Threefold training

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The threefold training (triśikṣā; P. tisikkhā; T. blab pa gsum བླབ་པ་གསུམ་; C. sanxue 三学) is an important formulation of the Buddhist path that is identified in both the Sanskrit and Pali traditions.

The three aspects of this training are:

  • śīla - ethical conduct, moral conduct, discipline, etc.
  • samadhi - concentration, meditation, etc.
  • prajna - wisdom, insight, etc.


Ethical conduct

Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

The first training, ethics (also called ethical conduct or moral discipline) is crucial in developing the second and the third, concentration and wisdom, and as such is really the foundation for the other two.
What is morally right and wrong is something that each of us feels intuitively, even when it is not taught to us by our parents or our teachers. Ethics must be based on compassion, not on some commitment that we follow simply because we are Buddhists and have been told to practice it. By understanding compassion, we see how ethical conduct is required, and as we develop compassion, ethical behavior will arise quite spontaneously.
Nothing is intrinsically immoral from its own side. “Moral” or “immoral” can be defined by the way an individual person communicates with others, or how they mentally perceive others. So ethical conduct, practicing a moral life, is not something that can effectively be enforced from the outside but must grow out of a subjective understanding of what helps and what harms others. Therefore, whether something is moral or not really depends on whether others’ feelings and rights have been considered. That is where compassion comes in. If we live our lives taking into account others’ feelings, perspectives, and rights, then basically we are living an ethical life.[1]


Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

The second training, which includes concentration and mindfulness, leads to the ability to focus our minds on whatever object we choose, and to keep that focus clearly and with intensity for an extended period of time. Concentration in itself is neutral. Whether it is positive or negative depends on the object of our concentration. Living an immoral life tends to mean focusing on sense pleasures and indulgences at the expense of others and often that means a very dissipated life. Therefore, immorality and concentration rarely go together. So in order to have a single-pointed mind, living an ethical life is essential. On the basis of an ethical life, we can slowly develop our concentration from the very simple mindfulness meditations emphasized in Theravada, such as observing the body posture or the breath, to practices that develop more clarity and extended concentration. When we are really advanced we can actually develop true calm abiding.[1]


Geshe Tashi Tsering states:

Wisdom, the understanding of how things and events really exist in terms of their impermanence, interdependence, and lack of intrinsic existence, is the third training, and again its foundation is the other two trainings, especially concentration. Even an intellectual understanding of wisdom requires focus, and this is even more true if we wish to take this understanding to a depth where it really starts to turn our life around.
As with the other two trainings, training in wisdom progresses through levels. Our practice grows gradually from a study of the mind, specifically the wrong concepts we labor under, and develops through the different subtleties of the law of cause and effect until we can come to understand and eventually realize emptiness and impermanence.[1]

Threefold trainings and the Eightfold path

The categories of the threefold training are directly related to the path factors of the noble eightfold path as follows:

Eightfold factor Description Three trainings
Right view Accurately understanding the true nature of things Wisdom (Skt. prajñā)
Right intention Avoiding harmful thoughts and cultivating non-harmful thoughts
Right speech Refraining from harmful speech (lying, gossip, slander, etc.) Ethical conduct (Skt. śīla)
Right action Refraining from harmful physical actions
Right livelihood A non-harmful livelihood
Right effort Abandoning unwholesome states of mind, and cultivating wholesome states of mind Concentration (Skt. samādhi)
Right mindfulness Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness;
being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion
Right concentration Correct meditation or concentration

Higher trainings

In some contexts, the three trainings are referred to as the "three higher trainings":

  • Higher ethical conduct (Sanskrit: adhiśīlaśikṣa; Pali: adhi-sīla-sikkhā)
  • Higher concentration (Sanskrit: samādhiśikṣa; Pali: adhi-citta-sikkhā)
  • Higher wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñāśikṣa; Pali: adhi-paññā-sikkhā)


In Letter to a Friend, verse 53, Nagarjuna states:

One should always train (shiksha) in superior discipline (adhishila), superior wisdom (adhiprajna) and superior mind (adhicitta)"[2]


Search for videos:

Selected videos:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Geshe Tashi Tsering 2005, s.v. The Three Trainings.
  2. Padmakara Translation Group, 2005, p. 47


Further reading

  • Book icoline.svg Geshe Tashi Tsering (2005), The Four Noble Truths, The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Volume 1, Wisdom Publications 
  • Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Zurchungpa's Testament: A Commentary On Zurchung Sherab Trakpa's Eighty Chapters Of Personal Advice (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2007), chapters II, III & IV.
  • Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha (Boston: Shambhala, 2010), Ch. 7, 'The Three Trainings'.
  • Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, translated by Padmakara Translation Group (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2004), pages 6-7.
  • Thinley Norbu, The Small Golden Key (Shambhala Publications, 1999), ‘9. The Tripitaka and the Three Trainings'.

External links