Three kinds of ignorance

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An old blind man groping for his way with a cane, the image for ignorance in the Wheel of Life

Three kinds of ignorance (Tib. མ་རིག་པ་གསུམ་, marikpa sum, Wyl. ma rig pa gsum) are mentioned in the Dzogchen teachings:

1. Causal ignorance of single identity (Tib. རྒྱུ་བདག་ཉིད་གཅིག་པུའི་མ་རིག་པ་) (Rigpa Translations)
or: Ignorance that is virtually the same as the ground itself, (Tib. བདག་ཉིད་གཅིག་པུའི་མ་རིག་པ་, བདག་ཉིད་གཅིག་པའི་མ་རིག་པ་)
2. Coemergent ignorance (Tib. ལྷན་ཅིག་སྐྱེས་པའི་མ་རིག་པ་)
3. Imputational ignorance (Tib. ཀུན་ཏུ་བརྟགས་པའི་མ་རིག་པ་)


Tulku Tsultrim Zangpo writes[1]:

A tantra says:

Ignorance is of three kinds.
The delusion of single identity acts as the root.
Through the co-emergent, there is dualistic thought.
And there develop objects of imputation.

And according to Vimalamitra:

The cause is certainly the single identity.
It is the first of the forms of ignorance.
From it, the co-emergent itself arises.
The view of pure wisdom is turned outwards
And therefore, objects are imputed.

As these quotes indicate, there are three forms of ignorance and they are the opposites of the three qualities of the Ground.

The first of these forms of ignorance (the ignorance of single identity) is the opposite of the empty essence, in the sense that it is a mere confusion about the meaning of freedom from conceptual elaboration. It has none of the qualities of fundamental awareness and so on, which come from actualizing freedom from conceptual elaboration.

It is a dull, foggy state of mind in which there is no clear awareness of objects and is called “the causal ignorance of single identity”, because it is the cause of both co-emergent and imputational ignorance, and all the various deluded perceptions brought about by karma and destructive emotions.

Alternative Translations

  • 1. Causal ignorance of single identity, 2. Innate ignorance, Imputational ignorance (Rigpa translations, alternative)
  • 1. unenlightenment of the single self-cause, 2. innate unenlightenment, 3. unenlightenment of imaginings (Thondup)
  • 1. ignorance of individual selfhood, 2. co-emergent ignorance, 3. ignorance of the imaginary (Dorje & Kapstein)
  • 1. catalytic dimmed awareness of the single identity, 2. coemergent dimmed awareness, 3. dimmed awareness of rampant reification (Germano)
  • 1. single-nature ignorance (Erik Pema Kunsang)
  • 1. ignorance with a nature identical to its cause (Cornu)


  1. In his commentary on the Prayer of Kuntuzangpo, kun bzang smon lam gyi rnam bshad kun bzang nye lam

Further Reading

  • Tulku Thondup, The Practice of Dzogchen (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1996), pages 54-55.
  • Tulku Tsultrim Zangpo, in Karl Brunnhölzl, A Lullaby to Awaken the Heart: The Aspiration Prayer of Samantabhadra and Its Tibetan Commentaries (Sommerville: Wisdom Publications, 2018), pages 175-179.
  • The Light of Wisdom Volume 1. Root text by Padmasambhava and commentary by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great. Published by Shambhala Publications ISBN 0-87773-566-2, page79
  • Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism (Wisdom Publications) ISBN 0-86171-199-9, pages 54-55.