The Brahmana Sutta, for example, mentions "effluent":

So it is with an arahant whose mental effluents are ended ...

Or in Adhimutta,

One gone to the far shore
without clinging
without effluent
his task completed,
welcomes the ending of life,
as if freed from a place of execution.

This Glossary gives a definition but I don't really understand it,

Mental effluent, pollutant, or fermentation. Four qualities — sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance — that "flow out" of the mind and create the flood of the round of death and rebirth.

There's a longer (perhaps easier to understand) article on Wikipedia: Āsava

  • What is "effluent" (do you have anything to add to the Glossary and Wikipedia definitions above)?

  • What is the difference (or connection) between "karma" and "effluent"?

  • Is there a specific practice for ending "effluents"? Are they an effect or a cause?

  • Three of these effluents (ignorance, becoming, and sensuality) are also listed as 'defilements' ... what kinds of 'views' are considered effluent?

If this is too many questions, please feel free to answer just one or two.


5 Answers 5

  • What is "effluent" (do you have anything to add to the Glossary and Wikipedia definitions above)?

Efflunent are "outflows". How is it outflows? The mind which is the originator of "things", thougts, "goes-out" and make things out that is seen, or heard..etc. When we stay with just the seeing and hearing, there is only visual object as yet unidentified, sound as yet unrecognised, and it can stay that way. When it does stay that way the mind cannot make anything out of it so remains uninvolved with it.

But when it identifies it then it starts fondling it, and the chain/links of dependent origination runs.

When the mind stays with just the perceiving, i.e seeing, hearing, etc.. without "making it out" it is said to be in a state of awareness called Atammayata. This pali word is attributed to have been discovered by Buddhadasa

  • What is the difference (or connection) between "karma" and "effluent"?

Kamma ( usually meant as result,vipaka) is the result of an action. Whereas effluent is a tendency (kilesa, unskilfulness) of an untrained mind.

  • Is there a specific practice for ending "effluents"? Are they an effect or a cause?

Seeing that all things are empty will stop the mind from fondling them. They are tendencies so come under cause, see above link for Atammayata.

  • Three of these effluents (ignorance, becoming, and sensuality) are also listed as 'defilements' ... what kinds of 'views' are considered effluent?

Any views that incoporate dualities, i.e. subject and object.

  • 1
    Thank you; I think your answer is clear and descriptive (and short), and the references that you gave are also clear.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 10:46
  • I think the "views" that effluents refers to is the same group of views that "the 10 root afflictions" refers to, namely the view of a self, one-sided views, rituals, and impure views..
    – Ahmed
    Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 15:43

In summary it seems to mean approximately the same thing as a "fetter".

There's a definition of āsava in the Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines by Maha Thera Nyanatiloka, which is copied into the Dhamma Wiki.

The definition in the Dhamma Wiki is almost the same as in the manual, except that in the Wiki there is added an example of each of the four types. I think an example helps make it easier to understand:

  1. The mental fermentation of sense-desire kāmāsava, Ex: 'All is pleasant'
  2. The mental fermentation of desiring existence bhavāsava, Ex: 'Being is good'
  3. The mental fermentation of wrong views ditthāsava, Ex: 'My opinion is best'
  4. The mental fermentation of ignorance avijjāsava. Ex: 'Suffering exists not'

The term "āsava" is also introduced in the dharmafarer translation of the Jhāna Sutta (AN 9.36), including,

As “mental influxes,” the oldest list is probably the set of 3 influxes—of sense-desire (kām’āsava), of existence (bhav’āsava), and of ignorance (avijjâsava) -- which are essentially the same as the 3 graspings (ti,gaha) of craving (tanhā), conceit (mana) and views (ditthi), on account of which arise, resp, the notions “this is mine,” “this I am,” and “this is my self”), such as in the Vatthûpama Sutta (M 7).

The second half of the Dhamma Wiki definition says that these are destroyed at various stages of enlightenment, e.g. Stream Entry:

Through the path of Stream-Entry, the fermentation of views is destroyed; Through the path of Non-Returning, the fermentation of sense-desire; Through the path of Arahatship, the fermentations of existence and ignorance. M. 2 shows how to overcome the fermentations, namely, through insight, sense-control, avoidance, wise use of the necessities of life.

I think this implies that these four asavas correspond to, are not different than, four of the ten fetters.

The Sabbasava Sutta (MN 2) implies that beyond these four there are other asavas, for example ill-will (which too corresponds to another of the ten fetters)

Reflecting appropriately, he does not tolerate an arisen thought of ill will...

The introduction to the dharmafarer translation of the Sabbāsava Sutta (MN 2) describes asavas in even more detail, including,

Apparently, the three influxes were in due course expanded into the ten fetters.

