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jñeyā-varaṇa (T. shes bya'i sgrib pa ཤེས་བྱའི་སྒྲིབ་པ་; C. suozhi zhang) is translated as "cognitive obscurations," "conceptual obscurations," "cognitive obstructions," etc. It is one of two types of obscurations (āvaraṇa) on the bodhisattva path identified in the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition; the other type is "afflictive obscurations" (kleśā-varaṇa).

A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher states:

Conceptual obscurations are the thoughts that involve the belief that subject, object, and action are real.[1][2]

The Khenjuk states:

Cognitive obscuration means the obscuration that hinders the unmistaken insight into the nature of things as they are and all that exists. From which cause does it arise? It comes from not realizing that all phenomena are of the nondual nature of dharmadhatu, and from apprehending them instead to be various kinds of perceivers and perceived (grāhya-grāhaka). For this reason, noble Maitreya has defined cognitive obscuration as conceptualizing the three spheres.
Since the root of conceptualizing the three spheres is the belief in an identity in phenomena (dharmātmagraha), all obscurations resulting from apprehending an identity in phenomena are, in short, cognitive obscurations. This is eliminated by insight into the emptiness that is the absence of identity in phenomena (dharmanairātmya).[3]

Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions states:

Cognitive obscurations are more subtle [than afflictive obscurations] and difficult to remove. Mainly impeding omniscience, they prevent beings from directly perceiving both conventionalities and their emptiness simultaneously. They consist firstly of latencies (vāsanā) of the afflictions that remain on the mindstream even after the afflictions and their seeds have been eliminated, and secondly of the aspect of the mind that continues to mistakenly see inherent existence. Only buddhas have completely eradicated these. The Pāli tradition also refers to cognitive obscurations (ñeyyāvaraṇa) impeding full knowledge, which a buddha has abandoned.
Other cognitive obscurations are dysfunctional tendencies (duṭṭhulla, dauṣṭulya), latencies on the mindstreams of arhats that manifest in peculiar physical, verbal, and mental behavior. The Pāli commentary to the Udāna speaks of latencies (vāsanā) built up by defilements that produce similar dysfunctional actions in the future. These exist in the mindstreams of ordinary beings and arahants.[4]

Alternate translations

  • cognitive obstructions (Buswell and Lopez)
  • cognitive obscurations (Thubten Chodron)
  • conceptual obscurations (Padmakara)


  1. Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang 2011, Chapter 3.
  2. "subject, object, and action" are known as the three spheres
  3. Mipham Rinpoche 2002, s.v. Chapter 20, paragraph 8.
  4. Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron 2014, s.v. Chapter 10.