A Buddhist Analysis of Affective Bias

  • Sean M. SmithEmail author


In this paper, I explore a debate between some Indian Buddhist schools regarding the nature of the underlying tendencies or anusaya-s. I focus here primarily on the ninth chapter of Kathāvatthu’s representation of a dispute about whether an anusaya can be said to have intentional object. I also briefly treat of Vasubandhu’s defense of the Sautrāntika view of anuśaya in the opening section of the fifth chapter his Abhidharmakośabhāṣyam. Following Vasubandhu, I argue against the Thervādin Abhidharmikas that the underlying tendencies (anusaya-s) can be identified with their active manifestations (pariyuṭṭhāna). Etymologically, the notion of anusaya denotes a kind of latency, dormancy or otherwise ‘below the surface’ propensity. It can literally be translated as ‘that which lies or dwells beneath or alongside’. I will translate the term as ‘underlying tendency’, but philosophically speaking, it is most important to understand that the notion of anusaya refers to dispositions that condition current experience in a tacit way. The task of a philosophical account of the anusaya-s is to explain how their implicit conditioning influence shapes occurrent mental activity. The Indian Buddhist philosophers exercised an enormous amount of energy in attempting to explain this relation. A thorough examination of this dialectic has two important fruits to bear. The first is that the Buddhists can help us explain in precise detail how the mind is affectively layered. That is, they have a plausible account of how the mind is both responsive in real time to the objects it encounters in the world, while at the same time being tacitly conditioned by its own history of affective bias. Indeed, as we will see, the Buddhists were deeply concerned with how processes of affective bias were operating at the deepest levels of the mind and how we ought to conceive of their influence on our ordinary processes of perception and cognition. Second, this local position within the Buddhist milieu is indicative of a wider propensity in Buddhist philosophy to blend analyses of affectively-biased intentions and causation. I submit that this blending could be helpful in a more global for contemporary discussions of the mind in philosophy and science.


Anusaya Buddhaghosa Affective bias Theravāda Buddhist Philosophy Consciousness Sentience 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.




  1. Abkh-b—Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośabhāsyam (1975) (ed.) Pradhan, P. Patna: K.P.. Jayaswal Research Institute. English: Pruden, L.M. (1991) Abhidharmakośabhāsyam, Berkeley, Asian University Press.Google Scholar
  2. AN—Aṅguttara Nikāya, Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2012) The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. Somerville: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  3. Dhp—Dhammapada, Norman, K.R. (trans.) (1997) The Word of the Doctrine: A Translation of the Dhammapada. Oxford: PTS Society.Google Scholar
  4. Kv—Kathāvatthu, Aung, S.Z. and Rhys Davids, C.A.F. (trans.) Points of Controversy: A Translation of Kathāvatthu. Oxford: PTS Society.Google Scholar
  5. Kv-a—Kathāvatthu Aṭṭhakathā, Law, B.C. (trans.) (1999) The Debates Commentary. Oxford: PTS Society.Google Scholar
  6. MN—Majjhima Nikāya, Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu and Bhikkhu Bodhi (trans.) (1995) The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. Somerville: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  7. MN-a—Majjhima Nikāya aṭṭhakathā Google Scholar
  8. SN—Saṃyutta Nikāya, Bodhi, Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000) The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. Somerville: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  9. Vis—Buddhaghosa, Bhadantācariya (2000) Visuddhimagga, trans. Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli Visuddhimagga: The Path of Purification. Seattle: BPS PariyattiGoogle Scholar
  10. Yam-aYamaka-aṭṭhakathā Google Scholar


