Introduction to Buddhism: Threefold Training

Speaker: Ven. Miao Zhe

Fo Guang Shan Nan Tien Temple, Australia

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings to you all! I am Venerable Miao Zhe from Nan Tien Temple in Australia.  On today’s online Fo Guang Shan English Dharma Service, I will be sharing about the Threefold Training.

There are many traditions of Buddhism and various approaches to practice. The core of all practice is the Threefold Training – Morality, Meditative Concentration, and Prajna Wisdom.

II. Training in Morality

Buddhist morality acts as a guideline to what is wholesome and unwholesome in behaviour, speech and thoughts. In the Verse of the Seven Ancient Buddhas, “Do nothing that is unwholesome. Do all that is wholesome. Purify the mind. This is the teaching of all Buddhas.” This is a general guideline in being mindful of our actions, speech and thoughts. As we can see the Buddha did not only taught what shouldn’t be done, but also what can be done in a positive way.

Morality is maintained through the upholding of precepts, which are the basis for all wholesome deeds and the foundation of all moral conduct. They are like traffic lights that signal when to stop, slow down or go ahead.  They are also like the lines on the road that tell you if it is okay to change lanes and which side of the lane we should drive on. In Australia, driving is on the left side. If coming from a country that drives on the right side of the road such as North America, you will need to remember to stay on the left when driving in Australia. If you forget and drive on the other side of the road, there is a traffic sign that is placed at the exit ramp of freeways: Wrong Way Go Back.  It is a compassionate warning sign for anyone who happens to be driving on the wrong side of the lane.

Precepts are about self-cultivation and benefiting others. In other words, precepts are for self discipline rather than demanding others to do what is right. The very basic precepts for all monastics and laity are the Five Precepts.

They are:

1. Abstain from killing – not harming any being

2. Abstain from stealing – not taking what doesn’t belong to you

3. Abstain from sexual misconduct – not harming others in relationships and the body

4. Abstain from lying – not hiding the truth

5. Abstain from taking intoxicants – not taking overdose of drugs and alcohol

Buddha did not only explain the five precepts as in what we should not do, but what we could also do that benefits beings. Instead of killing, protect and cherish life. Instead of stealing, being generous and sharing what we have. Instead of sexual misconduct, maintain respect of others in relationships. Instead of lying, be a sincere friend. Instead of taking intoxicants that cloud the mind, maintain clarity and mindfulness through a healthy way of living.

Venerable Master Hsing Yun once explained: “The Buddha originally established precepts to maintain harmony and purity within the Sangha so that righteous Dharma will prevail in this world. Therefore, precepts are the cornerstones of the Sangha. However, upholding the precepts is not exclusive to monastics; precepts are needed to regulate oneself, for they are the fundamentals of all wholesome dharmas. Only then will one’s path in life be secure.”

The spirit of the precepts and morality is respect and compassion. It is about not violating others and taking an active role in benefiting others. Hence, just knowing the precepts is not enough. More importantly is that we put it into practice in our daily lives such as through the Three Acts of Goodness – Do Good Deeds, Say Good Words, Think Good Thoughts. You can start by waking up each morning and thinking what good deed, good words can I do and say. What good thoughts can I share and bless others with.  With morality as a foundation, you will be at ease wherever you go.

III. Training in Meditative Conentration

With morality as a foundation, meditative concentration can restrain our six sensory roots and guard the mind. Meditative concentration is the focusing of the mind in each moment by the settling of all distracting thoughts, and a state of equanimity is reached.

Meditative concentration can also energize the mind so that it is unmoved by external circumstances and is able to see the intrinsic true nature. Hence, our minds are turned away from external distractions towards inner wisdom. Meditation can allow us to increase our awareness of self and others, and gradually decrease the chance of hurting and harming ourselves and others.

Meditative concentration can be practiced through meditation. Our mind is like a cup of water with stones, mud and everything inside it. With our senses, we grasp on what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch with what we like and dislike. We react emotionally through our greed, anger and ignorance. That is like the shaking and stirring of the water.

