Anuseti – How Anusaya Grows with Saṅkhāra

Anuseti means engaging in maintaining/growing anusaya. Nānuseti (na anuseti) means reversing that process by cultivating Satipaṭṭhāna.

May 13, 2023; rewritten February 9, 2024; revised April 2, 2024 

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Anusaya – Hidden Defilements

1. Anusaya is a critical concept. The word “gati” (pronounced “gathi”) is hardly mentioned in current texts but is also a critical concept in Buddha Dhamma; it refers to one’s habits/character. Āsava means cravings arising at a given time when anusaya is triggered by an ārammaṇa.

  •  Anusaya is usually translated as “latent/hidden defilements.” They accumulate via “mental fermentations,” just like alcohol concentration builds up with fermenting. As we see below, “mental defilements” can similarly “ferment/condense” when one spends time thinking (generating vaci abhisaṅkhāra) about an ārammaṇa with greed, anger, and ignorance. This process is intensified when one starts speaking and engaging in kāya abhisaṅkhāra (bodily actions.)
  • Accumulation of anusaya is comparable to mud accumulating at the bottom of a glass of water over time if one keeps dropping tiny bits of dirt into it. That dirt sinks to the bottom of the glass and may not be apparent. But some dirt comes to the surface if the water is disturbed with a straw. That is like āsava bubbling up when anusaya is triggered by a robust sensory event. When that happens, we display our true character/habits or gati (gathi).

2. For example, one may not be bribed with a hundred dollars, but until kāma rāga anusaya is wholly removed, one may be tempted with a million-dollar bribe. Thus, one’s level of character or gati is relative. 

  • In other words, some gati and āsava lay hidden (sleeping) and are called “anusaya. “ With a strong enough “trigger” or “ārammaṇa,” an ingrained anusaya can be brought to the surface. 
  • It is a good idea to read “Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi)” first. In the following, we will discuss in detail the accumulation/strengthening of the seven types of anusaya: diṭṭhi, vicikicchā, kāma rāga, paṭigha, bhava rāga, māna, avijjā.  See “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
How Anusaya Grows via Kamma Viññāna

3.  The fundamental mechanism by which any type of anusaya grows is via the establishment/growth of RELATED kamma viññāṇa. As we have discussed, kamma viññāṇa is an “expectation for worldly things” that arises when one attaches to sensory inputs (ārammaṇa.)

  • For example, if one craves delicious foods, that is part of the “kāma rāga anusaya.” Suppose person X eats a particular meal and forms a craving for it; now, X expects/hopes to taste that food in the near future, and it becomes a kamma viññāṇa. If X starts thinking about it and telling others how good it was, such actions strengthen that kamma viññāṇa. 
  • The idea of “eating it again” may come to X’s mind randomly, making X think about how good it was and look into ways of enjoying it again. Any thinking, speaking, or actions (i.e., mano, vaci, kaya kamma) are based on mano, vaci, and kāya (abhi)saṅkhāra: “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra.”
  • That last sentence captures the meaning of “anuseti.” It means cultivating and maintaining anusaya by generating various types of NEW kamma or “nava kamma“; see “Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation.”
Cetanā Sutta – Succinct Description

4. The “Cetanā Sutta (SN 12.38)” explains anuseti with the following steps:

  • Yañca, bhikkhave, ceteti yañca pakappeti yañca anuseti, ārammaṇametaṁ hoti viññāṇassa ṭhitiyā.” OR “Bhikkhus, what you think about, plan, and take action regarding a ārammaṇa will establish/grow (kamma) viññāṇa. That is how “anusaya grows” via “anuseti.”
  • Ārammaṇe sati patiṭṭhā viññāṇassa hoti” OR “When the mind is focused on an ārammaṇa, (kamma) viññāṇa becomes established.” 
  • Tasmiṁ patiṭṭhite viññāṇe virūḷhe āyatiṁ punabbhavābhinibbatti hoti” OR “When (kamma) viññāṇa is established and grows, kamma bhava (which can lead to rebirth) grows.” That latter part is equivalent to anusaya grows.” Therefore, it is a feedback loop. The more one CONSCIOUSLY engages in “anuseti” (in the “nava kamma” stage), it leads to the strengthening of “anusaya.” 
  • Āyatiṁ punabbhavābhinibbattiyā sati āyatiṁ jāti jarāmaraṇaṁ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā sambhavanti” OR “When kamma bhava (related to anusaya) is established, future rebirth, old age, and death come to be, as do sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress.”
  • Starting at marker 3.1, the solution is to stop thinking about/planning around such temptations (ārammaṇa.) While it is imperative to stop attaching to such temptations (assāda,) that can be done only within limits. Without comprehending the dangers (ādinava) of temptations (assāda), it is impossible to irradicate them.
  • As we discussed recently, any “assāda” (cravings) arise based on mind-made “distorted saññā“; see “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā)” and other posts in “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”
Anuseti = The Longer One Dwells on an Ārammaṇa, the Stronger the Anusaya Becomes

5. The “Lekha Sutta (AN 3.132)” provides a good analogy of how a defilement can “sink in the mind” due to staying on a related ārammaṇa for a long time.

