Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi)

Revised March 31, 2017; rewritten on October 28, 2020; revised September 12, 2022; rewritten April 25, 2023

 Āsava Removal Is Nibbāna

1. Nibbāna is reached by “āsavakkhaya” or removing āsava (cravings). As we will see below, that involves removing anusaya (hidden defilements) by removing bad gati (character/habits.)

Āsava Come Up Due to Anusaya

2. Anusaya is usually translated as “latent tendencies” or “mental fermentations.” Āsava means cravings present at a given time. The word “gati” is hardly mentioned in current texts but is a critical concept in Buddha Dhamma.

  • Anusaya is indeed “mental fermentations” that lie deep down in us. That is comparable to mud in the bottom of a glass of water.
  • If that glass of water is disturbed with a straw, some of that mud comes to the surface. That is like āsava bubbling up when disturbed by a robust sensory event. We display our real character/habits or gati (gathi) when that happens.
  • For example, one may not be bribed with a hundred dollars, but until kāmarāga anusaya is completely removed, one could be tempted with a million-dollar bribe. Thus, one’s level of character 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. 
Pada Nirutti for Anusaya and Āsava

3.  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; “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” or සයනය in Sinhala). “Anu” indicates “food” or “defilements” in most cases. Therefore, “anusaya” means “sleeping” or “in storage” with some dominant characteristics.
  •  When they are disturbed by an ārammaṇa (a sensory input), they come to the surface asāsava” or “cravings/likings.” The word ārammaṇa is explained in detail in “Chachakka Sutta – Six Types of Vipāka Viññāṇa.”
  • As mentioned above, āsava is four main types. Within each class, there can be an infinite variety. For example, “kāmāsava” will include āsava for sense inputs coming through five physical senses with an endless variety.
Anusaya Awakened By Triggers (Ārammaṇa

4. When such a trigger awakens an “anusaya,” it is out as an “āsava” or “craving,” and one will display it through actions. Then, we also say one has that type of craving or “gati.” These triggers are ārammaṇa; See “Vipāka Vēdanā and “Samphassa jā Vēdanā” in a Sensory Event.”

  • For example, seeing a beautiful woman matching “his gati” could trigger kāmāsava (kāma āsava) in a calm person. He may get agitated upon seeing that woman. But he may not be “triggered” by seeing another woman, even if she is beautiful. That is a bit complex, but I am sure we all know this to be true.
  • And if he keeps thinking about that woman (anuseti,) that anusaya will ferment and grow (condense). Thus the name “mental fermentations.”
  • Both vaci and kāya abhisaṅkhāra play critical roles in this process: “Kamma and Saṅkhāra, Cetanā and Sañcetanā.” 
  • How much one gets “agitated” depends on one’s āsava and sensory input strength. Rapes, for example, occur when both are strong.
An Analogy for Anusaya

5. Anusaya is like active gunpowder in a matchstick. The matchstick is harmless by itself and will cause no fire. But the POTENTIAL to create a fire is there.

  • When the matchstick strikes a rough surface, the heat generated causes the gunpowder to ignite and create fire.
  • Similarly, a robust sensory input (ārammaṇa) can “awaken” and “fire up” the sleeping anusaya.
  • One’s gati becomes strong with repeated use, and one’s āsava depends on both anusaya and gati.
  • An Arahant has removed all types of anusaya, gati, and hence āsava. No matter how strong a sensory input comes in, he/she will not be “triggered” by it. A matchstick with no active gunpowder cannot catch fire, no matter how hard a march strikes.
  • An Arahant may still have gati devoid of defilements.  They are just habits without kammic consequences. For example, there is an account in the Tipiṭaka of a young Arahant who tended to jump over mud puddles.
Seven Types of Anusaya

6. There are seven types of anusaya: ditthānusaya (ditthi anusaya or wrong views), vicikiccānusaya (tendency to do the unwise), kāmarāgaanusaya (temptation for sense pleasures), paṭigha anusaya (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: Diṭṭhiāsava (ditthi āsava), Kamāsava, Bhavāsava, and Avijjāsava; see “Āsava Sutta (AN 6.58)“.
Four Types of Āsava

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

  • Ditthāsava is the craving or attachment to wrong views. That is why sometimes it is hard to accept or consider other viewpoints. Again, there are views on numerous topics: religion, philosophy, politics, and combinations thereof. Comprehension of anicca, dukkha, and anatta automatically leads to getting rid of ditthāsava.
  • Kāmāsava induces a craving for indulging in sensory pleasures via the five physical senses within this broad category of āsava. Each person will have specific cravings—some like music more than food, food more than reading, etc. The combinations are endless.
  • Bhavāsava is craving for existence. No matter where in the 31 realms one is born, one always wants to live. Again there are many possibilities. Most prefer kāma lōka with all five senses. Some who enjoy jhānic pleasures may prefer birth in an arūpa lōka with just the mind, etc.
  • Avijjāsava is the root cause for all āsavas: not knowing the fundamental nature of this world, i.e., not comprehending anicca, dukkha, anatta, and thus not understanding the Four Noble Truths.
Relationship Between Āsava and Anusaya

