Anusayā: underlying drive?

Explore the ancient language of the Tipitaka and Theravāda commentaries
Post Reply
Posts: 938
Joined: Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:56 pm

Anusayā: underlying drive?

Post by starter »


I'm pondering about the meaning/translation of "Anusayā" by reading both the Pali (English translation) and Chinese Agama suttas, and some interesting study of this word by e.g. "Theravadin" ... t-studies/

This word is typically used after these seven "drives": sensual desire (kāma-rāgānusaya), aversion (paṭighānusaya), notions (diṭṭhānusaya), doubt (vicikicchānusaya), conceit (mānānusaya), desire to exist (bhava-rāgānusaya), and ignorance (avijjānusaya), which drive beings to wander and suffer in samsara.

I think Ven. Bodhi's translation of "underlying tendency to" is a good one, better than "latent tendency of", since the anusayās are not really latent/dormant, but drive the unawakened beings all the time. The translation of "obsession" missed the connotation of "underlying" (the "roots" of the "tree"). Considering that in Chinese Agama "anusaya" is translated as the noun "drive" ["使"], I'm wondering if it's better to translate it into "underlying drive by" (sensual desire, ...)?

I've realized more and more the importance of studying Pali (and Chinese Agama). If I only listen to some English translation, I wouldn't have grasped the meaning of anusayā at all.

Metta to all!
Posts: 1363
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:27 pm

Re: Anusayā: underlying drive?

Post by culaavuso »

Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu's footnote to AN 7.11: Anusaya Sutta may be of interest:
Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote: This term — anusaya — is usually translated as "underlying tendency" or "latent tendency." These translations are based on the etymology of the term, which literally means, "to lie down with." However, in actual usage, the related verb (anuseti) means to be obsessed with something, for one's thoughts to return and "lie down with it" over and over again.
The suttas discuss this action as a support for consciousness, and as that by which a being is measured or classified:
SN 12.38: Cetana Sutta wrote: Staying at Savatthi... [the Blessed One said,] "What one intends, what one arranges, and what one obsesses about: This is a support for the stationing of consciousness. There being a support, there is a landing [or: an establishing] of consciousness. When that consciousness lands and grows, there is the production of renewed becoming in the future.
SN 22.36: Bhikkhu Sutta wrote: Monk, whatever one stays obsessed with, that's what one is measured by. Whatever one is measured by, that's how one is classified. Whatever one doesn't stay obsessed with, that's not what one is measured by. Whatever one isn't measured by, that's not how one is classified.
Snp 5.6: Upasiva-manava-puccha wrote: As a flame overthrown by the force of the wind
goes to an end
that cannot be classified,
so the sage free from naming activity
goes to an end
that cannot be classified.
It's also interesting to consider that abandoning the anusaya implies arahantship
AN 7.12: Anusaya Sutta wrote: Monks, with the abandoning & destruction of the seven obsessions, the holy life is fulfilled.
Similarly this state can be viewed as the cessation of clinging
SN 12.52: Upadana Sutta wrote: Now, in one who keeps focusing on the drawbacks of clingable phenomena, craving ceases. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging, illness & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of suffering & stress.
Likewise the description is given that this is the ending of the effluents/cankers/fermentations/taints, which is a description also applied to those who have eliminated the three unwholesome roots.
SN 1.23: Jaṭā Sutta wrote: Those for whom lust and hatred
Along with ignorance have been expunged,
The arahants with taints destroyed:
For them the tangle is disentangled.
And this all happens from the practice
MN 2: Sabbasava Sutta wrote: 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.
SN 22.101: Nava Sutta wrote: Even though this wish may not occur to a monk who dwells devoting himself to development — 'O that my mind might be released from effluents through lack of clinging!' — still his mind is released from the effluents through lack of clinging. Why is that? From developing, it should be said. Developing what? The four frames of reference, the four right exertions, the four bases of power, the five faculties, the five strengths, the seven factors for Awakening, the noble eightfold path.
Post Reply