When we let the cup of water sit for a few minutes without disturbance, the contents of the water gradually settle to the bottom, making the water clearer. That is what happens when we meditate. Our mind settles down in the moment, that we can see clearly.

Let’s now try to a few minutes of meditation.

Meditation is not just for sitting, it can be done through walking, standing and other daily life activities such as gardening and eating.  You may wonder how meditation can be doing through eating. Buddhist meals in a temple are eaten in silence and known as mindful meals. Through the meals, the practitioner keeps their mind not on the food but their thoughts. For example, a favorite dish of french fries is offered. I would need to be mindful when I’m asking for a second serving of fries. Am I seeking a serving out of greed for more than I need even when I’m already full? or because I am actually still hungry? Mindful meals help us to focus and appreciate the food we receive.

Once there was a Chan master who had a disciple who practiced many years of meditation. One day the disciple asked the Chan master, “What is Chan?”

The Chan master replied, “Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired.”

The disciple asked, “Isn’t that what everyone does?”

The Chan master replied, “Not really. Most people entertain thousands of their  desires when they eat and scheme thousands of plans when they sleep.”

When we are mindful of our behaviour and thoughts, we can stop the delusions and stories in our minds and truly listen to our hearts.

IV. Training in Wisdom

With a calm mind, we can discover our wisdom within. Unlike knowledge which can be gained through learning or experience, Buddhist wisdom or prajna is inner awakening and insight.  Prajna also known as transcendental wisdom encompasses right view and understanding of reality. It is having the right understanding of all things arise and cease through causes and conditions. Thus knowing that all things also exist temporarily and have no permanent intrinsic nature. When we come to an understanding of causes and conditions, you will realize that we are all interconnected and need and rely on each other daily. Thus it becomes important not to harm others, but to help and benefit others.

For example, nature’s ecosystem shows us the cycle of interconnection based on causes and conditions. The lake vaporizes and brings moisture in the air. Eventually clouds accumulate and when conditions are right, provide rain that nourish the trees and plants and into the lake once again. This shows how important it is for us to also protect the earth in allowing the ecosystem to go its natural way. When the cycle is broken, we can feel the changes through climate change.

Prajna can only be experienced, observed, and practiced in daily life.

Two buckets hanging on a well are relaxing on a sunny afternoon enjoying the first days of summer. The spring rains are over. The flowers are blooming. The air smells sweet and fresh. People are busy carrying water, making tea, watering the flowers, washing clothes, and hanging them outside to dry.

The two buckets begin to chat to each other. One bucket says, “I feel so useless. Every time when stupid people fill me with water, they empty me immediately. Then I’m so isolated that I have nothing to do but stare at the sky, and it looks so gray. The flowers don’t even thank me for the water I hold. When the people are drinking tea, they don’t even think of me.”

The other bucket replies, “I feel very appreciated. People handle me with care admiring my beautiful wood. Every time they empty me, they fill me up again immediately. I’m never alone. People flock to me, When they water their flowers, they keep coming back to me for more. Without me, they have no way to get water for their tea. I’m proud to be indispensable!” 

Wisdom is not just found in resolving challenges, but in the right perspective and attitude in seeing things as it is.

V. Practicing Threefold Training in Daily Life

Threefold Training is not simply just a training of our behavior, speech and way of thinking, it is how we approach our daily life. For example, by being mindful of what we receive through our senses, that is discipline and morality at work. When we often clear the mind, self reflect and open the mind and heart to share with others in joy and compassion, that is the practice of meditation. By caring for the simplest things in life, and remembering the connection we have with each other and nature, that is realizing we are one and coexist. That is the practice of wisdom.

VI. Conclusion

For a deeper understanding of the Threefold Training, I recommend the book For All Living Beings: A Guide to Buddhist Practice by Venerable Master Hsing Yun.  It is one of my favorite books, that guides in how to apply the Threefold Training in the daily life.

Thank you for listening to this episode. If you would like to hear more of these weekly Dharma teachings, please like and subscribe to this channel.

May you and all beings find peace and joy in the Dharma.

Thank you.