The Way to Nibbana – Removal of Asavas

1. The night the Buddha attained the Buddhahood, three special knowledges (tivijja) arose in him, namely:

  • the special vision with which he was able to recollect innumerable former human existences (pubbenivasanussati nana).
  • the special vision with which he was able to see beings passing away and being reborn according to their kamma (cutupapada nana); and
  • the special vision with which he was able to destroy all cankers or defilements (asavakkhaya nana).

2. With the attainment of the asavakkhaya nana, Sidharata Gotama became Buddha Gotama. This was the final step in purifying the mind. This was the fruit of all his efforts, the path to attaining Nibbana for any being. Asavakkhaya (asava+khaya = cutting off all the asavas or mental fermentations). Thus Asavakkhaya nana means the knowledge of cutting off asavas and thus freeing the mind from the ability to generate any defilement.

  • The term asava comes from “äsravayata äva” in Sinhala or Pali, which means “came to association with”. Thus those habits (“gathi“) that one keep associating with come even closer. As one continues and feeds those habits through successive rebirths, they become asavas.
  • Asava (in Pali, Sinahala, and Sanskrit) also means a distillation to get an extract or essence. Some medicinal concoctions are fermented by keeping a mixture of ingredients underground for many months.
  • Some habits (“gathi“) we have cultivated (or fermented) over innumerable lives and that is why they are hard to remove. Only through learning pure Dhamma and persistence in one’s efforts, one can break such bad habits and thus eventually asava.  There are four types of asava and each may be associated with many bad habits.

3. The doctrine of Paticcasamuppada, which is made up of twelve factors, namely, avijja, sankhara, vinnana, nama rupa, salayatana, phassa, vedana, tanha, upadana, bhava, jati, jara, marana became clear to him. Going over this Doctrine of Paticcasamuppada in forward and reverse order repeatedly, he attained the Eightfold Noble Path, Ariya Magga, which is also known as Yathabhuta Nanadassana.

4. Paticcasamuppada clarifies how ignorant beings accumulate defilements (and asavas), and get trapped in the round of rebirths (sansara); these asavas are fermented via repeated use of bad habits (“gathi“). And the Noble Eightfold Path is the way to remove those “gathi” (and thus asavas) from the mind.

How Four Stages of Nibbana are Connected to the Four Asavas

1. We all have four major types of asavas, even though there are uncountable minor varieties:

  • Ditthasava is the category that is due to all kinds of false beliefs (micca ditthi): for example, if someone does not believe in rebirth, there may be cravings such as “I need to enjoy everything before I die”.
  • Kamasava are associated with sense pleasures.
  • Bhavasava is the craving for particular kind of existence, say as a human, deva, or a brahma; any living being, in any realm, craves for existence.
  • Avijjasava is all cravings that arise due to ignorance; ignorance of the Noble Truth of Suffering (which is NOT merely suffering itself), and the other Noble Truths.

2. The four types of major asavas are removed in a step-by-step process as one proceeds on the Path. Even before the Sotapanna stage, one will be reducing them, but those reductions do not hold to future lives.

  • When one attains the Sotapanna stage, all four types of asavas that could trigger “apayagami” actions are permanently removed from one’s mind, i.e., one will never be reborn in the four lowest realms.  Ditthasava (those due to wrong views) are completely removed.
  • At the Sakadagami stage, kamasava and bhavasava are reduced, and a Sakadagami will be born only as a deva or above in future lives; avijjasava is also reduced.
  • Kamasava are completely removed at the Anagami stage, and thus one will never be reborn in the kamaloka (including the deva realm) again. Bhavasava and avijjasava are also reduced.
  • Bhavasava and avijjasava are removed without a trace at the Arahant stage. Thus asavakkhaya becomes complete.

Removal of asavas start with the removal of bad habits and cultivating good habits; see, “Habits and Goals“, “The Law of Attraction, Habits (Gathi), and Cravings (Asavas)“, and, “Sansaric Habits and Asavas“.

Is there a Connection Between Nibbana and Kamma?

1. Many people have the misconception that, “one needs to deplete all kamma” to attain Nibbana. First of all, kamma (or sankhara) are actions and that have been done (either in this life or in previous lives); while some of the kammic power associated with them can be removed by metta bhavana, for example, some kamma beeja (both good and bad) due to those kamma may still be there at the time of the attainment of Nibbana.

  • Even the Buddha had eleven kamma vipaka left that resulted in backaches and an ulcer-like ailment close to Parinibbana, among others. Because in order to get rid of kamma seeds associated with a given kamma, the other being associated with that kamma seed need to be able to receive the merits of metta bhavana, i.e., that being need to have a state of mind with alobha, adosa, and amoha. But some of those beings may be trapped in the niraya for long times and may not even have a moment of “relief” to receive such merits. I will discuss this in a separate post, but the key idea is discussed in, “Transfer of Merits (Pattidana) – How Does it Happen?“.

2. What really happens is that when asavas are removed, the akusala-mula paticca samuppada at “vedana paccaya tanha” step changes to “vedana paccaya adhimokko” (in a kusala-mula paticca samuppada cycle) and there is no “upadana paccaya bhavo” step in the cycle. Thus when the Arahant dies, there is no “bhava” grasped by the mind, and thus there is no “jathi” or birth.

3. Thus an Arahant could have many unspent kamma beeja (both good and bad) left, but his/her mind has lost the craving (asava) to grasp any of them.

4. “Everything happens due to kamma” is a misconception. That is a Vedic concept, and is not in Buddha Dhamma; see, “sankhara, kamma, kamma beeja, kamma vipaka“. The asavakkhaya nana is the key to Nibbana.

Next, “Why is Correct Interpretation of Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta so Important?“, ……..

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