Āsava, Anusaya, and Gati (Gathi)

Revised March 31, 2017; August 26, 2017; October 27, 2017; October 7, 2019; July 1, 2020


1. Nibbāna is “āsavakkhaya” or removing āsava. With a strong sense input, hidden āsava can bubble up as anusaya, and one’s ingrained gati (gati) are displayed.

Anusaya Come Up Due to Āsava

2. Anusaya is usually translated as “latent tendencies” and āsava as “mental fermentations.” The word “gati” is hardly mentioned in current texts but is a critical concept in Buddha Dhamma.

  • Anusaya are indeed “mental fermentations” that lie deep down in us. That is comparable 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 āsava bubbling up when we are disturbed by a strong sense event. When that happens, we display our real character/habits or gati (gathi).
  • In other words, some gati and āsava lay hidden (sleeping), and are called “anusaya“. With a strong enough “trigger” an ingrained anusaya can be brought to the surface. Anusaya are the hardest to get rid of.

3. 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“.

  • 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 to a continued “soul.”
  • However, our āsava remains with us through the samsāric journey. Of course, āsava can change during a given bhava. Most changes in āsava occur during human bhava, which is a topic we will discuss later.
Four Types of Āsava

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

  • Ditthāsava goes away at the Sōtapanna stage, and kāmāsava removed at the Anāgāmi stage. All āsava disappear 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 remain dormant, since there are no enticing arammana in Brahma realms. 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 gati” that one has, while in rūpa/arūpa realms.

5. That 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 another bhava. On the other hand, the set of āsavas remains with one (even though changing all the time).

6.  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” 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 an ārammana (a sensory input), they come to the surface asāsava” or “likings.” The word ārammaṇa is explained in detail in, “Chachakka Sutta – No “Self” in Initial Sensory Experience.”
  • As mentioned above, āsava are 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 (Ārammana)

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

  • For example, seeing a beautiful woman matching “his gati” could trigger kāmāsava in a calm person. He may get agitated upon seeing that woman. But he may not be “triggered” by seeing another woman, even if 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, that āsava will ferment and grow (condense). Thus the name “mental fermentations.”
  • How much one gets “agitated” depends on one’s āsava and the strength of the sensory input. Rapes, for example, occur when both are strong.

8. Anusaya is like 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 the matchstick strikes a rough surface, the heat generated causes the gun powder to ignite and create fire.
  • In the same way, a robust sensory input can “awaken” and “fire-up” the sleeping anusaya.
  • One’s gati become strong with repeated use, and one’s āsava is dependent 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 gun powder 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.
Connection to Gati (Character/Habits)

9. “Anusaya” (and hence “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 gati” due to anusaya is what makes the akusala-mula Paṭicca Samuppāda to take place and create “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.“

10. There are 7 types of anusaya: ditthānusaya (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: DiṭṭhiāsavaKamāsava, Bhavāsava, and Avijjāsava; see, “Āsava Sutta (AN 6.58)“.
Types of Āsava/Anusaya

11. 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 kamāsava.
  • 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.

12. Ditthāsava is the craving or attachment to wrong views. That is why sometimes it is hard to accept or even consider other viewpoints. Again, there are views on numerous topics: religion, philosophy, politics, and 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 their own set of cravings. Some like music more than food, and 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, 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 understanding the Four Noble Truths.
Removal of Āsava and Anusaya

13. 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.

14. It should be evident by now that our character (gati) are 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 “gati purudu” in Sinhala), which 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 (temptations) first and eventually getting rid of anusaya.
Removal of Bad Gati and Cultivating Good Gati

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

  • One needs to be mindful of the negative consequences of bad habits and the 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 Ānapāna.
  • 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. A practical, systematic way to do both discussed in the “Living Dhamma” section.

16. 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 make the future lives better, 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 the Buddhahood. And that knowledge is in the Four Noble Truths, and the way to achieve “āsavakkhaya” is the Noble Eightfold Path.
Bigger Picture

17. 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 ānāpānasati – How to Change Habits and Character (Gati).”

18. Finally, where are these āsava in “storage” (as anusaya)? They are in the kamma bhava or our “immaterial world.”

  • We have two “worlds”: one is the rūpa lōka that we can see with our eyes.
  • The other is the “immaterial world” that has energies below the suddhāṭṭhaka stage and also nāma gotta that do not have any power but are just memory records. This “immaterial world” is accessed with the mana indriya; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhamma are rūpa too!.
  • For those who need to dig deeper, more information at: “Our Two Worlds: Material and Immaterial” 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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