Gathi (Gati), Anusaya, and Āsava

Revised March 31, 2017; August 26, 2017; October 27, 2017

We are going to tie up a series of posts that I have posted on gathi and āsava with this post. See, “Habits and Goals, and Character (Gathi)”, “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gathi), and Cravings (Āsava)”, “Sansaric Habits, Character (Gathi), Cravings (Āsava)”.

It is difficult to find English  translations for some of the Pāli words that the Buddha used. But the key is to grasp what is meant by those terms. Once the idea is grasped, that is all that matters; one could even just use the Pāli term, and KNOW what is meant by it. It is like learning the meaning of the word “dollar” or “car”. The exact same words are used in different languages, but everybody understands what is meant by those words.

1. Anusaya is normally translated as “latent tendencies” and āsava as “mental fermentations”. The word “gathi” is hardly mentioned in current texts, but is a key concept in Buddha Dhamma.

  • Āsava are indeed “mental fermentations” that lie deep down in us. That can be compared to mud sitting at the bottom of a glass of water.
  • If that glass of water is disturbed with a straw, then some of that mud comes to the surface; that is like anusaya bubbling up when we are disturbed by a strong sense event. When that happens we display our real character/habits or gathi (gati).

2. As a given sentient being traverses the “samsāra” or the “rebirth process”, one makes transitions from “bhava to bhava“, but within a given human (or animal) bhava, one may be born numerous times as a human (or the same animal); see, “Bhava and Jati – States of Existence and Births Therein“.

  • Through all these, the physical appearance will change drastically, especially when bhava is changed. Thus when it makes a transition from being a deva to human, or from a human to a dog, there is no resemblance of a “personality”.
  • However, our āsava remain with us through the samsaric journey. Of course they can change during a given bhava. Most changes in āsava occur during human bhava, which is a topic we will discuss later.

3. Āsava are four main types: ditthāsāva (ditthi āsava), kāmāsava (kāma āsava), bhavāsava (bhava āsava), and avijjāsava (avijjā āsava).

  • Ditthāsava are removed at the Sōtapanna stage, and kāmāsava removed at the Anāgāmi stage. All āsava are removed at the Arahant stage.
  • What type of āsava “can be triggered to come up”, depends on the bhava one is in. In kāma lōka, all āsava are “in play”, i.e., can be triggered by a sense event. In rūpa or arūpa brahma lōka, kāmāsava are not triggered. But unless one is an Anāgāmi , one still has kāmāsava, and that will “come into play” when one reborn in kāma lōka.
  • Thus, one will not have kāma anusaya bubbling up when one is in rūpa or arūpa realms. Therefore, one will also not display any “kāma gathi” that one have, while in rūpa/arūpa realms.
  1. This is another reason why the Buddha rejected both “self” and “no-self”. What character or any other quality displayed in a given bhava could be very different from a another bhava. On the other hand, the set of āsavas remain with one (even though changing all the time).

5.  In both Pāli and Sinhala, “saya” means a storage place: “jalāsaya” means a water reservoir; “āmāsaya” means the stomach where the food we eat goes to; “gabbāsaya” is the womb where the unborn baby is kept and nurtured until it is ready to come out, etc.

  • Saya” also means “sleeping” as in “sayanaya“.
  • Therefore, “āsaya” means “sleeping” or “in storage” with some dominant characteristics. It is commonly termedāsava“.
  • As mentioned above, āsava are four main types. Within each type, there can be an infinite variety. For example, “kāmāsava” will include āsava for sense inputs coming through five physical senses with an infinite variety.
  • Anu” is food or defilements depending on the context. When a strong sense input comes, a defilements that are “sleeping” or “lying dormant” can be released and can come to surface; hence the name “anusaya“.

6. When an “āsava” is awakened by such a trigger then it is out as an “anusaya” and one will display it through one’s actions. Then we also say, one has that type of cravings or “gathi“.

  • For example, a calm person with hidden kāmāsava could be triggered by seeing a beautiful woman Z matching “his gathi“. He may get agitated upon seeing Z. But he may not be “triggered” by seeing another woman, even if beautiful. This is a bit complex, but I am sure we all know this to be true.
  • And if he keeps thinking about that woman, that āsava will ferment and grow (condense). This is why it is sometimes translated as “mental fermentations”.
  • How much one gets “agitated” depends on one’s āsava and the strength of the sense input. Rapes, for example, occur when both are strong.

7. Āsava can be compared to the active gun powder in a matchstick. The matchstick is harmless by itself and will cause no fire. But the POTENTIAL to create a fire is there.

  • When it is rubbed against a rough surface (exposed to a sense input), the heat generated causes gun powder to ignite and generate fire (anusaya coming up).
  • In the same way, a strong sense input can “awaken” and “fire-up” the sleeping anusaya.
  • One’s gathi are cultivated by repeated use, and one’s anusaya is dependent on both āsava and gathi.
  • An Arahant has removed all types of āsava; thus no matter how strong a sense input comes in, he/she will not be “triggered” by it. A matchstick with no active gun powder cannot be ignited, no matter how hard a march strikes.
  • An Arahant may still have gathi that are devoid of defilements, like one young Arahant had a tendency to jump over mud puddles.