It says there are three types of minds.

  1. One mind captures an ārammaṇa tightly and maintains it for long like a line drawn in stone. 
  2. In the second type of mind, an ārammaṇa does not linger too long, like a line drawn in the sand.
  3. In the third type, an ārammaṇa does not linger at all, like a line drawn in water.

Of course, that depends on the person and ALSO on the ārammaṇa. The following analogy is given for an ārammaṇa causing anger.

  1. (@ marker 1.5): If a person habitually gets angry (abhiṇhaṁ kujjhati) and the anger lingers long contributing to anusaya (dīgharattaṁ anuseti), then it contributes much to paṭigha anusaya. It’s like a line drawn in stone, which is not quickly worn away by wind and water but lasts for a long time.
  2. (@ marker 2.2): If a person habitually gets angry but does not linger (na dīgharattaṁ anuseti), it contributes less to paṭigha anusaya. It’s like a line drawn in the sand, quickly worn away by wind and water.
  3. (@ marker 3.1): But there are those who, even if spoken to by another in an abusive manner, stay calm and are not angered. Just as a line drawn in water is not registered, anger does not register in such minds (no anusaya and no anuseti.)

6. In the “Āsīvisa Sutta (AN 4.11),” an analogy is provided with four types of snakes: (i) One whose venom is fast-acting but not lethal, (ii) venom is lethal but not fast-acting, (iii) venom is both fast-acting and lethal, and (iv) venom is neither fast-acting nor lethal.

  • Similarly, there are four types of minds: (i) habitually gets angry, but anger doesn’t linger long; (ii) does not get angry habitually, but anger lingers for a long time; (iii) habitually gets angry (abhiṇhaṁ kujjhati,) and anger linger for a long time (dīgharattaṁ anuseti), (iv) does not get angry (no anusaya and thus also no anuseti.)
  • The point is that minds of type (i) in #5 and (iii) in #6 have strong paṭigha anusaya. Unfortunately, those are the same minds that “hold that anger for long times” (thinking about how to retaliate); that only makes that paṭigha anusaya grow! These people must be mindful of such situations and control their anger the most.
  • Another critical point is that it is dangerous to “stay in that angry mindset for a long time.” Then, one would be “contributing to anusaya” (anuseti) by cultivating at least vaci saṅkhāra (talking to himself) even if not engaging in speech or physical action. We discuss this below.
  • An Arahant or an Anāgāmi is at the other end of type (iii) in #5 and (iv) in #6. There is no paṭigha anusaya left in the mind of an Arahant. Thus, another person’s words of anger will not even register in such a mind. That is like a line drawn in water (see #5(iii) above.)
Lingering on an Ārammaṇa Leads to Vaci and Kāya Abhisaṅkhāra

7. The above two analogies are about the paṭigha anusaya. But it works the same way for other types of anusaya. For example, “kāma rāga anusaya” works the same way. Anyone below the Anāgāmi stage could be triggered by one or another ārammaṇa laced with kāma rāga. If they dwell in that ārammaṇa, their kāma rāga anusaya will grow.

Review of the Loka Sutta

8. The point is that Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) is triggered ONLY by a sensory event, i.e., an ārammaṇa.

  • Once attached, the mind likes to dwell in that ārammaṇa. It would first start “talking internally”; if attachment gets stronger, speech comes out; both those belong to vaci saṅkhāra. If attachment becomes stronger, one may start physical actions with kāya saṅkhāra!
  • That is how the PS cycles start with  “avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra”  AFTER the mind gets attached to an ārammaṇa. That is also how we accumulate kammic energy to sustain the samsāric journey!
  • Thus, we must stop the process of “anuseti” (cultivating abhisaṅkhāra) as soon as we realize attachment to a ārammaṇa; that means stopping the “nava kamma.” Then, we must fully understand the Purāna and Nava Kamma – Sequence of Kamma Generation.” Those “purāna kamma” can be stopped only by cultivating wisdom (paññā); this is the basis of Ānāpānasati/Satipaṭṭhāna.
  • I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding this point. Please read the links and ask questions at the forum if they are unclear.
  • It is a good idea to review the recently rewritten post “Loka Sutta – Origin and Cessation of the World (with chart #6).”
Analysis of the Cūḷavedalla Sutta

9. In the “Cūḷavedalla Sutta MN 44)“: “Idhāvuso visākha, bhikkhu vivicceva kāmehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi savitakkaṁ savicāraṁ vivekajaṁ pītisukhaṁ paṭhamaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati. Rāgaṁ tena pajahati, na tattha rāgānusayo anuseti.

Translated: “Consider a bhikkhu, who enters and remains in the first jhāna. He is engaged in eliminating rāga and stopping cultivating rāga anusaya further.”

