Instinctual drives and fabrication

Does Buddhist psychology account for instinctual drives, the Id? Would it be correct to equate ignorance with the unconscious and instinctual drives with fabrications?

AN7.12:1.1: “Mendicants, the spiritual life is lived to give up and cut out these seven underlying tendencies.
AN7.12:1.3: The underlying tendencies of sensual desire, repulsion, views, doubt, conceit, desire to be reborn, and ignorance.

Beware of trying to force the Dharma too cleanly into Western philosophical / psychological buckets. They don’t divide up / explain the five aggregates in quite the same way. But yes, the basic idea is there, as MN 64 makes clear.


The instinctual drives are the unwholesome roots of anger and desire (passion). These fuel the rise and fall of samsara.

"When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

“When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.”—AN 2.30

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Hmm, I would lean towards no because Arahants still have instinctual drive to feed the body.

By instinctual drive do you mean the desire to survive and reproduce?

There is no desire to reproduce because for many reproduction is a means of insurance, like having kids to take care of you in old age, or to avert loneliness. Arahants don’t get lonely and don’t really have a need for someone to take care of them even though the Sangha is there for them.

But in general I don’t think the dhamma is at odds with instincts, it’s at odds with the 3 poisons which is much worse than mere instinct. A baby operates on mere instinct but hasn’t yet manifested the latent tendencies and 3 poisons.

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A previous post by a Khemarato.bhikkhu referred to seven underlying tendencies (anusaya).

MN 9 seems to say these anusaya emerge as ‘asava’ (‘cankers’), which are part of ignorance.

And what, your reverences, is ignorance? What is the uprising of ignorance?.. Whatever, your reverences, is not-knowing in regard to anguish, not-knowing in regard to the uprising of anguish, not-knowing in regard to the stopping of anguish, not-knowing in regard to the course leading to the stopping of anguish, this, your reverences, is called ignorance. From the uprising of the cankers is the uprising of ignorance…

And what, your reverences, is a canker? What is the uprising of a canker?.. Your reverences, there are these three cankers: The canker of sense-pleasures, the canker of becoming, the canker of ignorance. From the uprising of ignorance is the uprising of the cankers…

MN 9 (Horner translation)

Similarly, AN 10.61 says the five hindrances are the ‘nutriment/food’ (‘ahara’) of ignorance. SN 46.55 offers some useful metaphors (such as colour, wind, darkness) to distinguish the five ‘hindrances’/‘nivarana’ (as ‘drives’) from distracting ‘thoughts’ (‘vitakka’; MN 19 & 20).

‘Fabrications’ (‘sankhara’) seem to refer to thoughts that are generated by the asava (cankers). For example, Bhikkhu Sujato uses the translation of ‘defilements’ for ‘asava’ and ‘choices’ for ‘sankhara’. It follows, in terms of meditation, it is probably required to distinguish the ‘drive/urge/energy’ from the ‘thoughts/mental verbalizations’. Even when the thoughts are pacified, the drive/urge/canker can remain vibrating in the breath & body. :slightly_smiling_face:


The unwholesome roots of greed, hatred, and delusion cannot be overcome by bare attention, overcoming requires active confrontation:

"but by applying bare attention to them, one “stops short” at the feelings
themselves without allowing them to grow into the passionate reactions of lust or aversion. However, in this method of the noble power, the meditator does not take the 87 feeling-values for granted; he does not accept them as they present themselves. His response is to reverse the feeling value (mode 1, 2), to equalise the response to the repulsive and the unrepulsive (mode 3, 4) and to transcend both by mindful equanimity (mode 5). These fives modes thus constitute a subtle “magic of transformation” by which pleasant and unpleasant feelings, as they habitually arise, can be changed at will or replaced by equanimity. "—Nyanaponika

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