This Manual of Abhidhamma (on page 365) contains another definition of asava:

âsavà— is derived from à +√ su, to flow. They are so called either because they flow up to the topmost plane of existence or because they persist as far as the Gotrabhå consciousness (i.e., the thought-moment that immediately precedes the Path-consciousõess of the ‘Stream-Winner’— Sotàpatti). These âsavas are latent in all worldlings and may rise to the surface in any plane of existence. They lie dormant in all from an indefinite period and are treated as strong intoxicants or drugs that infatuate beings. Defilements, Corruptions, Depravities, Taints, Intoxicants, Stains are suggested as the closest equivalents for this ‘infamously famous’ Pàli term. See Compendium, p. 170, n. 1, p. 227.

Of the four âsavas kàmàsava means attachment to sensual pleasures, bhavàsava is attachment to Råpa and Aråpa planes of existence, diññhàsava are the sixty-two kinds of erroneous views (see Brahmajàla Sutta, DN1), and avijjàsava is ignorance with regard to the four Noble Truths, past life, future life, both past and future lives, and the Law of Dependent Arising.

The "Compendium" which is referenced above is the PTS Compendium of Philosophy, which says it's difficult to translate:

We agreed to let this term, infamously famous, remain untranslated. Nothing to fit has yet been discovered. Warren's 'depravities' and Neumann's 'Wähnen' make no pretence to be literal. 'Floods' and 'Taints' (Rhys Davids) convey the idea of spreading movement, of disaster, of defilement, my 'Intoxicants' and 'Drugs' that of poison. The former idea seems alone active in the minds of the Commentators; and yet, if A. i., 124, § 7, be compared with Jataka IV., 222 (3):

There is in the world an Asava1 called strong drink,

1 Jataka Commentary: i.e. 'a poison' (visaij), from flower-asava and the like.

the latter idea may claim some canonical support (cf. Dialogues of the Buddha, i. 92 ; ii. 28). To the general Buddhist, Asava probably conveyed no more 'visualizable' meaning than sin does to the Christian, although, in either case, the moral vibration in consciousness is heavy enough.

Different suttas describe how to end the asavas; for example:

  • The Sabbasava Sutta (MN 2), which starts with:

    The Blessed One said, "Monks, the ending of the fermentations is for one who knows & sees, I tell you, not for one who does not know & does not see. For one who knows what & sees what? Appropriate attention & inappropriate attention. When a monk attends inappropriately, unarisen fermentations arise, and arisen fermentations increase. When a monk attends appropriately, unarisen fermentations do not arise, and arisen fermentations are abandoned. There are fermentations to be abandoned by seeing, those to be abandoned by restraining, those to be abandoned by using, those to be abandoned by tolerating, those to be abandoned by avoiding, those to be abandoned by dispelling, and those to be abandoned by developing.

    The rest of the sutta gives example of inappropriate and appropriate attention.

    The dharmafarer introduction to this sutta has 15 pages, and among other things it tries to show that these methods correspond to the various factors of the noble eightfold path.

    Incidentally the example in the sutta of "attending appropriately" is,

    He attends appropriately, This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. As he attends appropriately in this way, three fetters are abandoned in him: identity-view, doubt, and grasping at precepts & practices. These are called the fermentations to be abandoned by seeing.

  • The Jhana Sutta (AN 9.36), which starts with:

    "I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana... the second jhana... the third... the fourth... the dimension of the infinitude of space... the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness... the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

    The dharmafarer introduction to this sutta says,

    The (Āsava-k,khaya) Jhāna Sutta (A 9.36) describes the attainment of arhathood or non-return through meditation that applies calm (samatha) as a basis for insight (vipassanā). This is one of the four approaches or strategies to meditation as laid out by Ānanda in the (Yuganaddha) Paṭipadā Sutta (A 4.170), makes a very clear reference to the various vehicles for mental cultivation for the attaining of arhathood, as follows:

    1. Insight preceded by calm. When the path arises in him, he pursues it, so that the mental fetters are abandoned and the latent tendencies are destroyed.
    2. Calm preceded by insight. When the path arises in him, he pursues it, so that the mental fetters are abandoned and the latent tendencies are destroyed.
    3. Calm and insight coupled together. When the path arises in him, he pursues it, so that the mental fetters are abandoned and the latent tendencies are destroyed.
    4. A monk’s mind is seized by agitation caused by higher states of mind; but there comes a time when his mind becomes internally steadied, composed, unified and concentrated. Then the path arises in him, and while he does so, the fetters are abandoned and the latent tendencies are destroyed.

Asava was a type of liquor, a sweet fermented barley drink with honey and spices. Here in Buddhism it is used as a metaphor for mental intoxicant. Usually it is used in functional sense, anything that intoxicates the mind can be called an asava. Upon requests to provide examples, Buddha sometimes gave major types of asava:

  • kama-asava (the intoxicant of sensual desire)
  • avijja-asava (the intoxicant of ignorance -- or rather delusion/confusion)
  • ditthi-asava (the intoxicant of a fixed viewpoint or position)
  • bhava-asava (the intoxicant of quasi-individual existence)

This list should not be understood categorically, but rather as a set of examples. In the broad sense four asavas (intoxicants), four oghas (floods), four yogas (bonds), four ganthas (ties), four upadanas (fuels), five or six nivaranas (hindrances), seven anusayas (latent tendencies), ten sannojanas (fetters), ten kleshas (affects, poisons) -- all are examples of obstacles to enlightenment, given by Buddha to different levels of students.


