping a sign(mark) at one of the sense doors, and then automatically interpreting it into an desirable/undesirable object ==> harboring corresponding desire/aversion attitude ==> engaging in purposeful action towards that object ==> feeding craving, confusion, and illusion of self.
When we are able to catch ourselves at the moment when the sign(mark) is interpreted into an object of desire (or aversion), and stop that automatic reaction, we begin to get free from impulsive behavior -- and that eventually leads to freedom from confusion and the illusion of self.
Having learned to catch ourselves at that moment when automatic interpretation of sign happens on one sensory modality (=door), we can then more easily (NOT) do the same on all the other sensory modalities. When developed, this ability leads to what's known as the Diamond Samadhi (vajrasamadhi) - which is a name for when we do not lean (do not grasp) onto any sign.
Nimitta - sutta references
...And how does someone guard the sense doors?
-- When a mendicant sees a sight with the eyes, they don’t get caught up in the features and details.
(Idhāvuso, bhikkhu cakkhunā rūpaṃ disvā na nimittaggāhī hoti nānubyañjanaggāhī.)
...And how, friend, does one guard the doors of the sense faculties?
-- Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu does not grasp its signs and features.
And what, Ānanda, is this so noble body of doctrine regarding self-concentration (Samādhi) in praise of which the Venerable Gotama was wont to speak; to which he used to incite the folk, in which he established them, and made them firm?’ Restraint of the Sense Faculties
“And how, young Brahman, does the bhikkhu guard the doors of his sense faculties? Herein, young Brahman, having seen a form with the eye, the bhikkhu does not grasp at the sign or the details. Since, if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculty of the eye, evil unwholesome states such as covetousness and grief might assail him, he practises restraint, guards the faculty of the eye, and achieves restraint over the faculty of the eye.
So I associate it primarily -- exclusively? :-) -- with the practice of "guarding the senses".
And I associate "guarding the senses" with the intention to "stop the wheel of becoming" -- i.e. the 12 nidanas -- i.e. a mechanism to heedfully prevent craving and so on arising/resulting from sense-contact.
We know that "attachment to views" is a bad thing too.
I think I've read that, primarily, in the context of its being a cause for sectarian arguments -- most notably in Ud 6.4 i.e. the parable of the blind men and the elephant.
A related (not identical) problem is also mentioned in the Water-snake sutta (MN 22) too -- that of grasping a view wrongly -- or of taking it too far, of reading too much into it.
Incidentally Ven. Bodhi translates SN 5.10 as "Mara, have you grasped a view?" I think the word "grasped" doesn't exist in the Pali there (I think the literal Pali is closer to something like, "Mara, is this your wrong view?") -- that wrong view being something like "identity view", presumably.
Are these related? (signs and views)?
I was going to say "no" because I think of "signs" as being related to the mechanics of "perception" -- e.g. that first you have some sense-contact with "green" and then you resolve that (by combining that with other signs and contextual clues) as e.g. "grass". So I'd say that "green" is "a sign of grass".
Perhaps there are other signs, more obviously related to "feeling", associated with grass too -- for example being outside in a garden in summer, sunlit but not too hot, etc.
Whereas, I don't know, I thought a view might be something else -- more persistent.
On the other hand, perhaps you're right -- Ud 6.4 ends with ...
Some ascetics and brāhmaṇas, it seems, are attached to these views,
Having grasped ahold of it, they dispute, like people who see only one side.
... i.e. sajjati and ekaṅgadassi.
Incidentally I also read once, from a non-Buddhist source...
If they see
breasts and long hair coming
they call it woman,
if beard and whiskers
they call it man
... and so I think that "breasts and long hair" are signs of a woman and "beard and whiskers" are signs of a man. But I'm pretty sure that Buddhism recommends against grasping -- dwelling on, becoming infatuated with -- signs like that. And that if you are going to "view" a man or a woman there are a lot more important characteristics than only those "signs" (or than only those "first appearances") -- see for example this answer about what one ought to look for in a potential marriage partner.
Relatedly, asubha meditation -- e.g. the monk who perceives or views the person as a bag of bones (not just other perhaps more obvious/outward signs) when he happens to see a woman.
Does Buddhism say anything about broad generalizations vs. careful analysis?
I don't know what is says about them.
I think it includes a lot of broad generalizations, for example IMO the four noble truths, the four dharma seals, and so on, are all broad generalizations.
IMO part of the genius of Buddhism is that they are ...
- Useful (or beneficial)
... it's rare to find doctrine which is all of these.
Maybe the Kalama sutta, the Rahula sutta, and so on recommend you do both (so it's not "versus" i.e. one or the other), i.e. know the (broad) dhamma and also carefully analyse the specific/actual experiences, motives, and results.
Is this topic connected with signs and views, too?
I guess so, perhaps -- if you understand Buddhist dhamma to be a "view" then perhaps that (doctrine) becomes part of the nama-rupa, according to which you interpret the signs which arise in your experience.
Does all of the above tie to suffering somehow?
Perhaps it depends who you ask. I think the Buddha might have implied that all his doctrine was on the topic of "suffering and cessation".