  • Since one is in a jhānakāma rāga does not manifest.  Thus, “rāga” in the above (Rāgaṁ tena pajahati) refers to rupa rāga. 
  • Then ,@ marker 28.9: “Idhāvuso visākha, bhikkhu sukhassa ca pahānā, dukkhassa ca pahānā, pubbeva somanassadomanassānaṁ atthaṅgamā, adukkhamasukhaṁ upekkhāsatipārisuddhiṁ catutthaṁ jhānaṁ upasampajja viharati. Avijjaṁ tena pajahati, na tattha avijjānusayo anusetī”ti.” Here, in the fourth jhāna, avijjā anusaya is present, but an Ariya in that jhāna will not “feed that avijjā anusaya”; that is what is meant by “na tattha avijjānusayo anusetī.” Instead, he/she will strive to eliminate avijjā (Avijjaṁ tena pajahati.)
  • Once the avijjā anusaya is removed, that will automatically remove the “kāma rāga anusaya.” 
  • However, it is not necessary to get to the fourth jhāna to remove any anusaya. It just becomes easier to remove any anusaya at higher jhānās. One could attain even the Arahant stage from any jhāna: “Jhāna Sutta (AN 9.36).”

Translated: “Consider a bhikkhu, who enters and remains in the fourth jhāna. He is engaged in eliminating avijjā and stop cultivating avijjā anusaya.”

Kāma Rāga Cannot be Triggered in Brahma Loka 

10. Even if the kāma rāga anusaya remains intact, it cannot be triggered while in a Brahma realm. This is a critical point.

  • As we know, sensory inputs with pañca kāma (sensual pleasures) are absent in Brahma realms. A Brahma cannot taste food, smell odors, or have bodily contact (including sex). An anariya Brahma gets that birth because he had abstained from pañca kāma while cultivating a jhāna.
  • Therefore, as long as he is in that Brahma realm, his kāma rāga anusaya cannot be triggered (or “awakened”) even with a strong sensual input. Think about a year-old baby. That baby has not removed kāma rāga anusaya but has no idea about sensual pleasures, i.e., kāma rāga cannot arise. A Brahma is like that baby; he has no idea about food, smells, or sex. (The Buddha gave a similar example in the “Mahāmālukya Sutta (MN 64)” regarding the non-manifestation of “sakkāya diṭṭhi” in a baby.)
  • Thus, even if kāma rāga anusaya is intact for an anariya Brahma, it never gets triggered, i.e., kāma rāga cannot arise in even an anariya Brahma.
Five “Rupa Dhātu” and One “Mental Dhātu

11. The following basic setup is also helpful to understand. The essence of a human is not the physical body but the unimaginably tiny manomaya kāya made of a few suddhāṭṭhaka: hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa, each a suddhāṭṭhaka.

  • With those six “internal rupa,” we experience six types of rupa in the external world: rupa, sadda, gandha, rasa, phoṭṭhabba, and dhammā.
  • Thoughts can arise only in hadaya vatthu when it directly detects dhammā or detects the other five types of external rupa with the help of the five pasāda rupa.
  • All six types of internal rupās (hadaya vatthu and five pasāda rupa and the physical body that helps out) and the five types of dense (olārika) external rupa are associated with five of the six dhātus that comprise the world: pathavi, āpo, tejo, vayo, and ākāsa. They are in the “physical realm” made with pathavi, āpo, tejo, vayo, and located in ākāsa dhātu.
  • The sixth type, i.e., sukuma rupās (dhammā), is in viññāna dhātu. The nāmagotta (records of vedanā, saññā, and saṅkhāra that arose with all previous sensory interactions) are also in viññāna dhātu. See “Where Are Memories Stored? – Viññāṇa Dhātu.”
Anusaya, Gati, Samyojana Stay with Hadaya Vatthu

12. Our anusaya, gati, and samsāric bonds (saṁyojana) are associated with the hadaya vatthu

  • They are not located in what we usually call “the external world” with rupa, sadda,gandha, rasa, and phoṭṭhabba. They are also not located in viññāna dhātu. Only memories are in viññāna dhātu. See “Where Are Memories Stored? – Viññāṇa Dhātu.” 
  • Each time a new hadaya vatthu (and a set of pasāda rupa) created by kammic energy at a cuti-paṭisandhi moment, those anusaya, gati, and saṁyojana get “transferred” to that new set.
Anusaya Can be Hidden

13. Anusaya (hidden defilements) can be hidden for the duration of some existences. For example, those who cultivate anariya jhāna and are born in Brahma realms have their “kāma rāga anusaya” hidden for the duration of that life. Thus, kāma rāga cannot be triggered in a Brahma, as discussed in #10 above.

  • For an asañña Brahma in the asañña realm, no anusaya (of any type) can be triggered since no cittās arise for the whole duration of 500 mahā kappās!
  • Of course, all samsāric bonds (saṁyojana) — and anusaya — remain intact until one comprehends the Noble Truths/Paṭicca Samuppāda/Tilakkhana.
  • As we know, three saṁyojana and two anusaya are removed at the Sotapanna stage, and correspondingly, future rebirths in the apāyās are prevented by that. By the Anāgāmi stage, two more saṁyojana and two anusaya would have been removed, and no more rebirths in the kāma loka. At the Arahant stage, none of the saṁyojana, gati, or anusaya remain, and that is the end of rebirths, i.e., the end of even a trace of suffering! See “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”

All posts in the new section “Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā).”

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