Note: In other texts, the purification of obscurations is often discussed in the context Vajrasattva practice.
To be sure of reaching our destination when we undertake a long journey, we must get rid of anything that can create obstacles and bring along provisions and other essentials for the trip.
On the Buddhist path, that corresponds to the two stages called “purification” and “accumulation.”
Purification does not mean washing some kind of original impurity out of our human nature.
If our nature was inherently bad, it would be useless to try to make it pure, just as we cannot make a piece of coal white by washing it, even for centuries.
Rather, we purify, or remove, the obscurations that veil our true nature or what we might call our “original goodness”.
This purification is like extracting gold from its ore: the impurities are removed to reveal its brilliance and natural perfection.
Or it can be compared to the wind driving away the clouds that hide the sun: the sun’s light remains unchanged. It was already bright even when hidden.
Buddhism distinguishes two types of obscuration that must be eliminated by this process:
(1) The obscuration of disturbing emotions such as desire, hatred, ignorance, pride, and jealousy, and
(2) The more subtle conceptual obscuration, which prevents us from seeing the ultimate nature of things.
To make this purification possible, it is necessary to fulfill a number of requirements and conditions.
That process is called “the acquisition of merit and wisdom”.
The acquisition of merit is achieved by the practice of the first five transcendental virtues: (1) generosity, (2) discipline, (3) patience, (4) joyous effort, and (5) concentration.
The acquisition of wisdom, the sixth transcendent virtue, comes from recognizing the ultimate nature of reality.
Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.