Threefold training of learning, reflection and meditation

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The threefold training of learning, reflection and meditation (Skt. śruta cintā bhāvanā; Tib. ཐོས་བསམ་སྒོམ་གསུམ་, thos bsam sgom gsum) refers to three methods for cultivating prajñā (wisdom or discernment) that are identified in the Sanskrit tradition.

The three methods of training in prajñā are:[1]

Contemporary explanations

Dzogchen Ponlop states:

In the Buddhist path, we accumulate knowledge in three ways: through study, contemplation, and meditation. First, we gain intellectual knowledge, then we personalize it through reflecting on it, and then we go beyond that to a whole new state of knowing—one that’s free from reliance on reference points. That’s the nature of our journey. First, we’re handed a map and learn to read it; next, we’re on the road but still relying on our map for directions; finally, we realize we don’t need to look at the map anymore—we know it by heart. Our confidence doesn’t waver, whether we’re looking at the map or the road ahead; the map has dissolved into the landscape. That’s higher knowledge, or one way of looking at it.[2]

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso states:

The whole of Buddhism is structured around this threefold training in listening, reflecting and meditating. While Buddhist scholars concentrate on studying or listening to the Buddha’s doctrine, the logicians study valid means of knowing and reasoning, the tools with which one reflects and is able to discern what is true and false. This corresponds to the stage of reflection. The yogins or meditators are those who have established through listening and reflection what must be the case and who are now engaged in training themselves in the art of abandoning their delusions. It is one thing to decide through reasoning what must be true and another actually to see the world in that way.
By relying on these three practices and using each to enhance the others, the fog of confusion and clouds of ignorance are removed; knowledge and understanding can then shine forth unimpeded, like the sun breaking through the mist at dawn.[3]

Andy Karr states:

It is said that studying the dharma without meditating is like trying to scale a rock face with no arms, while practicing meditation without studying is like trying to make a long journey without eyes. Contemplation is the bridge between intellect and insight, study and meditation. To bring all our resources to bear on the journey, we need to join the practices of study, contemplation, and meditation together like three strong locomotives pulling the train of our delusion to the destination of realization.[4]

Traditional explanations


The Abhidharma-kosa states:

Whoever desires to see the Truths should first of all keep the Precepts. Then he reads the teaching upon which his Seeing of the Truths depends, or he hears their meaning. Having heard, he correctly reflects. Having reflected, he gives himself up to the cultivation of meditation. With the wisdom (prajñā, ii.24, i.2a) arisen from the teaching (śrutamayī) for its support, there arises the wisdom arisen from reflection (cintāmayī); with this for its support, there arises the wisdom arisen from meditation (bhāvanā-mayī).[5]


The wisdom arisen from the teaching is a certitude which arises from a means of correct knowledge (pramāṇa) termed "the word of a qualified person” (āptavacana); the wisdom arisen from reflection is a certitude born of rational examination; and the wisdom arisen from meditation is a certitude arisen from absorption. In this way the specific characteristics of the three wisdoms are proved in an irreproachable manner.[6]

According to the translator’s footnote in the Pruden translation, in the paragraph above, Vasubandhu is presenting the Sautrāntika explanation of the the three trainings in prajna.[7]


The Abhidharma-samuccaya states:

What is the path of [accumulation]? … It is also the merit acquired through other practices, wisdom acquired through listening (study, teaching) (śrutamayīprajñā), wisdom acquired through reflection (cintāmayīprajñā) and wisdom acquired through mental cultivation (bhāvanāmayīprajñā). Through the development of these qualities one obtains receptivity to comprehension [of the Truth] and liberation.[8]

Samdhinirmochana Sutra

The Samdhinirmochana Sutra presents the threefold training as follows:

Maitreya, through the wisdom arising from hearing the Dharma, the bodhisattvas rely on the literal meaning of words but not on their underlying intent, which they do not understand; although they are in harmony with liberation, their comprehension is [limited to] the objects of designation that do not liberate them.
Maitreya, through the wisdom arising from contemplating the Dharma, the bodhisattvas do not rely exclusively on the literal meaning of words but also on the underlying intent, which they understand; although they are in great harmony with liberation, their comprehension is [still limited to] the objects of designation that do not liberate them.
Maitreya, through the wisdom arising from practicing mental stillness and insight, the bodhisattvas, relying on the literal meaning of words or not, rely on the underlying intent, which they understand by means of an image, an object of concentration corresponding to a cognitive object; they are in great harmony with liberation, and their comprehension includes the objects of designation that liberate them. Maitreya, such is the difference between them.[9]


In Explanation of the Ornament for the Mahāyāna Sūtras, Vasubandhu states:

Learning involves placing latent potencies in the mind; reflection involves bringing about realization; meditative cultivation involves bringing about pacification through calm abiding and complete realization through special insight.[10]

In the Abhidharma-kosa, Vasubandhu states:

Observing discipline, and having heard and contemplated the teachings,
One applies oneself intensively to meditation.[11]

Ashvaghosha said:

The man of little learning is as if born blind.
How can he meditate? On what can he reflect?
Study then with diligence, reflect and meditate;
Through this, vast wisdom will arise.[12]

Chökyi Drakpa states:

Through the wisdom that comes from hearing, you are able to recognize the disturbing emotions.
Then through the wisdom that comes from reflection, you are able to overcome the disturbing emotions temporarily.
And finally, through the wisdom that comes through meditation you conquer completely the enemy of negative emotions, and obtain the confidence of the inexpressible wisdom of discriminating awareness.[13]

Nagarjuna states:

Listening to Dharma engenders contemplation, and contemplation gives rise to the meditation experience - this is the sequence.
So if you abandon distraction and continuously apply effort, first the prajna that comes from listening will result in comprehension of the general characteristics of the dharmas of samsara and nirvana.
Then, contemplation will pacify blatant grasping to the reality of illusory appearances, meditation develops the definitive direct experience of mind, and so on.
Thus the previous stages act as causes for the arising of the latter.
When this is not the case, it is like desiring results without any cause.[14]


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. bhāvanākrama.
  2. Dzogchen Ponlop 2010, s.v. "The Three Trainings".
  3. Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche 2016, Stage Two: Chittamatra, Mind Only.
  4. Karr 2007, Preface.
  5. Vasubandhu 1991, pp. 911-912.
  6. Vasubandhu 1991, p. 912.
  7. Vasubandhu 1991, p. 1074, fn 54.
  8. Asanga 2001, p. 141.
  9. Buddhavacana Translation Group 2021, section 8.24.
  10. Thupten Jinpa 2020, s.v. Mental factors with a determinate object.
  11. Abhidharma-kosa, VI, 5
  12. Treasury of Precious Qualities, p.246
  13. RW icon height 18px.png Three wisdom tools, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
  14. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye 2002, pp. 30-31.


Further reading