What's the difference between kilesas vs. asavas?

I understand that specific attributes are usually associated with one category, but I don’t get why there are two categories in the first place. How ought one treat them differently in their practice? They just seem like two different ways of saying negative attributes of mind that one must overcome to obtain awakening. What am I missing here?

My impression is ‘kilesa’ is a very general broad term covering the myriad defilements, whether discussed in brief (e.g. AN 1.49; Dhp 88; Thag 1.67) & in detail (e.g. MN 7).

‘Asava’ is a specific term about how the ‘underlying tendencies’ (‘anusaya’; AN 7.11) ooze, flow or even erupt out of the mind. Thus, the translations for ‘asava’ of ‘fermentations’, ‘cankers’, ‘eruptions’, ‘outflows’, etc. For example, my personal view is the translation of ‘taints’ for ‘asava’ is too static.

Also, if we study the final paragraphs of MN 9, we will find ‘asava’ are incorporated into ‘ignorance’ and thus seem to represent the earliest emergence of defilements.

PTS Pali English Dictionary


that which; flows (out or on to) outflow & influx.

There are four terms that need to be understood & distinguished:

  1. Anusaya SuttaCentral
  2. Asava SuttaCentral
  3. Nivarana SuttaCentral
  4. Kilesa SuttaCentral SuttaCentral

Asava = influence from outside that flow in through your senses. Then cause ignorance and the whole DO.

Kilesa = impurities that stay in oneself. So asava cause kilesa.

To stop asava needs jhana (samma samadhi) and sati.

To look at kilesa need sati and samadhi. And needs to throw out the kilesa (impurities), so one can become pure. Then need to maintain the sati/samadhi to continue to stop asava(s) and throw out inside kilesa.

But without right view and precepts, there is no way to get to samadhi to see & throw out kilesa(s) and stop asava(s).

Asava or Ārammaṇa?

No asava is different from ārammaṇa.

You need wisdom and samma samadhi to stop asava to flow in.

No asava, DO ceases to function (i.e. one can’t be affected, or free).

While ārammaṇa already trapped/bonded to senses outside. See SN 35.243 for usage.

That is how I understood.