Asravas vs kleshas

what is the distinction between these apparently overlapping categories? is it two different descriptions of similar aspects of reality, or do they fit together?


These are the Sanskrit words I presume?

Āsava and kilesa in Pāli.


This sutta, in Majjhima Nikāya MN2, lists all āsavas and how they are given up.

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Thank you for the question, but as has been stated all contributions here have to be in Pali for readers to recognize them accurately. The ten kilesas are not classified in the suttas, though the term occurs quite often in them. They are a collection of different categories- roots, views, hindrances, shame & dread. Therefore the broader question is: Why are there different classifications of hindrances, fetters, and intoxicant biases?

The answer is they apply to different contexts. The five hindrances are obstructions to jhana, which is within the conditioned realm. The three asavas (intoxicant biases) have a cosmic perspective, and are progressively overcome by severing the ten fetters, which practically speaking is the central classification and should be the focus. There is no time for pure theory but attention should be given to removal of the five lower fetters:

"a monk’s self-examination is very productive in terms of skillful qualities:[2] ‘Do I usually remain covetous or not? With thoughts of ill will or not? Overcome by sloth & drowsiness or not? Restless or not? Uncertain or gone beyond uncertainty? Angry or not? With soiled thoughts or unsoiled thoughts? With my body aroused or unaroused? Lazy or with persistence aroused? Unconcentrated or concentrated?’

“If, on examination, a monk knows, ‘I usually remain covetous, with thoughts of ill will, overcome by sloth & drowsiness, restless, uncertain, angry, with soiled thoughts, with my body aroused, lazy, or unconcentrated,’ then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head; in the same way, the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, relentlessness, mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities.”—AN 10.51

Identification of these states of mind is a responsibility of the third foundation of mindfulness, where the states of mind to be identified are divided into lower and higher. The lower states begin with lust, anger, and delusion, and can refer either to momentary thoughts or the overall condition of the mind as indicated in AN 10.51. In the suttas a mind where the three unwholesome roots have been eradicated is referred to as the arahant, and progress in removing the fetters is also graduated into four stages of holiness.

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I don’t remember that being a requirement anywhere. Not everyone is coming from a Theravada background and Pali terminology. Personally, I’m more familiar with the Sanskrit and Chinese terms. I recognized asrava and klesas immediately, but I’m not very familiar with their Pali forms.

Pali is important obviously for texts in the Pali Canon, but is far from being a universal language for Buddhist terminology. Historically, Indian Buddhists tended to converge onto Sanskrit. Scholarship on Indian Buddhism tends to use Sanskrit terminology as well.


Literally, asrava or asava means “influx or outflow”, which is defined as a something material caused karma flowing into or out of soul in Jainism (Nigantha sect of Sramana movement). But Buddhism redefined asava as “taints” or mental defilements of sensual pleasures, craving for existence, and ignorance, which perpetuate samsara.

As for klesha (which literally means “affliction”) I couldn’t find the term in Jainism, perhaps it’s borrowed from non-sramana sects or genuine Buddhist term for defilements.

Asava is more fundamental than kleshas. Asava is your most innate tendency, streaming out without a prior experienceable trigger to be clearly identified.
It is setting up your mood for all you can experience. Depression, mid life crisis, a day of cheerfulness, social anxiety, all names to asava in different flavors.
Klesha usually comes with a very clear object. i.e. you are doing fine with meditation, suddenly an devil image shows up, fear rushes in. We can say Klesha made the image to scare you. Klesha seems to know all your dark secret and all what button to push you.

Klesha can make you mad at sth, asava makes madness just because.