  1. Analayo, B. (2011) A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation, (2 vols.)Google Scholar
  2. Analayo, B. (2012). Madhyama-āgama studies. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  3. Analayo, B. (2015). Saṃyukta-āgama studies. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  4. Analayo, B. (2016). Ekottarika-āgama studies. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  5. Analayo, B. (2017). Dīrgha-āgama studies. Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  6. Barrett, L. F., & Bar, M. (2009). See it with feeling: Affective predictions during object perception. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364, 1325–1334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bayne, T. (2007). Conscious states and conscious creatures: Explanation in the scientific study of consciousness. Philosophical Perspectives, 21(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Block, N. (1995). On a confusion about a function of consciousness. Brain and Behavioral Sciences, 18, 227–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Block, N. (2007). Consciousness, accessibility, and the mesh between psychology and neuroscience. Brain and Behavioral Sciences, 30, 481–548.Google Scholar
  10. Carpenter, A. (2015). Persons keeping their Karma together: The reasons for the Pudgalavāda in early Buddhism. In K. Tanaka, Y. Deguchi, J. L. Garfield, & G. Priest (Eds.), The moot points back. New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  11. Châu, B. T. T. (1996). The literature of the personalists of early Buddhism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  12. Coseru, C. (2015). Taking the intentionality of perception seriously: Why phenomenology is inescapable. Philosophy East and West, 65(1), 227–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. De Silva, P. (2005). An introduction to Buddhist psychology (4th ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. De Silva, P. (2014). An introduction to Buddhist psychology and counselling: Pathways of mindfulness-based therapies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. De Sousa, R. (1990). The rationality of emotion. New York: Bradford.Google Scholar
  16. Dhammajoti, B. K. L. (2015). Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma. Hong Kong: The Buddha-Dharma Centre of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  17. Frauwallner, E. (1995) Abhidharma literature and the origins of Buddhist philosophical SYSTEMS (S. F. Kidd, Trans.). New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  18. Ganeri, J. (2001). Argumentation, dialogue, and the Kathāvatthu. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 29, 485–493.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ganeri, J. (2018). Attention, not self. New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gold, J. (2015). Paving the great way: Vasubandhu’s unifying Buddhist Philosophy. New York: Columbia UP.Google Scholar
  21. Harvey, P. (2013). Dukkha, non-self, and the teaching on the four ‘noble truths’. In S. M. Emmanuel (Ed.), A companion to Buddhist Philosophy. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  22. Heidegger, M. (1927/1996). Being and time (J. Stambaugh, Trans.). New York: SUNY.Google Scholar
  23. Huong, D. T. T. (2012). An analytical study of the concept of Anusaya in early Buddhism with special reference to Freudian Psychology. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Delhi, Delhi.Google Scholar
  24. Jaini, P. S. (1959). The Sautrāntika theory of Bīja. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 22(1/3), 236–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Karunadasa, Y. (2014). The Theravāda Abhidhamma: Its inquiry into the nature of conditioned existence. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lebrecht, S., Bar, M., Feldman Barrett, L., & Tarr, M. J. (2012). Micro-valences: perceiving affective valence in everyday objects. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, Article 107, 1–5.Google Scholar
  27. Ledoux, J. (1998). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  28. Ledoux, J. (2012). Rethinking the emotional brain. Neuron, 73(4), 653–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. LeDoux, J., & Brown, R. (2017). A higher-order theory of emotional consciousness. PNAS Neuroscience, 114(10), 1–10.Google Scholar
  30. Lusthaus, D. (2009). Pudgalavāda doctrine of the person. In W. Edelglass & J. L. Garfield (Eds.), Buddhist philosophy: Essential readings. New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  31. Matilal, B. K. (1998). The character of logic in India. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  32. McDermott, J. P. (1975). The Kathāvatthu Kamma debates. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 95(3), 424–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/2012). The phenomenology of perception (D. Landes, Trans.). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Mitomo, K. (1975). Anuśaya as conceived in Abhidharma-Buddhism. Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, 22(1), 497–501.Google Scholar
  35. Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? The Philosophical Review, 83(4), 435–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pessoa, L. (2013). The cognitive-emotional brain: From interactions to integration. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Priestly, L. C. D. C. (1999). Pudgalavāda Buddhism: The reality of the indeterminate self. Toronto: South Asian Studies Papers, No. 12, No. 1.Google Scholar
  38. Rospatt, A. (1995). The buddhist doctrine of momentariness: A survey of the origins and early phase of this doctrine up to Vasubandhu. Hamburg: Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart.Google Scholar
  39. Author. (2018). The affective point of view: Cross-cultural philosophical reflections on embodiment, feeling, and consciousness. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Toronto.Google Scholar
  40. Thompson, E. (2015). Waking, dreaming being: Self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy. New York: Colombia UP.Google Scholar
  41. Todd, R. M., MacDonald, M. J., Sedge, P., Robertson, A., Jetly, R., Taylor, M. J., et al. (2015). Soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorder see a world full of threat: magnetoencephalography reveals enhanced tuning to combat-related cues. Society of Biological Psychiatry, 78(12), 821–829.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Waldron, W. S. (2003). The Buddhist unconscious: The Alaya-vijnana in the context of Indian Buddhist thought. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Hawai’i at ManoaHonoluluUSA

Personalised recommendations