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70 Craving and Salvation for the same reasons it can be argued that the roots underlie and condition craving. Thus, for example, there is an evident correspondence between the root of greed and both sensual desire and the craving for life. The mula as "roots," then, are more than just a figure of speech. They play a crucial role in the etiology of craving (tanha). 18. The Cankers The final group of harmful dispositions which underlie consciousness are the cankers (asava). This term has little currency in contemporary Buddhism. I found that lay people and even some monks in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand rarely had an appreciation of its significance in the teachings (dhamma). Nevertheless its importance in the texts is apparent. Coming from the root sru (to ooze or flow), asava has a specific function in Buddhist psychological terminology as "that which intoxicates the mind so that it cannot rise to higher things." It is difficult to find an English equivalent 58 for this word, but Horner's translation of canker adequately conveys the sense of a psychological sore that festers corrosively. Johansson's "influxes" 59 is less adequate. In what are regarded as some of the older passages of the Sutta Pitaka (M.I.55, A.1.165, S.4.256, Itv. 49), only three cankers are traditionally referred to (kamasava, bhavasava, avijjasava: the cankers of sensuality, of "becoming," and of ignorance). On occasion ditthasava (the canker of "views" or speculation) is added, as in D.2.81: The mind (cittam) filled with wisdom (panna—paribhavitam) is set free from the asava, that is to say from the cankers of sensuality, lust for life, speculation , and ignorance. A significant feature of this passage is its reference to mind (citta). The cankers frequently appear in the context of this term, and the very fact that they Mind and Craving 71 seriously affect the mind and are the last detrimental dispositions to be removed before enlightenment points to their deeply entrenched position within the psyche. Only in the final stages of meditation does the devotee rid himself of these cankers: And presently, Ananda, passing wholly beyond the mental state of neither perception nor non-perception, I entered and abode in the cessation of perception and feeling, and I saw by wisdom that the cankers were destroyed. A.4.448 The cankers (asava) are evidently so established (and yet at the same time so common) that, as this passage and other texts point out, it takes a special kind of knowledge (panna) to excise them. The ordinary person is unaware of this background; even those engaged in the first levels of meditation are unable to penetrate the depths of their dispositional nature sufficiently to discover the source of craving and so begin to eradicate it. It can be claimed that the chief feature of the cankers is their power to thwart insight, particularly insight into the cause of painfulness. At least it is clear that the canker of ignorance is in many ways the most fundamental ("with the arising of cankers there is the arising of ignorance, with the cessation of cankers there is cessation of ignorance"—"asavasamudaya avijjasamudayo asavanirodha avijjanirodho," M.I.54). It is the basis of all harmful states of mind. No other factor is as impure (mala malatram, as in Dhm. 243: "But the superlative impurity, greater than all the others, is ignorance."). It is important to point out that the ignorance specifically indicated by the canker of ignorance is want of the higher knowledge, the four Noble Truths. Not unexpectedly several texts stress the destruction of the cankers as coinciding with the realization of these Truths (D.2.98). As this and other passages indicate, rooting out the cankers is a vital component of the Buddhist way to awareness. One does not find the dormant 72 Craving and Salvation tendencies or unwholesome roots directly mentioned in such a context. It is also notable that the cankers are referred to many more times in the Sutta Pitaka than the dormant tendencies or roots, confirming their critical importance in Buddhist soteriology. Their intransigent, powerful grip on the individual, shown by their presence at even the most profound level of meditation, indicates the extent of their influence on the personality (aitta). In this way the cankers are even less readily brought to the realization and understanding of an enlightened consciousness than the latent tendencies or the unwholesome roots. They represent the deepest unconscious dispositional forces of the human...


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