The Four Obscurations

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The four obscurations (sGrib.pa bzhi) are the karmic obscuration (Las.kyi sgrib.pa), the obscuration of passions (Nyon.mongs.kyi sgrib.pa), the intellectual obscuration, or obscuration of not knowing (Shes.bya’i sgrib.pa), and the obscuration of habit (Bag.chhags kyi sgrib.pa). Karmic obscuration comes from committing any of countless unvirtuous deeds, which may be summarized as the five inexpiable sins (mTshams.med lnga), the ten unvirtuous deeds (Mi.dge.ba bchu), the breaking of the various vows (samaya) of the Hīnayāna, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayāna, etc. The attainment of a precious body such as that of a god or human is obstructed by karmic obscuration. Obscuration by the countless passions or emotions can be condensed into the obscuration of the five passions, (1 )the obscuration of the three passions, (2) or the obscuration of ego. The states of attainment for Hīnayāna practitioners are obstructed by the obscuration of the passions. The obscuration of not knowing is the “threefold sphere” (’Khor gsum), which is the three concomitants of object, subject, and action. The obscuration of habit, according to sūtra, is a very subtle form of the obscuration of not knowing. According to tantra, it is the basis of “habit inherent in the three phenomena of body, speech, and mind” (sNang gsum ’pho.ba’i bag.chhags), which is also a very subtle obscuration. This obscuration of habit is the cause, latent residue, or habit of the white phenomenon, or subtle seed, which gives rise to the body; the cause, latent residue, or habit of the red phenomenon, or subtle seed, which gives rise to speech; and the cause, latent residue, or habit of the vital air, which gives rise to the mind. Freedom from the obstructions of the obscuration of not knowing and the obscuration of habit is the “state of omniscient wisdom” (rNam.pa thams.chad mkhyen.pa’i ye.shes).

1. Desire, anger, ignorance, jealousy, and pride.

2. Desire, anger, and ignorance.

Small Golden Key 

Thinley Norbu

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