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Āsava is a Pali term (Sanskrit: Āśrava) that is used in Buddhist scripture, philosophy, and psychology. The glossary of the Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy[1] defines āsava/āśrava as:

inflow, influx, influence; mental bias or canker, cankers that keep one bound to the world of samsāra; used particularly in Jainism and Buddhism.[1]:948

According to De Silva:

The āsavas which are mentioned frequently are kāmāsava, bhavāsava, diṭṭhāsava and avijjāsava. Horner translates these as the cankers of sense-pleasure, becoming, false views and ignorance. The word canker suggests something that corrodes or corrupts slowly. These figurative meanings perhaps describe facets of the concept of āsava: kept long in storage, oozing out, taint, corroding, etc.[2]:75

Radhakrishnan notes that the word "asava" appears in the Dhammapada, an important Buddhist scripture, in verses 93, 226, 253, 292, and 293.[3] Verse 226 (chapter 17, verse 6) reads

6. sadā jāgaramānānam, ahorattānusikkhinam
    nibbāṇam adhimuttānam, atthaṁ gacchanti āsavā 226[4]

This verse has been translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita as

Those who are ever vigilant, who discipline themselves day and night,
and are ever intent upon Nibbana – their defilements fade away.[5]

Rhys Davids & Stede (1921–25) state in part that "Freedom from the 'Āsavas' constitutes Arahantship."[6]

These points are collected and summarized by Bhikkhu Bodhi thus:

The āsavas or taints are a classification of defilements considered in their role of sustaining the forward movement of the process of birth and death. The commentaries derive the word from a root su meaning "to flow." Scholars differ as to whether the flow implied by the prefix ā is inward or outward; hence some have rendered it as "influxes" or "influences," others as "outflows" or "effluents." A stock passage in the suttas indicates the term's real significance independently of etymology when it describes the āsavas as states "that defile, bring renewal of existence, give trouble, ripen in suffering, and lead to future birth, aging and death" (MN 36.47; I 250). Thus other translators, bypassing the literal meaning, have rendered it "cankers," "corruptions," or "taints." The three taints mentioned in the Nikāyas are respectively synonyms for craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, and ignorance. [The fourth āsava, attachment to views, appears in the commentaries.] When the disciple's mind is liberated from the taints by the completion of the path of arhantship, he reviews his newly won freedom and roars his lion's roar: "Birth is destroyed, the spiritual life has been lived, what had to be done has been done; there is no more coming back to any state of being."[7]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Carr, Brian; Indira Mahalingam (1997). Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-03535-X. 
  2. De Silva, Padmasiri (2000). An introduction to Buddhist psychology. Rowman & Littefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-0857-6. 
  3. Radhakrishnan, S. (1950), The Dhammapada (see article), p.189 (part of his Pali index).
  4. Radhakrishnan, S. (1950), The Dhammapada, p. 132.
  5. The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom. Translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita (1985). Buddhist Publication Society. Kandy, Sri Lanka, p. 39.
  6. See entry on "Āsava" (pp. 115-16) (retrieved 2011-04-30)
  7. In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon. Edited and introduced by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Wisdom Publications. Boston. 2005, p. 229.
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