The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism
three obstacles and four devils[三障四魔] (Jpn sansho-shima )
Various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. They are listed in the Nirvana Sutra and The Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom. The three obstacles are (1) the obstacle of earthly desires, or obstacles arising from the three poisons of greed, anger, and foolishness; (2) the obstacle of karma, obstacles due to bad karma created by committing any of the five cardinal sins or ten evil acts; and (3) the obstacle of retribution, obstacles caused by the negative karmic effects of actions in the three evil paths. In a letter he addressed to the Ikegami brothers in 1275, Nichiren states, "The obstacle of earthly desires is the impediments to one's practice that arise from greed, anger, foolishness, and the like; the obstacle of karma is the hindrances presented by one's wife or children; and the obstacle of retribution is the hindrances caused by one's sovereign or parents" (501).
The four devils are (1) the hindrance of the five components, obstructions caused by one's physical and mental functions; (2) the hindrance of earthly desires, obstructions arising from the three poisons; (3) the hindrance of death, meaning one's own untimely death obstructing one's practice of Buddhism, or the premature death of another practitioner causing one to doubt; and (4) the hindrance of the devil king, who is said to assume various forms or take possession of others in order to cause one to discard one's Buddhist practice. This hindrance is regarded as the most difficult to overcome. T'ient'ai (538-597) states in Great Concentration and Insight: "As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere.... One should be neither influenced nor frightened by them. If one falls under their influence, one will be led into the paths of evil. If one is frightened by them, one will be prevented from practicing the correct teaching."