The Threefold Training or Practice isn’t successive it’s integrated and interconnected. All with the goal of showing you your Original Essence or Buddha Nature. The Threefold Training includes Sila, Samadhi and Prajna.

As we begin to rest in our natural state which is open, aware, vast, cognizant luminosity, a spontaneous freedom, compassion and joy arises naturally. We see things as they actually are – filterless and free.

As we progress or unfold this natural state we need to guard ourselves from extremes. And the most fundamental basic way to do that is to watch our actions knowing that we are still bound by universal laws (karma).

The great Tibetan Guru Padmasambhava said, “Though the view should be as vast as the sky, keep your conduct as fine as barley flour.” (1)

And Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche commenting on the above said, “When training in the view you can be as unbiased, as impartial, as vast, immense and unlimited as the sky. Your behaviour on the other hand, should be as careful as possible in discriminating what is beneficial or harmful. One can combine the view and conduct, but don’t mix them or lose one in the other.

And Master Thich Thien-An said, “Even Enlightened Ones do not act contrary to the laws which they have transcended; how much more do these laws apply to the unenlightened.

How can we expect to achieve awakening if we are living unethical lives? If the great masters of the past kept a watchful eye on their own behaviour and they were enlightened what makes us think that we shouldn’t do the same?

Sila can be seen as paying attention to our life in such a way that we are living it wisely so that we may be free from remorse and blame.

And how we do that is by being mindful of our behaviour. We let go of unwholesome behaviour and cultivate wholesome behaviour.

Many people who are committed to the way of awakening take on the precepts as a way to help guide them as they set out on their journey.

The precepts are simple. If you want to live an awakened life:

Please, please don’t kill
Please, please don’t steal
Please, please don’t abuse sex
Please, please don’t lie
Please, please don’t take anything that will dull or fog up your mind

The precepts are not rules or commandments but can be seen as principles of training.

Our actions can be seen as skillful or unskillful based on ones awareness.

The Thai Monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu had this to say about Sila,

“When our actions don’t measure up to certain standards of behaviour, we either (1) regret the actions or (2) engage in one of two kinds of denial, either (a) denying that our actions did in fact happen or (b) denying that the standards of measurement are really valid.”

“These reactions are like wounds in the mind. Regret is an open wound, tender to the touch, while denial is like hardened, twisted scar tissue around a tender spot.”

“When the mind is wounded in these ways, it can’t settle down comfortably in the present, for it finds itself resting on raw, exposed flesh or calcified knots. Even when it’s forced to stay in the present, it’s there only in a tensed, contorted and partial way, and so the insights it gains tend to be contorted and partial as well.”

“Only if the mind is free of wounds and scars can it be expected to settle down comfortably and freely in the present, and to give rise to undistorted discernment.”

“This is where the five precepts come in: They are designed to heal these wounds and scars. Healthy self-esteem comes from living up to a set of standards that are practical, clear-cut, humane, and worthy of respect; the five precepts are formulated in such a way that they provide just such a set of standards.” (2)

Ananda the Buddha’s cousin and attendant for his whole life once asked him, “What, O Venerable One, is the reward and blessing of wholesome morality (sila)?”

The Buddha replied, “Freedom from remorse, Ananda.” (3)

But that wasn’t all, having a solid foundation of Sila in your life would not only make you free from remorse, it would then lead to joy, rapture, contentment, true authentic happiness, and then finally Samadhi and Wisdom.

We started with Sila and ended up with Samadhi and Wisdom.

We need Sila. The precepts help us along the way toward our goal of self discovery. They help us to stop creating suffering in our lives and generating Karma that will hinder us in our progress. They free us from remorse and help us sleep easy at night which then helps our turbulent minds begin to stop raging because we know that we are doing our best to live an awakened life.

The precepts or ethical/meaningful behaviour are one part of the Threefold Practice which can be seen as the foundation of all Dharmas.

The Threefold Practice is comprised of Sila, Samadhi and Prajna.

The Threefold Training:

Sila: Precepts, Morality, Ethics/Skillful/Meaningful Behaviour (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood)
Samadhi: Equanimity, Calmness, Contentment, Wholeness, A Bringing back Together, Unification, One-Pointedness, Absorption, Steadiness of Mind, Settled Mind, Concentrated Mind, Undistracted (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Samadhi)
Prajna: Insight, Understanding, Emptiness, Interdependence, Interbeing (Right View, Right Intention/Thinking)

The Threefold Practice or Training isn’t successive it’s integrated and interconnected. All with the goal of showing you your Original Essence or Buddha Nature.

Master So Sahn gives us another way to see the Threefold Training as a way to remain established in your original pure Buddha mind and not got carried off by your petty, tyrannical, selfish mind.

He says that, “Not following after the thinking mind is what is meant by “precepts” (sila). Not giving rise to thinking, but keeping a mind before thinking arises is what is known as “meditation” (samadhi). And not being guided into action by foolish thought is what is known as “wisdom” (prajna).

For Master So Sahn it seems to boil down to taming, controlling and transforming this mind of ours. He says that, “The precepts capture the thief our deluded mind, our defiled mind, meditation ties up the thief, and wisdom kills the thief. Only a strong untracked bowl made from the precepts can contain the pure, clear water of meditation, reflecting wisdom like the moon on its surface.

The only way the clear light of wisdom can be reflected (Prajna) is by having a calm, clear and stable mind (Samadhi) which has at it’s basis a mind that is free from remorse and torment because it rests easy in the fact that it’s not adding to the suffering of the world in any way (Sila).

After the mind stabilizes (Samadhi), it then realizes its original essence (Prajna), then it actualizes itself, expressing that realization as compassionate, spontaneous and aware action, in every day life (Sila).

The flip-side of this in the Sudden style teaching happens in the teachings that Directly Reveal the Nature.

After one has been introduced to the fundamental nature of mind then the threefold practice is easy – we just continually become more and more familiar there. Zen Master Bankei called this the Unborn. Here we call it the radiance. It is nothing special – it is the fundamentally aware knowing – that isness that knows that you’re reading these words right now.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng said, “The mind-ground that is free of wrongdoing is the śīla of the self-nature. The mind-ground that is free from distraction is the samādhi of the self-nature. The mind-ground that is free from ignorance is the prajñā of the self-nature.”

Works Cited
(1) As It Is Vol. 2 by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
(2) AN 10.1 (Nyanatiloka, trans.; from Path to Deliverance, pp. 65-66)
(3) The Healing Power of the Precepts by Thanissaro Bhikkhu