Friday, March 15, 2013

Opening to insight--the threefold training

In Theravada Buddhism, the process of liberation involves a threefold training:  sila or morality, samadhi or concentration and panna or wisdom.  Pursuit of this training leads to the abandonment or uprooting of the three unwholesome roots and, when this is accomplished, to nibbana or enlightenment.

This threefold training is a summary form of the Noble Eightfold Path.  In the Noble Eightfold Path, the morality training is represented by right speech, right action and right livelihood.  The concentration training is represented by right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.  The wisdom training is represented by right intention and right view.  The practice associated with morality is observance of the appropriate precepts for one's station in life (layman or monastic) and the cultivation of virtues.  The practice associated with concentration is meditation, and the practice associated with wisdom is insight.

From this it is clear that sila is the primary training and the foundation for training in meditation and insight.



  1. Jerome CourtemancheMay 25, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    I am sure that you will like the Mahacattarisaka sutta (MN 117). It makes a distinction between different types of panna and sila trainings. The first 5 factors are therein described as either affected by the taints, partaking in merit, ripening in the acquisitions or either as noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the path. For instance, mundane right view is defined as "There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are in the world good and virtuous recluses and brahmins who have realised for themselves by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world." However, supramundane (noble) right view is defined as "The wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation enlightenment factor, the path factor of right view in one whose mind is taintless, who possesses the noble path and is developing the noble path.

    The distinction between the types of right intention is also straightforward. The distinction between the types of right sila is not so clear to me. It makes a distinction between abstaining and desisting from wrong speech, action or livelihood. I once read the opinion that supramundane sila is automatically complete when you sit. Maybe this is what is meant by desisting, while abstaining would mean declining an opportunity to transgress a precept.

    This is from Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation but there is also this one from Bhikkhu Thanissaro:

    1. Jerome,

      Thanks for your comments and reference to that sutta. It is especially interesting to me because it touches on an issue that I puzzle over. I have wondered whether the secular, clinical mindfulness approach that is so widespread these days is like the mundane path that is referred to in the sutta. That kind of practice comes up short on the spiritual dimension of the path, don't you think? The question is how to inject that dimension (back) into the practice.

    2. Alan,

      It is definitely a topic of paramount importance and I strive to gain proper understanding of it.

      If in clinical practice, people would be encouraged to give up wrong views that are mundane (for instance, disbelief in karma), then I would say that indeed the mundane path is taught. However, it does not appear to be the case in the secular approach. Therefore the mundane path is not taught.

      Nevertheless, there is hope in this matter, because if people were encouraged to trust the scientific evidence supporting that good mental, verbal and bodily behavior breed good physical and mental health, they could "mindfully abandon wrong view (MN117)". And there is such evidence.
      I invite you to take a look at this:
      It'd be useful to have a review of such piece of evidence for the other factors of the path.

      In my opinion, the cultivation of such a trust would serve one of the functions of the belief in karma and rebirth owing to its opposition, at least partial, to the wrong view of the inefficacy of action (akiriyavāda). However, it would still be mundane, because it wouldn't be an intuitive, wisdom-based recognition of the harm caused by wrong mental, verbal or bodily behavior. And it has nothing to do with contemplation of impermanence.