8. The seven types of anusaya can give rise to four types of āsava.

  • Ditthānusaya and vicikiccānusaya give rise to ditthāsava.
  • Kāmarāgaanusaya and paṭighanusaya lead to kāmāsava.
  • Bhvarāganusaya gives rise to bhavāsava.
  • Avijjānusaya and mānanusaya lead to avijjāsava.
  • One cannot REMOVE the other three āsava until one removes ditthāsava at the Sōtapanna stage. 
Kāmāsava Is Absent In Rupa and Arupa Loka 

9. 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 remain dormant since there are no enticing ārammaṇa in Brahma realms. But unless one is an Anāgāmi, one still has kāmāsava, and that will “come into play” when one is reborn in kāma lōka.
  • Thus, one will not have kāma anusaya bubbling up when in rūpa or arūpa realms. Therefore, one will not display any “kāma gati” while in rūpa/arūpa realms.
Human Bhava – Ability to Remove All Anusaya

10. 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 Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”

  • The physical appearance will change drastically through the lives of different births, especially when the bhava is changed. Thus, it transitions from being a deva to a human or a human to a dog. There is no resemblance to a continued “soul.”
  • However, our anusaya remains with us through the samsāric journey. Of course, anusaya can change during a given bhava. Most changes in anusaya occur during human bhava. A human can even remove all anusaya and attain Nibbāna.

11. That is another reason why the Buddha rejected the extremes of “self” and “no-self.” What character or quality is displayed in given bhava could be very different from another bhava. On the other hand, an ever-changing set of anusaya remains with a given lifestream.

Removal of Āsava and Anusaya

12. These seven types of anusaya and four āsavas go away step-by-step as one goes through the four stages of Nibbāna.

  • A Sōtapanna has removed Ditthāsava. Kamāsava is lessened at the Sakadāgāmi stage and removed at the Anāgāmi stage. The other two reduce at each stage also and go away only at the Arahant stage.
  • When anusaya and gati go away, then, of course, āsava disappears without a trace. One will not crave anything. One is then unperturbed by anything. That is the ultimate state of “cooling” or Nibbāna.
  • See “Conditions for the Four Stages of Nibbāna.”
Gati (Character/Habits) Related to Āsava and Anusaya

13. Gati (pronounced “gathi”) denotes a mixture of one’s character and habits. Of course, character depends on one’s gati and vice versa.

  • It should be evident that our character (gati) is related to anusaya and āsava.
  • All three, āsava, anusaya, and gati, reinforce each other. One has a particular type of character because of the set of āsava and anusaya he/she has. On the other hand, none of the three will change unless one’s character and habits change. That change is WILLFUL.
  • And there is the fourth parameter of habits (called “gathi purudu” in Sinhala), which lies at the 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 (temptations) and eventually getting rid of anusaya.
  • “Immoral gati” due to anusaya makes the Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda take place and creates “bhava” for the sansaric process. These “immoral gati” are the “san gati” in “tinnan san gati phasso“; see “Taṇhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.“
Removal of Bad Gati and Cultivating Good Gati

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

  • One needs to be mindful of bad habits’ negative and positive consequences of good practices. That is Satipaṭṭhāna.
  • And one needs to avoid bad habits WILLFULLY and WILLFULLY engage in ethical and moral practices. That is Ānapānasati.
  • One would engage in all those activities in Satipaṭṭhāna/Ānapāna.
  • One can use the “search” box on the top right to find relevant posts on Satipaṭṭhāna and Ānapāna

15. That 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 improve the future lives, or one could go all the way and remove all four āsava, thus attaining the Arahantship.

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

16. We are fortunate to live in a time when science provides 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 ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati).”

  • Finally, where is the anusaya in “storage”? They get transferred from one hadaya vatthu to the next at the moment of grasping a new existence at the cuti-paṭisandhi moment. This is discussed in many posts: “Search Results for: memories stored.”
  • We have two “worlds”: one is the rūpa lōka that we access with our five physical senses. The other is the nāma loka.
  • The nāma loka has our memories or nāma gotta and kamma bija. This “immaterial world” is accessed with the mana indriya. Details at “Our Two Worlds – Rupa Loka and Nāma Loka” and “What are Dhamma? – A Deeper Analysis.

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

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