Trainings and Transformation

Trainings and Transformation

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

One way the Buddha explained what he was offering to the world as a path of liberation from suffering was by calling it the Three-fold Trainings. The mindfulness practitioner develops or trains him or herself in three capacities:

  • sila – virtue or morality
  • samadhi – concentration or mental discipline
  • prajna – insight or penetrative wisdom

Over time, as some of his monastic and lay students engaged in behaviors that the Buddha considered to be inappropriate for a practitioner, training rules or guidelines developed. The monastic rules were detailed and explicit with 227 major rules for monks and 311 for nuns. For lay people the Buddha offered five general guidelines that addressed potentially problematic actions: killing, stealing, sexual relations, devious speech, and the consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants.

When Thich Nhat Hanh began accepting Western lay students in the 1980s, he offered an expanded version of the traditional five trainings that broadened their focus to social concerns and the dilemmas of modern life. Since the 1980s there have been several revisions.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite together a new version of the five mindfulness trainings written by Thich Nhat Hanh this summer. The new trainings refer to key teachings, such as Interbeing and Right Diligence, and introduce new topics, such as global warming, gambling, and the toxicity of certain web sites.

On our Still Water web site, in the resource section under ceremonies, we have posted the new version of the trainings ceremony, a comparison of the old and new Plum Village versions (prepared by Kenley Neufeld), and the old Still Water version (which contained a locally revised version of the third training).

After the recitation, our discussion will focus generally on the relevance of the mindfulness trainings for our lives. How have we used them? How have we been influenced by them? How do we look forward to using them in the future?

We hope you can join us.

Below are an excerpt on the intention of the trainings by Thich Nhat Hanh and announcements about upcoming Still Water events. Space is still available for our September 9th Introduction to Mindfulness,, for our September 12 – 19 "At Home Intensive," and for the ten-session Smiling Like a Buddha class that begins on September 16.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are Love Itself by Thich Nhat Hanh, from For a Future to Be Possible.

There is a deep malaise in society. When a young person goes out in the world without any help or protection, he absorbs violence, hatred, fear, and insecurity every day, and eventually he gets sick. Our conversations, TV programs, advertisements, newspapers, and magazines all water the seeds of suffering in young people, and in not-so-young people as well. We feel a kind of vacuum in ourselves, and we try to fill it by eating, reading, talking, smoking, drinking, watching TV, going to the movies, or even overworking. Taking refuge in these things only makes us feel hungrier and less satisfied, and we want to ingest even more. We need some guidelines, some preventive medicine, to protect ourselves, so we can become healthy again. We have to find a cure for our illness. We have to find something that is good, beautiful, and true in which we can take refuge.

When we drive a car, we are expected to observe certain rules so that we do not have an accident. Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha offered certain guidelines to his lay students to help them live peaceful, wholesome, and happy lives. They were the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and at the foundation of each of these mindfulness trainings is mindfulness. With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families, and our society, and ensures a safe and happy present and a safe and happy future.

In Buddhism, mindfulness trainings, concentration, and insight always go together. It is impossible to speak of one without the other two. This is called the Threefold Training – sila, the practice of the mindfulness trainings; samadhi, the practice of concentration; and prajna, the practice of insight. Mindfulness Trainings, concentration, and insight "inter-are." Practicing the mindfulness trainings brings about concentration, and concentration is needed for insight. Mindfulness is the ground for concentration, concentration allows us to look deeply, and insight is the fruit of looking deeply. When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing "this," we prevent "that" from happening. This kind of insight is not imposed on us by an outside authority. It is the fruit of our own observation. Practicing the mindfulness trainings, therefore, helps us be more calm and concentrated and brings more insight and enlightenment, which makes our practice of the mindfulness trainings more solid. The three are intertwined; each helps the other two, and all three bring us closer to final liberation-the end of "leaking." They prevent us from falling back into illusion and suffering. When we are able to step out of the stream of suffering, it is called anasvara, "to stop leaking." As long as we continue to leak, we are like a vessel with a crack, and inevitably we will fall into suffering, sorrow, and delusion.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are love itself. To love is to understand, protect, and bring well-being to the object of our love. The practice of the trainings accomplishes this. We protect ourselves and each other and we obtain even deeper peace and joy.


in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 10, 2009


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