The following words, in order of their psychological subtlety and manifestation (arising), are to be understood: (1) anusaya (underlying tendencies); (2) asava (outflows); (3) nirvarana (hindrances); (4) tanha (cravings); (5) cetana (intentions); and (6) kamma (action).

  1. anusaya is the subconscious underlying tendencies (AN 7.11 and MN 64)

  2. when anusaya flow out or erupt into the conscious mind, this is 'asava'. Asava is at the level of 'ignorance' in dependent origination (MN 9):

    With the arising of ignorance there is the arising of the taints (asava). With the arising of the taints there is the arising of ignorance.

  3. on a mental level, asava take the form of the five hindrances. Hindrances are also at the level of 'ignorance' in dependent origination (AN 10.61):

    Ignorance, too, has its nutriment, I declare; and it is not without a nutriment. And what is the nutriment of ignorance? 'The five hindrances,' should be the answer.

    Note: The five hindrances are not the 'cause' of ignorance but the food that keeps ignorance alive

  4. asava and hindrances trigger off distracting internal memories, perceptions, feelings, thoughts & disturbances of breathing, which is 'kaya, vaci and citta sankhara' in dependent origination

  5. if mindfulness does not stop the push of hindrances and sankhara at nama-rupa/mental contact, the hindrances will become 'craving-intentions' for external sense objects

  6. when the cravings & intentions are acted out mentally, verbally and/or physically, at 'becoming', this is kamma

Some quotes to ferret out the subtleties --


If the nutriment of intentional thought is comprehended, the three kinds of craving are thereby comprehended.

AN 6.63

Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.

AN 3.76

Kamma is the field...the consciousness of living beings hindered by ignorance & fettered by craving is established in to a sensual...material...immaterial element (dhatu). Thus there is the production of new becoming in the future. If there were no kamma ripening in the sensual...material...immaterial element, would becoming be discerned?

SN 14.12

In dependence on the sensuality element [anusaya; asava & nirvarana] there arises sensual perception [sankhara; nama-rupa; vedana]; in dependence on the sensual perception there arises sensual thought/kāmasaṃkappo [sankhara; nama-rupa]; in dependence on the sensual thought there arises sensual zeal/kāmacchando [nama-rupa; tanha]; in dependence on the sensual zeal there arises sensual fever/kāmapariḷāho [tanha; upadana]; in dependence on the sensual fever there arises a sensual quest [upadana; bhava]. Engaged in a sensual quest, the uninstructed worldling conducts himself [bhava; kamma; jati] wrongly in three ways - with body, speech and mind.

  • My Guru said something similar to the effect that if one catches a thought immediately as it arises, it stops a flow (or flood?) of thoughts which then take attention away. After that, emotion arises. If the emotion is not caught, the body reacts and it becomes extremely hard to reverse the tendency. This pattern recurs constantly in our experience, so we get lots of chances to learn to intercept it earlier and earlier. But only realization cuts off the initial reaction / uprising.
    – user2341
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 15:37
  • 1
    I agree. Most teachers do not teach Dependent Origination precisely. The very 1st most subtle thoughts that arise (which are not 'kamma' or 'volitional') are at 'sankhara' (2nd link). This is the 'leakage' of 'asava'. The nama-rupa (mentality-materiality) must 'catch' these thoughts at contact or 'plug' these 'leaks', otherwise the nama-rupa will be 'flooded' & controlled by these thoughts, which then leads to the craving, attachment, becoming, kamma of Dependent Origination generating suffering or 'drowning in the great flood' . Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 20:49
  • 1
    I added a hyperlink to each reference, even though I didn't hyperlink to exactly the same translator/translation as each of your quotes
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 0:23

Interesting question, I have never heard 'effluent' referred to before. I would say that it is not the same as Karma (as you ask) because Karma means either "What I am here to do" (my duty or purpose) or: What comes back to me as a result of my actions - which is the usual understanding. If effluent refers to something flowing from me, then that does not line up.

There is a famous quote from At the Feet of the Master: "You are not your mind, but it is yours to use." I think people focus way too much on the concept of self as some sort of repository of good and bad that must be purged, polished, purified, emptied, etc. I think of the mind as like a bucket that holds things temporarily. So, if I take a bucket of water and use it to wash my feet for example, then pour it back in the river, this has no effect on others: nothing "flows out". But if I take the bucket of water and fling it at everyone around me, then something (my views, mood, etc) is going out from me and probably making others miserable! This is how I see this word at this time.

  • Extra point if you get the moon to reflect in your bucket. 100 points if you get the moon to reflect in others' buckets. 1000 points if your bucket breaks while the moon is reflected in it (old koan story). Lazy 8 points if you say something that causes someone else's bucket to break. But then, there would be no one to get the points... I have not heard of this happening while inquiring in to definitions, but I suppose it could.
    – user2341
    Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 12:04

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