8. “A

Āsaya” or “āsava” are the things we have liked for long, long times through uncountable lives in the samsāra or the rebirth process. They are the deep-seated cravings we have for certain things.

  • “Immoral gathi” due to āsavas is what makes the akuasala-mula paticca samuppada to take place and create “bhava” for the sansaric process. These “immoral gathi” are the “san gathi” in “tinnan san gathi phasso“; see, “Tanha – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.

9. There are 7 types of anusaya: ditthānusaya (wrong views), vicikiccānusaya (tendency to do the unwise), kāmarāgaanusaya (temptation for sense pleasures), patighanusaya (temptation for hatred), bhvarāganusaya (craving for existence), mānanusaya (sense of “me”) , and avijjānusaya (ignorance); see, for example, “Dutiya Anusaya Sutta (AN 7.12)“.

  • There are four broad categories of āsava: DitthiāsavaKamāsava, Bhavāsava, and Avijjāsava; see, “Āsava Sutta (AN 6.58)“.

10. Those āsava (āsaya) can give rise to anusaya.

  • Ditthāsava arise from ditthānusaya and vicikiccānusaya.
  • Kamāsava arise from kāmarāgaanusaya and patighanusaya.
  • Bhavāsava arise from bhvarāganusaya.
  • Avijjāsava arise from avijjānusaya and mānanusaya.
  • One cannot REMOVE other three āsava until one removes ditthāsava at the Sōtapanna stage.

11. Ditthāsava is the craving or attachment to certain views. This is why sometimes it is hard to accept or even consider other views. Again, there are views on numerous topics: religion, philosophy, politics, and many combinations thereof.

  • Comprehension of anicca, dukkha, anatta automatically leads to getting rid of ditthāsava.
  • Kāmāsava is craving for indulging in sense pleasures via the five physical senses. Within this broad category. each person will have own set of cravings: some like music more than food, and food more than reading, etc. The combinations are endless.
  • Bhavāsava is a craving for existence. No matter where in the 31 realms one is born, one always wants to live. Again there are many possibilities: most like the kāmalōka with all five senses, some who enjoy jhānic pleasures may prefer birth in an arūpalōka with just the mind, etc.
  • Avijjāsava is of course the root cause for all āsavas: not knowing the real nature of this world, i.e., not comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta, and thus not comprehending the Four Noble Truths.

12. These four āsavas are removed as one goes through the four stages of NibbānaDitthāsava is removed at the Sōtapanna stage; Kamāsava is lessened at the Sakadagami stage and removed at the Anāgāmi stage. The other two are reduced at each stage also, but removed only at the Arahant stage.

  • When āsaya (āsava) are removed then of course anusaya are removed without a trace. One will never be perturbed by anything; that is the ultimate state of “cooling” or Nibbāna.

13. It should be obvious by now how our character (gathi) is defined by our anusaya and ultimately by our āsava.

  • All three, āsava, anusaya, and gathi are reinforced by each other. One has a certain character because of the set of āsava and anusaya he/she has. On the other hand, unless the character is changed WILLFULLY, none of the three is going to change.
  • And there is the fourth parameter of habits (called “gathi purudu” in Sinhala), that lies at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Some people talk rough, even when they are not mad. It is just a habit.
  • Getting rid of bad habits and cultivating good habits is the first step in controlling one’s āsava first and eventually getting rid of anusaya.

14. There are two key aspects in dealing with changing one’s habits:

  • One needs to be mindful the negative consequences of the bad habits and positive consequences of good habits. This is satipatthāna.
  • And, one needs to WILLFULLY avoid the bad habits, and WILLFULLY engage in good habits. This is ānapāna.
  • One would actually be engaged in all those activities in satipatthāna/ānapāna.
  • One can use the “search” box on top right to find relevant posts on satipatthāna and ānapāna. A practical, systematic way to do both is discussed in the “Living Dhamma” section.

15. This is the Path advocated by the Buddha. One could proceed a little on the Path and achieve a “sense of peace”; one could go further to make the future lives better, or one could go all the way and remove all four āsava thus attaining the Arahantship.

  • This is why “āsavakkhaya ñāna” or the “way to remove āsava” is the critical knowledge that the Buddha developed on attaining the Buddhahood. And that knowledge is in the Four Noble Truths, and the way to achieve “āsavakkhaya” is the Noble Eightfold Path.

16. We are fortunate to live in a time when science is providing further evidence and ways to understand this process. There is a series of posts in the ‘Dhamma and Science” section starting with, “Truine Brain – How the Mind Rewires the Brain via Meditation/Habits” and in the “Meditation” section starting with, “Key to ānapānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gathi)”.

17. Finally, where are these āsaya are in storage? They are in the kamma bhava or our nāma lōka.

  • We have two “worlds”: one is the rūpa lōka that we can see with our eyes.
  • The other is the nāma lōka that has energies below the suddhashtaka stage and also nāma gotta that do not have any energy but are just memory records. This nāma lōka is accessed with the mana indriya; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!.
  • For those who need to dig deeper, this is discussed in “Our Two Worlds : Material and Mental” and “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis“.
  • Saying that one has anusaya is also the same as saying that a viññāna has been established in the kamma bhava, i.e., in the nāma lōka.

Next, “The Way to Nibbāna – Removal of Āsava”, ……….

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